Although this issue has lasted longer than the average Mayfly, it's probably on its way out very soon. Some other drama will appear to fill in the media landscape, and some other set of groups will be pitted against each other as a result. Before the last gasp comes, I'd like to share a few observations I've had.
1. The dramatic attracts an almost instant following.
It was amazing to me how, in a matter of about 24 hours, about half the lifespan of an average Mayfly, dozens of bloggers and on-line gawkers arrived to write something about Brit Hume's comments. It didn't matter what they wrote, only that comments were written and responded to in such rapid fashion. The speed of the internet has clearly ramped all this up and, that ramping up brings some interesting consequences.
a.) On the positive end, the ability to correct misinformation is so much easier and quicker now than any time during human history. Go back just a few hundred years ago, and comments made about, say Buddhism by a Catholic priest in a mass, might never receive a rebuttal during a person's lifetime, let alone in a matter of minutes like it is today. In addition, although Marcus, among a few others I have seen, wishes that people would have just let Hume's comments pass, it's clear that the level out public outpouring by Buddhists and people sympathetic to Buddhism - or to Tiger Woods maybe - led to a public discussion of Buddhism that might correct some biases held out there, as well as intrigue some people who might never have sought out Buddhism otherwise.
b.) On the negative end, the ability to read and respond to just about anything is so easy now that people often struggle to filter out the unnecessary. In addition, although I feel strongly that Brit Hume's call to conversion is a grave misuse of journalism, it's also true that I didn't much react to the fact that Buddhism itself was being dismissed. Others have however, which brings up a quandary for all of us out there who consider ourselves Buddhists. Namely, if someone condemns our practice, and we react to that, why is it that we are reacting? If the teachings are boats to get us to the "other shore" and then to be discarded, then what is it we are defending? Personal image? Public image? I really think this is a quandary because on the one hand, I feel it's imperative that people stop condemning religion and spiritualities, and/or claiming that their particular group is better or the only way. On the other hand, it seems kind of foolish for Buddhists to defend Buddhism, given what our practice teaches us.
2. What sparks debate and/or conflict is often trivial.
Think of any domestic dispute, fight between friends or strangers, or even some international conflicts. When you look at that which sparked the eruption, it's often pretty trivial.
In a comment made on another blog, Marcus wrote:
Gladly, most Buddhists happily shrug this off knowing that without the enraged blogs, the letter-campaigns, the us-vs-them knee-jerk reaction, it all soon goes away.
There are villages in southern Thailand where entire families are shot and killed simply because they are the last remaining Buddhists in that village – where is the reaction from the Buddhist blogosphere when that happens?
Buddhists continue to be persecuted in China, in Burma (the chanting of the Metta Sutra was recently banned there) and in other places on a daily basis, yet the Buddhist blogosphere generates moe heat over one individual Christian’s spoken opinion than any number of official regimes’ torture.
I totally agree with him that the issues he brought up are, in the grand scheme, much more important to be discussing, debating, writing about. Some of us bloggers have written a bit about some of these issues, but they deserve more attention. But let's face it, it's harder to write accurately and clearly about longstanding national and international oppressions than it is to write about a single news commentator misusing his position to proselytize. Which points to the fact that I believe Marcus' comment about most Buddhists happily shrug off this kind of issue is false. Maybe many of us let this one pass, but then someone runs over part of our flowerbed (See Ox Herding), or someone says to us that chanting is stupid, and we fly off the handle. Small, trivial events trigger deeper, unresolved attachments, gripes, and ignorance, plain and simple. In my opinion, it has been valid to call out Brit Hume's comments in a certain way, but it also points to the basic human struggle to make an appropriate response. We fail to write a lot about on going issues like those Marcus rightly pointed to, and yet we can fill volumes and volumes about Brit Hume, our "asshole" neighbor, Bill Harris, and other such story lines. It's not that the latter shouldn't be commented on, but the level of intensity around them tends to be inflated, whereas we struggle to maintain an appropriate level of intensity around issues that should have such attention, like the continued oppression of millions of people in Burma.
So, that's about all I have right now. Have a peaceful Thursday everyone.