Local Physician Faces Retaliation, Persecution for Religious Beliefs

January 28, 2015

Family Practice physician Hiram L. Beasley reports that he has been the target of increasing intimidation and harassment because of his deeply held religious beliefs.

“My pioneer ancestors were persecuted for living their religion, and it is terrifying to see that such intolerance and hatred are rearing their ugly heads again in the 21st century,” Beasley said from behind the desk in his modest office.

The persecution began slowly, when Beasley decided that he could not offer some medical services that violated provisions of his faith. “I felt that I had an obligation as a disciple of Christ and as an American to stand up for my First Amendment right to practice and express my religion according to my conscience.”

Beasley says he was first impressed by pangs of conscience for having prescribed birth control to women whose marital status wasn’t clear. “I hadn’t paid much attention before, and then I realized to my horror that many of these women might not have been married. I could have contributed to extramarital sexual relations, meaning I was winking at sin, perhaps even condoning it. I knew I needed to repent and use my medical skills to promote wholesome and righteous behavior.”

From then on, Beasley made a point of not performing any gynecological exams or prescribing birth control medications until he was sure he was treating faithfully monogamous, married women.

“I lost quite a few patients,” he said wistfully. “But I stood up for the right. These God-fearing hands were not about to do a pelvic exam or Pap smear on a promiscuous vagina.”

Within days, however, Beasley faced a quandary when a woman (properly vetted as a married mother of three) came in complaining of painful vaginal discharge. “As I suspected,” Beasley noted, “she tested positive for gonorrhea. I didn’t know what to do. Was she the one at fault, or had she contracted it from her husband?”

After sending that patient to another physician who was “more accommodating of her lifestyle,” he came up with a 10-page questionnaire for each patient to ensure that he would not be treating those whose medical issues had not been the result of violating the commandments of God. “How would I be able to look my Lord in the eye and tell Him that I had looked the other way when His children were entering into grievous sin?”

The questionnaire was a great success, Beasley says. Receptionist Dara Swensen agrees: “We saw a 70% decrease in the number of patients the doctor was seeing after we implemented the new policies, so we could be confident we were only seeing people with high moral standards. Sure, we lost business, but Dr. Beasley says he doesn’t want that kind of business, anyway.”

Some people slipped past the questionnaire, he said, so he relied on promptings from the Holy Spirit. “You know, sometimes you look at a guy, and you just know,” he smiled. “I’d walk in and see a guy with an earring and impeccable grooming, and I’d just say to myself, ‘I am not doing a prostate exam on that guy.’ You know what I mean.”

The harassment really took off when Beasley also decided to stop treating patients whose conditions resulted from drinking alcohol, coffee, or tea; or from using tobacco products, which also violate the tenets of his faith. “I had a guy come in here with emphysema, and I told him, ‘Sorry, no can do. You brought this on yourself. Go and sin no more.’ See? I’m helping these folks. Can’t they see that?”

But patients have apparently not understood Dr. Beasley’s positive goals. “That guy, the one with emphysema, he called me an ass and some other language you wouldn’t be able to print,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “I’m just trying to help.”

Since then he’s faced a lot of angry patients, ranging from a man with a eczema who, for reasons known only to himself, refused the doctor’s instructions to quit drinking coffee, to the young woman with strep throat who nonetheless refused to remove her second pair of earrings before having her temperature taken.

Now Beasley is facing the wrath of the entire community for refusing to come to the aid of a city councilwoman who had suffered a heart attack in a local movie theater. Viola Biggs, 57, died in the lobby of the Mainstreet Cinema after Beasley refused to enter the theater in which she had collapsed. “We could have saved her had he helped out before we got there,” said EMT Bryan Travers, “but he wouldn’t even go in and see her. What a f$#@ing jerk.”

“I couldn’t go in there,” explained Dr. Beasley. “She was watching ‘American Sniper,’ and I wasn’t about to go into a theater where they were showing an R-rated movie. What would the Savior have thought of me? It’s not my fault it took them so long to carry her out to the lobby. By the time I saw her, it was too late. She was already gone.”

Beasley fears he will have to shut down his once-thriving practice simply because he has stood up for his religious beliefs. “People don’t even look at me when they see me in the store, or they just call me a bad name. It’s not right. It’s not American.”

“I’m considering a lawsuit against the city, the chamber of commerce, and the movie theater,” the doctor said. “I’m not a litigious guy, and I don’t like suing people, but someone needs to be held accountable for the way I’ve been treated.”

City Attorney Dave Campbell chuckled when asked about the prospects for such a suit. “All I can say to Dr. Beasley is, uh, good luck with that.”

Reached by phone late Tuesday, receptionist Swensen confirmed that the practice is shutting down. “I’ve already lined up another job,” she said. “It’s just as well. He wouldn’t prescribe my birth control, anyway.”

Repost: On the Pasos Kanki Bridge

January 21, 2015

We walked home from downtown La Paz along the uneven sidewalk past the zoo and the botanical gardens, the large “super” slide quiet in the dark, the amber streetlights reflecting from the sagging wrought-iron fence. We hadn’t said much that day, as usual. Davidson, the missionary companion I had been assigned, wasn’t exactly a talker. I pointed out that this was the place where a couple of sister missionaries had been flashed the week before, an unknown pervert having stuck his genitals between the iron bars as the sisters walked to an appointment. At lunch they had told us all about it, Hermana Stevenson relishing every minute while her companion squirmed uncomfortably.

“What was weird was that he was circumcised,” Hermana Stevenson had said, clearly unfazed.

“How could you tell?” her companion had asked.

“Don’t worry, I’ll draw you a picture.” We had laughed as her companion’s face turned a bright red.

Davidson said nothing but jammed his hands farther down into his dusty overcoat. Tall with rugged features, he might have been handsome had parasites not spent five months attacking his digestive system. Now, his tall frame was hunched under a billowing overcoat, his cheek bones protruding at sharp angles, setting off the saddest eyes I have ever seen. I think they were brown, but you couldn’t tell because there wasn’t much light left in them. Five months in Bolivia, and not a single letter from home. Three months with a sadistic “trainer” who thought a naïve Texan was nothing more than a practical joke waiting to happen. And two months with me, both of us trading bouts with salmonella and strep throat. But we were both finally well and ready to get some missionary work done.

We crossed the gray, cut-stone pavement in the plaza bordering the football stadium, the transplanted Incan statues casting long shadows on the gravel of the garden at the center of the plaza. The wind picked up again with its familiar cold, dry, dusty sting, like nothing I had experienced anywhere else. The cold went through you as if you weren’t there, and I could almost see the salesman back in Utah snickering to himself as I paid for the worthless Czechoslovakian overcoat at the “missionary” store. Another half-mile, and we would be home. It wouldn’t be much warmer inside, but at least we had some wool blankets to huddle under.

We came up over the last rise before the river. Even though I’d been in La Paz for three months, the altitude still made me breathless climbing even the gentlest slopes. As we descended toward the bridge, we joined a long line of tired workers quietly making their way home. No one talked, and all you could hear was the dragging of worn sandals on the cold stone sidewalk. It was always like that.

The Pasos Kanki bridge wasn’t particularly impressive. Perhaps thirty meters across, it straddled what the locals charitably called Río Orko Jahuira, a muddy wash full of trash and excrement with a gray-beige stream passing through it. By day people washed their clothes in the river, except on the days when the textile mill upstream emptied its dyes from a pipe into the ravine. On those days the river would run in brilliant purple or green or blood red, and the disappointed cholitas would turn sadly and take their unwashed laundry home.

The still-quiet stream of paceños continued perhaps three abreast as we neared the bridge, and I found myself unconsciously staring at the ground as I walked, shutting out the cold and the crowd around me. I nearly ran into the elderly man in front of me when the crowd stopped suddenly. I could hear some muttering up ahead as the line of people made a wide turn out into the middle of the bridge to avoid whatever was obstructing the sidewalk.

The bridge was well-lighted, and I could see what looked like a pile of rags shoved up against the small concrete railing. As we approached, I could see it wasn’t rags at all. It was a person, though I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. Whoever it was had clearly died on the bridge. Unthinking, we both turned and followed the traffic into the street, around the body, and back onto the sidewalk. Still no one said a word.

We walked up the unpaved street on the other side of the river toward our apartment, the smell of pig entrails frying in lard over a kerosene burner joining the dust in our noses as we passed the Cruce de Copacabana, the main bus stop in Villa Copacabana. We climbed the steep hill to our apartment building, opened the red metal gate, and crossed the courtyard into our tiny room. Neither one of us spoke as we changed into our night-time clothes: long johns and sweats to keep out the Andean cold.

Davidson sat on his bed, staring at his feet.

“Maybe we should go back and do something,” I said, helpfully. “We shouldn’t have left him like that.”

“Look, you’re the one who kept on walking, so don’t blame me,” he said, his eyes showing anger I hadn’t seen before.

“All right, let’s go,” I said, pulling on my overcoat. He dressed quickly, and we headed back down the hill.

Nothing had changed since we left. The line of pedestrians continued steadily maneuvering around the body.

“What are we supposed to do?” Davidson asked, knowing neither of us had a clue.

“I don’t know, but we can do something.” I wasn’t sure we could.

As we approached the body, I’m not sure what I expected. I’d never felt such sadness and yet such terror at the same time. But I made myself squat down beside what was now obviously a woman. She was dressed in traditional cholita clothes: wide pollera skirt, stiff woolen shawl, and battered bowler-type hat. She was absolutely still, almost in a fetal position, leaning against the railing, as if she had just decided to stop walking once and for all.

I touched her shoulder, and she stirred slightly. Not dead. Thank you, Heavenly Father. I asked if she needed help, and she turned a grimy face flecked with bits of coca leaf to me. “What the hell do you want, gringo?” she slurred at me angrily, clearly drunk.

“We just want to help,” I said softly.

“Go to hell!” she shrieked.

A man behind me said, “Stupid gringos, just let the bitch die. She’s not worth the time.” I turned and saw that the crowd had stopped, and they were watching to see what these two American boys were going to do. “En serio, just leave her alone. Let her die,” he repeated. They were right: I knew she would freeze to death if she stayed on the bridge.

“Please, señora, you need to go home,” I tried again. This time she spat at me.

I turned to ask if anyone could help me get her home. At that moment, I saw an ancient green taxi heading toward the bridge, the driver’s eyes staring at the crowd gathered around us. Another car approached from the other side, its driver also trying to figure out what was going on. The cars collided perhaps fifteen feet from where we were.

Half the crowd, including Davidson, rushed to the crumpled cars to see if they could help. I stayed with the woman, trying hopelessly to get her to go home. Presently the police arrived in a rickety Land Cruiser. One of the officers rushed to where I was still squatting and asked, “Which car was she in?”


As the police worked on the accident, I noticed a small girl, perhaps seven or eight years old, standing a few feet off. “Do you know this woman? Do you know where she lives?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s my mother,” the little girl said. She looked as if she had been crying, but now her face looked stiff and cold.

“Let’s take her home,” I said, trying to smile. I reached my arms under the mother’s shoulders and lifted her to her feet, as a stream of profanity flowed from her mouth. Her daughter smiled at me and said, “We live only a couple of blocks away. I’ll get her home.” I watched them stagger slowly up the hill toward the stadium, the mother now screaming what were likely obscenities in Aymará.

I turned and saw Davidson holding the hand of a woman who sat on the opposite sidewalk, her head against the railing, blood trickling from her temple. We stayed a few more minutes until a policeman told us to go home. Davidson told the woman one last time that it was going to be OK, and then we started up the hill towards home.

As we passed the bus stop, a woman was packing up her kerosene burner and pot for the night, and a few men stood warming their hands near a fire burning in the gutter.

At the gate, I fumbled for my key.

“So what did we end up doing?” Davidson asked, his eyes again dark and empty.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know.”

If you like this, there’s more: Heaven Up Here

Something to Think about from Dr. King

January 20, 2015

I heard Senator Cory Booker paraphrase this and looked up the original:

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. — Martin Luther King

All violence has an underlying cause. Ideally, we would recognize and try to correct these underlying causes, but sometimes violence causes us to react solely to the violence and may even make us more resistant to addressing its roots (see my reaction to the violence in France). This is not to say that we should justify or reward violence but rather that we must not let ourselves lose sight of our ultimate goal: a free and just and equal society. The conditions Dr. King mentions are not intolerable because they spawn violence; they are intolerable because they promote oppression and despair.

The other day someone asked the question, If you had been an adult during the Civil Rights movement, would you have marched? Shortly after I returned home from my mission, my late brother and I were watching a news program with my mother. The program discussed the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was being celebrated as a federal holiday for the first time. My brother said, “If I had been alive then, I would have marched with them.” I said I would have, as well. My mother was horrified, her view being that Dr. King was a Communist rabble-rouser. “Why would you do something like that?” she asked. My brother said, “They were in the right. Their rights were being denied, and someone needed to stand up for them.” I agreed. My mother said something like, “Well, things were already changing on their own accord, so there wasn’t any need to cause all the trouble.” My brother smiled and said, “It’s because they caused trouble that things started changed.”

But I’ve thought about it. Would I have marched, really? I hope I’ve made it clear that I support equal treatment under the law for all people, and I also believe we must do everything possible to eradicate discrimination in all its forms. But would I have marched? I realized that marching requires commitment. You actually have to break out of your normal routine to do something like that. I live about 45 minutes from the White House, where there is always a demonstration of some kind going on. Heck, the White House Peace Vigil, just north of the White House fence in Lafayette Square, has been going on round the clock since 1981. That’s commitment! And yet I can’t be bothered to get in my car or take the Metro into town to speak up about something I believe in. I vote, but I haven’t been particularly politically active in years, not since I participated in party caucuses, a Senate campaign, and a state party convention several years ago. I guess I should feel good that I did that, but since then it’s been a lot of nothing for me. About the only thing I’ve had any passion about in the last few years is Mormonism and the pain of leaving it. I have tried to help people navigate that difficult transition, and I hope I have done some good. But I just don’t care about it much anymore. I wouldn’t cross the street to protest anything related to Mormonism. Heck, I can’t even bother enough to say much about the ridiculous “Je suis John Dehlin” meme. So, maybe it’s time to get involved with something bigger than a mildly snarky blog. I know, that doesn’t fit my negative elan, but so be it.

As I said earlier, I’ll keep you posted.

Kirby Nails It

January 19, 2015

Once again, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby shows why he’s one of my favorite writers.

A Mormon Faces Toward Mecca

The other day someone suggested that there are people out there (perhaps even in my neighborhood) who have nothing in common with me. Frankly, I can’t imagine that. Back when I was teaching freshman English at BYU, I had my students talk how humans tend to cast themselves less as someone but as not-someone else. Religions do this in contrasting, say, the saved and the unsaved or believers and infidels. But we do this in all sorts of ways: race, politics, nationality, culture, education, language, and so on. I would ask my students to name someone with whom they had nothing in common. Since this was around the time of the first Iraq war, the name that came up most often was Saddam Hussein. We would then talk about what we did have in common with him. At first, they could only say, “Well, he’s a human being, sort of.” But then they would talk about how, like us, he had parents and siblings, faith, patriotism, and hopes and dreams. Soon it became obvious that Saddam Hussein wasn’t something other than human that was incomprehensible. He might have done terrible things, but he was a person nonetheless, and in some fundamental ways, he was like us.

I’ve been called naive because I’ve long believed that most conflicts between people, nations, religions, and so on, stem in large part in our ability to understand each other as people. We talk about jihadists, for example, as monsters, sociopaths, evildoers (in George W. Bush’s words)–as anything but people with thoughts and beliefs and desires and hopes. Conversely, I believe that we could do away with a lot of conflict if we could just sit down and talk to each other, giving each other respect and consideration as equals.

I know, it’s not that simple. We see, for example, that the world is getting smaller, metaphorically speaking, with the advent of communications. I can, for example, read today’s edition of El Diario, one of the newspapers in La Paz, Bolivia, and learn of floods that have killed 15 people. Or I can read news from such places as South Africa, Australia, Poland, and China. My knowledge of the world is potentially as broad and deep as my willingness to explore.

And yet it isn’t. I can do all the reading I want and learn about cultures and history, and even learn languages. But that isn’t the same as meeting people and talking with them, and more importantly, listening to them. One thing that I have learned from blogging is that it is extremely difficult to communicate what I think in ways that everyone will understand. I am often surprised that things I thought were positive or conciliatory were taken as negative and hostile. Obviously, I need to do better, and I am trying to do so. But really, a conversation needs two or more people coming into the discussion with a desire to understand and learn from each other; what I find is that we (I’m including myself) often–maybe always–come into a discussion with a particular perspective that we feel obligated to represent or defend. That’s usually what gets us into trouble.

I wrote last week about how “the best response” to the Charlie Hebdo killings was more mocking cartoons. Looking back, I realize that came from a defensiveness related to my perception that my values–in this case, freedom of expression–were being attacked. But the proper response isn’t to strike back but to defend my values in a way that upholds those values but brings people together. It’s clear to me that a lot of non-Western cultures don’t value freedom of expression in the same way that we in the West do. Even in the West there are disagreements about limits (see, for example, the Pope’s recent statements), and there’s an awful lot of hypocrisy and unequal application of this fundamental right. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to reach out to others and explain where we are coming from, but at the same time try to listen and comprehend where others are coming from.

Like Kirby, I don’t know an awful lot about Islam, even though I live in a neighborhood with a significant Muslim population. Not a day goes by that I don’t see someone wearing a hijab or salwar kameez (see? I have learned at least two new words from my neighbors), and I have had pleasant conversations with my Muslim and Hindu neighbors. But I haven’t talked to them about their religion, probably because it’s considered bad manners in this country. It would be easy, however, for me to do what Kirby has done and find a local Islamic center where I could learn. I think I’m going to try that.

I’ll keep you posted.

Subway in the Sky

January 16, 2015

I stumbled across this wonderful little video from the New York Times about Bolivia’s new “teleférico,” which is a tram suspended from cables, such as those you’d see in a ski resort.

Bolivia’s Subway in the Sky

This makes me happy for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s a brilliant solution to a difficult transportation problem. La Paz, the executive and legislative capital of Bolivia, lies in a relatively narrow and steeply sided canyon in the Andes at an elevation of just under 12,000 feet above sea level downtown. In the following photo, looking northwest from downtown, you can see how the city rises up the sides of the canyon.

As the city grew, it spread up the sides of the canyon and onto the vast, flat plain (called the “altiplano,” or high plain) that stretches between two ranges of the Andes from the Salar de Uyuni in the south to beyond Lake Titicaca in the north.

More than a million people live in what is now the city of “El Alto,” which is at an altitude of 13,600 feet. Many residents commute to work in La Paz, and the only way to travel in the past was by road. As you can see in the following photo, the sides of the canyon are so steep that cars can get into many neighborhoods only through winding switchback roads.

There is one main highway, the autopista, that connects downtown La Paz with El Alto, and commuters can take buses or taxis, usually after waiting in a long line.

Most large cities have subways or streetcars, but the geography of La Paz makes them impractical, if not impossible. So, how are you supposed to get people up and down a steep, 1,500-foot mountainside? The teleférico is an absolutely brilliant solution. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of it, but it reminds me of the power of not limiting ourselves to conventional ideas and solutions.

The video also makes me happy because it reminds me of a city I love and once called home. I can almost feel the cold, dry wind, the piercing sunshine, the dusty, crowded streets, and the spectacular views of Illimani and the other Andean peaks. There were even a few shots of the main market in 16 de Julio, a few blocks from where I lived.

But what I love most is the ordinary Bolivians in the video. I love the way they drop their vowels and don’t roll their r’s. I love how the one woman refers to the city as “la olla” (cooking pot) and the way she says “dentran” to mean “come into” the city. I love the handmade earrings, the hats, the knitted mantas and heavy pollera skirts. But most of all I love the warmth and goodness of the people, which comes through even in a short video. They are proud of their city and their country, as they should be. Bolivians are wonderful, lovely people, and I have been blessed to know them and live among them.

I really need to go back there someday.

I also found this Bolivian news report:

Off the Top of My Head

January 13, 2015

It’s late, and I should be in bed, but for certain reasons, I have to stay up. Naturally, my brain is going in a lot of directions at once, so why not write down what I’m thinking?

Has anyone else noticed how every instance of human evil is treated as if it’s part of a baseball score? No matter what happens, there’s always a “yes, but.” And that “yes, but” is almost always about how some other group has done worse things. So, two sociopaths murder 17 French citizens, and we can’t just say that’s a terrible thing and mourn for the dead. No, we have to explain how the French have mistreated Muslim immigrants (and yes, they have done so), which means the murder is just, what, evening the score? When the two New York policemen were killed just before Christmas, someone I know posted on Facebook, “Chickens coming home to roost,” as if these murders were somehow the fault of the policemen. In the same way, we’re told by other folks that people like Eric Garner were not compliant, so apparently that means they deserved to die. And now we’re told that it’s wrong that the recent attacks that killed some 2.000 Nigerians haven’t received as much attention as the murders in France. And we can’t say anything about ISIS because America’s done worse things. Maybe it’s not like a baseball score; this is like tennis or a video game, with an endless stream of “yes, but” attempts to outdo each other in terms of moral outrage. For God’s sake, can’t we just grieve for all the dead and resolve to try and end the cycle of violence? Why does everything have to be measured and one-upped by everything else?

I watched a video called “Meet the Mormons” (no, not that one) that aired on Britain’s Channel 4 last summer, and it stirred up some emotions in me that I hadn’t felt in a while. I must say I enjoyed how the filmmakers treated the LDS “minders” as sort of a creepy kind of comic relief. It struck me how strange it was that church leaders thought they could (and should) exercise that degree of control over what the missionaries and other members could say to the interviewers, and predictably their efforts erased a lot of the filmmakers’ initial good will and ended up making the church look ominously controlling. Then I saw the trailer and some interviews about “My Husband’s Not Gay” (spoiler: yes, he is). I can only assume that these guys and their beards–er, wives–didn’t get permission from church leaders because this show turned out to be little more than a live-action dramatization of the song “Turn It Off.” Somehow I don’t think the LDS church wants to be known as a group consisting of guys who spend their time leering at men while insisting that they aren’t gay (it’s SSA) and pretending that they really, truly are attracted to their wives.

I read somewhere that when you realize that Mormonism may not be what it claims to be entirely and Joseph Smith may not have been the greatest person, it’s not necessary to abandon it as “false” and walk away. One of my commenters here refers to it on his blog as “playing the ball where it lies.” In other words, you recognize the reality and work with it as well as you can. I would say it’s more playing the hand you’re dealt, but who’s going to quibble over metaphors? But I think that depends on whether you believe that the LDS church is, as my commenter puts it, “inspired” and reflects the divine will in some way. Or you might just believe, as a friend of mine does, that the LDS church has a net positive effect on the world. I am happy to acknowledge that the church does good in the world, and I am convinced that a lot of people are better for their association with the church. Heck, it’s pretty obvious to me that there are people out there who need the church and whose lives would be much worse without it. But for me, the shock of acknowledging that I didn’t believe in the church’s truth claims was overshadowed a few months later when I realized to my utter horror that, despite what I’d told myself all my life, I was miserable in the LDS church. I had a testimony, as they say, but I wasn’t happy. Watching that British documentary and reading about the gay-not-gay guys in Salt Lake just reminded me of the church’s capacity to hurt people’s lives in profound ways. I really struggle sometimes with what I write about the LDS church. I really would like to get to a point at which I never think about it anymore. Of course, given my family situation, that is impossible. But every so often I am reminded that, at heart, this is an organization focused on increased membership and income. I know that sounds harsh, but I believe it to be true. I wouldn’t mind the church if there were universal and obvious blessings from membership, but from what I see, there aren’t any. So many Mormons are like my friend, who described himself as “tired” in the church, with nothing left of himself to give. Part of me sees that and wants to help people get out of that miserable existence. But I don’t. If people are happy in the church (and there are some), they should be in the church. But something has to give: either the church has to start doing something good for its members, or the members have to do good for themselves.

It’s late, and I am not sure I’m even making sense anymore. I really have mixed feelings about my relationship with the church. I want to believe it is the church of high ideals and personal development that I once thought it was, but too often I have to stop myself from calling it a stupid fucking cult.

Cooler Head from the Past Prevails

January 12, 2015

In thinking over my reaction to the massacre of 17 people in France this past week, I had a vague recollection of my response to a similar event some five years ago:

Everyone Draw Mohammed Day

I shall quote from my far-gentler, youthful self:

It makes no sense to attack or ridicule an entire religion simply because of the asshattery of some doofuses (should that be doofii?) who claim to adhere to that religion. The proper response to these moral cretins is indeed righteous indignation, well-spoken ridicule, and utter disdain. Rather than hate them or attack them, however, the best revenge (if that’s what anyone wants) is to leave them to fester in the sewage of their twisted devotion to hatred masquerading as religion. God, or Allah, or whatever you wish to name Him, is bigger than these people. We should be bigger than them, too. That’s why I’m not drawing a picture of Mohammed. I love and respect my Muslim friends, and I won’t hurt them because an insignificant little group is is overcompensating for something.

This is what I should have said in my most recent response. As I said in a comment earlier today, I’m not in favor of gratuitous mocking of other people’s cherished beliefs. I’ve never drawn a cartoon of Mohammed, not even a reverential one, and I have never mocked anyone’s personal beliefs, at least not intentionally. (Of course, I suspect more than a few people disagree with me on that.) That said, I think satire can be a useful corrective to hypersensitivity and those who seem to thrive on feeling attacked and persecuted (that would include the Kouachi brothers and their friends). I can’t imagine feeling so offended that I would be motivated to hurt or kill someone else, though I am trying to put myself in the place of those who do. (I heartily endorse Eric Liu’s brilliant piece, “I Know Just How You Feel: The Power of Radical Empathy.”)

On the other hand, I don’t really understand people who do gratuitously mock other people’s most cherished beliefs and intend offense. From what I understand, the satirists at “Charlie Hebdo” felt they were performing a vital civic function in ensuring that no group, no belief system, was immune to criticism. So, in a sense I get that. I don’t, however, approve of the content of that “criticism.” A drawing of a burqa shoved up a naked woman’s backside is, to me, well beyond appropriate, insightful, or intelligent criticism. So, were these guys heroes? Maybe, maybe not. I agree with them that no subjects should ever be so sacrosanct that they are beyond criticism. Years ago, I heard literary critic Terry Eagleton criticize the Thatcher government for attempting to make “certain thoughts literally unthinkable.” After his presentation, I asked him if that wasn’t the goal of every ideological system: to make certain thoughts unthinkable. He said I was probably right. But there’s a difference between outlawing certain types of thought and speech and rendering them unnecessary.

So, oddly enough, I agree with my commenter: free speech is a right, and depending on whom you talk to, a right granted by God. But, as with great power, with such freedom comes a degree of responsibility. At the same time, however, if people living in a pluralistic society want respect for their beliefs, whether Muslim or Mormon or atheist or anything else, they also must respect the rights of others to disagree with those beliefs, even in a mocking way. I have always been disgusted by those “protesters” outside Temple Square who drag the Book of Mormon on the ground or wipe their backsides with temple garments, but I would never question their right to do so. The same goes for the morons of Westboro Baptist, whose actions and speech are repugnant and hateful. Or the folks who have made my hometown the porn capital of the world. Free speech isn’t always pretty, but it must be free.

In short (I know, I’m never brief), I don’t have to lionize the folks at Charlie Hebdo any more than I honor The Onion or Larry Flynt. I do, however, honor a fundamental human value: the right to express what we think. And I do honor the police personnel who died protecting that right, Ahmet Merabet and Clarissa Jean-Philippe.


Ahmed Merabet


Clarissa Jean-Philippe


Sticks and Stones and Kalashnikovs

January 8, 2015

Yesterday’s appalling massacre in France has reminded me of the power of satire and humor. For a lot of people, direct and vehement opposition to their most cherished ideals and beliefs is far more tolerable than jokes or satire aimed at those same ideals and beliefs. In France, for example, Marine Le Pen’s Front National party openly opposes further immigration of Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, yet no one is attacking her offices with assault rifles. Suicide bombers likewise have not targeted the increasingly large, anti-Islamist PEGIDA demonstrations in Germany. But a few satirical cartoons in a Danish newspaper and a French magazine provoked rage and violence, culminating in murder in both countries and rioting in several places around the world.

It’s tempting to compare the Kouachi brothers (the alleged killers) and their ilk to insecure tweens with very fragile egos–of course, heavily armed, but tweens nonetheless. Nothing sparks a middle-school feud like ridicule or mocking–usually for wearing the wrong clothes or having the wrong hairstyle–and these men (using the term loosely, given their clear immaturity) have lashed out like a fragile child who has been teased over jeans from Wal-Mart. But, just as in middle school, it is the reaction that reveals the weakness. And these jihadists, rather than wrap themselves in glory for having defended the honor of Mohammed, have shown just how vulnerable they are to well-placed mocking and satire. Despite all the bluster and bravado and videos of beheadings and suicide bombings, these guys are showing the world what really scares them: ridicule.

Why is that? I’ve often pondered the reactions my little blog has provoked. Obviously, my blog has focused largely on the LDS church and its ideology and practices. Compared to the church–a large, well-organized corporation with deep pockets–my blog is pretty inconsequential. And for the most part, what I write doesn’t get much reaction from Mormons (which is fine with me, as I write for myself, not them), even when I’m highly critical of the church. But without fail, if I write something satirical or humorous about the church, traffic increases greatly, and I get angry responses from people I’ve never heard of. I even have one commenter who shows up to lament my psychological and emotional problems, of which my satiric writings are a clear symptom. And it was my sarcastic humor that drove some misguided souls who threatened me with violence and sent threatening emails to my LDS wife.

I think I know why humor is so threatening: when you can laugh at something, it means you aren’t afraid of it, and you don’t take it seriously. By extension, you don’t take its ideas, beliefs, and practices seriously. It’s like a bad horror movie; when it wants to be scary, it’s funny. People love watching “so bad it’s good” movies, but such films are always failed dramas or action or horror films, invariably films that take themselves too seriously. On the other hand, a comedy that isn’t funny is just bad, and it fades into obscurity.

Islamic jihadism in its various guises (al-Qaeda, Daesh/ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and whatever may crop up next) wants us to be afraid. The whole purpose of the beheading videos, the rapes, suicide bombings, slavery, and so on, is to scare anyone who might dare oppose them and their medieval-cum-fascist ideology. By nature, bullies are effective only when they are scary; fear is what allows bullies to maintain power over their victims. A bully who can be mocked is a bully who isn’t scary and has no power. What Charlie Hebdo demonstrates is that the jihadists are not scary, and they merit nothing but scorn and mockery from the rest of the world. And they know that our ridicule robs them of their power. That is why they attacked a meeting of magazine editors and proclaimed that they had “avenged the prophet.” Could any act have displayed their weakness and cowardice more clearly and effectively?

Obviously, these cowardly, overgrown tweens have guns, and there are thousands like them terrorizing people in several parts of the world. We must and will defeat the enemies of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. We have no choice. But we also must remember the fundamental weakness of an ideology (fundamentalist jihadism, not Islam per se) that portrays itself as an army of God sweeping the world yet is afraid of someone holding a pencil and paper.

Jihadists ought to be mocked and ridiculed, and it’s high time we started laughing at them.