Wrong again, God boy

Just in time for Christmas secular winter solstice shopping, the 7th collection of Jesus and Mo cartoons is published.

And guess what! I got to write the foreword for it!

Here it is:

We’re living in a time of flourishing, intensifying fanaticism, specifically religious fanaticism.

In a way that seems strange. You would think religious fanaticism would be on a steady downward trajectory as technology and communication proceed in an upward one. How can murderous devotion to an antique Holy Book co-exist with the Mars Rover and the iPad?

Jesus and Mo implicitly and slyly puts that question whenever we see the boys watching television or at a laptop or reading a wide assortment of newspapers. The core running joke of the strip is that here we have the two Mega-Prophets of their respective Mega-Monotheisms, zoomed intact from the 1st and 7th centuries to the 21st, entirely at home here while still peddling the past-its-sell-by-date ontology and epistemology of Back Then. The grinding as the two pass each other is an infinite source of pointed blasphemous jokes.


Then again maybe they’re not the actual Mega-Prophets, but a couple of random guys who think they are. Or maybe they’re a couple of random believer-guys named after the respective Mega-Prophets. According to Author, they’re two actors he pays to play the roles of Jesus and Mohammed; he pays them in beer. They make sense as any of those, because the point for all versions is that they’re stuck in the 1st and 7th centuries while more reasonable people have moved the fuck on.

It’s blasphemy to say that, and blasphemy to make jokes about it. The “respectful” view is that the Mega-Prophets and their sayings are timeless, and holy, and eternally true. The blasphemous view is that the sayings are human sayings like any other, and that some of them are eye-wateringly horrible. The blasphemous view is that we’re allowed to evaluate them on their merits, and reject the horrifiers.


There’s a supporting character who expresses this blasphemous view, and that’s the barmaid. It’s an artful move to make it a woman who is always puncturing the Mega-Prophets’ balloon, who speaks for reason and skepticism, who is unimpressed by their authority. It’s poetic (or cartoonic) justice that she gets the part, since the Mega-Monotheisms have so ruthlessly excluded women from any authority while still telling them what to do down to the smallest detail.


The barmaid stands in for us, the readers. She’s a wish-fulfillment for all of us who would just love to shoulder up to one of the Holy Boss Dudes to ask some sharp questions. If only we could hold those bastards to account. What’s the big idea with Islamic State, for instance? Who approved that?

2015 has been a terrible year for blasphemers and jokers. The slaughter at Charlie Hebdo ushered in the year on January 7th when Islamist gunmen broke into their office and murdered eleven people – the editor, cartoonists and writers, and other staff.


Two days later Saudi Arabia publicly administered 50 lashes to Raif Badawi, with 950 more due to follow, along with ten years in prison and a massive fine, all for the “blasphemy” of running a website called Free Saudi Liberals.

On February 14th a gunman shot up a conference on free speech in Copenhagen, killing a Danish film director and injuring three others. The “blasphemous” Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was there but he escaped injury.

Less than a fortnight later, on February 26th, men with machetes killed the atheist blogger Avijit Roy and badly injured his wife Bonya Ahmed at a book festival in Dhaka. There is a list; people on the list are being hacked to death one by one. On March 30 it was blogger Washiqur Rahman. May 12 it was blogger Ananta Bijoy Das. August 7 it was Niladri Chattopadhyay Niloy, who used the pen name Niloy Neel. October 31 it was the publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan who was killed; another publisher and three writers were injured. We can be all too confident there will be more.

Grim times, and no sign that they’ll get any better soon – so we need blasphemous jokes more than ever. The blasphemy is crucial. The blasphemy is our goddam lifeline. In a time of fanaticism, blasphemous jokes are our ambassadors to the Court of Murderous Dogmatic Certainties. They are our means of dealing with the nightmare. Serious argument and persuasion, evidence and reason, are the essential underpinnings, but for keeping us going in a world where one fucking fool with a machete can cut us down at will, we need those blasphemous jokes.


Blasphemous jokes are the deadly enemy of fanaticism; long live blasphemous jokes.

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