Thursday, July 28, 2011

CYA and the Norway massacre

It's an unusual day when the Courier op-ed page carries no letters, and that drew my attention to the odd column that landed just under the cartoon, odd because its writer has not appeared before in the Courier. This tells me the editors thought what the columnist has to say is especially notable.

On reading this piece by Susan Stamper Brown, a name I'd never heard before, I find yet more oddness. (You can read it online here, as dCourier does not carry outside columns.) A quick scan of her blog (which seems to be her main outlet) shows that her beat is blaming liberals and Democrats for pretty much everything, without regard for facts or fear of over-the-top polemic. Yet she kicks off the column in question with a quote from famous uber-liberal ER Murrow, and launches into a why-can't-we-all-just-get-along whine.

In the back half, her real thesis gels. Parroting Bill O'Reilly, she tries to make a case that the Norway shooter isn't really a Xtian at all, and those evil liberals are just using the tragedy to pitch a new assault on Xtianity. In other words the editors heard the call on BillO and dug around for an opinion piece to chime in.

Breivik’s own writing extensively details how he built his ideology on Xtian tenets and history, inspiring him to take drastic action to stop what he sees as an invasion by Islamic culture and the pollution of multiculturalism. To pretend he is not a Xtian is poppycock, like saying Osama wasn't a Muslim because he was a bad one.

Stamper Brown is playing the old CYA game, diverting blame for her own intolerance by retroactively excommunicating a fellow-traveler who's jumped the shark. Through her, the editors are doing the same, pretending that Breivik's religious views are a matter of political interpretation and so just another volleyball in their endless culture war.

What's really sad about this reflex is that it prevents the sort of reflection and self-awareness that might lead to change for the better. You have to drive the snakes out of your own nest first, and to do that you have to be able to see them.

By recognizing how extremists use religion or other dogma to justify their violence, we can look for ways to moderate and qualify our own rhetoric or clearly disavow our criminal history to help prevent the sort of insane mental parody that leads to Oslo, or Oklahoma City, or 9-11, or Hiroshima. Dissociating ourselves from these acts wastes a multitude of opportunities. It's also un-Xtian, by the way.

No, his Xtianity did not make Breivik a mass murderer, but he did use it to justify his actions. A thinking adherent of any dogma should take this as a warning about stretching the ideology to suit motivations born in the darker cabinets of the mind.

Breivik's religion has a long history of stretching paternalism into oppression, evangelism into aggression, and faith into blood lust. No thinking adult can read any of that into the Jesus stories, yet for thousands of years that's exactly what's happened.

Breivik is no different from Hitler in how he stretched an elastic and ambiguous dogma to suit his radical authoritarianism. We see Muslims doing the same thing. Ditto with Marxists, corporatists and Tea Partiers.

What's always missing, and what allows these outriders to imagine that they're the vanguard of some grand and glorious movement, is the failure of whatever group they identify with to insist that peace and justice for all are their primary values, and consistently demonstrate that in word and deed.

You can run, editors, you can hide. But your running and hiding betrays some guilt you're not facing.

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