Following the attack on the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo many people in cyberspace changed their photos to say "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie). I am not sure where this idea came from. In my mind it is kind of linked with the joke at Starbucks where some wag gave his name as Spartacus. When the barista held up the coffee and called "Spartacus" one after another people stood and announced "I'm Spartacus".
Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine especially known for its cartoons. It occupies roughly the same kind of niche as Private Eye, or the TV programme, Spitting Image. It mocks everything and everyone.
Perhaps it was this approach of mockery that led some people to start identifying themselves as "Je ne suis pas Charlie" (I am not Charlie) mais je me tiens à vote côté or some other expression of solidarity.
What about this mockery?
Someone reposted a short thought from John Piper that he put out in 2006 after the murders linked to the infamous Danish cartoons (reprinted by Charlie Hebdo) where he draws out a fundamental difference between Christ and Muhammad - and the Muslim view of Christ. Jesus accomplishes his greatest achievement precisely by means of being mocked, insulted, flogged, condemned, tortured to death. Read it here.
Later, discussing with someone else, I reflected further. Though mockery is dangerous, and the Bible warns us against it, still it is also a time honoured and Biblical tool in exposing human folly. Think of Elijah and the prophets of Baal - "Shout louder, he can't hear you, perhaps he's gone to the toilet..." Think of Isaiah and the idol makers - one piece of wood he uses to heat his baked beans, the other he talks to and says "You are my God".
Then think of the pamphlets and leaflets of the Reformation. Erasmus' "In praise of folly", Lutheran cartoons of the Pope, the church's cartoons of Luther.
And the long history of political cartooning. No doubt, images come to your mind as you read this.
I can remember laughing as some opinion I had strongly expressed was ridiculed by a well-placed joke and my error exposed. I can also remember blushing or feeling angry on other occasions.
Can mockery go too far? Of course it can. Can you imagine a church meeting with Luther letting rip? There is a time and a place - and a manner and a choice of target.
Did Charlie Hebdo go too far? That I can't say. I never read the thing. I never read Private Eye.
Am I Charlie? Am I not Charlie? To this we have to add "Je suis flic" - an identity adopted to show solidarity with the policeman who died - then "Je suis Ahmad" - when people realised that this policeman was a muslim who gave his life to defend those who died for mocking his prophet.
In the end Je suis Alan. Je suis le Gallois. I'm here to work and speak and think for Christ, to try and make his voice heard, and for that we need free discussion, without fear, and - yes - with the possibility of mockery.
The inimitable Trueman writes about this here.