Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Je ne suis pas Charlie.

No, I'm really not. Quickly the impact of the killings in Paris on 7 January begins to fade. The effects may be far-reaching, but the news caravan moves on. The massacre was a shocking event, but what does the reaction throughout France and beyond tell us? The satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo subtitles itself 'Journal Irresponsable', and I really wonder what the millions of eager buyers of the post-massacre edition made of it. My guess is that many felt they had done their bit for freedom by buying a copy, but after a cursory glance at it threw it away. Maybe some are keeping their copies as souvenirs. But my guess is too that few feel that the contents of satire and cartoons have a great role in improving society.

God gave the prophet Jeremiah this commission: “Look, today I have set you over the nations and kingdoms, to uproot and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Satire is generally good at uprooting, knocking down, possibly even destroying and overthrowing, but it does not build and plant. It can have a certain positive role in exposing corruption, but it sets nothing better in its place. It sets itself at odds with the political and other establishments, as a counterweight, but not as an alternative establishment with something to offer beyond a wry smile.The prophetic word of God has an entirely different tone, hard-hitting, offensive and difficult to hear as it may be.

Many, David Cameron included, have defended the right of all to say what they want. This has extended to the point of saying that whatever insults may be offered are good. That cannot be right. Not everything that is legal is good. Not everything that can be done should be done. Adultery is not a crime, but it is generally and rightly regarded as a wrong, and its destructive effects are almost universally recognised. Gambling, smoking, and drinking are all legal within controlled limits, but addiction is an evil that controls people and destroys them. 

There is a wider point too about the value of respect. Respect should be our default position with regard to people and institutions.We should be open to listen to others, to give them time and attention in the way we would value being given those things. We should avoid being deliberately or even inadvertently offensive and disrespectful.

Satirists usually seek to raise a laugh. It is an effective way of puncturing pomposity, and drawing attention to absurdities, corruption and the unexamined exercise of power. And some are very funny indeed. Just beware! What do you feed on? Does it lead you to a general disrespect of people, authorities and institutions? Does it lead you to a general dismissal of things without thought and examination, just as the general population will accept the established order without thought and examination?

I have enjoyed Private Eye in the past, and still enjoy a glimpse of their covers. But I became a bit uncomfortable in the light of Philippians 4:8 “Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.” There are a lot of good books out there instead, and you can find quite a few on

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