What if you heard a television advertisement this morning that said stepping on spiders was the cause of the world’s recent economic downturn and that anyone who has stepped on a spider over the last two or three years was to blame. What would you think?
Well, many of us – perhaps all of us – have stepped on a spider either accidentally or on purpose, so we all have that experience. We also know there is no causal relationship between this act and the health of the world’s economy. In short, we would not believe the advertisement because we have the personal experience and knowledge to see the faultiness in its logic. We would not be able to help but feel that we have been attacked unjustly, and that someone is trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
In the same way, today’s Gospel reading pits the overmatched Pharisees against Jesus in a battle of wits. Of course, the issue at hand is not divorce, or even law. The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus by getting Him to contradict himself so that he loses credibility – or worse yet – to renounce Mosaic Law, which would put Him at odds with his very own disciples. In either case, this would result in a great blow to His ability to minister to the people.
Of course, Jesus deftly identifies these tactics and answers truthfully and without guile – the only way one could get out of this trap. For he is governed by a higher, spiritual law, which rises above the smoke and mirrors that often characterize human law.
As this is a presidential election year here in the U.S., this is an appropriate reading for the beginning of the heavy-duty campaign season. Anyone who watches any amount of television during this time will hear a number of attacks among rival candidates. If these advertisements are not the epitome of a Pharisee-style assault, I don’t know what is.
“So what’s the harm in it?” one might ask. One might also ask what real harm might have been caused by the Pharisees in the Gospel passage. There is a way to ask questions without really wanting to know the answers, or to ask questions that are more like statements than bona fide questions. Viewed in this way, we could see the Pharisees’ assault on Jesus as a mockery of the educational process.
So, too, are many of the negative campaign ads a mockery of the educational process. They are disguised as ways to inform the public of the issues, but instead they use half-truths and misleading statements to try to persuade the public to vote their candidates’ way. (I acknowledge that both political parties are guilty of this, so this is not an endorsement for any one party or candidate.)
The ads only work when the viewers are not knowledgeable enough about our government and our social issues to see the faultiness in their logic, and therefore those same viewers cannot detect the blatant misuse of the media to attempt to sway them towards the sponsor’s political agenda.
The answer to this, of course, is education. Even if I were not employed by an educational institution such as Creighton University, I would still assert that educating our citizenry will have the knowledge and critical thinking skills necessary to give us the best chance of choosing the best candidate to run the country, based on the real issues. So when our educational system itself is put under attack, and targeted for budget cuts, it makes me shake my head. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not a good position from which to choose a president.