The national conversation about a rodeo clown in a mask of Barack Obama’s face shines a brilliant spotlight on a deeply disturbing problem in the USA: the populace mistakes masks for reality. That clown wearing a mask that looked like Obama’s face was not Barack Obama, and nothing that happened to him would ever touch Barack Obama. If Barack Obama were a mature adult, he would laugh and tell the nation to calm down and get over themselves. If everyone, including Obama, guffawed and moved on, then the nation could move on, too. The truth of the matter is that a willingness to laugh at oneself is a mark of adulthood that makes “gridiron” events fun for everyone. Nothing about this rodeo clown episode justifies weeks of turmoil and national hand-wringing.
The term “hate speech” is of fairly recent vintage, having arisen in a national political climate that massages the language in order to a) confine the speech of all people to a diction formulary, and b) identify harsh, aggressive language that impales those accused of “hate speech” and makes it easier for the crowd to heap abuse upon them. There are actually many better words for the clown act, one of which might be “ill-advised” given the aforementioned political climate. “Hate” is not the best of the lot. The official definition of “hate speech” makes a thoughtful reader ask if “hate speech” is at all a legitimate label in this situation.
The term “hate speech” actually has several definitions. Reporters, commentators, bloggers, and activists throw the term around as if it had a real definition, but research across numerous sources that might be considered authoritative will not clarify the usage very well. The consistent theme is that “hate speech” is derogatory to a group of people who share some targeted trait and that the speech is designed to incite aggression against one or all members of the group. Where legal definitions exist, it would make sense to use them, but usage is apparently governed more by emotion than by dictionaries.
The term itself calls to mind images of the Soviet gulags where political dissidents were sent for re-education. In the Soviet Union, people had to be extremely careful how they put their thoughts into words, because the full force of that evil empire was brought to bear on people who dared to differ. The very fact that a legal definition of “hate speech” and “hate crime” exists says a great deal about the national regard for individual freedom and the rule of law. The fact that the culture demands a definition of “hate speech” reveals the impact of energetic political activism. The laws that define “hate speech” say more about the political agenda of the legislators than they say about improving human society.
The real problem with “hate speech” is not its definition. The problem is its origin. The origin of hateful words and deeds, whether or not they fall into the category of “hate,” is the human heart. Jesus explained it: “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” (Mark 7:21-22 ESV) The Amplified Bible fleshes out the word “slander” as “evil speaking, malicious misrepresentation, abusiveness.” It is hard not to recognize the elements of “hate speech” in the word “slander.” Jesus made this statement in response to an accusation that he was not practicing his religion using the approved form, and he was not teaching that form to his disciples. Recognizing that in Jesus’ culture, the Pharisees had political as well as religious power, in today’s language we would say that Jesus was not politically correct.
The answer to political incorrectness in today’s world is “sensitivity training.” Other terms may be used, but this one is adequate for this discussion. The point is that the cultural response to anything the culture deems to be “hate speech” is “sensitivity training.” What is that training? It is education of the mind to use the correct terms when speaking. It is further education of the mind to be ashamed of having used incorrect words in the past. Such training usually includes a warning to seek out some authority when in doubt about the correct speech to use. To say it plainly, “sensitivity training” is three coats of whitewash with an extra stripe along the ground at the end. This “training” shames and subdues someone who is accused of “hate speech,” but it does not change anything in the heart of the guilty party.
Jesus said that the real problem with evil is the heart. The mind is the tool of the heart. All those evil words and evil deeds boil out of a poisoned heart. No amount of training is going to change the heart. In fact, just look at the behavior of the people who are pointing the finger at those guilty of “hate speech.” They started by saying that they were offended, but three days of verbal assaults in round-the-clock diatribes against this rodeo clown have now produced a demand that the federal Department of Justice investigate the man. He’s a rodeo clown, for goodness sake, not an enemy assassin. The outrage over this clown has far exceeded the outrage over the very real deaths of four innocent American citizens for whose defense the president of the United States did nothing. In other words, the people who call the rodeo clown’s act “hate speech” are clearly overflowing with much more hatred toward the clown than the rodeo clown ever expressed toward Barack Obama.
There is a great deal of evil in the hearts of human beings. Evil is always an attractive option, because it comes dressed in the garments of self-gratification, self-promotion, and pure pride. It bears fruit in all the outcomes Jesus named, including slander, pride and foolishness. Sensitivity training does nothing to remove those fruits from the heart. The only power that transforms the human heart is the redeeming power of a relationship with Christ. Christ is love. His sacrifice for humankind on the cross is love in action. When a human being receives Christ into his heart, evil is defeated and that person becomes different, because of the love of Christ. If people want to combat hate speech, the only weapon that will actually defeat it is the love of Christ at work in the human heart.
People who believe that all of us should behave with courtesy and respect toward everyone are absolutely right. US citizens who deplore disrespectful behavior and words aimed at the office of President of the United States are right to do so. However, people who equate political satire with murderous intent need to get over it. Most of us would prefer less vicious comedy, but most of us also recognize that political comedy is comedy, not real life. A few people commented that the state fair rodeo was no place for a political statement, and that makes sense. People go there to get away from the real world for a while. The organizers of the fair could have handled this situation with a quiet word to the wise. The nationwide uproar that has become a contest to show the greatest sensitivity to “hate speech” is a perfect example of what happens when minds educated in political speech are activated by untransformed hearts. What the world needs is not sensitivity training. What the world needs is clear understanding of the damage caused by hate speech and the resolve to fight it.