The drama of Egypt's revolution and the ongoing story of that nation's transition to—it is hoped—a fair and democratic society, has rightly sucked out the oxygen that might have sustained a few other stories worthy of note. One such story broke last Tuesday in Indonesia, where an estimated 1500 Muslims—angered by a "too lenient" court sentencing of a Christian convicted of proselytizing and blasphemy—descended upon a nearby Christian orphanage, a heath center, and three churches.
They began with a Catholic church and beat the parish priest, as he tried to protect the Tabernacle and the Eucharist from the mob. They then burned down a Pentecostal church and destroyed a Catholic orphanage and a Catholic health center. The mob threw rocks at the police and set a police car on fire.
Stories like this—where we find Muslims reacting to Christian evangelism with fire and rage— always remind me of the Office of the Dead, which includes the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, where we read, “What is sown in the earth is subject to decay, what rises is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what rises is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength rises up” (1 Corinthians 15:42b-43).
Paul is discussing the resurrection on the last day, but that passage always resonates with me because it hints at a truth that can be applied to so much that occurs in our lives, or in the news: when weakness is sown, strength rises up against it.
On some level, what is weak knows that it is weak; it understands that foundationally, it cannot support the weight of its own ideas, much less endure an opposing wind. And because weakness knows this, it goes out of its way to deflect the opposition by sowing confusion, chaos, guilt, fear. These are the by-products of weakness and its attendant insecurity.
When feminists must torture a liturgy to expunge all male pronouns from ancient prayers in order to protect their “strong” sensibilities from being struck too harshly with equally strong male references, they are exhibiting insecurity, and so they sow the weakness of enforced conformity through “patriarchal” guilt. When they declare that a woman cannot be “real” unless she embraces a pro-abortion position, or they bring lawsuits against others for merely daring to consider that the different chemistry within the sexes might foment genuinely different interests, they are exhibiting their insecurity and sowing weakness through social intimidation and fear.
In the end, their over-reaction to dissenting views reveals that the foundations upon which they have built their philosophies are too weak to bear a shifting wind, or a thought out-of-line. What rises up in response to guilt, to fear and intimidation is the strength of genuine resolve—the sort of resolve that initiated and drove the feminist movement itself, until it became entrenched, and then too-comfortable, and then over-reaching.
The exact same case can be made about most movements. Labor unions were formed to protect the working class from being exploited by greedy captains of industry; their strength lay in the justice of their cause. Once entrenched, the unions also became too comfortable, too over-reaching; now they sow economic weaknesses throughout the manufacturing and service industries, and government entities that can no longer afford the pensions and fringe benefits, which have themselves come to be seen no longer as “benefits” but as “rights.”
They exhibit weakness when they must bus paid workers to political campaigns in order to create a buzz. And the political campaigns that bus them in are themselves so insecure that they must fall back on naked political theater in order to win the news cycle of the day.
Pondering the inevitable evolution of a movement from rising-up strength to eventual and debilitating overreach and a weakness from which it shall not rise up again should caution grassroots organizations and professional politicians.
If and when the “Tea Party” begins to throw away members who do not absolutely conform to their ideals, or who politely disagree on a few issues, they should stop and consider that they are approaching that tipping-point of overreach, where insecurity begins to break through, and weakness is sown. Seeing this weakness, another movement with very different beliefs and goals will inevitably rise up against it.
When an entrenched politician becomes too brittle to bear criticism, or to graciously handle hearing the word “no,” either from the people or his advisors, and tries to control the world through intimidation and power, that politician is also about to tip into the weakness against which something stronger—another politician or a sudden movement of the people—will rise. Goodbye, Mrs. Pelosi. Goodbye, President Mubarak.
Churches and religions do not escape this. When a church, a faith, or a belief-system cannot tolerate respectful outreach and evangelism by other faiths—if it, for example, cannot allow other faiths to reside nearby—it exhibits an insecurity that is a sign of weakness and can only sow weakness. And in response to it, something strong will eventually rise.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.