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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 472 Response

Chapter and Verse

by Don Webb

It’s quite unusual for me to answer my own Challenge questions; I prefer to wait for readers’ responses. But John Vieczorek’s “The Red Man” warrants bending the rules and stepping outside of business as usual.

One of the questions asks:

The Rev. Wilcox quotes the Second Commandment but cites the wrong verses; the passage in Ex 24:6-7 recounts a sanctification ritual and a pledge of allegiance. What else in the preacher’s exhortation indicates he either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or that he does know and rejects it?

An easy response: “It’s merely an unimportant clerical error. Just correct it or ignore it.” Okay, it is easy to make mistaken citations; I’ve done it often enough myself. But Reverend Wilcox is a preacher, and his position does not allow him to make such an error. Since he does, we have to ask what it might mean.

Some context: Emmett’s grandfather once participated in the lynching of an American Indian, the “red man,” and has been overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and remorse ever since. Emmett has inherited his grandfather’s feelings, and he attributes the travails of his hardscrabble life to retribution for his grandfather’s crime.

Thus, Rev. Wilcox’s quoting the Second Commandment explains everything to Emmett’s mind: “I am a jealous God, who brings the sins of the fathers upon the children for three and four generations...” And Emmett’s grandfather’s fervent “Amen” is not a blessing but a curse. From then on, an atoning self-sacrifice is foreordained as far as Emmett is concerned.

The Challenge question is quite tendentious. It implies that Rev. Wilcox is either ignorant or an apostate. Since we’ve ruled out ignorance as meaningless, in what way does the preacher contradict what he supposedly represents?

Rev. Wilcox quotes only part of the Second Commandment. It reads in full: ““You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them who hate me.”

Would that help Emmett and his grandfather? It should. Emmett’s grandfather has committed murder, but he does not “hate” God; in fact, he shows remorse and contrition. But Rev. Wilcox does not allow for that, and that’s where the verses he cites come into play.

Exodus 23:6-7 tells of Moses’ offering a blood sacrifice and his followers’ pledging to obey the Commandments. Since Emmett’s grandfather does not offer a sacrifice for having broken the Sixth Commandment, then Emmett feels he must do so, himself.

Would it do any good to tell Emmett or his grandfather that the Second Commandment implicitly recognizes the strength of family loyalty in the pastoral societies of the ancient Near East? Would it help to point out that if the patriarch of a family adheres to a rival sect then the rest of his family — even his grandchildren and great-grandchildren — are honor-bound to do so as well? Emmett would probably say that things haven’t changed all that much as far as he’s concerned.

And yet they have changed. Rev. Wilcox addresses his congregation as “sons and daughters of the Lamb,” and his reference to the Lamb recalls that the atonement has already been made. The congregation has just sung “Amazing Grace,” but in the understanding of Emmett and his grandfather, Rev. Wilcox contradicts both the hymn and his own words, and their meaning is lost upon grandfather and grandson.

Is Rev. Wilcox ignorant? Hardly. Does he cynically exploit guilt both earned and unearned rather than preach redemption? That is the effect. Do his words make him an apostate? Yes. What else is the representative of any religion who quotes out of context and distorts the meaning of what he considers to be the word of God?

Copyright © 2012 by Don Webb

Proceed to John W. Vieczorek’s explication...

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