Chip MacGregor

January 12, 2015

Je Suis Charlie


The shooting of writers, editors, and cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris last week should be remembered by every writer, and everyone in publishing, because it’s an attempt to shut up people who want to tell stories and influence the culture.

I represent a lot of suspense writers. Imagine one day you’re sitting at your desk, writing the latest bomb-in-the-briefcase story featuring a con man and a bad cop, when suddenly some nut bursts in, yells something about your stories pulling people away from thinking moral, uplifting thoughts, and tries smashing your computer. I represent a lot of Christian writers. Imagine one day you’re at a signing at a Family Christian Store, when you’re interrupted by a violent atheist who wants to stop everyone from reading about God. I represent several Catholic writers. Imagine coming home to find your place defaced because some crazed Protestant disagrees with your theology. We just don’t appreciate violence aimed at shutting up someone who wants to tell a story, and we need to take a stand to defend those who are being persecuted for nothing more than writing a joke.

Look, I find several of the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo offensive and immature, and would never post them on my blog. But the quality of their work is not the point. I value the freedom writers have in our culture to say what they want, to explore crazy ideas, and, yes, even to say something offensive. Humor and satire are ways of pointing out what’s wrong with the world or the government or the culture, and it’s the sign of a mature person to be able to laugh at himself or herself. Laughter can offend, but it can also offer perspective.

Jon Stewart’s Daily Show is very funny — sure, it slants decidedly to the left, and his mash-ups of Fox News clips and conservative speakers can be misleading and unfair… but so what? He’s funny, and points out the foibles of politicians and media spokespeople, and if anyone tried to firebomb his set I’d be on a plane to New York to join the crowds who would march in support of his show. Similarly, Rush Limbaugh’s program has a decided slant, and he’s sometimes funny, and I hate the thought of some left-wing nutjob attacking him simply for offering up one of his parodies.

You see, as writers we all understand that words matter. Your ability to tell a story, without government or religious interference, is an essential part of democracy, and part of what we hold dear as writers. You don’t have to get your priest’s approval to say something. You don’t have to wonder if your murder scene will offend the local government. You don’t have to make sure your thoughts on God are in line with the powers that be. The cowardly act of shooting the creators of Charlie Hebdo is an assault on freedom of speech, and it’s exactly what America’s founding fathers intended to resist when they set up a government with no state religion. (If you don’t know your history, they were largely deists, worried about the religious and class wars happening overseas, and they made sure America would not be a theocracy. It’s why Americans need to resist sharia law, which wants the religious leaders to also be the political leaders. Do you want Pat Robertson as president? Do you want some local redneck pastor as your governor? Because that’s what they’ve got going in the Middle East these days — the Arabic equivalent of redneck pastors running cities and states.)

So I don’t care if you’re offended at Charlie Hebdo printing immature cartoons of Mary and Joseph having sex, or of the Prophet Muhammed kissing his gay lover. Offensive? Yes. Worthy of violence? No. And by the way, don’t believe the common notion that all Moslems reject depictions of their prophet. That’s just not true. It’s not in the Koran. In fact, there is plenty of art from the Middle East portraying Muhammed. What they have is a desire to not elevate any man into an idol, so they don’t want images of him in their mosques… and that has led the uneducated and the violent to make this into an issue worth killing for.

There are times I wish contemporary Christianity had something in print that was the equivalent of humor and satire, to poke fun at the Mark Driscolls and Wine Presses and the Ted Haggards. We don’t — we did have the late, lamented Wittenburg Door, but it seems like most evangelicals these days are WAY too angry to laugh at themselves. (Though if you’re interested, take a look at an assessment from Robert Darden, the longtime editor of The Door, in the Huffington Post.)  Still, don’t buy into the whole argument that “Christians do the same thing” when it comes to this type of violence. In our contemporary world, that’s bull. We’ve all watched Father Guido Sarducci, read Mark Twain on the faith, and listened to Lenny Bruce riff on the church without rioting. We’ve seen numerous depictions of bad priests and evil pastors in Hollywood films, and listened to both stupid and heretical lessons via countless TV talking heads — all without resorting to violence. The notion of killing someone for making a joke, even a tasteless or racist or heretical joke, is considered evil by any thinking person.

So the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on all writers. It was an attack on everyone who wants to tell their own story and speak their own mind. It’s why I think we need to be outspoken in our belief that freedom of expression matters — even to those who we disagree with. I’d like to see Jon Stewart, and Rush Limbaugh, and Jerry Seinfeld, and Lewis Black, and Ellen Degeneres, and others who are both funny and acerbic, get together and say, “We insist on one another’s right to freedom of expression, because artistic freedom is a key ingredient in contemporary democratic societies.” I’d like to see the New York Times and Fox News stop acting afraid and reveal the cartoons that got people killed. (For all their chest-thumping, they’ve been totally frightened by the terrorists.) And I’d like to see writers, including people I know in the industry, publicly state that, while they may not appreciate the art of Charlie Hebdo, they stand with the creators.

Twelve people died defending your right to write what you want. Let’s remember them.


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  • Robin Mooneyham Archibald says:

    Thanks for the link to the Darden article, Chip. My dad had a subscription to The Door in the 1980’s or thereabouts. I liked Ben Patterson’s and Mike Yaconellis’s articles, as well as the “coveted” Green Weenie award (which I think was once awarded to World Vision, which gave my dad, then president, a sobering, self-examining, good laugh.) I’m sorry The Door is gone. We need satire to poke fun at ourselves. Sadly, as commenters here have noted, we’ve lost the knack in the U.S. Instead we’re bristling with receptors for insult or injury. I find Charlie Hebdo’s satire excessively vulgar and disrespectful, but in support of free expression (and satire to help us laugh at ourselves), moi aussi, je suis Charlie.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      That’s exactly how I feel, Robin. And yes, we’ve really lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. Maybe Rush and his ilk spoiled that. Maybe we all take ourselves too seriously. Certainly there are not many famous Christians with a sense of humor (I once had John MacArthur say to me, “There is no example of Christ LAUGHING in the bible.” Which made me laugh, because if there’s anyone who needs to lighten up, its Johnny Mac.)

      Are there websites and e-zines that cover religion but have a sense of humor? Who owns the Wittenberg Door name and files? Anyone know?

  • Erin Bartels says:

    Agreed. And yes, Ron’s comments are also astute. I don’t think I’d personally go so far as to say Je Suis Charlie, but I appreciate the sentiment behind it. Living in the state with the largest Arabic population outside of the Middle East, there have been a few times that I’ve been a little nervous when big things were happening elsewhere. I hope that we as Americans can strike a balance between not wanting to offend Muslims by painting them all with the same extremist brush and insisting that, if you live in the US, sharia law will not be tolerated.

  • JMerkh says:

    Chip, While I agree with your point, you are underestimating the vulgarity of Charlie Hebdo. It goes beyond “offensive and immature”, the cartoons you describe are only the shallow end of the cesspool that is this publication. I grew up in France, I love the country and it’s people, and while I would defend to the death their right to do what they choose to do, I would never go as far as saying “I am Charlie”. Even for solidarity purposes. They are vile, divisive and go out of their way to insult matters of faith in ways that are just simply sick and deranged.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yeah, I think we probably agree more than you know, JMerkh. The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo have indeed gone out of their way to be offensive (which, to me, is a very immature approach to art). Incredibly vulgar, and even racist at times. But we also agree that we stand with other writers in defending their right to free expression, which is the bigger point here. Really appreciate you coming on to comment.

  • “I value the freedom writers have in our culture to say what they want,
    to explore crazy ideas, and, yes, even to say something offensive” – See
    more at:

    Chip, you said you value the freedom we have in our culture to say what we want, even to say something offensive. Sadly, I don’t think that’s true about our culture. Look what happened to Donald Sterling who said something offensive in the privacy of his own home. Look what happens on our college campuses if someone offends one of the current holy cows of our media-dominated culture.

    Finally a media person voiced what I’ve been thinking: David Brook was part of Meet The Press this past Sunday and commented on an article he’d written. Here’s part of the transcript:

    (Todd then quoting from Brooks’ column) —
    The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being
    celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face
    it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any
    American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have
    lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of
    hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them

    BROOKS: Yeah, we lionize people abroad for things we would not tolerate here.
    – See more at:

    All we need to do is look at what’s happened with some Christian organizations like CRU to see how freedom is being curtailed. Where are the marches and the support articles for these groups? Do people have to die first before we decide to stand up for freedom here in America, even if it offends the racial or gender sensibilities of our media-driven culture?


    • chipmacgregor says:

      I think you raise a very valid point, Becky. Charlie Hebdo was offensive and racist, and most forward-thinking Americans would have rejected it out of hand. But again, I’m not trying to defend Charlie Hebdo — I’m trying to defend the role of writers in contemporary society, and I deplore the violence against the writers, editors, and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo.

      We certainly have a long way to go in this area, and private speech (as you mentioned) is a concern. Perhaps there are areas or topics or words where we are TOO sensitive. But hear me on this: Donald Sterling wasn’t pulled out and shot for saying something racist. What makes this event important to writers is the violent attack to try and stifle dissent. I would argue that one of the roles of writers is to educate others — if that causes dissent, so be it. I was threatened with a lawsuit and sent threatening notes when I talked about the wack-jobs at Wine Press Publishing. I got some REALLY crazy letters from the personal devotees of Mark Driscoll after I talked about him. The writer’s job is to speak the truth, even if it makes some uncomfortable. (I’d even defend the wack-jobs’ right to say something back, so long as they spoke the truth, used evidence, and didn’t just resort to bullying and scare tactics.) This attack on a magazine none of us like very much is an attack on writers and freedom of speech, and I want writers to grasp the importance.

      Appreciate you joining in the conversation, Becky.

    • I think we’re on the same page on this, Chip. I too want writers to see that this attack was on writers and freedom of speech, but so was what happened to Donald Sterling. It’s deplorable to stand up for people who don’t have the kinds of values I want to see reinforced, but the greater issue is that when someone says or writes or makes a cartoon of an offensive thing, we can tell them they’re silly or wrong or offensive, but we can’t gun them down, and we ought not to shut down their campus paper or cut off their funding or squeeze them out of their job or take away their standing as a recognized student group. We may not be shooting the people who speak out against the media’s holy cows, but that’s today. If we don’t speak up about the ways freedom of speech is being squeezed right now, who’s to say what tomorrow will look like.


    • Chip, here’s another (egregious) example, specifically related to writing:

  • Steve Myers says:

    Agreed. I’ve been angry over the attack, about the politics of political correctness, the lack of empathy or support of our own government for France and what seems to be a humor-less decade and time in history. About the closest I came to Charlie Hebdo in my time-frame of life was Mad Magazine. I used to love it, its parodies and humor. Esther’s Follies did so on stage in Austin of the 1980s and on stage in Melodrama we did the same of the politics of the late 1980s in West Texas.

    Now there are no publications to push the envelope and in some cases even writers cannot find publishers for whom relevant stories can be told in a Contemporary slant where Christians rise from the ashes of Paris and make a difference in the lives of those in pain from radical Islam. It is a global problem. One pastor I’ve kept up with in India was attempting to garner support to replace broken media devices in his small Orphanage Christian Mission ramsacked (regularly) by Islamic residents. I couldn’t seem to get an American pastor or church to even consider supporting them for all the perceived challenges here which are really lame challenges at best. In the end I feel as lame unable to be a part of the solution than succumb to the problem.

    I was listening to Glenn Beck last night on a scoped replay of the morning show. He on air called the French Embassy but only played his side of the call to ‘just stand with the French. Thank them for standing by and with the US over the centuries of our existence, ashamed of our government not standing up with them in the huge demonstration of over 40 world leaders in the midst of the crowds and thanked them for their tenacity and perseverance. It was a quick 30 second call of condolences, sympathies and encouragement. He later said the woman who took the call was touched, thanked him, and said it would be passed up the chain of command.

    When I think of how Jesus would respond I instantly hear “Greater love has no man than he who will lay down his life for his friends.” I suspect that’s fighting the good fight of faith “wise as foxes, gentle as doves.” This fight is worth fighting as much with our pens as others with swords. I’d buy a Charlie Hebdoo publication today if I could.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, Steve. I’ve loved seeing the people raising pens as a sign of freedom. It’s a role writers take on in nearly every society. (And, of course, I fear the limited role writers would be allowed to play in a culture run by Islamic nut jobs.)

  • Susan Meissner says:

    Very well said. And oh, The Wittenburg Door. Bob and I have the old copies of that celebrated, underground mag. Sometime when you’re back my direction, I will get them out for you and we can toast the gift that is the freedom to speak,

    • chipmacgregor says:

      LOVED The Door, Susan! Poked fun at people in the church. Man… we need something like that again, to point out the fools and fakes in the contemporary church.

  • Mary Hawkins says:

    Have been thinking similarly, Chip, and you have put this so very well. Also agree with the great comments

  • rachelhauck says:

    Great post and well said!!

  • Laura Jensen Walker says:

    Excellent post, Chip. Je suis Charlie.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Nice to see your name in the comments, Laura. I know from your own writing you’ve had to face tough editorial decisions because of the market. Glad you commented.

  • elinorflorence says:

    Thank you for this, Chip MacGregor.

  • Cameron Bane says:

    What can I say? Chip, I agree with your post, and with those who’ve commented. Je Suis Charlie.

  • Nick Kording says:

    Great perspective – Words and art are always a matter of taste and, unless they promote violence, are worth protecting. A society’s acceptance and understanding of that concept says a lot about its people and beliefs.

  • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    Crazy, crazy stuff. I was reading a children’s history book to my boys. There is this whole section of history where a catholic king would come into power and then kill all the protestants. Then a protestant king would come into power and kill all the Catholics. Over and over and over again. I would like to think that we have learned a thing or two since those days, that we read our Bibles and seek God as individuals who can tell right from wrong. I certainly hope so. But apparently it is still that kind of world, in places. As a writer, I am proud of my country for giving me the right to say something extremely stupid or gorgeous and profound. I will face the consequences of my words as I live my life, not from my government. Thank you, Lord!

  • Bette Nordberg says:

    Thanks for the reminder Chip! I would take it one step further: This attack wasn’t just about expressing contrary ideas. Militant Islam wishes to squash those who even HAVE contrary ideas. It’s more than freedom of expression at risk here. It’s freedom of THOUGHT. Individuality. Diversity. Personality. Our freedom to be different. Though we may not bomb or shoot, sometimes we Christians are guilty of disrespecting others’ freedom to think differently than we do.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      AND dismissing women, Bette. That’s one of the things that doesn’t get mentioned often enough — sharia law is almost totally anti-women. I had to roll my eyes at the moslem students who were trying their best to defend militant Islamists. The women involved in those protests? They’d never have the chance to be heard under sharia law.

  • Chip, You’re right in that we Christians “don’t do the same thing” as the terrorists that killed the twelve at Charlie Hebdo. That magazine poked fun at the Vatican claiming that Pope Benedict was retiring to spend more time with his girlfriend. They didn’t send in a hit squad–they just sued.
    Our strategy for tasteless media should be to turn our backs on it. If people didn’t pay for trashy movies, magazines, and other forms of media it would eventually go away. The market, not violence, should determine what survives.
    Creators of trash have the same right to create as those who create beauty. They shouldn’t have to fear thugs.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I think you’re exactly right, Dennis. Again, I don’t appreciate the approach or the tasteless humor of Charlie Hebdo (who at times are clearly just trying to provoke a response), but everyone ignoring it might make it disappear. But this was something broader, and I feel as though Christians are ignoring the event because they didn’t like the magazine to begin with. That’s a mistake for every writer, no matter what their religion.

  • Robin Patchen says:

    Well said and amen. I’m glad I believe in a faith that preaches grace and love, not violence. Not that every Christian practices grace and love, but those are the standards.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I probably fail at both of those standards, Robin, but I appreciate you pointing them out. They are supposed to be the marks of a Christian.

    • Robin Patchen says:

      Indeed. I fail every day, but God makes sure I have plenty of opportunity to practice.

  • Ellen Gee says:

    Amen Chip, Amen!

  • Henry McLaughlin says:

    I agree with Ron. This is very well said, Chip. Thank you.

  • Ron Estrada says:

    Well said, Chip. I became a Christian 18 years ago at the age of 30. It was a shock for me to see how members of my new faith were ridiculed on a daily basis via television, movies, and the media. The abuse had always been there, but I tended to see through it as a non-believer. Some Christians react badly and lash out at their attackers. It behooves us to remember that Christ and the early church weren’t just made fun of, they were tortured and killed for their belief. Jesus never suggested violence against His oppressors. Some Christians today need to be reminded of that. It seems we allow politics to influence our behavior more than our beliefs do. I have been guilty of it a number of times. The attack in France should be an awakening. Freedom is always under attack. If we donn’t defend someone’s right to be offensive, then it is only a matter of time before our words are deemed offensive as well and we find ourselves fighting alone.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Ron. I’ve often wondered if Christ isn’t really calling all of us to nonviolence and pacifism — but at the same time, we expect vigilance and toughness when attacked. It’s hard to gain clarity. But I totally agree that if we don’t defend somebody who is saying something we don’t like, then we risk finding ourselves with no one to defend us.

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