Thursday, September 2, 2010

About that hostage crisis at Discovery Communications

The hostage crisis at Discovery Communications yesterday put me in mind of how words influence actions. Did you happen to read the alleged hostage taker's statement (at this point, he has been unofficially identified as James J. Lee)? It's like the very worst possible environmentalist stereotype come to life. He demanded that the Discovery Channel do something to curb human population growth and encourage sterility. He claimed that humans were "filth" that destroy the planet. And of course, he demanded that the Discovery Channel should teach about evolution, or in his words, "Talk about Malthus and Darwin until it sinks into the stupid people's brains until they get it!!"

It was a terrible tragedy that ended in the hostage taker's death, but before anyone gets too smug about how Darwinism leads to violence, let's remember two words: James Kopp. You know, the guy who bought a sniper rifle and assassinated abortionist Barnett Slepian? The fact is that deranged people do violent things because they're deranged. Darwin no more caused Lee's violent acts than the Bible caused Kopp's.

On the other hand, I'd hate to be Daniel Quinn this morning. In his tirades, Lee identified Quinn's book Ishmael as one of his inspirations. I'm not so naive to assume that Quinn caused Lee to do what he did, but I suspect that the kind of rhetoric that surrounds so many "culture wars" today can act like a lens to focus the violent tendencies of a deranged few.

All of these thoughts make me increasingly uncomfortable to see the creation/evolution debate framed in such militant terms. "Battles," "culture war," "defending the faith," "defending our schools," "holding people accountable," and the like. It's sensational, it attracts attention, and it gets donations, but how long will it be before another Lee or Kopp finally snaps? I'm not talking just about creationists either. The rhetoric on the other side has become increasingly antagonistic over the years as well. Where will it end?

Now, please understand that I'm all for freedom of speech. I couldn't be doing what I'm doing without it, but I understand that with freedom comes responsibility to use speech wisely. Or as Paul said, "'Everything is permissible' — but not everything is beneficial" (I Cor. 10:23).

It's something to think about, but it's too bad that antagonistic rhetoric is so profitable. That pretty much guarantees that it will continue.

But I don't have to be a part of it.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.