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Anomie in Action

I ate dinner on Easter at Jack-in-the-Box. Fox News was broadcasting a synopsis of the Gospels. I came in just as John the Baptist was being dragged before Herod. The reaction of Jesus was portrayed as an angry invocation to his disciples to pick up the sword. The lines were (I paraphrase):

I understand now the anger of my father. It is time to take up swords against his enemies!

Followed on the Temple steps by a threatening diatribe against the religious authorities.

Obviously, this is a corruption of the story related by the Apostles. I just shook my head and turned the other way.

Last night at Bible study I found myself counseling a man of deep convictions who had come in railing against the hypocrisy of those that use Revelation to justify dropping bombs on our enemies. I suggested that he not argue Revelation with them – the symbolism is too complex, and in the past we have seen that often only those doing the work can interpret prophesy. Rather, take heart in the actual words of Jesus that so clearly contradict pronouncements of hate.

This came up again this morning with my Muslim colleague at work. He related a call-in broadcast with a scholar who was attacked by a young man claiming that the scholar was spreading lies regarding a Wahhabi theologian. When confronted with the actual words of the Wahhabi, the young man continued to assert that what was said was a lie. The moderator finally intervened, telling the young man to please not call in until he had studied the source materials.

Was that the right approach, though? Or will it leave a bitter taste that will continue feed anger and violence in the caller?

Put two rats in cages and subject both to shocks. In one cage, install a red button that the rat can use to interrupt the sequence of shocks. Ensure that both rats still receive the same number of shocks. Guess what? The rat with the button will behave pretty normally. The rat without the button will lie motionless. The motionless rat suffers from anomie, a type of hopeless paralysis.

As the lower 90% of our society slides slowly into desperation, receiving shock after psychological shock, they will grasp at anything that gives them a sense of control (no matter how displaced) over their situation. Expressions of anger are a great way of shutting people up, as is brandishing of a weapon. They don’t have any affect on our circumstances, but like the rat in the cage with the button, they enable us to continue to act when we otherwise would succumb to hopelessness.

So I would say that the young Muslim caller should have been congratulated for reaching out, and offered sympathy for the circumstances that provoked his anger. Stories from the lives described in the Qu’ran – including Moses, Joseph and Muhammad himself – would guide him towards patience and faith.

Political and religious zealots of all stripes arise in desperate times. They flourish because we don’t pay attention to the circumstances that create desperation. Shutting them out of our gardens won’t solve the problem.

 

 

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