Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Osama Bin Jones

Listening to the fading echoes of Koran-burnin' hum in our cybernetic collective unconscious, I'm wondering what the takeaway is going to be from the whole event. Mostly, folks who jabber for a living seem to have come to the same conclusion I reached. It's as if the Rufinol finally wore off, and we all suddenly came to, and are wondering why in the Sam Hill we were all standing around in our underwear talking about this tiny little butt-hair on the body of Christ.

I can think, to be honest, of three reasons.

First, it was controversial. We Amurricans love controversy. Will he or won't he! Ooooh! And we especially likes us some crazy. And we need something to talk about to get the eyeballs on our blog, so as a culture, we spend an inordinate amount of time consumed by the thoughts and actions of our village idiots. If there's a guy standing in the village square shouting incoherently, we don't ignore him or trank him. We all gather around to listen and egg him on. We are, after all, a nation that seems to have an insatiable appetite for the stunted, self-centered souls and faux dysfunctional drama that populates most reality television. Couple that hunger for the extreeeeme with our constant-on media and tendency for things to go self-generatingly viral, and hey-presto, you've got yourself an "issue" with legs. That we are talking about it because we're talking about it may be a tautology, but that's the way new media works.

Second, it was nonetheless a teachable moment. Yeah, I know, it was heinously overblown, but it tapped down into some interesting conversations that had nothing to do with the specifics of this trivial case. Last week, as I drove my kids and the missus to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah services, the entire drive was consumed with talk of this event, used as a case study for the balance between free speech and civic responsibility in our society. It's not often you can get kids engaged like that, but for twenty minutes, our car was full of ruminations on the boundaries of human liberty. It was kinda cool.

Third, and this one is a wee stretch, I found myself so savoring the irony of this event that I wondered, fleetingly, if the Lord's hand might be in this. In my experience, God has this funny habit of kicking our behinds in the most optimal and creatively appropriate ways when we forget ourselves. American Christians have, of late, been willing to believe some pretty impressively narsty things about Muslims. Because of the events of 9/11, and the actions of a few psychopaths, many folks are quite happy to buy into the idea that Islam is inherently monstrous, and Muslims are all potential Al Quaeda fifth columnists.

And suddenly, here's a Christian who seemed willing to act on his own to do something we really, really didn't want him to do. No sane observer can look at this guy and say that he's a meaningful representative of Christianity. He had no real connections to any other Christian group, and came across as a totally loose cannon both interpersonally and in his approach to the faith. He was perfectly willing to consider actions that violate the central ethical teaching of Jesus about our attitude towards our neighbors.

"He doesn't speak or act for us," we all shouted.

I wonder if we realize how familiar those words are to American Muslims.