Laurie Toby Edison

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Sweeping Away the Innocent

The right-wing pundits are more aggressively insane than usual this week, perhaps because the election went badly for them in so many parts of the country.

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson told the city of Dover, Pennsylvania that its defeat of a pro-intelligent-design school board means that the city has “just rejected God.” He continued by saying, “”God is tolerant and loving, but we can’t keep sticking our finger in his eye forever,”

Fox News “pundit” Bill O’Reilly removing San Francisco from the right to safety for passing a proposition rejecting military recruitment inside the city (“If al-Qaida comes in here and blows you up, we’re not going to do anything about it. We’re going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.”)

There’s an argument for not engaging with either Robertson or O’Reilly. Both are petty, small-minded men with huge agendas, huge audiences, and brass balls where their brains should be.

But this sort of remark is too fanatical to go unchallenged. Both men are guilty of canonical versions of the classic sin of hubris, defined by the Encyclopedia Brittanica as “overweening presumption suggesting impious disregard of the limits governing human action in an orderly universe.” And yes, “impious” is exactly the right word.

There is a difference between Robertson and O’Reilly: Robertson believes God thinks what he thinks, O’Reilly thinks he’s God.

It’s all too easy to engage with their arguments on our terms, and in fact, it’s pretty easy to engage with them on classical and conventional religious terms. First of all, it is neither right, nor Christian to recommend or endorse the destruction of people, in large or small numbers, based on whether or not they disagree with you.

Going one step further, both of us individually came up with the same Biblical analogy, which is the prophet Abraham arguing with God about the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah regarding the “appropriate number” of righteous men whose presence could save the cities from destruction. “Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?” In that negotiation, Abraham started with fifty righteous souls and bargained God down to ten.

In San Francisco, 40% of voters voted for the military recruitment proposition. In Dover, the new school board won by a one or two percent margin. And that doesn’t count all the people who don’t vote, all the children too young to vote, or (especially in the case of San Francisco) all the tourists who visit Coit Tower.

If God does think what Pat Robertson thinks, and sends his wrath to the city of Dover, Pennsylvania, thousands of people will die regardless of their beliefs or their politics. If Bill O’Reilly is God, or is the mouthpiece of the government or (most realistically) has the ear of some domestic terrorists, hundreds of thousands of people in San Francisco, on all sides of the military recruitment issue, could die.

These guys are windbags, and they are blowing smoke. Unfortunately, they aren’t just windbags, and they aren’t just blowing smoke. And some things are too important to leave unanswered.

One Response to “Sweeping Away the Innocent”

  1. Lynne Murray Says:

    There’s an old Japanese saying about the worst disgrace being the praise of fools. As a resident of San Francisco, I’d be really worried if O’Reilly was praising us. Now he’s throwing a tantrum, and the only argument he can come up with is, “Drop dead!” Playground tactics.

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Laurie Toby Edison by Carol Squires

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