Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Plush Toy Blasphemy

If it had been April 1, I could have dismissed it. It had to be a joke. A British teacher at a private school in Sudan allowed her 7-year-old students to name a teddy bear, “Muhammad.” Now she may face criminal prosecution.

The boy who made the suggestion was named Muhammad. He wasn’t thinking about the Islamic prophet at all. Apparently most of the students, 90 percent of whom are Muslim, did not object to the name.

I guess what really bothers me is the tendency in religion to focus on the things that are bearly significant. Never mind that the slave trade is destroying lives in Sudan, or that our children don’t recognize blasphemy when they hear it. We can’t have a teddy bear with a prophet’s name.

In our own country, religious people are all upset that some retailers won’t wish customers a “Merry Christmas.” I get annoyed with political correctness, too. But it doesn’t make sense to get angry with worldly people because they don’t want to identify with Christ. Yes, Christmas has become way too commercial. There’s not enough Jesus in the season. But are people really buying the latest gadgets and toys in the name of Jesus, anyway?

If Jesus really came to change the world, then his followers might put their efforts into something world-changing. Can you imagine the person whose life was changed because a cashier said, “Merry Christmas,” instead of, “Happy Holidays”? Maybe it could happen. But what if people took some of that “Christmas money” and invested it in micro-businesses in a third world country, or in an AIDS orphanage in Africa, or in a clean water project in a small village? What if we supported efforts to bring justice to oppressed peasants struggling with a corrupt regime?

Of course it is easier for me to tell other people to change than it is for me to begin living my own faith in a more meaningful way.

But think of how wonderful the world will be when no one ever says, “Happy Holidays,” and there are no teddy bears named Muhammad.