The Optimistic Christian
Slander and the "Cycle of Diss"
Insults and vengeance occupy our human thoughts often, but the Bible says relatively little about them. Jesus told us to forgive, promptly and absolutely (Mt. 18:21-35), and God reserves vengeance for Himself (Rom. 12:1;, Dt. 32:35). Vindication of God's people—or of His own glory—can't come through our efforts to punish or silence others. God simply tells us this, and requires us to take it on faith; He doesn't elaborate or dwell on the matter.
Indeed, the faith we have that He is watching over us in spite of insults and slanders from others is one of the great personal interactions we have with God. No formula is laid out for us in the Bible, nothing to describe scenarios and tell us exactly what to do in specific situations. Shaking off offense and rejecting vengeance require an absolute and principled dependence on God, one in which each instance is worked out between Him and the believer. In forgiving insults without complaining or making excuses because of circumstances, we are standing before God and His hosts, putting our own stamp on obedience to one of His least-detailed instructions, and doing Him honor in the process.
We would be making a grave error to interpose men and laws in this equation. Indeed, too much of Christian history shows us the ugly result of that very error. Over time, we came to understand that earthly government is ineligible, through its inherent human flaws, to wield the power of defining what is offensive to religious believers and setting punishments for it. It works best for the state to behave as if the people can and should overlook foolish "insults."
Overlooking foolish insults is also the only positive, productive way for individuals to go through life. We can't control what others choose in this regard, but we can refrain from accepting the shame-revenge premise for our own lives. For Americans in the wake of the Innocence of Muslims video, the shape that that should take is affirming that freedom of speech is indeed the best way to order society and government. You can't go down the slippery slope of defining the acceptable content of intellectual or religious speech without careening into the abyss of ideological authoritarianism.
I sympathize with those who have assured Muslims that the video is not representative of American ideas. I sympathize as well with letting Muslims know we think the video is offensive. But I believe we have an obligation to emphasize something else, and to set the example of not dwelling on grievances from offense or insult. I was glad to see former president Clinton do just that in the past week.
J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air's Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.