Michael Gerson at the Washington Post has an Op-Ed on — how best to put it? — the insanity of “Pastor” Terry Jones getting his 15 minutes of fame so cheaply.
Gerson is, if I recall correctly, an Evangelical Protestant — perhaps even a Wheaton College Evangelical — so it was interesting to see his spin on why Muslims go postal at a threatened Koran-burning while Christians (a far more equivocal term than you might think, but serviceable in this context) remain pretty mellow about sacrilege:
Islam … is a religion of the book in a way that Christianity is not. In Muslim belief, the words, the language, the pages of divine revelation are themselves sacred. In Christianity, the words only testify to the Word that “became flesh and dwelt among us.” And Christianity is more accustomed to having its icons mistreated — its principal icon, the cross, being an instrument of torture and execution on which its founder was defiled. When the artist Andres Serrano famously photographed a crucifix dipped in urine, the proper Christian response was: He has seen worse.
Well-put, Michael. I hope you’re right. But I fear that the real reason is that much Christian belief is mostly symbolic tribe-marking, akin to saying that you think Obama is a Muslim (if you’re a brain-dead right wingnut) or that Dubya knew about 9-11 in advance (for a brain-dead left wingnuts). As Doug Masson (no great friend of Christians, but a friend of mine anyway) Tweeted or FaceBooked, it kind of “click if you think Jesus is Awesome.”
The second notable, which is nothing new but reached its zany pinnacle in this episode, is
the symbiotic relationship between new and old media. There was a time when gaining attention for saying something stupid required an institutional standing — a prominent pulpit, a denominational leadership position, a following of more than a few dozen people meeting in a warehouse. In the Internet era, attention for stupidity is a democratic right, rewarded for audacity and timing alone. The new media provide a platform without filters for those without credentials — people who, in previous times, could not get a letter to the editor published in the shopper’s gazette.
The old media enable this trend. A competitive news environment drives saturation coverage. Saturation coverage confers legitimacy — even as reporters themselves feel guilty in their complicity. Nearly 100 journalists stood sweltering outside the Dove World Outreach Center, waiting on developments from a man whom his daughter described as having “gone mad.” At one point, a reporter yelled to Jones, “Are you just toying with us to get attention?” — the most blindingly obvious question in recent journalism. Another yelled: “You’re just using us! We should all leave!” Fearing they might miss something, no one left.
Let’s recycle and renovate a bit of the Sixties: “Turn off. Tune Out. Drop into real life.”