Even as liberals lectured critics of Islam last week on the impropriety of hurting the "religious feelings" of believers, they couldn't stop themselves from indulging in bogus and blasphemous speculation about "Jesus' wife." The New York Times treated the half-baked story as breathless front-page news, even though many experts had already called the piece of fourth-century papyrus a "forgery."
Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King claims the papyrus records the belief among some early Christians that Jesus was married. The press has ignored her long resume of wishful feminist interpretation, casting her as a dispassionate scholar. In fact, she is a peddler of fashionable sensationalism, authoring such books as The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle.
The press perked up at the "discovery" of an oblique reference on the papyrus to this "wife" as his "disciple." This "raises" important questions about the role of women in churches today, purred pundits.
"Even with many questions unsettled, the discovery could reignite the debate over whether Jesus was married, whether Mary Magdalene was his wife and whether he had a female disciple," wrote Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times in her faux-objective style. This roughly translates as: even if it turns out to be a forgery, we at the Times want married and women priests! (The Harvard Theological Review has already begun to distance itself from King's claim, saying that it is only "provisionally" committed to running a paper on it in the January edition pending the "outcome" of scientific dating tests.)
Goodstein omnisciently continued that "global Christianity is roiling over the place of women in ministry and the boundaries of marriage," adding that the "discussion is particularly animated in the Roman Catholic Church." Where is it animated exactly? In Goodstein's social circle? No doubt it is "roiling" amongst the liberal elite, but to believing Catholics the subject of women priests is boring and irrelevant. Rome has spoken; the case is closed.
Karen King's prim disclaimer -- that the papyrus does not prove Jesus was married, only that some early Christians made this claim -- is belied by the tabloid title of her lecture in which she announced the papyrus's existence, "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife." Every half-baked claim is now teed up as the "The Gospel of...," rendering the word gospel meaningless. In ordinary language, it means reliable testimony. In elitespeak, it means chic balderdash passed off as scholarship.
The Today show didn't even bother to honor King's disingenuous disclaimer, presenting her claim as evidence that "suggests" Jesus "may" have been married. This produced titters amongst the host and correspondent, who joked that she might be struck by a thunder bolt for her report. Ha, ha. Isn't blasphemy fun as long as Muslims aren't involved?
One can't imagine the same correspondent making such an easy joke before launching into a story about Mohammed's marital practices. While liberals solemnly forbid any truth-telling about him, they encourage fictions and iconoclasm about Jesus. And if Christians don't like it, well, too bad, their attitude goes. During The Last Temptation of Jesus and Da Vinci Code controversies, they told Christians to lighten up. They wouldn't dare talk to Muslims in that way. Such is their cowering respect for Islam that pundits at MSNBC last week were calling for the imprisonment of Mohammed's critics. Mike Barnicle called for the rounding up of pastor Terry Jones as an "accessory" to crime for merely supporting (he didn't even produce it) the "Innocence of Muslims" video.
Under the whims of political correctness, iconoclasm can either land you in jail or catapult you into celebrity. Mock Mohammed and you may find agents for the Justice Department at your door. Mock Jesus Christ and you might snag an Oscar, an NEA grant, or a book contract for "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife."
This double standard is only possible in a secularized culture in which Christians have come to accept everything as "debatable," an occasion for "dialogue," and a test of whether they can handle criticism without looking too pious. Where Muslims overreact, most Christians don't react at all anymore. Blasphemy, at least for Christianity, has been defined downward.
A documentary on Mohammed's harem would be considered a hate crime, while the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" is fit material, as announced last week, for upcoming programming on the Smithsonian channel.