15 September 2012/Proper 19B
Wisdom cries out in the street …“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?...” Proverbs 1:20,22
Anti-religious hate speech and religious extremist behavior have dominated the 24/7 news cycle since the September 11th attacks on U.S. Embassies in Libya and Egypt resulted in the deaths of some of our foreign service personnel. Dots have been too hastily connected, assumptions made, resulting in even further anti-religious hate speech. As the facts begin to emerge a very different picture of just what happened is developing – and there will be more analysis to come.
As of now we know a few things: a group of people made an Anti-Islamic film mocking Islam’s founder, Mohammed; few if anyone has seen the actual film; a 12 minute “trailer” has been on the internet since mid-summer; Pastor Terry Jones, infamous for his public burning of Qurans, has worked with the film’s producers to promote the film; the very same Mr. Jones admits that promoting the film will likely provoke violence, but that is not his concern, apparently believing that the right to free speech demands no sense of moral responsibility; Egyptian television has been airing the trailer for some time; some public demonstrations against the film have broken out throughout some Muslim countries; U.S. officials seem convinced, however, that the attack in Libya was pre-meditated and had nothing whatsoever to do with the film; following news stories about all of the above, the internet is awash with anti-Muslim hate speech in readers comments – accompanied by repeated statements that, despite the First Amendment protecting their free speech, you can only be an “American” if you are Christian, even though the same amendment guarantees freedom of religion – a belief in what is now called American Exceptionalism.
Oh yes, it turns out that the producers of the film in question are anti-Muslim Coptic Christians in this country who have been on the watch-list of government and non-governmental agencies that track such behavior – with at least one of the three principals likely in violation of parole restrictions from an earlier incident.
Wisdom, portrayed throughout the Biblical literature as a woman, is surely out in the streets decrying the mocking and defaming behavior that runs through all of the week’s news stories. How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? It seems for a very long time.
As we began our class on World Religions at Saint Timothy’s School for Girls, we go over a basic vocabulary list which includes the word “fundamentalist.” The standard dictionary definition correctly states the word denotes a 20th Century movement among American Protestants who hold fast to certain “fundamentals” of Christian doctrines – some of which, technically, are not historic doctrines. Fundamentalism grew out of a reaction against so-called “modernism” which is perceived by some to be a danger to Christianity. The term has been loosely reassigned to those of other faiths, especially Jews and Muslims, who maintain a similar stance against modernism, however that is understood. This extending the use of “fundamentalism” to other faiths is problematic in and of itself, but has been further complicated by post-9/11 journalism – a journalism in all media outlets that began to use “fundamentalist” to describe the kind of political and alleged religious extremists who have used violence to further a particular ideological agenda.
Allowing that one might call some Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other faith adherents fundamentalists, it is important to note that not all fundamentalists are extremists. And in fact, most extremists are not really religious at all, but use religion to cover for a political ideology.
Lost in all of this is that on one side you have Christian extremists literally hell-bent on ridiculing the prophet of Islam, and Islamic extremists hell-bent on spreading this Christian hate-speech far and wide.
The Letter of James gets it just right in the 3rd chapter when it writes, “…no one can tame the
tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”
All people, of all faiths, are made in the likeness of God – this is the most fundamental truth of Biblical religion. As such, those who take scripture seriously are constrained to accept persons of all faiths with even more seriousness than accorded by the First Amendment.
It seems curious that there are Christians who want to claim that matters of faith trump the law of the land except when it is convenient to hide behind the Constitution to demean those of other faiths. It becomes a perversion of both Scripture and the Constitution as cover for a fundamental bigotry and hatred of those different from us – which is tied to an ignorance, what Proverbs calls a hatred of knowledge, which ignores the fact that when Europeans colonized the American continents, those colonists were by no means co-religionists and spent almost as much time persecuting one another as they did persecuting the First Peoples of these continents, Native Americans. That is, American Exceptionalism has never existed and is a modern-day myth.
What we have witnessed this past week is a total breakdown of wisdom, irresponsible so-called religious speech, irresponsible journalism, and if you look beneath the surface of it all, a virtual tsunami of hate speech on the internet revealing the ugly underbelly of a so-called Christian nation awash with bigotry and ignorance.
Is it any wonder that Wisdom walks the streets calling out to anyone who will listen, “Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.” Proverbs 1:33-38. How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? As long as we allow the myth of American Exceptionalism to persist. Amen.
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Timothy’s School for Girls, Stevenson, MD