At its core, every major religion offers a theology that purports to humanity’s better nature: Love for one’s brethren, prayers of gratitude to a Higher Power and a set of commandments that “encourage” a life governed by moral principles and guided by behavioral norms handed down from on high.
Unfortunately, the love and devotion true believers are required to offer to their Creator/Deity/Supreme Being are rarely translated into respect for others here on Earth.
Especially when those others embrace the “wrong” religion.
Worst of all, the most devout adherents seem to be missing the humor gene. To true believers, there’s nothing funny about poking fun at anything related to their theology, which is supposed to provide the blueprint for spiritual enlightenment that makes one immune to petty grievances.
Case in point: A new video promoting Australian lamb, a two-minute clip that features (among other gods) the Hindu deity Ganesha, has “enraged members of the Hindu community in Australia and elsewhere,” according to reporting on the independent news website SBS.com. Calls have already begun to have the campaign immediately terminated.
First of all, for those who are not of the Hindu persuasion, let’s clarify who Lord Ganesha is, courtesy of Kashgar.com.au, an online retailer of religious artifacts:
“Ganesh (also spelled Ganesa or Ganesha and known as Ganapati, Vinayaka and Pillaiyar) is one of the best known and most loved deities in the Hindu pantheon of gods. This elephant-headed fellow is the Lord of Good Fortune who provides prosperity, fortune and success. Devotees believe that if Ganesha is worshiped, he grants success, prosperity and protection against adversity [and] is also the destroyer of vanity, selfishness and pride.”
Apparently, his portfolio doesn’t extend to tolerance for those who don’t worship him, however.
Everyone Gets Satirized
Second, let’s specify that the video in question (view it here), one in an ongoing series of controversial and much-talked about promotions sponsored by Meat and Livestock Australia titled, “You Never Lamb Alone,” is an equal opportunity satire.
The premise is that lamb is one of the few meats everyone can enjoy, as exemplified by the gods and prophets of ancient and modern religions depicted enjoying a communal dinner together. Along the way, the video spoofs everyone from Jesus (performing a “reverse miracle” by changing wine into water for a designated driver) to Moses (who “parts a sea” of peas on his plate), to Thor (who objects to the Christian rock playing in the background) to L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology (who complains that “I passed up dinner with Tom Cruise” to join the others).
It’s lively, good-natured humor — right up until the point when Buddha says, “Shall we address the elephant in the room?” To which the actor playing Ganesha replies, “Not funny two-and-a-half thousand years ago; not funny now.”
Especially if you’re someone who’s devoted to Lord Ganesha.
Both the spokespersons for the Hindu community and the practitioners of that religion have been very vocal in asserting that the video has “offended their cultural and religious sensitivities,” calling the ad “irresponsible” and an “assault” on the diverse cultures in Australia.
One social media commenter captured the irony perfectly: “Respecting others’ faith & culture is often ignored to create controversy and get their few minutes of fame. These irresponsible acts should be highly condemned by everyone. Every time someone uses Hindu Gods in controversial way … the people responsible must face the full extent of the community's wrath.”
In other words, if someone pokes fun at the god or gods that a religion’s followers worship as the embodiment of spiritual enlightenment, they are to be attacked, ridiculed and ostracized — or worse.
Despite the patina of tolerance and the frequent allusions to the commonalities that all of the world’s prominent religions supposedly share, the reality is that for all the piety and goodness that prayer and worship are supposed to nurture among the faithful, the imaginary bonds of brotherhood stop cold at the bright line where my holier-than-thou community meets your less-than-acceptable beliefs.
It’s one of the ultimate ironies: The spiritual pathways designed to lift us up to a life that transcends the crass, self-centered venality that otherwise would drag down our existence, are themselves one of the greatest sources of anger and hatred toward those we deem as “others.”
As comedian Jon Stewart once noted, in commenting on the sweep of human history, “Religion has proven to be a great comfort to a world … torn apart by religion.”
Sadly, we have to give that comment a reluctant “Amen.”
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.