Last week's Ottawa Citizen "Ask the Religion Experts" question was, "is it ever OK to satirize religious leaders or beliefs?"
WSO's Balpreet Singh's answer from a Sikh perspective is below. For the replies from the other Experts, please click here
Religious satire is probably as old as religion and I don’t think anything we say could possibly make it stop. Nor should it stop. Freedom of expression is a protected right, as is freedom of religion. We live in a liberal democratic society where we can all express our views, even if they are offensive to some. The only limit is that we cannot incite violence or hatred.
There are several instances in the Sikh faith of the Gurus performing acts which were satirical in nature. Guru Nanak once travelled to a famous pilgrimage site and saw that pilgrims were performing a ritual of standing in the ‘holy’ river and offering handfuls of water to the rising sun. He asked them what they were doing and they replied that they were offering water to their ancestors in the heavens. Guru Nanak turned his back to the sun and began throwing water towards the west. The pilgrims asked what he was doing and Guru Nanak replied, “I am watering my fields back home” and continued throwing water. The pilgrims laughed and said he was being foolish. Guru Nanak replied, “surely if the water you are offering the sun will reach your ancestors, then the water I am throwing should reach my fields, which are relatively much closer?”
Guru Nanak’s objective was to make the pilgrims reflect on the significance of their rituals and whether they had merit. He wasn’t openly offensive nor did he condemn them outright.
Religious satire plays a role in inspiring thought and if anything, is an opportunity to re-confirm our beliefs or engage in dialogue to clarify misunderstandings. Good satire isn’t so offensive as to completely alienate the intended audience.
Where satire is found to be offensive, the response must be a thoughtfully argued rebuttal. Violence is never justified in any circumstances.