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An intoxicating Christian 9/11 remembrance

Gary Caruso | Friday, September 10, 2010

Our nation was founded one outpost at a time with each settlement promoting a variety of community ideals and freedoms as divergent as each resident’s background or heritage. One need only recall the American Civil War’s strife, review mid-20th Century civil rights movements or merely assess our current national political divide for proof that community standards differ drastically between neighborhoods and regions of the United States. Fortunately for Americans, our Constitution equalizes our societal rule of law by excluding extreme interpretations that may limit freedoms based upon bigotry.

Christianity, supposedly founded on the call for peaceful coexistence by Jesus, rose one martyr at a time based on tribal interpretations of biblical gospels. As centuries passed, religious sects as well fell prey to varying regional thought so that their leaders ruled in ways that eventually excluded or limited others whom they found in violation of their decrees. But unlike a nation with one high court that ultimately interprets its ruling laws, religious organizations simply split further into denominations more willing to accept whatever narrow principles guide their leaders. So it should come as no surprise that both American political and religious leaders today routinely pound their chests with all-knowing certainty as they espouse their specific agendas.

One such omnificent fundamentalist Christian Florida pastor, Terry Jones of the Gainesville 50-family member Dove World Outreach Center, has declared tomorrow an “International Burn a Koran Day” to “reveal the nature of Islam.” While most Americans observe a somber, reverent day of unity tomorrow, Jones relies upon an inspiration based on past experiences to make his unique fiery 9/11 statement. Many, including General David Patraeus, top U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan, urged Jones to weigh how detrimental and dangerous consequences may be on U.S. troops fighting abroad should Jones create an international Islamic outrage.

Throughout the week, Jones has acted coy, basking in his world-wide media attention. Yet, knowing his life’s story may help shed light on the origins of his beliefs and inspirations. Jones worked as a missionary in Europe for 30 years after leaving a career as a hotel manager. He currently presides over a 20-acre compound where he oftentimes is seen walking with a pistol strapped to his hip. Jones recorded an online video series entitled the “Braveheart Show,” based on Mel Gibson’s movie “Braveheart,” to preach anti-Islamic sermons to a global audience larger that his tiny congregation.

Jones authored the publication, “Islam Is of the Devil,” whose title phrase also adorns several billboards on his church property. Jones admits that he first used the phrase last year, but since 2002 Jones marked 9/11 anniversaries with sermons about Islam and what he believes are the faith’s inherent dangers. Earlier this week, radio programs broadcast Jones announcing his motivations. He rhetorically described Islam by saying, “We have a new way to stand up to frontierism,” referring to his plan to burn Korans on Saturday. When asked about a potential Islamic global outrage images of burning Korans would incite, Jones replied, “To offend them is the lesser of two evils.”

Jones’ plans are reminiscent of the type of slick charlatan Burt Lancaster epitomized as the movie character, Elmer Gantry. Moreover, Jones seems to be one of those so-called “Christians” who have become too intoxicated with their own limited, personalized interpretations of the gospels. His is the rogue type of vengeful reactionary effort repeatedly seen throughout history in the name of cleansing society, but is no different than the burning of a cross, burning a witch at the stake or throughout the Crusades, burning a village to the ground.

In time, the white-hot fifteen minutes of fame enjoyed this week by Jones, who also personally describes the spotlight as “getting the word out more than we ever realized,” will fade in most quarters. However, a lingering problem will remain harbored in the hearts of many who have also fallen prey to our modern, intoxicating way of life — those who suffer a short attention span, need instant communications through exotic electronic devices, hold an unwillingness to understand another’s interpretation of freedom and routinely skew others with stereotypical simplicity.

Most have routinely commemorated the heinous attacks on the World Trade Center towers each September 11th with high reverence, while some who personally suffered losses on that infamous day hold the anniversary sacred. But this year, on the ninth anniversary of the tragedy, the memory of innocent lives lost has already been marred by what should be called “Cowboy Ministering.” Following the gospels means that rogue pastors must wean themselves from the intoxicating comforts and testosterone today’s society promotes in favor of the pacifistic love demonstrated 20 centuries ago by a rogue profit.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ‘73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.