Fionola Meredith: Banning Jesus Christ as a comic book character an own goal for Christians
In a free society, no religion should be beyond criticism or parody, says Fionola Meredith
It seems stupid to get offended over something you haven't read, in fact, something that hasn't even been published. But hey - why let a trivial little thing like the truth get in the way? Hardline Christians in the United States are jubilant because DC Comics - the original home of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman - has apparently caved under pressure and cancelled a new comic-book series featuring Jesus Christ.
The books were to be entitled 'Second Coming', in which the son of God is sent on a "most holy mission" to learn "what it takes to be the true messiah of mankind".
Publicity pictures show Jesus as a shaggy-haired bearded dude, trying to feed bread to a thuggish-looking criminal, while rival superhero Sun-Man chokes another baddie in a violent arm-lock.
Pretty harmless? Not according to ultra-conservative campaign group CitizenGo, which drummed up a 200,000-plus signature petition calling on DC Comics to pull the series, describing it as "outrageous and blasphemous". It worked. Comic-book Jesus has now been censored.
What a pile of smug, joyless and intolerant hooey. In case the American fundamentalists haven't noticed, nobody owns the rights to Christ's image. He's an icon of popular culture as much as he's God's number two.
That's why Jesus has appeared frequently in long-running, massively popular cartoons like the Simpsons, where he starred in his own comic book, Easy to Believe Tales.
No surprises, either, that he's a regular feature of the outrage-hungry cartoon South Park, where an animated Christ pops up hosting a television chat show, Jesus and Pals. On another occasion he fights a boxing match against Satan. In the season six finale, Jesus is shot by an Iraqi insurgent, while on a high-risk mission to rescue Santa Claus.
So what's so different about Jesus as a DC comics superhero? Why is that image considered so offensive that it must get the chop? It doesn't make sense.
Look, you don't have to like any of this stuff. You might find it funny, or daft, or you might think it's appallingly abhorrent. But what you shouldn't do is demand that it be censored. I don't believe in blasphemy laws. No religion should be above criticism or parody: and yes, I include Islam in that category, every bit as much as Christianity.
Years ago, I was one of a number of writers who contributed to a Belfast-based arts publication called The Vacuum. When the magazine published twin issues on God and Satan, unionist councillors at Belfast City Hall took terrible offence and sought to withdraw the paper's funding.
The Vacuum was accused of devil-worshipping and supplying "filth". UUP councillor Jim Rodgers got in a particular lather about it, condemning the magazine as "absolute trash … you'd have to be sick of mind to read this".
Ah, those were the days. Now it's the Shinners who want to censor artistic practice - SF councillors practically had a conniption recently, at the thought of artist Brian John Spencer coming to sketch them. If Spencer walks in, they'll flounce out in a huff.
Is City Hall censorship policy like the Lord Mayor's chain - they pass it around amongst themselves so they can all have a go?
As I recall, most of The Vacuum controversy centred on an article called 'I Peed in Church'. But had any of the councillors actually bothered to read the piece, they would have discovered that it was nothing to do with gratuitous desecration. Rather, it was simply one woman's recollection of being caught short in a church service when she was eight years old. Hardly a grave offence to the Lord.
Likewise, if any of the 200,000 incensed American Christians bothered to read a widely-available interview with the creator of Second Coming, Mark Russell, they would see a very different picture to the one currently occupying their over-heated imaginations.
"It's actually a very pro-Christ comic, as he's the character who actually offers a meaningful alternative to violence," Russell said. "Superheroes tend to lean on violence as a solution because it's what they're good at. But drop-kicking someone into a volcano or throwing them through a plate-glass window only works for solving a very small percentage of human problems. The other 99.9% of problems require empathy and that's the superpower that Christ brings to the table."
Censorship has always been like catnip to religious fundamentalists. They love the smell of it. The new, 'woke', secular fundamentalists are keen on it too, operating to their own narcissistic mantra: 'if it offends me, ban it'.
In both cases, it's intolerance, hysteria and manufactured outrage - not truth - which lead the way.