Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sure you can, but SHOULD you?

Many many years ago, I sat at a table in a college bar with a young man who informed me that he could put his fist in his mouth.

Many people would have said, "this I gotta see!" but I said, "I don't think that's a good idea."

He said, "You don't think I can do it, do you?"

I said, "If I thought you couldn't do it, I'd let you try."

The point of this story... the relevant point of this story... is that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.  And by "can" I mean physically or "have the right to" do something.  Because that's what I want to talk about.

We are often faced with the question, "I know I can, but should I?"  It usually involved eating a chocolate cake, telling a racist joke or letting your sister-in-law know what you really think of her.  And that is important.  But sometimes it involves bigger issues.

There are two situations now where I would defend to the death people's right to do something, one with more enthusiasm than the other.  But I wonder, should they do it?

Case one is cut and dried to me:  the idiot Pastor in Florida who wants to burn the Koran on September 11.  Sure he has the right to do it, as long as he bought the books and he has a burning permit. 

But should he?  Isn't it always icky to burn books?  Even if you weren't forced to read Fahrenheit 451 in high school (and if any book should be burned...), doesn't the notion of burning books and thereby symbolically burning ideas make you feel dirty?  Don't you wish the Pastor would just stick his fist in his mouth?

But no, he wants to burn books to defend his perverted notion of Christianity.

I can't accuse the Pastor of being a hypocrite, since I recognize that in his world view, it's OK to burn other ideas while insisting that your ideas be spread by any means.  I am tired of these people who call themselves Christians insisting that they are being persecuted because people disagree with them.  What do they know of persecution?  You don't hear about St. Cyndi who complained to the principal when the other girls laughed at her for praying during lunch. 

But there is persecution, and it is possible that his selfish actions will cause Americans (military and civilian) to be killed or tortured in Iraq or Afghanistan.  It is one thing to be willing to join Daniel in the lion's den.  It is another to sit in sunny Florida and send others into the lion's den.

The other event is very different, in my mind.  But in thinking about the moron Pastor, I've rethought this, too.

A group of good-hearted people want to build a Mosque near Ground Zero.  It is their hope that the center will serve to open relations among people of different faiths and to help educate Americans about Islam.  I believe them, and I think that it is a great cause.

Whether I believed them or not, I'd defend their right to build. Since I believe them, I have thought that they should build.  But now I'm not sure. 

It's not because I think they should back off from the angry, bigoted crowd.  I don't think we should be "sensitive" to bigotry.  If I offend someone by being a Muslim or a lesbian or an Episcopalian, I am not going to change so as not to offend them, or even to make myself more comfortable in their presence.  (See "martyrdom" above.)  If that were the only issue I'd say, build it bigger and better.  Who cares?

I think they should reconsider building the Mosque at ground zero because their purpose is to open hearts and minds and to educate, but that isn't going to happen because the issue has shifted to the building and the place and not the mission.  I think that the anger and vitriol shows that there is a great need for education and bridge-building.  I'm just not sure this is how to start.

The pastor is clearly wrong.  The Mosque may defeat its own purpose.  I'm going to eat the whole chocolate cake and not tell my sister-in-law what I think of her.  I will not tell racist jokes.  Civilization is saved.

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