Retailer pulls magazine off shelves for blasphemy

The Star, a Johannesburg newspaper, reported on 20 February 2009 that a leading South African food retailer, Pick 'n Pay, pulled a student magazine off its shelves in response to complaints by Christians. The story was also reported the next day in the Saturday Star. The magazine in question, the SAX Appeal, is produced annually by students of the University of Cape Town for charity and is sponsored by Pick 'n Pay.

The magazine reportedly had an article entitled "Top Ten Atheist Retorts to Fundamentalist Christians", which included things like:
- "Jesus died for our sins. - I bet he feels like a tool now."
- "Praise the Lord. It's a miracle! - No you stupid C.*.*.T." (Christian who Understands No Theorems), statistically they happen every 365 days." Apparently, god was called a "pervert".

More details are reported on a Christian website

Errol Naidoo of the Family Policy Institute charged that the SAX Appeal "grossly overstepped the boundaries of decency and respect of individual beliefs individual religious beliefs".

The South African cartoonist, Zapiro, said that he thought that religions got far too much respect.

For me, although I find the Christians' touchiness about a silly students' rag magazine annoying, I don't know if it's worth writing to Pick 'n Pay. For anyone who wants to do so though, you can go to:

UPDATE 24/2/09:

The Christians have also reportedly lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission and have been putting pressure on UCT. Here are some statements which have been issued from UCT:

Statement from the RAG Committee Chairman

It has become clear that many people of the Christian faith have been hurt and insulted by some of the contents in our magazine, SAX Appeal 2009. UCT RAG unreservedly apologises to everyone who has been offended in this way. We value all the responses and comments that we have received and we will endeavour to ensure that nothing like this happens in the future. We believe that, in our honest intention to raise funds for the needy, we overstepped the mark and we hope that you will accept our unconditional apology.

Cameron Arendse
RAG Committee Chair

Statement from the Vice-Chancellor:

The recent SAX Appeal has rightly caused an outcry from many people and some of its articles have caused deep offence.

The chairperson of RAG, Cameron Arendse, has apologised unreservedly for the offence it has caused.

I believe this apology is appropriate and I have a strong view that the editorial team overstepped the boundaries.

I have asked that the Editorial team meet with UCT Management as soon as possible. We will revisit the role of the editorial advisory board that should work with students to advise on the publication’s content.

Many of us regardless of religious affiliation have been offended by aspects in the publication and for those let me add my apology.

Dr Max Price

And for light relief, here is a cartoon by Zapiro on navigating around religious sensitivities

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The Star newspaper today published a long op-ed piece by Professor Benatar, head of the Philosophy Department at UCT, on the Sax Appeal publication. It is entitled "The Joke is on the Humourless".

He asks: Is the outrage warranted? Are apologies due? He goes on to deal at length with various actual and possible objections to the publication, namely that:
1) the publication discriminated against Christians;
2) the publication was blasphemous;
3) the humour is wrong because it offends gratuitously;
4) the humour disrespects Christians.

Here are his arguments in relation to (3) and (4).

Objection that the humour is wrong because it offends gratuitously

He agrees that gratuitous offence is presumptively wrong but points out that many of the jokes are attempts at humorously portraying serious critiques of religious claims. They are therefore not gratuitous and are part of the open exchange of ideas that is necessary for the pursuit of truth. He argues that the humorous medium has the advantage that it can reach a wider audience and can do so in a pithy way.

Objection that the publication disrespects Christians

He argues that the acronym C.U.N.T. (Christian who Understands No Theorems - read "probability") was not used in the publication to refer to all Christians. It was used in the context of a joke which lampooned those Christians who take relatively rare but favourable events as miraculous. He also points out that there is an important distinction between thinking that someone's beliefs are ridiculous and disrespecting that person, and he draws an analogy to a parallel Christian distinction between "hating the sin and loving the sinner".

He then asks - "[b]ut is it not insulting - disrespectful of a person, rather than his beliefs - to call him a "stupid c**t"?"

He answers his question by saying :

"Well, it certainly would be if one said it, in all earnestness, to a real person. But it does not follow that it is insulting in a humorous context. Sometimes the humour lies in the incongruity of somebody saying something that a decorous person would never say in real life.

The failure to see this is a failure to understand that there are differences between humour and reality. This is not to deny that humour can sometimes do real harm and should then be taken seriously. It is to say only that those wishing to take jocular insults seriously need to demonstrate, rather than merely assert, that the rest of us should interpret the humour that way. This will be more difficult than demonstrating the insult in serious statements that, for example, homosexuals are an "abomination" ".

He concludes that it is far from clear that the offending Sax Appeal humour is immoral, and that while it is regrettable that some people were offended by the publication, to pander to these sensitivities would merely encourage more indignation and shut down the range of matters that can be joked about.
The Star newspaper also include a piece by Murray Hunter, who worked on the Sax Appeal for three years and was its editor in 2008.

While he has less than complementary things to say about the university administration, he thinks that the jokes went too far for the good of the magazine. He points out that "nobody gives money to charity to be offended and citizens who gave their R20 shouldn't feel obliged to "get over themselves", as they've been told to do."

He suggests a vetting council which includes "elders (in this context, anyone in the age group of 20-25 would do): former editors and RAG chairpeople who've gathered a bit more sense in their skulls ...".

He goes on to say:

"Anyone familiar with the Sax Appeals published in my years will think I'm a hypocrite. I'll admit I was a smut mongerer of the highest order; but only because I didn't know the boundaries.

We had no elders to turn to; we had no guidance in walking that fine line between incisive commentary and vindictive use of the c-word.
How can we support the magazine?




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