There’s a quote, attributed to Bob Dole, John McCain, or possibly the Bible (I doubt it!) which says, “Don’t get into a wrestling match with a pig. You’ll get dirty, and the pig likes it.” A friend of mine had another version she often used: “Don’t get into an argument with an idiot.”
Whichever phrase you go with, the intention’s the same: don’t start to do battle with someone who wants to get down and dirty or sling mud at you – no one will win. I thought about this when, emerging from a few days of camping and news blackout on Cape Cod last week, I returned home to find that Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck had decided to hold a rally (the “Restoring Honor” rally) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And that, in response, Rev. Al Sharpton and others then decided to have a counter-rally to combat the provocateurs’ move.
I believe Beck is despicable. This is the man who likes to sow the seeds of hatred wherever he travels, who made a previous accusation that President Obama was a “racist” who has “a deep-seated hatred for white people.” On Sunday, following the rally, he decided to pass judgment on Obama’s religious beliefs, saying, “”People aren’t recognizing his version of Christianity.” This, from a Mormon who should know what religious discrimination feels like, and might do well to remember the process — as fellow Mormon Sen. Orrin Hatch does — which led to a steeple finally being placed on the Mormon Temple in Belmont, MA, despite community protests.
I, like so many of my generation, grew up being inspired and motivated by the words of Dr. King to build a country based on deed rather than creed, a country where justice would be served for the benefit of all – a country that we still have not achieved. On the other hand, isn’t Sharpton’s response –on the surface, to try and rally King supporters and those who decry the hateful rhetoric and “lock and reload” language of Palin, and certainly, to try and capture the attention of the media — just playing into the hands of right wing hatemongers who want to bait liberals? And who wins in such a battle, anyway?
Sharpton organized his “Reclaim the Dream” rally after he learned of Beck and Palin’s plans. Depending on whose numbers you believe, Beck and Palin had around 87,000 attendees (if you believe Rep. Michelle Bachman, 1 million attended, but no one else counting heads gives a number close to that); Sharpton drew only about 3,000 to his gathering. Who wins in this game?
I continue to be very, very worried by the amped-up rhetoric I hear thrown out over the air waves and through social media channels, and the acts of violence that are striking some communities — directed at one ethnic or cultural or religious group or another. One pundit, speaking on MSNBC, suggested that this behavior is exactly what Al Qaeda wants to incite — to essentially have us eat one another alive and divide in disagreement and hate. So far, we’re doing a pretty good job of it, and no one looks good. In Murfreesboro, TN, a case of suspected arson occurred and gunshots were heard being fired near an Islamic center in the town. This is hardly a lone report: cases of bias and violence against people perceived to be ‘other’ are rampant, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported over 900 hate groups active in the country.
Last I checked, this country still supported freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights, and by golly, that includes Muslims and the worship of Islam. A number of religious groups understand the importance of this principle — certainly the Reform Jews do, for they have known what this kind of discrimination and attack feels like — and some groups have found ways to respond, with non-violence and without embrace of direct retaliatory language or behavior, to the rhetoric of Beck, Palin and others. But not enough.
“We do not have to think alike to love alike,” said non-Trinitarian pioneer Ferenc David. Unfortunately, we seem to be increasingly locked in a battle of who gets to claim moral and religious superiority over another group or individual. The fight is based on hate, not love, and on who can scream the loudest, who can intimidate the best, and who can capture the coverage of the media with outrageous commentary. We’re throwing gobs of mud at each other, and in this battle, everyone’s getting pretty dirty.