A story I came across today in Google News points to a cultural division, rather than a political one, that resonates even more resoundingly with the America of 2013 we know and love. It’s the divide between the narrow-minded and the clueless.
Here’s the story: The parents of a child named Messiah DeShawn Martin went to court because they wanted to change the kid’s last name to McCullough. The judge ordered that the first name be changed as well because “the word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ." Chalk one up for ignorant narrow-mindedness.
Now, why did the parents choose the name Messiah for the little boy, their third child? Because of some quirky religious belief? As a simple Christian honorary, like the Spanish name, Jesus? No. According to the news story, the mother, Jaleesa Martin, “chose the name not because of its religious connotations, but because she liked how it sounded with her two other children's names, Micah and Mason.” Score a point for self-indulgent cluelessness.
Popular discourse, which I try to avoid, but which is inescapable if you try to keep up with the news – tweets, the war between Fox and MSNBC, man-in-the-street interviews, human interest stories such as the above – does not involve intelligent discussion, or even not-so-intelligent discussion, nor ideological differences (thank God, I suppose), but is an amorphous, brainless, self-contradictory babble which – as I see it, anyway – simply echoes the simplistic thought templates (I hesitate to call them ideas) spewed out by special interests competing for the attention of the masses.
Let’s return to the Martin né Messiah story. The sources of the narrow-minded judge’s reasoning are pretty clear: religious fundamentalism plus, probably, a dose of anti-Islamic panic. But what about the boy’s mother? Was her cluelessness also the result of an ideological agenda? Well – an agenda, yes, although not an ideological one.
Just as Judge Ballew was susceptible to religious pressure, Jaleesa Martin was susceptible to commercial pressure, the kind of pressure brought to bear by shopping channels, in department store aisles, in catalogues and on websites, which raises the superficialities of personal taste, the meaningless idiosyncrasies of narcissistic choice to a level of importance comparable to that of Christianity in the eyes of Judge Ballew.
For the judge, Christ is the Messiah, period. End of discussion. Screw anyone who thinks differently. For the mother, Messiah sounds nice with Micah and Mason, period. End of discussion. To any connection with a savior, or biblical prophet, or one of the guys who solved a border dispute in Colonial America, the guy who invented an air-tight jar or a slightly creepy British actor, she is completely oblivious. And if she were made aware? Screw it. None of that matters at all, since the boys have such pretty names and it will be so much fun to introduce the trio.
If I had to choose between a narrow-minded and a clueless companion for a lengthy sojourn on a desert island, I would choose the narrow-minded one, no question – whether it was Judge Ballew, one of my friends who believes that all Republicans are spawns of the Devil, or another old friend of mine who believes that the human race was dropped off on Earth by alien colonizers. At least – narrow though it may be – there is a mind there, at least we’d have something to talk about.