OK to question whether moon’s made of green cheese?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 27, 2010

The view that the moon is made of green cheese was given “support” earlier this year when NASA published the above photo on their website as an April Fools’ joke.
Photo courtesy Ranger Project, NASA

There’s that age-old saying about the moon being made of green cheese. If you really believed that, how far are you prepared to go to ensure respect for your belief?

This question is important to me. I’ve been invited to participate in an upcoming interfaith panel discussion in Calgary on freedom of expression and religious belief. I think any conclusions around belief in a green-cheese moon just might have some bearing on questions of faith and public practice.

First, a little background on the idea that the moon is made of green cheese. (A coffee-cup salute to Wikipedia for this.)

The expression goes back untold centuries. It shows up in stories about simpletons who, seeing the reflection of the full moon on the surface of the water, believe it to be round, green cheese. But in these ancient versions, green does not refer to colour, but to un-aged cheese.

As a proverb, it came to refer to ignorant people whose beliefs were regarded as nonsensical. After all, reasonable people would know the moon was, in fact, not made of cheese, new or old, wouldn’t they?

Most people hearing the expression today do probably think of the colour green, but have no idea why the moon is associated with that colour.

Now back to the question of freedom of expression and faith.

Let’s suppose that a whole new religion develops around the insistence that the moon really is made of green cheese. Its followers become known as Green Cheesers. They honour sacred texts and rituals pertaining to the Green Cheese Moon.

Many scholars and others try their best to persuade Green Cheesers that the moon really isn’t made of green cheese. They even point to moon landings, with astronauts bringing back samples from the surface of the moon – no cheese! But to no avail.

Comments about the Green Cheesers and their beliefs soon lose any sense of civility. Hateful e-mails flood Inboxes. Green Cheesers become the brunt of cruel jokes and mindless mischief.

CNN takes note of emerging developments and relentlessly pursues the policy: If it’s Green Cheese, make it lead, please.

The Green Cheesers get so agitated that they strike back. Threats and placard-waving demonstrations escalate into physical violence, mayhem and murder. Later, they press for legislation making it a punishable offense to publicly debate whether the moon is made of green cheese. They also want all school textbooks to be rewritten to reflect their cheesy views on the nature of the moon.

After all, they argue, their belief that the moon is made of green cheese is the central tenet of their faith, and in a pluralistic world, no one should have the right to challenge a religion’s defining dogma.

Critical thinking and freedom of expression, so necessary for the advancement of civilization, are sacrificed on the altar of political correctness and appeasement.

Finally, fair-minded folks around the world have enough of the rapidly degenerating situation and call for a time-out.

Today, in view of the world’s increasing religio-political tensions, I think all of us need to take a time-out.

In my own case, my secular humanist friends regard many of my Christian beliefs to be as simpleminded as believing the moon is made of green cheese. But I do not insist on laws to silence their criticisms, nor would I ever want to see gangs beat my secular opponents into silence – or vice versa.

I do expect civility in such matters, however. I’m hoping the upcoming panel discussion will be a move in that direction.

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

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