Beth Erickson, who blogs at Incongruent Elements, has posted a hilarious video clip from Saturday Night Live: a trailer for a non-existent movie called “Djesus Uncrossed”. You can probably already see where this is going, and as you might expect, the clip is slightly gory and foulmouthed:
Erickson also links to a WorldNetDaily article that makes predictable complaints about double standards:
“If anything in our PC culture should be considered obviously offensive, this is it,” Zahn continued. “Can you imagine the uproar that would occur if SNL made a parody, ‘Muhammad Unleashed?’ People at NBC would be losing their jobs. The ‘sensitivity police’ would be out in full force. It would cause international outcry.”
At the risk of having my Evil Atheist Club membership called into question, I have to admit that I can understand why Christians in Western countries sometimes feel picked on by both pop culture and highbrow culture. Despite the popularity of Muslim terrorists as villains, Christianity per se probably comes in for more sharply irreverent and even outright hostile treatment than Islam per se, or any other religion. Not all the reasons for this are particularly edifying. The demonstrated willingness of a few Muslims to violently defend the “dignity” of their religion against Danish cartoonists and Dutch filmmakers probably does scare off some artists, and the misguided tendency in some quarters to interpret criticism of non-Christian religions as a form of racism probably scares off a few more.
However, there are two reasons for the disproportionate targeting of Christianity by irreligious artists and satirists in Western countries that I would consider to be more legitimate. First, Christianity is the religion that’s constantly in our faces, not to mention barely (if at all) below the surface in our schools, courts, parliaments, and other institutions. It’s the representatives of various forms of Christianity, not Islam or Buddhism, who hand out their scriptures in classrooms, knock on doors looking for converts, and influence legislation. The situation may be gradually changing as a result of immigration, but for the moment Christianity has more clout than any other religion and accordingly provokes more artistic and cultural responses.
The second reason is also linked to the pervasiveness of Christianity, but in a different and arguably more interesting way. Satire depends on a degree of familiarity, so it’s inevitable that the most familiar religion will become a particular target. The humour in “Djesus Uncrossed” relies on the fact that most Americans share a specific conception of Jesus as a mild-mannered fellow who would love his neighbours, turn the other cheek, cheerfully agree to be crucified, and never, ever, go after Romans with an assault rifle. “Muhammad Unleashed” would fail to work in the same way partly because Muhammad was a successful war leader who probably would go after the bastards with an assault rifle, if he had one.
More importantly, though, Americans and other Westerners typically don’t have a conception of Muhammad that’s as anywhere near as definite and well-informed as their conception of Jesus, and the same applies to the Buddha, Guru Nanak, and various significant figures from other religions. Jesus works better than Muhammad as a point of reference in comedy for basically the same reason that Hamlet works better than Coriolanus. Old Testament prophets and major gods and heroes from Greek or Norse mythology would probably also be okay, but I would argue that Jesus was uniquely well-suited for what Saturday Night Live had in mind. “Djason Unleashed” would be more or less the story of the Argonauts, told with a straight face, and where’s the humour in that? I could probably be persuaded to watch “Dingo Unhinged”, but that would be a gruesome and improbable Australian nature documentary with no particular connection to religion.