Fair Warning: This article contains content discussing theological ideals and figures which might be not suited for some people. The author has tried his best to do his research on each of the religions mentioned. So, if you feel that you might be offended from this post, here is a link to a website with cute animals.
In one of my more recent projects Dead Boys, one of the people who had a chance to read it’s entirety told me that I was going to Hell for my portrayal of God and Jesus Christ in the novel. Now, I can understand how what I have written can be interpreted as ‘offensive’ to religious organizations. But in my opinion, portraying religious icons such as Jesus or Buddha in a humorous light can be done, but it has to be done correctly. Creating the ideal form of satire whether it is political or religious is something that must be fine tuned and performed delicately. Let’s have a look at previous portrayals of religious icons and individuals that have raise some criticism over the years.
Let’s start off with Christianity, a faith that is worshiped by an estimated 2.18 billion people. Now, two of the most iconic figures of the religion would be God and Jesus of Nazareth, the son of God and savior of Mankind. Let’s first discuss the son of God, Jesus Christ.
- Jesus Christ has been used in several mediums over the years from novels, movies, video games, and even animated short films. Jesus has become cemented into common society through his teachings such as “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” as well as becoming an euphemism for expressing shock such as “Jesus H. Christ!” Jesus has over the years become commonly satirized in movies, books, and games whether if it is for his peaceful nature or his tolerance for mankind. One of the most well known satirical depictions of Jesus Christ would be from Kevin Smith’s movie Dogma. Jesus is depicted and mentioned in several different scenarios, the more memorable would be of the Buddy Christ. The statue of Jesus pointing has been the center of several jokes as becoming a purchasable item. With the release of this movie, Kevin Smith had received over 30,000 pieces of hate mail from conservative Christians as well as death threats. Kevin Smith could have easily made a mistake with his references and depiction of Jesus Christ, but he managed to ensure that Jesus’s peaceful nature was comedic without it becoming a mockery.
- In every religion, there is either a god or several gods that have had an active role in man’s creation and the world around them. God has been depicted as several different identities from the commonly depicted image of an older man with a grey beard and flowing hair(Christianity), a younger man with multiple arms (Hinduism), a woman/goddess (Wicca) as well as other depictions. In recent years, God has become visualized as different creatures and beings often for comedic values. One of the most iconic images of God being a different entity would be the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Often seen as a ‘parody religion’, God is seen as a flying creature made of spaghetti with meatballs and two eyes, reaching out to people with his ‘noodly appendage’. One could argue that this is technically possible seeing as an omnipotent being like God could change his appearance to become anything or anyone, that he/she could become a flying spaghetti monster.
The next religion that is commonly satirized would also be the most controversial. I am talking of course of the Muslim faith, which is currently worshiped by an estimated 1.57 billion people.
- The depiction of the prophet Muhammad would be seen as one of the more controversial religious icons to display as people and artists who create imagery of the messenger of the god Allah, have often been assaulted or killed by Muslims offended with their creations. Now, one of the primary reasons that the Muslim faith prohibits the display of imagery of the Prophet Muhammad would be because in their eyes, creating images of the prophet would mean that the person was worshiping the messenger of God rather than God himself. This would relate to the Christian concept and sin of Idolatry or the worship of idols. Although there is no specific message in the Quran about depicting Muhammad, many in the Muslim community would say that it is prohibited to create images of Muhammad due to some of the supplemental teachings or Hadith. Though there are also groups within the Muslim community who say that depicting Muhammad is alright if it is done in a good light. It is because of this that Muhammad is shown through different iconography such as calligraphy or figurative depictions. However, in recent years, artists and designers who have depicted the prophet in a satirical matter have been attacked by radical Muslims who believe that the depictions are heretical and blasphemous. The most recent being the Charlie Hebdo attack, which has left twelve people dead. The cause of this travesty would be the depiction of Muhammad, which shows him saying “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.” Now, the saying by itself is relatively harmless but because it depicted the prophet in a humorous manner, it was seen as controversial and offensive.
With depicting religious figures in a satirical manner, you have to do your research on the religion that you are going to portray. One example would be a personal favorite of mine, History of the World Part 1. In the movie, Mel Brooks shows that he has studied both the Hebrew and Christian faiths and used events such as Moses coming down from the mountain with the ten commandments of God and the last supper to make humorous jokes about each of them.
But in truth, despite the best efforts to create jokes that satirize religion, you are going to offend someone. While you can entertain some people, you will offend others. All I can suggest for writers is to do your research and try to refrain from directly bashing a religion.