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. (https://silencetoolong.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/spoiled-toddlers-and-muslim-extremists/) 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.