|BONUS RANT FROM APRIL 2008
"Who Needs the Context?"
The American public is allowing the media to make its points through the use of magic words and phrases. It brings to mind the old game of quoting Bible verses, out of context, to make a new point. Here's my favorite example:|
"Judas went out and hanged himself."
"Go and do thou likewise."
"What thou doest do quickly."
The Bible doesn't really say that. All three verses do indeed appear in the Bible, in three different contexts, but they don't mean what the person quoting them is pretending.
The media is doing the same thing with old sermons from Barak Obama's pastor. In a somewhat lengthy context the pastor is talking about the idea of God as a God of justice. Slavery and lynching and segregation are offensive to that God, the pastor tells his black congregation. It doesn't matter if white folks sing, "God Bless America." The God of Justice is inclined the other way, the pastor reminds his congregation. In his lathered-up excitement the pastor cries out, "God bless America? No! God damn America!" He doesn't mean that God hates all of white America. He is mocking those who think that a God of justice would approve of slavery, lynching, segregation and unprovoked invasions of other countries, which America has done a lot of in the last half-century.
But out of context, "God damn America" sounds quite dreadful to many Americans, especially those who don't know much recent history and can't see things from the non-Americans' point of view. So the media attacks the pastor as un-American, and even blames Obama for not shutting up his pastor, as if he could.
I recall my own last days as a pastor, not in a black church, but in an integrated [chicano, native American, white] church, in the mid-1960s. I stated, "Americans had better be hoping that there is no just God. If there is a just God, America is in trouble." I was concerned then about the assassinations of world leaders like Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran and Patrice Lamumba of the Congo, and the unprovoked bombing and invasion of Viet Nam. Since then I have ceased believing in any supernatural Entity at all. But I still try to believe in some kind of Undeviating Justice, and I can understand perfectly well Barak Obama's pastor, and his frustration.
Who needs the context? Some of the current problem is rooted in the refusal of most Americans to admit what the context is. Some observers have suggested that thoughtful residents of the Middle East, and other parts of the world, too, for that matter, hate America because of what America has done to them over the past fifty years. The suggestion infuriates some people. "Why do you hate America so?" they ask. They shout down the suggestion with words like "unpatriotic" and "pro-terrorist."
But we don't hate America. We do tremble for our country when we think of any kind of over-arching Justice. We're not surprised that the current administration has pulled out of the World Court. And then more magic words come up. They call us "defeatists" and say we are advocating "surrender." I don't think we should surrender. I think we should apologize, admit the war was and is a miserable mistake, stop it, stop the occupation, and make complete reparations for the damage done.
In order to think clearly about all this, we do need the context.