Monday, May 12, 2008

Chickens on the grass, alas

In the May 4 New York Times, Frank Rich wrote a column called "The All-White Elephant In the Room," a cogent discussion of the double standard which the mainstream media apply to political candidates and their embarrassing spiritual advisers. Citing some of the anti-Catholic and anti-gay antics of John Hagee, a supporter of John McCain, Rich observes, "Mr. Hagee's videos have never had the same circulation on television as [Jeremiah] Wright's. A sonorous white preacher spouting venom just doesn't have the telegenic zing of a theatrical black man. Perhaps that's why virtually no one has rebroadcast the highly relevant prototype for Mr. Wright's fiery claim that 9/11 was America's chickens "coming home to roost." That would be the September 13, 2001, televised exchange between Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who blamed the attacks on America's abortionists, feminists, gays and A.C.L.U. lawyers."

Well, not entirely. Recall Senator Obama's remarkable speech in Philadelphia, in which he observed that his former pastor came out of an earlier era. So do I, and I remember that phrase. In November 1963, shortly after the assassination of John Kennedy, Malcolm X observed, "Chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad." He was talking about centuries of violence against black Americans, then escalating in response to the civil rights movement (Medgar Evers had been murdered a few weeks earlier). White Americans not actively engaged in the violence tended to view it with indifference. Now violence had claimed the most powerful white man in the country, and Malcolm was nauseated at the outpouring of anger and grief. "Violence is as American as cherry pie," he also noted, and no sane person could disagree. Had cable news existed in 1963, Malcolm's roosting chickens would have been more ubiquitous than Ruby shooting Oswald. Black men's violence is more...violent than white men's, their racism more deplorable, this religious extremism more extreme. I don't know why, but that's how it is.

Rev. Wright's analysis of 9/11 as a response to American foreign policy is more reality-based than that of the two ghouls on The 700 Club, but in the realm of religion, irrationality is never far beneath the surface. Politicians cannot afford to fall under its spell, lest they create regimes as pious, delusional, and morally bankrupt as the present one. And that we cannot afford.


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