Is Jesus with a beer and a cigarette blasphemous?

A Muslim friend sent me the following news report:

Malaysia daily gets one-month ban
By Agencies

Malaysia has imposed a one-month publishing ban on a Tamil-language newspaper for printing a caricature of Jesus holding a cigarette and a can of beer. State news agency Bernama quoted the internal security ministry as saying the publishing permit of the daily Makkal Osai Tamil would be suspended for a month from Friday.

S M Periasamy, general manager of Makkal Osai, which caters to Malaysia’s ethnic Indian minority, said his office received the directive by fax from the ministry. He said: “Of course we are shocked by this. My entire staff are all in tears. They will lose a month of income.” He said the newspaper would abide by the order for now though it planned to appeal the ban.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia’s prime minister, condemned publication of the Jesus caricature, saying it was unacceptable in a multi-racial society. Last year, Badawi, a Muslim, imposed similar bans on two newspapers that reprinted caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

Makkal Osai printed the caricature last Tuesday on its front page with a caption quoting Christ as saying: “If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them.”

The paper’s editor apologised, saying the caricature had been taken from the internet, but a local politician filed a police report, calling it a “threat to national harmony”.

Periasamy said the graphic artist who downloaded the picture of Jesus had overlooked the fact that the picture had been altered to insert a cigarette in one hand and another object, possibly a can, in the other. The artist had since been suspended, he said.

Murphy Pakiam, Kuala Lumpur’s archbishop, criticised the picture as “desecration” but later accepted the newspaper’s apology. Some Muslim groups joined church groups this week in calling for action to be taken against the newspaper.

Just over half of Malaysia’s roughly 26 million people are Muslims, almost all of them ethnic Malays, who are deemed to be Muslim by birth.

I must confess that I hardly know what to think about this. I haven’t seen the picture, so I can’t be sure of the intent of the publishers.

I myself smoke (a pipe, not cigarettes) and drink (generally wine rather than beer–which I believe was Jesus’ preference also). I don’t believe these are sins–although they could be if they were addictive behaviour or caused significant harm to me or any harm at all to others around me.

I guess the difficulty is that most Malaysians (being Muslims) would think that smoking and drinking are sinful acts. In this context, depicting Jesus doing these things may be regarded as blasphemous.

But I guess that more concerning is a lack of understanding of Christianity reflected in the caption that goes along with the picture (“If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them”), and the implication that Jesus himself made such “mistakes” and therefore, in spite of doing these “sinful things”, he went to heaven. That is certainly one way of understanding the coupling of the caption and the picture. If it was the intent of the publisher, I would be very concerned.

Unfortunately, the Lord Jesus gets far worse treatment at the hands of cartoonists here in Australia on a regular basis in our daily media.

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