My once and future idol, Mark Twain, wrote that "In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand and without examination, from 'authorities' who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing."
This may be, in part, the reason that for over a year now, I've seriously avoided discussing either subject at any great length, either on Facebook or Live Journal. During this time, I've read a great deal of posts and links that I've had serious issues with. Some soared the absolute heights of stupidity, and I would have loved to have taken down the author with a witty insult or two. However, more often than not these days, I find myself looking at the idiotic post or link in question, and considering the end result. And deciding, it's just not worth the hassle to respond.
To wit: my response will generate a response back, possibly from the poster, although just as likely from a friend of the poster, who may be even more ill informed (and most likely, less civil) than the person I was responding to. That response will in turn necessitate a response on my part, and that will entail, in all likelihood, a certain amount of research, at least, online. It will also take some thought on my part, because I simply cannot spew forth opinions as if they were farts in the wind. That response will then generate another response, which will require more research and formulation on my part, etc. etc. etc.
And the things is, those folks who post such things NEVER let you get the last word. Nor will you ever convince them, and more than likely, you'll end up sore and irritated. It's kind of like contracting herpes, except without the fun sexual caressing and massaging that takes place beforehand. In politics and religion, you bypass all that crap and go straight for the disease.
Simply put, I just don't have time any more for that nonsense. I've got a job that keeps me way too busy, kids that keep me jumping, and a strong dislike for wasted effort. What's the use of arguing like that if you're never going to reach a conclusion?
Be that as it may, I have to say that I have been paying some attention to the two Islamic scandals that seem to have occupied everyone's attention for months.
The most recent one, of course, involves a dime store preacher in Florida who looks like Jed Clampett with a handlebar mustache and has a congregation that's roughly the size of a baseball team. He's decided to declare a national day of Koran burning on September 11. Well, that is, a national day, between the hours of 6-9 p.m. (apparently you only need three hours to call it a day...after that, you take a nap. Book burning is tiring stuff, after all).
The other big ruckus involves the supermosque being built at the Twin Towers. Only it's not a supermosque, right? And it's being built a few blocks away from where the Twin Towers, near a porno shop. At least, that's what that notably unreliably pinko commie, Mayor Bloomberg said. But who can trust him, right?
In many ways, the two are tied directly together. One could almost see how the dime store preacher's friendly little "international" day (I'm sure folks in Paris and Brussels are just lining up to stage their own burning!) is a direct reaction to the hue and outcry that's been heard around the mosque. "What, those fellers in New York City aren't going to do something about this dang-gummed sacreelidge? Well, I'm just going to have to take matters into my own hands...I'll show them I'm a dang better New Yorker than an actual New Yorker!"
Both involve civil liberties, of course. The group building the mosque has every right to build a mosque/not mosque wherever the hell they want, as long as they have the appropriate permits and such. And the dimestore preacher has every right to burn whatever the hell he wants (as long as it's not the American flag, of course), even if that pinko commie Commie General Petraeus says that doing so will endanger our troops...ah, but who listens to HIM, anyways? (Well, that is, unless moveon.org has the bad taste to rhyme Petraeus with Betray Us, in which case, you're spitting on a saint...oh, forgot about that one, did you?)
What's at the heart of both is the essential triteness of the discussions themselves. I've heard one rabidly right-wing friend of mine argue that the outcry that some people are making about the preacher and his Koran burning would be better spent decrying female genital mutilation or the way that certain Islamic countries mistreat women, and that's certainly true, of course. Plus, it certainly gives a two-bit crackpot desperate for publicity way more attention than he deserves.
However, the same argument can be made for the supermosque. Instead of whipping up a tempest in a teapot about a one-floor information center in an area that already has a mosque, because it's such a "slap in the face," why not focus one's attention and ire on things that really matter? Why not call attention to the issue of female genital mutilation, for example, or the way that certain Islamic countries mistreat women? Wouldn't that be a better use of one's time?
My point is that both of these front-page stories precisely illustrate what Mark Twain was trying to say, only without half of the wit possessed by the master. Serious issues of substance aren't discussed because they require more than a facile discussion, and people just don't have the time, patience, or temperament to dig any deeper than the surface. That's why supermosques and second-hand preachers become cause celebres, and real issues of substance simply wither at the vine. It was true back in his day, and it's just as true--perhaps even more so--now.