Monday, September 20, 2010

Slay the Messenger!

On Good Morning America this morning Congressman Mike Pence responded to Christine O'Donnell's admission that she had dabbled in witchcraft by saying she had an obligation to explain herself to the voting public (and I agree.) He then went on to make an interesting appeal. He asked us to look at the message, not the messenger. It's interesting because humanity has never been good at that. We're far more prone to attack the messenger.

Socrates was executed for his message.

Jesus was crucified for His message.

The apostle Paul was persecuted and finally executed for his message.

Mohammed fought wars launched by his enemies with the intent of killing him for his message.

Martin Luther was hounded by conservative elements in the church for his message.

Martin Luther King was murdered for his message.

Why? Because it works. In the majority of cases if you close the mouth of the messenger you no longer hear the message. Of course, this doesn't mean the message was or was not worth hearing, and it doesn't necessarily mean the message won't find another mouthpiece, as in the case of all of the above (save Mohammed who was not killed by his enemies.) But we have learned a skepticism about messages and messengers gleaned from messages that were incomplete, inaccurate, or even downright maliciously misleading. We hold to an assumption that if the messenger is untrustworthy then the message is suspect (and therefore not worthy of being heard.) Of course, this does not mean that the message is in fact untrustworthy, but perhaps because it has proved so in enough cases we are willing to risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

One problem comes when the messenger IS the message. Not all messengers claim this, but some do. Socrates was so caught up in his message that when offered exile instead of death he chose death as a lasting testimony to his conviction that he was not guilty of wrong-doing—he chose death for his message. Jesus brought the message that He IS the message, very confusing to those who condemn him. So then maybe, just maybe, slaying the messenger is a kind of Medieval test of the message. If the message can survive the messenger it is worth hearing. Barbaric, unscientific, and in the end horribly unjust, I submit, but perhaps we've found that it works. In the case of Jesus it did—He is the only messenger I know that survived His execution!

So am I saying we should slay the messenger? No, absolutely not. With the one notable exception above, the message may not be the messenger, but the two are inextricably intertwined and related. Judge each one separately, but then put them together and take a second look. Try that one on for size, Mike.

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