The Risks of Insulting a DeityMarch 31, 2015 by Reverend Mary
The ancient Caananite people knew of a goddess called Anath, a warrior famed for her powers of retribution. One legend tells of the man who had slighted her and then faced her wrath. He was winnowed with a sickle, crushed in a mill, and scorched with fire by the ferocious deity. In modern Myanmar, an otherwise tolerant religious figure is made into a figurehead of inhumane injustice. Three people who own and operate a bar in the country were sentenced to two and a half years in jail for posting an advertisement on social media that depicted an image of a chill Buddha wearing headphones.
Reigning With a Vengeance
A Mayan deity called Ixchel wears a serpent on her head and has jaguar claws for ears. The goddess of war and childbirth, she was venerated by Mayan women, who founded an island in her honor. Still called Isla de la Mujeres (Isle of the Women), the former sanctuary lies off the eastern coast of Mexico. She was a powerful deity, and not one to be insulted with impunity, either. Legends of ferocious retribution for those who insulted or offended her echo through the ages, as is depicted in images of the goddess on walls of ancient structures.
Buddhist Nationalism Rising
The ominously named Committee to Protect Race and Religion is among the Buddhist nationalist groups to rise after the end of decades of military rule in Myanmar. Many in the southeast Asian nation are striving to establish a unique national identity under the semi-civilian government that emerged in 2011 following a half-century of oppression by hardline military juntas that have ruled the nation once known as Burma.
The Buddhist nationalist groups, led and strongly influenced by monks who are highly respected by most of the population, primarily aim their actions at the nation’s Muslim minority. Statistics show the challenging situation for followers of Islam in the country:
- Muslims are nearly five percent of the population
- The nation of 53 million is mostly Buddhist
- More than 240 people, mostly Muslim, have been killed in sectarian skirmishes
The strong Buddhist majority is showing increasing signs of intolerance of religious minorities and of those who offend the dominant religion.
A bar manager from New Zealand and two employees from Myanmar are facing 30 months in jail after a court convicted them of insulting religion in an ad on social media that featured a trippy image of Buddha in headphones. The three had pleaded not guilty, but the court found otherwise and imposed the stiff sentences.
Judging the Dead in the Underworld
In Norse mythology, Hel is the supreme ruler of the underworld that bears her name. Beyond judging the dead, she is featured in the legend of the apocalyptic final war of the gods, in which she will pilot a craft made of the fingernails of corpses to lead the army of the dead into battle. She is certainly not a deity that one would insult without thought of retribution.
Not Known for Vengeance or Easy Offense
Buddha is a religious figure most typically associated with peace, tolerance and understanding, especially in the Western mindset that is less familiar with actual Buddhism practice. To see the name and legend of the peaceful Buddha associated with the type of cruel punishment that many in the West have come to associate with zealous followers of Mohammed is disappointing and somewhat shocking. Many spiritual believers today assert that no reasonable God really wants people to punish and torture other human beings over an image of the deity.
It is often hard to remember, in the tense modern world where governments lash out at their people for trivial offenses, that people share more similarities than differences. All creatures are children of the same great universe, and an injury to one is truly an injury to all. While citizens of the world watch with dismay, some governments and groups try to enforce their beliefs on others. Meanwhile, stories of the angry gods of past legends remain with the people of Earth in various modern incarnations.
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