Planks and Sawdust

I find puzzling the sorts of barbarity that some people choose to overlook, versus what they choose to focus on. I do not wish to dismiss bad behavior by anyone, but too often the practice of some pundits reminds me of something Jesus said about judging others: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). Admittedly, I’d like to get rid of the sawdust from my eyes, and the eyes of all those suffering from such things. But really, wouldn’t it be better to focus on the planks first?

For instance, I read reviews of the film Apocalypto that criticized it for emphasizing the horror of human sacrifice among the Mayan, while paying almost no attention to the Mayan’s cultural achievements: monumental architecture, literature, and religion.

For some reason, I am deeply puzzled by criticism that begins, “sure, the Mayan killed people for sacrifice, but…” When we think about the fictional character from The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter, which is more important? The fact that he had good taste in wine, music, and literature—or the fact that he murdered a few people and ate them? When we study Nazi Germany, are we being unfair when we focus on the millions of Jews they slaughtered, rather than on Adolph Hitler’s love of opera, his vegetarianism, and all the buildings built, roads constructed, and technological innovations in rocketry and medicine?

When I read people criticizing Israel for building a fence, when I hear them decrying the checkpoints and careful examination by armed soldiers of all Palestinians traveling between the Palestinian territories and Israel; when I hear about how abusive this inconveniencing of the innocent is, since even women and children must submit to the indignity of being examined by armed soldiers, I’m reminded of the beginning of the movie Pearl Harbor. That movie began with how the Japanese were embittered by an embargo leveled on them by the United States, an embargo that was cutting off their supply of vital fuel oil. Poor Japan! No wonder they bombed Pearl Harbor.

Of course, the film maker failed to point out why the United States had embargoed Japan: the Japanese invasion and brutal decimation of China. Japan had invaded China in 1931 and by 1945 had slaughtered at least 20 million Chinese men, women and children. One of the more notorious atrocities, which occurred between 1937 and 1938, is known as the Rape of Nanking, when between 150,000 and 300,000 were murdered.

There is a reason that Israel has built a fence and “picks on” the Palestinians traveling into Israel: years of terrorism, years of daily barrages of rockets, years of suicide bombers. After you’ve had a few “nice Palestinians” blow themselves up in a crowded restaurant or shopping mall, loaded with shrapnel dipped in rat poison, for some reason your average Israeli starts to get paranoid and wants to check visitors from the Palestinian areas more closely. It may be nice that Hamas and Hezbollah build schools and hospitals, but their terrorism and preaching of hate seem to me the more critical issues. Likewise, I really don’t think that the Nazi youth programs, such as the Hitler Youth, that got inner-city kids out into the mountains really makes anyone want to overlook the Holocaust.

In those nice Hamas and Hezbollah-funded schools, the textbooks and teachers teach the children that Jews are an infection on the world that needs to be eradicated, parroting the same language the Nazis used in the 1930s. The daily instruction, the calls for the destruction of Israel from its politicians and religious leaders, the cry for jihad and the murder of Jews gets mostly ignored by the majority of the American media. Few who blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East care to think about inconvenient little details like Mein Kampf remaining a perennial best seller in the Palestinian territories, together with the infamous forgery called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is accepted as true by most Palestinians. Or when the wide-spread anti-Semitism is mentioned, it is explained away using language remarkably similar to someone trying to blame the rape victim because of how she was dressed: they brought it on themselves.

Also ignored is the decline in the number of Christians in the Palestinian territories. Since the PLO took over, the percentage of Christians in Bethlehem, as an example, has gone from 90 per cent of the population down to 15 per cent, with the numbers continuing to drop. When I was in Bethlehem back in the summer of 1977, ten years into the Israeli occupation, it was a thriving tourist mecca. Today, it is a ghost town. What changed? The Palestinian National Authority was established in 1994 and Hamas runs that place today.

We are told that the western world must see that these people hate us because of our imperialism, our hubris, our colonialism, and any number of past real or imagined crimes. We’re supposed to think that the United States and other western democracies are the real trouble makers in the world, that their inconsistencies and evil deeds are actually far greater than those committed by anyone else. As the Iranian president argues, and many in the western intelligentsia seem to agree, the real threat to justice, peace, prosperity and freedom comes from Washington DC, not from the dictators and terrorists.

Maybe I’m just weird. But I don’t think occasionally pleasant words, good intentions, or number of schools built is how we should judge the Hannibal Lecters of the world. There should be a special place in Hell for those who look at murderous, totalitarian states and terrorists and say that they are better than the United States. There really is a difference between sawdust and planks.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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