Not so many years ago, ‘Pastor' Jones could have received the benign disregard he so richly deserves. He could have torched the holy books and the world would have been none the wiser. Today, as David French observes, not only is the entire world alerted to his diabolical scheme, but Presidents and Prime Ministers around the world and virtually every national leader in the United States is compelled to respond in a fit of global apoplexy that is truly a sight to behold.
Is the subject worth discussing? Once the world was informed of International Burn a Koran Day, it had to be discussed. With a single act of massive selfishness, Pastor Jones puts in greater danger not only soldiers but aid workers and missionaries and their children. He seeks to "stand up" to the terrorists, but in truth he is giving them exactly what they want, a visual image to "prove" that this is a religious war against Islam.
But why was news of Pastors Jones broadcast around the globe in the first place? Part of the answer is the increasingly interconnected nature of the world in which we live, where a juvenile act of defiance in an obscure town in Florida can be televised to flag-burning mobs in Kabul and Jakarta. Another part of the answer is the voracious hunger of the nonstop news cycle and the need of the commentariat for something to get angry about.
Yet the mainstream media, too, were seeking evidence for their "Islamophobia" theory, and gleefully latched onto Terry Jones as Exhibit A for Christian idiocy, backwardness, and intolerance. In truth, if the United States were the hothouse of Muslim-hatred that liberal pundits imagine it is, Pastor Jones would have become, overnight, the Al Gore of the right: celebrated, garnished with medals and awards, and lauded for having the courage to say what everyone on his side of the political spectrum believes. He would stand at the pulpit of a megachurch, and the International Burn a Koran Day would be praised by the leaders of the plebes. Yet such is not the case.
The most telling turn in this sordid story is the way in which the readers of the Huffington Post responded to Sarah Palin's denunciation of the planned Koran-burning. Some honestly confessed surprise; others doubted whether she had written the post, both because it included long words she could not possibly have spelled, and because it expressed a tolerance they were not willing to grant she possessed. One of the featured responses even equates the proposed book-burning with Palin's (mythical) attempt to ban books from the city library of Wasilla. The mixture of ignorance and bile, prejudice and scorn is unsettling. Pastor Jones is a farcical distraction from the real problems besetting this country, and the whole episode is a depressing illustration of how poorly our media serve us.
I am left asking, as I have often asked in recent years: Where are the adults? What ever happened to wisdom? Why do we seem to have so little perspective, so little ability to discern what is significant and what is insipid? If we are the ones we've been waiting for, we are in dire trouble.
It takes time to recover from national tragedies. It takes time to adjust to advances in technology and media. We are not there yet, either. The collapse of those towers, and the need to respond to it, uncovered rifts between Americans. The media both cultivates and feeds upon our mutual enmities.
My own prayer for the 9/11 anniversary would be that we remember what is eternal and what is passing. Let us remember those who lost their lives in that attack upon American soil, and who lost their lives when we took the battle to our enemies. Let us remember, too, that we still have real enemies, and that we still have real friends.
These are tough times. We should be standing shoulder to shoulder. Instead we're at each other's throats.
Follow Timothy Dalrymple at Twitter or Facebook. His most recent columns are "Have We Squandered Our Cultural Inheritance?" and "On the Dire Need for the Imitation of Christ." His column can be found weekly at Patheos' Evangelical Portal.