Religious Overreaction to Comedy Central's Jesus Show

It is not so much that the concept is offensive as it is that the complaints being raised about it have the ugly stink of “victimization” about it.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Several prominent conservatives are blasting television’s Comedy Central over a proposed new cartoon series making fun of Jesus Christ. The group--collectively Citizens Against Religious Bigotry--includes media watchdog L. Brent Bozell and film critic and radio host Michael Medved, who are concerned the new series--which the network has not green lit--will be “offensive to Christians.”

The series, reports Lisa de Moraes in the Washington Post, would be about Jesus moving to New York City “to escape the enormous shadow of his powerful but apathetic father.”

"JC is a playful take on religion and society with a sprinkle of dumb," the network said after ordering a script, an order that came just weeks after it censored two episodes of the animated series South Park to remove references to the Muslim prophet Muhammad following threats of violence made against the show’s creators.

The coalition, writes de Moraes, “has sent letters to more than 250 advertisers asking them to state that they will not advertise on the show,” adding that no one involved in the complaints has yet to see an episode or to have read a script.

This issue is worthy of discussion because of the tension it produces on both sides, each of which has a valid argument.

On the one hand, the critics of the proposed show rightly point out that a series lampooning Buddha, Muhammad, Vishnu or most any other religious figure would likely never make it out of the starting gate, because of public pressure and because they would undoubtedly be in bad taste--never mind probably not funny. Yet it is somehow acceptable to make fun of Jesus Christ, whose divinity at some level is accepted by a majority of Americans.

They are certainly well within their rights to raise a ruckus. And, in terms of the larger cultural argument, they make some very good points. On the other hand, the complaints also have a whiff of prior restraint about them, given that no one has actually seen the script. It is hard to imagine that such a show could be done in a tasteful, respectful manner and be funny (as Comedy Central and others involved in the show, given their previous work, define funny) but that in no ways means they do not have the right to go ahead with the program.

It is not so much that the concept is offensive as it is that the complaints being raised about it have the ugly stink of “victimization” about it that is so off-putting when raised by the likes of the Reverend Al Sharpton, the folks over at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the National Organization for Women and others who seem to walk around looking for reasons to be offended by someone or something.

Further, such complaints as the ones being lodged against this one proposed show--coming as they do from representatives what is arguably the American mainstream--make it all the more difficult to laugh off the demands made by fringe groups that the rest of the nation bend over backwards to be sensitive to their concerns--even when it would require doing things that distort the underlying values of the country, like the demands that the words “under God” be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance or that a war memorial on government-owned land in the Mojave Desert be taken down because someone thinks it violates the First Amendment.

A song popular in some churches contains the line "My God is an awesome God,” which means He can probably take a show like JC in stride, assuming it ever gets off the ground. Which means the rest of us will just have to find a way to sort it out ourselves.

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