Comments, criticisms, or (one can hope) compliments are more than welcome! Please let me know what you think, tell me I'm crazy (I suspect this) or what you'd like to hear about. Comments are screened before publication, so if you want to share something with me only, just put that in the comment and I'll keep it to myself.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Can't Hear You

John & Charles Wesley - Renewers of the Church (1703-1788, 1707-1791)

"Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them."


Groggers - from 1970
Groggers, by Avi Schwab
Used under Creative Commons License
There is in the Jewish tradition a historical character so repugnant that -- when his name is said aloud -- the congregation produces such a racket so that they don't have to hear it pronounced.  When the Book of Esther is heard during the feast of Purim, there is even a special percussion instrument called a grogger that is used to generate some of the noise.  The sound it creates is a sharp and dry, much like the warning of a rattlesnake.

I like to think that there are few people in our contemporary lives who conjure up such profound universal dislike.  Of course there have been despotic figures throughout history -- responsible for swaths of misery and death -- whom we could agree the world would have been better off without. 

I can, however, think of one contemporary American family that probably fits that description.  While their actions are nowhere in the scope of the atrocities committed by Haman or Hitler, they manage to conjure up much of the same reaction.  And that is by design.  They want you to hate them.  They want you to hate them because they want you to talk about them, tell people about them, come out to confront them and possibly let your emotions get the best of you and do something for which they can -- shrewd scholars of the law that they are -- take you to court, where they will most likely win.  That's how they can afford to seemingly be everywhere at once, and -- now that they have forced America to once again acknowledge that even hateful speech is protected under our law -- they have vowed to redouble their efforts.

We wanted free speech, and now we've seen what that can sometimes cost.  As upsetting as it is to see such vile people be handed a victory, I do not think the Supreme Court could have ruled any differently. Once you start deciding that some speech is subject to censure, you're opening the door for any opinion that is unpopular to be repressed. As we have seen during certain political conventions, even as it is the First Amendment does not protect protesters when the vague claim of a security threat trumped their right to assemble peacefully and speak their minds. Do we really want to open the door for courts or -- worse -- legislators to decide what speech should be protected and what is fair game for punishment?

What upsets me more is the knowledge that the outrage of the public, now that the targets include military families, Catholics, the Swedish, Queen Elizabeth and whatever other group has managed to cross their delusional paths, was pretty much non-existent when the only people whose funerals were being picketed were AIDS patients. Where was Sarah Palin then?

So what do we do?  One school of thought -- which seems logical -- is that we respond to the way civilized people respond to an act of shocking incivility whose only purpose is to gain attention: we stop rewarding it with more attention.  Readers should tell news outlets "This is not news. Stop covering it." Interviewers should not kid themselves into thinking they will be the one who can foster a rational conversation.  Counter-protesters should stop thinking they will get the upper hand. Satirists should stop going for the easy laugh by giving them a platform for their bile.

We have tried it.  It didn't work.  So stop rewarding the behavior.  Turn your back.  Don't react.  Stop feeding the beast and maybe it will go away. After all, with any miscreant you encounter, what happens next is as much about you as it is about them.  In this case, they may serve us Christians well, because -- in a scramble to make sure others know we're not like that -- its up to us inclusive types to witness to our own understanding of who God does and doesn't hate.

If that doesn't work, maybe we should all be issued groggers.

No comments:

Post a Comment