Monday, February 21, 2011

photo: Matt Marble

The Meanest of Them Sparkled

How to View the Judge the Koran Day through the Words of Flannery O’Connor


How Jihadists Cannot Avoid Doing the Christian God’s Will

"The meanest of them sparkled" in Flannery O'Connor's fictive world. Next month a special edition of Poignant Conservatives Power Rankings will explore how that phrase and many others from O'Connor's fiction and prose can offer provocative insights into how to view the controversial "Judge the Koran Day" of Rev. Terry Jones. The poignarbiter will attend the proceedings in Gainesville, Florida on March 20 and offer blog postings immediately before and after the event. This website will provide a link to watch the event unfold live on streaming video.

It would be easy to dismiss Rev. Terry Jones, who gained global notoriety last September by threatening to burn copies of the Koran, as an O’Connor-like grotesque. What with his backwoods Fu Manchu, his defamed past and his intolerance toward Muslims, Rev. Jones seems to incarnate elements of multiple O’Connor characters. It would not be difficult to imagine O’Connor’s description of the preacher father of Hazel Motes in Wise Blood, who had “Jesus hidden in his head like a stinger,” assigned to Rev. Jones.

O’Connor said that a writer “may not consider his characters any more freakish than ordinary fallen man,” but readers will demand to know “why he has chosen to bring such maimed souls alive.”

Why would this blog, particularly when incivility is so rampant, call attention to a two-bit, self-promoting, Islam-baiting, England-banned, universally-condemned “maimed soul” like Rev. Terry Jones? Can his “Judge the Koran Day” offer anything positive? Can a disrespectful huckster peddling extreme religious fervor contribute even a moment of divine favor? If we consider the words of Flannery O’Connor in responding to these questions, the answers are weighty and far from easy. If we’re going to find grace and piety, some sort of equilibrium in the world, it’s going to hurt.

“Grace must wound before it can heal,” O’Connor said. “It must be dark and divisive before it can be warm and binding.”

“This notion that grace is healing,” she wrote, “omits the fact that before it heals, it cuts with the sword Christ said he came to bring.”

“In my stories,” O’Connor wrote, “a reader will find that the devil accomplishes a good deal of the groundwork that seems to be necessary before grace is effective.”

Flannery O’Connor concurred with Teilhard de Chardin’s assertion in the Divine Milieu that “God must, in some way or other, make room for Himself, hollowing us out and emptying us, if He is finally to penetrate into us.” We must be reamed out, royally, before redemption.

Flannery O’Connor wrote that the “devil’s greatest wile, Baudelaire has said, is to convince us that he does not exist.” These days even the South is less “Christ-haunted” than when O’Connor lived. The devil seems to have finally convinced us that neither he nor God exists.

In 1957 Flannery O’Connor said “writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable.” Today, her feeling would only be intensified. She said, “you have to make your vision apparent by shock-to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

“Judge the Koran Day” will bring some chaos. We’ll see a widely discredited preacher who severed his ties to a German church that he founded after a variety of accusations and who was fined by the German government for using the title of an honorary doctorate degree. We’ll also hear indictments of Islam. As the bloggers at Bare Naked Islam would say, it’s not really xenophobia if the foreigners or strangers are trying to kill you. And we’ll hear about how peaceful Islam has been abrogated by the Verse of the Sword.

The poignarbiter has found only a single reference to Islam in Flannery O’Connor’s prose. Yet it seems telling. She wrote about Muhammad Ali, who in 1964 she called Cassius Clay, and his avoidance of hate. O’Connor said, “Cassius is too good for the Moslems.” By implication, what does that say about Islam and hate?

Next month’s blog, The Meanest of them Sparkled, will demonstrate how the words of Flannery O’Connor can suggest that Muslim martyrs are the punch line of a cruel cosmic joke. The bitter irony is that jihadists, spiritual wanderers like O’Connor’s havoc-wreaking characters, are unable to avoid doing O’Connor’s Christian God’s will.

It is akin to the terrorists of September 11 finding that the 72 virgins that await them in paradise all look like Helen Thomas.

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