In an hilarious episode of NBC’s The Office, Dunder-Mifflin übertwerp Dwight Schrute unwittingly adapts the words of several speeches by Benito Mussolini and Karl Marx in order to appear impressive at a conference for salesmen. “Blood alone moves the wheels of history!” he cries, and by the time he gets to Il Duce’s “It is a privilege to fight!” the equally witless conference audience is chanting along with him. “Salesmen of the world, unite!”
Explaining a joke tends to make it unfunny, but it might be helpful here. We, the viewers, laugh, because we know that Dwight’s adaptation is a little, shall we say, inappropriate. We laugh at Dwight, the fascist salesman, and we laugh at his fever-whipped audience, barely suspending disbelief. Yes, it’s possible that a roomful of several thousand salesmen with bachelor’s degrees would not recognize any of these “historic” words. The joke’s on them.
Reflecting on Rick Warren’s invocation at the “historic” inauguration of Barack H. Obama, I wondered: On whom is the joke this time?
Mainstream newspapers were critical of Obama’s choice of “America’s pastor” to deliver this prayer, but in the immediate afterglow they praised the prayer as “tolerant.” Of course, they aver, he prayed in the name of Jesus; what do you expect from an evangelical?
Warren invoked “Almighty God, our father,” which is unsurprising. But very quickly, he turned to the Old Test-am—er, Hebrew Scriptures to remind God of the Shema: “The Scripture tells us Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one.” Of course, that One God is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Warren didn’t go on to clarify that.
What he did go on to clarify, in the very next sentence, is that the one god he’s referring to is Allah. “And you are the compassionate and merciful one.”
Nearly every Sürah of the Koran begins with the phrase “Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim” (“In the name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful One”) Pulling my English Translation of Al-Qur’an from the shelf, I let the book fall open to page 194, Al-Ma’idah, to find the same phrase at the Sürah’s heading. Skimming a couple of pages detailing the prohibition on eating meat not slaughtered in the name of Allah, I land on condemnations of Christians and the Christian Faith (emphasis original): “O people of the book (Jews and Christians)! Now Our Rasool has come to you to reveal much of what you have concealed from the Holy Books and to pass over much which is no longer necessary . . . Indeed those have committed Kufr (rejected faith) who said, ‘God is the Messiah, son of Maryam.’ O Muhammad, ask them, ‘Who has the power to prevent Allah if He chose to destroy the Messiah, the son of Maryam, his mother and all that is in the earth?’”
Get that? In case you didn’t, the publishers provide a note in the margin: “Jesus, son of Mary, is not God or son of God” [sic]. This is the word of “the compassionate and merciful one.”
But wait! Warren closed his prayer in Jesus’ name, right? Here’s the AP’s transcript: “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus (hay-SOOS), Jesus, who taught us to pray, Our Father . . . ”
Yeshua (”Joshua”) is the Hebrew word for Jesus, and “hay-SOOS” will be familiar to Spanish-speaking viewers who apparently didn’t understand any other word of Warren’s prayer.
But who is “Isa”?
Isa is the Arabic word for Jesus—the one used in the Koran in order to deny His membership in the Godhead, His resurrection, His saving mission.
But see, Warren fans might argue, America’s pastor was making use of a teachable moment. He was showing Muslims that the Isa they subordinate to Muhammad is really . . . well, the “one who changed my life.” Here in this country where we are “united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all,” we’re all really praying to the same Allah. Now, let Isa change your life. People of the Book, UNITE!
Warren does remind us (though he is addressing God) that Judgment Day is coming: “And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.”
That’s good advice. It meshes with Our Lord’s statement in Matthew 10: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
Does invoking Allah and praying to “Isa” amount to confessing Christ before men?
Listen, dude! If Rick Warren were the kind of guy who insisted on invoking the Holy Trinity and leaving out Isa and Allah and Shiva and the Dharma Initiative and Dr. King, he never would’ve been asked to pray in the first place! “Some people will tell you salesman is a bad word. They’ll conjure up images of used-car dealers and door-to-door charlatans. This is our duty—to change their perception.”
Tee hee. Joke’s on us.