The Pastoral Letter of the Holy Grail Ecumenical Church
Recently I was talking with my friend and colleague Daud Rahman, the imam of the town mosque, about the terrible press Muslims receive in the West. They are all blamed for the extremist actions of a few terrorists. "Those Muslims are at it again." Oh, they are, are they? When most Americans hear about a Ku Klux Klan lynching, I dare say they do not immediately shake their heads and say, "Those damn Christians." Nobody even had the thought occur to them that Dave Koresh was a typical Christian. But that's because we have a built-in sympathy for Christianity whereas we are looking for reasons to justify an inherited prejudice against Islam. Christians deep down bristle at the Islamic claim to supersede Christianity, just as Jews cannot relish the similar claims of Christians to be an advance on their religion.
We have now almost come to take Islamic terrorists as a fact of life, their bombings as something like a natural disaster. If it strikes you, your number's up. If some terrorist Jihad group says they're striking a blow for God, your insurance agent will probably agree with them. Another one for the Act of God clause: clobbered out of nowhere. But we have not quite grown used to American Christian terrorism. We have forgotten or wished away the legacy of the Christian aggressive jihad, the Crusades. We say that the Ku Klux Klan is not really Christian, but that's like Jimmy Carter claiming Billy's not really his brother.
The born-again terroristas I am thinking of are the assassins of abortion doctors. Here's an interesting case. As Johnny Smith asks Dr. Weizak in Stephen King's The Dead Zone, if you could go back in time, knowing what you know, and you had the chance to shoot Hitler, would you do it? As Weizak says to Johnny, "I don't like the sound of this." But today's anti-abortionist zealots wind up doing what Stephen King's clairvoyant protagonist did: trying to kill individuals they regard as mass murderers, or, I guess, serial killers.
It is hard to deny that in a certain sense the killers have logic on their side. That is, they are behaving consistently with their premise that abortion is murder. If the only way to put a stop to it is to kill the murderer, then that's what they'll have to do. But should this give us sympathy for them, the fact that they're only being consistent? Hell no.
It is rather a case of the reductio ad absurdum. The fact that they arrive at the logical conclusion they do should be enough to show them they have made a disastrously wrong turn somewhere along the line. And if their reasoning is not faulty, then maybe there's a hidden premise they're missing. But look at yourself, pal! If your position has led you to this strange and terrible place you never thought you'd end up in a million years, drawing a bead on a doctor as he heads into his office, it's time to retrace your steps! What on earth do you think you're doing?
I'm not just talking about talking down a madman, negotiating by radio with Koresh, trying to convince him the Seventh Trumpet is not about to sound. I'm talking about a broader and actually a more shocking situation. At a recent conclave of Pro-Lifers, the killing off of abortion doctors was an item of debate on the agenda. Of course no doubt most of those present were opposed to it. But for them even to accept it as a topic of policy debate has nightmarish and horrific implications. It reminds me of a Saturday Night Live skit where Tom Hanks plays the president of a fan club for the guy who plays Mr. Belvedere on TV. The members are all geeks and dweebs, some definitely way over the edge, stalkers and Mark David Chapman types. Somebody proposes that for a group activity they kill the TV star. Hanks tries to reject the whole idea as repugnant, but another member says it's a democratic club and they have to vote on it. Hey, if I go to a conference and I spot murder on the agenda, for Christ's sake, let me outa here! If you are even sitting in such a debate, you are damned.
Operation Rescue guru Randall Terry cannot brush off these deaths and be taken seriously. Anything less than absolute repudiation of such tactics and opinions implicates one in their guilt. This is what the misguided people like Jesse Jackson and Benjamin Chavis, who want to handle Louis Farrakhan with kid gloves, also fail to see. They are shaking a bloody hand and must not be surprised when their own hands become bloody as a result. They are signalling a tolerance for the tactics of those they tolerate within the fold. It is damning cowardice, culpable cowardice. Come out from among them! Pro-lifers, hasten to condemn and thrust out the bombers and assassins in your midst, lest you invite us to paint you with their shadow.
Robert M. Price
Letters to the Editor
It's good to find myself on the mailing list of your new letter & venue. Also good to see you getting into some thought-provoking materials again. Your essay on insanity and homelessness struck a chord. Who's really sane around here? As Szasz and Liang have noted, a lot of what is diagnosed as insanity is an inability to adjust to an insane world. I was just reminded of a striking (and conveniently forgotten) case of this by the debate over the Smithsonian's Enola Gay exhibit. As you may know, the Smith was bullied into neutering its message by vets' groups, conservatives in Congress, and conservative journalists. Now academic historians are organizing teach-ins to tell the truth. The point is that all the patriotic flack has obscured the moral message. Back in 1961 the navigator of the E. Gay, Maj. Claude Eatherly, was conscience-stricken by the enormity of the mass slaughter in which he participated. Unable to achieve any acknowledgement of guilt on the part of the general public, he acted out his and the collective guilt in a series of bizarre crimes at which he was sure to be caught. The result was that he was "officially" declared insane at a full-fledged "lunacy" hearing in Waco (!) and thereby "removed" from society. (Last sentence largely quoted from "The Pornography of Power" by Lionel Rubinoff.) The verdict implied that it's sane to snuff out 140,000+ lives at one blow but insane to have any conscience about it (in a supposedly Christian society).
Another thing: there is a priest here who is doing exactly what you recommend about living among the homeless, etc. One Father Tom Jackson (ordained Episcopalian) somehow wound up in Tyler, Texas, used his savings to acquire a small house in a run-down (mostly black) part of town, and opened a house of hospitality modeled loosely after the Catholic Worker precedent. (Of course, the Catholic Worker Movement has been doing what you recommend since the 30s.) Fr. Tom is also a professional psychotherapist and was a close associate of Scott Peck, using Peck's methods. He got tired of dealing with middle class neuroses and wanted to serve where there was a real need, so he gave up a lucrative practice, house, boat, marriage (it seems), pulled up stakes and ended up here. Times being what they are, his ministry turns out mainly being to AIDS victims, troubled youths, and other victims of our insane society. He has drawn in a number of volunteers, acquired three more houses, and has an Anglican nun and a feminist Unity minister working with him--all in about a year.
Editor, "Both Sides Now"
Many thanks for sending us "The Encyclical." It must be gratifying indeed to know that so many of your former parishioners followed you to the new church. We'd have joined the pilgrimage, sir.
We're always deeply interested in your "philosophy of religion," if that's the proper term for what you write in your church newsletters. And "Yardstick for Lunatics" was right up there with the best of your essays.
Hugh B. Cave
Announcements: Look for Ed Babinski's collection "Leaving the Fold" from Prometheus Books. Prefaced by an insightful introduction by Ed himself, the book is a fascinating collection of "testimonies" by individuals who grew disillusioned with evangelical Christianity and left it for various reasons. If you are trying to win a fundamentalist friend or relative to a broader view, "Leaving the Fold," along with Bob Price's "Beyond Born Again", would make excellent reading recommendations. Ed is also the editor of the hilarious & informative publication "Cretinism and Evil-utionism."