The Common Good

'Irreconcilable Islam' and Irascible Christianity, Part 2

[continued from part 1] If duplicity were the only moral failing in Gingrich's choice of language, then perhaps in humility we should let his comments slide, but it is not.

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More insidious than the free association of religious terrorism with the religion it masquerades as is the fact that such rhetoric is designed to ignite. Gingrich's language is incendiary, not just because it feeds the ought that religious radicals have with those who malign their creeds, but primarily because it gives oxygen to the unresolved prejudices in the U.S. that were shamed and driven underground by a King who laid them bare before the civilized world. The embarrassment, psychic dissonance, threatened moral superiority, and potential financial losses both here and abroad instigated by the civil rights movement necessitated a change in acceptable public behavior in the U.S.

However, as many of us have adult friends who for years have nursed grudges regarding perceived injustices in childhood, so too many have quietly coddled their prejudices and cobbled them together into awkward lenses through which they now interpret the world. Or they've formed those prejudices into the rough-hewn ideologies of sanctimonious hegemony, or even into the patchwork patriotism under which they now find comfort and affinity. And whether we call it nationalism, tribalism, nativism, or give it some other innocuous label, we can be sure that such prejudice is at the heart of this unabashed Birther-nonsense, ongoing gay-bashing, race-baiting, and Islam-hating and even an impetus for some of the Tea-partying of the past year.

Don't get me wrong. I get it. People, good people, are afraid. Notwithstanding, it is not a fear of what is or was or has been, but a fear of what might be because someone unlike one's self is clamoring to be heard (remember James Dobson's letter just before the 2008 election). Furthermore, it is a fear that cannot be named. To name it as a fear unworthy of the American people has been deemed 'unpatriotic' by the Dick Cheneys, Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins of the world -- folks who accrue power and/or amass wealth from talk of "Islamofacists," "Magic Negros," and "death panels." For them the "patriotic" (which has become such a malleable word) thing is to conserve the terms of our heretofore "prosperity" by inciting "healthy suspicion" of those who would seek to "modify," "alter," or "change" the terms in order to "enhance," "extend," and "expand" the prosperity. Inciting healthy suspicion is just code for giving oxygen to prejudice, the unleashed flames of which could consume us all.

Space will not allow me to detail the deep irony of Gingrich's disingenuous and incendiary labeling of the Other. Give too short and superficial an exposition, and those ideologically opposed to such self-critique will call it inadequate. One illustration too many and they will dismiss it as excessive and self-loathing. Suffice it to say that as long as we insist on naming the Other we will be at war with them. As soon as we accept their naming of themselves, we open the door for constructive conversation and potential cooperation. Why can't we listen to our Muslim compatriots for the language by which to designate the radicals who defame their beautiful religion? That's not a matter of political correctness, Mr. Gingrich; it's the Golden Rule.

Melvin BrayMelvin Bray (melvinbray.com) is a devoted husband, committed father, learner, teacher, writer, storyteller, purveyor of sustainability, and believer in possibilities. He is a contributing author to the recent compilation Audacity of Faith: Christian Leaders Reflect on the Election of Barack Obama (Judson Press) and an active participant in the Emergent Village.

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