My Remote Doesn’t Work In church

I didn’t sleep well Saturday night.  It was a rough week in the Middle East, and a rough week here at home because of the rough week in the Middle East.

I still got up and went to church Sunday—at least I thought I did.  When the sermon started and I followed it for a bit, I was under the distinct impression that I was at home watching TV, and someone had turned it to a news commentary.  At that point, I figured I might be having a nightmare.  I blinked a few times, and then looked around for the remote to flip the channel or hit the mute button.  I found to my dismay that there was no remote!  The commentary continued because it was a real sermon in a real church.

The sermon (embodying the Politically Correct reaction predominant on my TV to the events last week: blame the filmmaker, not the rioters) was based on a passage containing James 3:6-8 “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

This text was being applied to the situation in Egypt and Libya where Muslims rioted, attacked, burned, and murdered, purportedly because Mohammed was mocked in a film made on American soil. We were being calmly counseled that we, in this small community in Texas, should watch what we say because we, too, could be the “cause” of things like the riots and deaths in the Middle East.  I can’t think of another sermon that I have sat through in my entire life where I more wished that I had zoned out or fallen asleep, thereby saving my blood pressure.

I had already expressed the opinion (in my last blog) that in focusing on the “provocation” of the film rather than the outrageous reactions by the Muslim extremists is like enabling a spoiled toddler to continue to throw fits to get his own way.  (  Focusing either only or to a greater extent on the purported “cause” (the movie) rather than the “reaction” (riots and murders) is not going to get us peace in our time except through a worldwide Caliphate.

I can think of another Middle Easterner who had a big disagreement with some of the Jewish elite religious authorities of his day.  He publicly humiliated them on more than one occasion by expressing his opinion in front of crowds of people.  He called them hypocrites, railed against them quite a bit as related in Matthew 23, and caused quite a scene in the temple with the money changers (a protected lot, probably because they were giving a kickback to the chief priests there).

This Middle Easterner’s name was Jesus.  Was his tongue filled with “deadly poison?”  According to the Jewish power structure, it was.  It justified their desire to kill him.  What gave him—a mere carpenter’s son—the right to criticize and denigrate the religious authorities?  Should he then, have held his tongue?  What about the Old Testament prophets?  They said some pretty vile things.  Should they have held their tongues?

I can’t help but think that James was talking somehow about a use of the tongue for evil purposes and not for all purposes.  Was the film parody of Mohammed made merely for the purpose of malicious slander?  Was the film was simply an attack on an unoffending, inoffensive religion?

However clumsy, juvenile, and objectionable the manner of raising the issues in this film, the Copts have reason to object to the passes that Islam gets in the world press by characterizing it as a “religion of peace and tolerance.”  The great majority of Muslims may be peaceful and tolerant, but the current leaders of Islam implementing the religion in theocracies is anything but, and they are experts at deflecting blame for their actions at people or individuals who purportedly “provoke” their atrocious behavior.

The Copts (Egyptian Christians) are currently experiencing an extended period of discrimination (decades long) by the Muslim majority.  Since the “liberation” of Egypt last year in the Arab “Spring,” the discrimination is increasingly violent.  They are afraid not only for their rights, but for their lives.  Instead of lobbing an actual missile in Egypt at their persecutors, some of them lobbed a crude verbal missile from the safety of California.  The reaction by the world at large is not praise of their restraint under the circumstances, but criticisms that their verbal missiles rather than rioters caused death and destruction.

Perhaps the Coptic filmmaker believes that any kind of attempt to bring the issue of the oppressiveness of Islam in some countries to the forefront is going to save Copts in the long run.  By all means, let us go into overdrive analyzing their effort.  Did this film draw attention to the issue in the right way?  Was ridicule of the founder of the religion an appropriate means?  I would answer those questions with a “no.”  I don’t approve of an approach of opposition which focuses on vilifying personalities.  However, I may not be hip enough to appreciate this approach.  I have more than one friend who listens to Bill Maher because he is “funny” or “witty” even though I find his character assassinations and political commentary frequently vicious, childish, and based on falsehoods.   Since he has quite a following and people are very forgiving of his malicious tongue, perhaps the filmmaker thought that the Bill Maher approach was an effective one to take.

I’m also not sure that if the film had raised issues in a dead serious manner that it would have been less objectionable to Muslims.  When Salman Rushdie criticized Islam in a much more civilized fashion in the novel The Satanic Verses in 1988, there was the same kind of violent reaction in the Muslim world.

Maybe the filmmaker was just sick of drawing attention in the “right” way (relying on press reports), since that has not drawn significant attention to the oppression by Islam through governments in Islamic countries, particularly in Egypt with the Copts.

My church—pastors and members—are a very caring congregation in word and deed.  A host of local and international issues, groups, and individuals have been raised as objects of prayer or for financial donations.  However, oppression of Christians in oppressive regimes (mostly Muslim theocracies or communist countries), hasn’t made it to the list of prayer concerns, much less warranted an entire sermon.  (If I just missed that Sunday, I hope that someone will correct me.)  I have sat in my church for over 4 years now, and perhaps once have I heard a word of comfort or support to those Christians who live in countries (almost all Muslim majority countries or Communist countries) where they are imprisoned, killed, or mutilated simply because of their religious beliefs.  I know that no single church can address all problems, but until time was found for this sermon, I had no problem that time was not found for the persecution of Christians.

My husband disagrees with my opinions in this matter.  He thinks that the movie is simply a red herring.   There are many indications that the unrest was preplanned and the timing of it on September 11 was intentional.  Understanding the West and our press better than we understand them, the extremist Muslims translated the movie into Arabic and released it at a critical moment timed to provide a cover and divert condemnation towards the filmmaker and away from the actions they had already planned, but which were intensified by the rioting.  If it had not been the movie, they would have found some other thing to rile up the street mobs to cover their attack.  I can’t really argue with this, but it still means that the movie has drawn a disproportionate amount of attention.

Since my remote did not work in church and I heard the whole sermon, my mind’s channel has been in overdrive.  I can’t help envisioning a sermon preached in the charred remains of our sanctuary in an upcoming Sunday.  “If Pastor John had only not used his poisonous tongue to rile up those Copts by criticizing them, we would not have been attacked.  It was his words that caused the burning of our sanctuary, not the bombs which exploded our altars.  God forgive him.”

A man whose relatives and fellow Christians are being terrorized, intimidated, and killed made a stupid movie instead of strapping a bomb on his body and blowing himself up in a public place in Egypt, killing innocent people.  Let’s make sure we put things in perspective.


Spoiled Toddlers and Muslim Extremists

When a spoiled toddler doesn’t get his own way, he throws a fit.  You don’t correct this bad behavior by sympathizing with the toddler and telling him that you understand how mean life is and how it hurts if someone does something he doesn’t like, but (at the end of a lot of sympathy) it’s really not acceptable to throw yourself on the ground and scream at the top of your lungs in public.  Unless you unequivocally make it clear that pitching a fit is not an acceptable reaction no matter what the provocation, then the toddler will continue to throw fits, the fits will generally get worse, and the toddler will become accustomed to using his behavior to get his own way.

What happens when spoiled children are adults?  The extremist Muslims who attacked us on September 11 a couple of days ago, burning our flag and replacing our flag with an extremist Muslim flag in Egypt, and using rocket-launched grenades and assault weapons before torching our diplomatic post in Libya, are like spoiled toddlers.  A movie was made which displeased them, so they pitched a fit.  Unfortunately, this fit involved dangerous weapons, torching buildings, and explosions, which ultimately caused the death of 4 Americans.

Just as you don’t stop toddlers from throwing fits by reasoning with them, you don’t stop extremist Muslims from rioting and murdering by telling them that you understand their feelings are hurt because someone made fun of Mohammed.  When the restlessness started, our Embassy in Cairo issued a statement which actually contained the words “hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”  This probably fueled the flames of resentment because it reinforced their sense of being wronged.

I am frankly sick about hearing about the “hurt feelings” of Muslims, as if they were children who need to be coddled for bad behavior.  If they want to riot because of what happens half a world away from them, I suppose that’s their business, but they need to learn to stop taking it out on the rest of the world, especially us.  This isn’t the first time that riots have ensued after someone insulted Mohammed or Islam.  I’m sick of our government expressing more concern about the “hurt feelings” of Muslim extremists than vocalizing a defense of the right of Americans to express an opinion.

I’m also upset at being told that we just need to reach out and understand Islam by people who make statements that clearly display their ignorance of the religion.  Our embassy in Cairo included this in their statement of appeasement when things started to get heated about a film made in the US by a US citizen: “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

This statement displays such a gross misunderstanding of Islam (and the world in general) that it is embarrassing.  There is no “universal right of free speech,” especially in the Muslim world.  Shariah law dictates that where Islam and Mohammed are concerned, free speech does not only take a back seat on the bus, it’s not allowed on the bus at all.  In our system, free speech rights trump; in the Muslim system, free speech is often criminal behavior (and they are trying to have this imposed in the world at large through a UN resolution criminalizing “defamation of religion”).  Our right to free speech was unique in the world when we codified it, it remains a rarity in the world as a whole, and the strong enforcement of this right within our borders is part of what constitutes American exceptionalism even today.  It is not a “universal right” recognized in most parts of the world.

A senior public affairs officer is being made the fall guy for the statement that was issued on the embassy website.  There is a plausible story of how he was told NOT to do what he did anyway.  Of course, being made the fall guy doesn’t mean that he’s being demoted or discharged.  It’s just that now that the misguided PR guy has been identified, no one can attribute responsibility to anyone in charge.  Obama and Hillary can be critical of the statement since it has proved unpopular without being accused of talking out of both sides of their mouths.  If it was really such an objectionable move and he disobeyed orders to refrain from posting his statement on the website, why is the guy not joining the ranks of the unemployed in this country?  I would be willing to bet that among the ranks of the long-time unemployed, there are many qualified candidates who would jump at the job, even though it is in a chaotic hot spot.

I am also disturbed by the attitude that concerns about Muslim extremism are overblown.  After all, this riot was “over there” and not here, right?  It’s not going to happen in America—they can’t get a foothold here.  The American Revolution came about because of a few extremists, and their dream was even more far-fetched because what they had in mind had never been done before.  Muslim theocracies abound in this world, so the Muslim dream of of a widespread, even worldwide, caliphate is not nearly as far-fetched.  I know that there are millions of decent, law-abiding, non extremist Muslims in the world.  I have had Muslim friends, and I know they are not all saints or all devils, just like in any group that exists in the world.  However, the non-extremists are not currently determining the direction of Islam in this world; the minority is setting the path.

It is important to realize that these riots and murders in Egypt and Libya are the result not of Americans committing any kind of illegal act on any Muslim soil.  They resulted from the exercise of free speech on our own soil, under our own laws.  The violence is not intended to control the behavior of citizens in their own country, but to control the behavior of citizens in the United States of America.  Having our government sympathize with the extremists and internationally trash Americans who are simply exercising their Constitutional rights is not the way to reduce the number of incidents.  Anyone who doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand where things are headed.

The real irony in the situation is that the movie which purportedly stirred up all of the spoiled adult children appears (from the video clips) to be a juvenile, unprofessional spoof, not worthy of the three and a half minutes that it took to watch the two trailers, much less the fourteen minutes that it would take to watch the whole thing.  How any adult could get their feelings hurt over it is a mystery.

Voltaire famously said:

“I disagree strongly with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

There is now a twisted version of this as demonstrated by radical Muslims:

“I  strongly disagree with and/or find distasteful what you say, and expect you to pay the penalty of death if you exercise your right to say it.”

These two approaches are mutually exclusive.  We need to take a much stronger stand for our approach, or we will surely lose it.

Published in: on September 13, 2012 at 9:47 pm  Leave a Comment