Thursday, December 25, 2008


My New Shorter OED lists the following definitions of the verb "discriminate":
  1. v.t. Make or constitute a difference in or between; distinguish, differentiate. (early 17th c.)
  2. v.t. Distinguish with the mind; perceive the difference in or between. (mid 17th c.)
  3. v.i. Make or recognize a distinction, esp. a fine one; provide or serve as a distinction; exercise discernment. (late 18th c.)
  4. v.i. Make a distinction in the treatment of different categories of people or things, esp. unjustly or prejudicially against people on grounds of race, colour, sex, social status, age, etc. (late 19th c.)
It is an excellent exercise in discrimination (exercising discernment) to note the different meanings of "discriminate" shown above and the course of their historical development. The various meanings seem to be in play in the fuss over the Rev. Rick Warren's scheduled role at the presidential inauguration, but that is not what led me to think of them this Christmas morning.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered this year's alternative Christmas message (following the Queen) on Channel 4 of the British TV network. The Sydney Morning Herald carries the headline "Anger over Ahmadinejad Christmas message." (Sound familiar?)

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut reports for the Herald:
Stephen Smith, director of Britain's Holocaust Centre, said the President's message of peace was "deceptive", describing him as a "wolf in sheep's clothing".

Mr Smith criticised "the fact that somebody who openly denies the Holocaust is given legitimacy on prime-time television, someone who uses Holocaust denial to be divisive".
Do not misunderstand me and think I am a fan of Mr. Ahmadinejad. I do believe he is a dangerous nutter. He is not the ultimate authority in Iran, though, and he has not started any notorious wars that I am aware of. We, however, have our own dangerous nutter, with more actual power than the Constitution allows, who has started an illegal and immoral war that still rages on, so U. S. Citizens, at least, might want to be measured, even discriminating, in their denunciations of the Iranian President.

The fuss seems to be over what Ahmadinejad has previously said in other contexts, not what he actually said in the Christmas broadcast. (This is really sounding familiar.)

I will join with those who denounce his Holocaust denials, just as I denounce denials of the Armenian genocide or the Darfur genocide (and the Sudanese government's complicity in it). I also have to note that in his speeches he often makes far more sense, speaks more truth, and has tons more class than Dubya, who comes across as a war-mongering hick next to Ahmadinejad.

Are we capable of discriminating between the Iranian president's truly revolting utterances and his Christmas message?

I have not read a transcript of the whole message but here are snippets:
IRAN'S President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has wished the world a merry Christmas, even though he thinks much of it is in crisis because the West's "bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist" leaders have strayed far from Jesus's path.


In the recorded message, Mr Ahmadinejad praised Christianity but said that if Christ returned to Earth, he "would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems".
Bloomberg had a more temperate headline ("Ahmadinejad Calls for Peace, Says Jesus Would Fight Terrorism ").
Ahmadinejad, 52, also calls for justice and religious teachings that advocate peace, according to a transcript of the address. His message will be broadcast on the state-owned channel at 7:15 p.m. local time.

“As crises and despair multiply, a wave of hope is gathering momentum,” Ahmadinejad says in the transcript. “Hope for a brighter future and hope for the establishment of justice, hope for real peace, hope for finding virtuous and pious rulers who love the people and want to serve them.”


“Today, the general will of nations is calling for fundamental change,” Ahmadinejad said in the address. “This is now taking place. Demands for change, demands for transformation, demands for a return to human values are fast becoming the foremost demands of nations of the world.”
So, on the one hand we have a virulent anti-Israeli position and a nation where conversion from Islam to Christianity carries the death penalty and on the other we have a speech with rather obvious comments about how far we all are from Jesus' teachings and denunciation of bullies and terrorists.

If we exercise some discrimination on this we might forcefully disagree with the President's stances in some areas and find common ground with him in what he just said last night. We might disagree with Ahmadinejad's discriminatory track record and try to work with him where we agree on issues of terrorism and the "tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems."

I would suggest that we have something to learn from discriminating between definitions 1 through 3 of "discriminate" and definition 4. We need more of the former and less of the latter.

This may also have helpful implications for the current debate about the preachers who appear at civil celebrations.

I find myself still pained and angry at Rick Warren's selection and thoroughly unconvinced by his PR campaign to show how much really loves the gays. He has said he does not really believe our relationships are comparable to incest and pedophilia but the record shows he uttered that sort of thing before. Using the biblical principle that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matthew 12:34 KJV), I assume he said those things before because he believed them. I see no reason, in his world view, why his feelings along those lines would suddenly change unless he experienced a major conversion in his views on sexuality and sexual roles. That sort of change takes most of us years, though some may have Damascus road upheavals. A spokesperson for Saddleback Church said that the items recently removed from their web site have not been abolished, so a rearranging of a few items is not impressing me. I believe he wants to love us to straightness, and he may be sincere in that, but I'm having none of it. So there we are.

He may still give a grace-filled invocation. I hope he does, for the sake of the nation and the world.

Dialogue may ensue. Melissa Etheridge, whom I respect, has reached out to him and they are talking respectfully together. I wish all helpful dialogue every success.

For now I perceive him as a smarmy mega-church leader (full disclosure: I have trouble using "mega-church" in a positive sense as they all come across to me as a combination of personality cults and money-making institutions, though I am sure God's Good News must be in there somewhere and I know social ministries occur through them) with crappy theology and way too much of a public platform already, and a very public track record of working to oppress a segment of the population to which I belong.

I will try to evaluate both words and deeds on their own merit. Some of what Ahmadinejad says is true, positive, and may provide common ground for moving forward together. Some of what he says is false, reprehensible, and unhelpful. Like all of us, he is bundle of contradictions. We are all works in progress when it comes to personal integration, coherence, congruity, and integrity.

In that he is like me. Readers of this blog experience some of my own contradictions, mixed emotions, and conflicting thoughts. It seems Rick Warren shares that with us.

On this Christmas Day we might all journey a bit closer toward peace and good will if we exercise some kinds of discrimination and learn to lay aside #4.

Peace and wholeness to all.

--the BB


The Cunning Runt said...

These are true and thoughtful words.

I, too, am trying not to see the world and Her people as black or white, good or evil. In some cases it's more difficult to maintain that perspective, and there have been moments when I feel like I'm betraying my daughter by not dismissing the whole of Rick Warren for his position on same-sex marriage.

Thanks for taking this position, which is more nuanced than most in the progressive 'sphere.

Merry Christmas, Paul.

Paul said...

LOL. You won't go wrong standing by your lovely daughter, Ralph. Warren makes my flesh crawl, make no mistake, and I'm no Melissa Etheridge. I do think we can do better than labeling anyone as all good or all bad, though I have yet to think of anything positive to say about Dick Cheney or GWB. I have to leave them to judgment of the Infinite because I consigned them both to hell long ago.

So, my Christmas mellowness has not lasted long, I guess.