Death of a Salesman – June 20, 2011

                                 Solving the Mid East Crisis 

                                 DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Years ago, I recall watching a rendition of Arthur Miller’s award winning play “Death of a Salesman.” The play centers around the life of Willy Loman, a down-and-out salesman whose brother Charlie, now deceased, had achieved great success with a diamond mine in South Africa and has since become a family icon and their role model for success.

Willy tries ardently not only to measure up to his brother, but also to gain the respect of his son Biff. At one point, Willy is offered a better paying job by an old friend, but refuses it because of the presumption that it will be seen as charity and something he didn’t earn from personal merit. Meanwhile, Biff seems unconcerned about even making an attempt to better himself and, early on, the viewer is left to presume that his distain for his father stems from the fact that Willy cannot measure up to Charlie’s perceived success. This, however, does not emerge to be the real reason.

Near the end of the play, it is revealed that, while in high school, Biff was struggling with new math and had traveled across town to a motel where his father was staying on a business trip in the hope of getting his help. At that point, Biff discovered his father in the company of a prostitute and, although never informing his mother Linda about his discovery, had since lost all respect for his father. Now, from a Christian perspective, this would seem like the obvious point to insert in a story of repentance and reconciliation, but this is not the path that Arthur Miller follows.

Instead, Willy finds himself on a futile quest to regain his son’s respect. Unfortunately, he presumes that the best way of doing this is to bring about the perception that he is both successful and widely respected in life. This self-promotion is not possible, though. Willy is not succeeding in his own sales endeavors and the constant shadow of Charlie’s success in the diamond mines lingers over his head.

Eventually, Willy attends the funeral of a respected friend of whom lavish praise is attributed. Everyone at the funeral tells the man’s children just how great of a man their father was and the children confirm in unified agreement. Willy thus concludes that the best way to regain Biff’s respect is to die and have everyone fawn over what a great guy he himself was.

In the end, Willy drives his car off a cliff and, in the last scene, the family is seen gathered outside the gravesite commenting on the lovely job the clergyman had done at the eulogy and how nice all the flowers looked. They, then, lament the fact that nobody showed up for Willy’s funeral and the play ends abruptly.

Now, to me personally, “Death of a Salesman” was not my idea of a good play. (But then, I’m the same guy who preferred “Lost in Space” to “Star Trek” and likes track & field better than baseball.) Nonetheless, I think the play itself does a good job depicting the state of young people in the Middle East who opt for life as a suicide terrorist.

All too often in radical Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, young children are given role models whom they cannot measure up to such as the great General Saladin. Schools teach, from early youth, that evil people known as Jews and Christians are enslaving them and their families. Now, just who are these evil people and where did they come from? Well, the textbooks say that they were originally wild pigs and jungle apes that made a pact with the devil. If he would just transform them into human beings, the pigs and the apes would reciprocate by agreeing to carry out his will and do harm to the people of God. So, the devil agreed. He turned them into Christians and Jews who, thus, became responsible for causing all of the hatred and poverty that is throughout the world.

Obviously, these “infidels” must be stopped – but how? Enter the heroes and heroines into these stories. Why, it is none other than the students themselves. They must, in turn, grow up to become terrorists who will ultimately die as “martyrs;” that is, give their own lives in a suicide attack that will take out the “infidels.”

Just a few years back, a Middle Eastern children’s television show adapted a Mickey Mouse look-alike, who himself attacked and killed Jews. A YouTube promotion recently showed a radical Islamic school teacher reading a book to small children about a young girl who “became a martyr, but . . . she died happy; knowing that she had killed “infidels” in the process.”

British journalist, Bruce Maiman, relates that these textbooks have actually found their way into his own country:

A BBC investigation has revealed that 5,000 children attending Muslim weekend schools in the UK use textbooks that claim Jews magically turned into pigs and apes (Maiman seems to have this backwards), that sodomites should be punished by execution, and that instruct children in the correct method of chopping off thieves’ hands.

The BBC program ‘Panorama’ found that these lessons are part of the Saudi national curriculum taught to children aged 6 to 18 in 40 schools across the UK. Textbooks for 6-year-olds teach that non-Muslims will end their days in ‘hellfire,’ while texts aimed at 15-year-olds assert that Zionists plan to take over the world.

                            ~ SELF-ESTEEM VERSUS PRIDE ~

A number of years ago, Christian clinical psychologist, Dr. James Dobson, caught the wrath of a number of Christian orators (particularly journalist, Dave Hunt and evangelist, Jimmy Swaggart) because of his claim that good self-esteem is a valuable tool to instill in young children. Hunt made the claim that self-esteem and pride are synonymous terms and that, since ‘pride comes before a fall,’ Dobson was in turn corrupting the youth. Self-hatred was, instead, according to Hunt, preferable to self-love, as the human race is corrupted by sin and, therefore, not worthy of being loved. Hunt voiced other accusations against Dobson as well; in particular he claimed that the terms “psychology” and “sorcery” were synonymous terms. So, in fact, Dobson must be a sorcerer and, therefore, a cult leader.

For the most part, Dobson declined to respond to Hunt. However, in response to this, Dr. Walter Martin, the profound “Bible Answer Man” invited Hunt to appear on his radio program. Having previously appeared with Swaggart and been proclaimed as a wise man, Hunt no doubt presumed that he would be openly welcomed by Dr. Martin. Instead, Martin had done his homework. He openly challenged Hunt to show him anywhere that self-esteem was a synonym for pride or that psychology was a synonym for sorcery.

“You refer to “Focus on the Family’ (Dobson’s organization) as a cult! Well, I happen to know a little bit about cults (indeed Martin was the author of the best selling book Kingdom of the Cults) and I would never dream of referring to Jim Dobson or Clyde Narramore as a sorcerer! . . . I checked Baker’s Bible Dictionary. I checked A. T. Robertson, Strongs, Cruden’s, and Thayer’s concordances and even Webster’s Dictionary!!! I checked Matthew Henry!!! And, I can’t find anywhere where it equates psychology to sorcery!!! Where did you get such nonsense?”

“Well, Walter, my sources said it was . . . “

“WHAT SOURCES???!!!”

(No answer.)

“AND, BESIDES THAT, THE BIBLE DOES TELL US TO LOVE OURSELVES,” Martin asserted.

“Where does it say that, Walter?”

“IT SAYS, ‘LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS THYSELF.’” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).

Obviously, the implication was that, if one does not have self-love, their neighbor had better duck.

Dr. Martin was correct. Obviously, self-esteem is not synonymous with pride. Self-esteem says, “I am trying my best and thus, despite my obvious flaws, I deserve to be respected.” Pride on the other hand says bluntly, “I am better than you are.” Pride, then, is a negative, while self-esteem is both a positive and an essential.

This, then, is where we see the terrorist movement corrupting youth. They prey on the fact that all of us need good positive self-esteem and reinforcement, but conversely feed children only shallow, contemptuous ways of achieving it. Rather, if self-esteem is indeed essential to building ourselves into worthwhile human beings, then we had better start looking at productive methods of achieving self-esteem, rather than negative ones. Unfortunately, too many follow the pattern of Willy in “Death of a Salesman;” that is, many seek to cover up past mistakes by making impressive achievements, rather than by acknowledging shortcomings and starting anew.

Dobson, also more recently, made a comment that I think is quite notable as well. He stated that, “In general, men base their self-esteem upon what they do, while women base theirs on who they are with.” This, I believe, is true, but it can have both positive as well as negative consequences. I saw a deplorable demonstration of this recently in the reactions of a young Muslim terrorist and his entourage of girlfriends, who appeared with Barbara Walters on her television special “Heaven: Where Is It and How Do You Get There?”

Likely, the young man had initially sought the attention of a whole host of attractive young girls, only to be given the impression that such attention must be earned by proving oneself to be worthy. Unfortunately, in many areas in the Middle East, the only profitable business that one can enter into is the oil industry and this is often frowned upon because it caters to the hated Americans and European economists who both need and can afford to purchase it. That, in turn, often results in low self-esteem.

Anyway, the young man that Barbara interviewed had traveled into a busy marketplace in Jerusalem intent on igniting a bomb he had concealed in his shirt with the intention of killing all those in the vicinity. However, the bomb failed to ignite and the young man was arrested and placed in solitary confinement. This confinement had not stopped a host of young women from flocking to his side in prison, though. In fact, it seemed to me to be the very thing that made him most attractive to them. The young man literally gushed with pride at being called a hero by the young girls. He did, however, express what I detected as a fake sort of humility in saying that he rather wished that he had been successful and that the hated Jews had died in the explosion.

And, the young girls’ attention was not hard to figure out, either. Here was a young man who had passed the textbook test of a hero. Previously, others had done so as well, but they were now dead. What girl wants to hang out with a boyfriend who might blow himself to smithereens any day? Rather, here was a young man who had survived and was being physically restrained from ever carrying out such actions again.

Now, Barbara Walters persisted in her interview wanting to know why he would prefer death to the attention of these lovely young girls. The young man, then, laid out for her all that he had been taught from the terrorist textbooks.

“In heaven, I will have 72 virgin women as my servants,” he replied.

“Where will they come from?” she asked. “Are they women who have lived and died early before marrying?”

“No, they are jinn,” he replied.

Viewers were then informed that jinn are created beings like the angels, except that they possess no souls. They are simply created by God in order to serve men.

Even further, Barbara Walters included in her report an interview with another terrorist under arrest. The man had previously been an accomplished physician and had studied hard for a number of years in various schools of great renown, only to give it all up for the sake of blowing himself up in a crowded bus.

“Why would you do such a thing?” Barbara asked.

“Well, I came to a point in my life where I found no satisfaction in what I was doing, and I realized that I was more interested in killing Jews than in working in medicine,” he responded.

Loosely translated, I think this means that the terrorist culture did not afford him the luxury of developing self-esteem as a physician. No matter how many sick people to whom this man brought healing, his self-worth was deemed insufficient until he proved that he could kill enough infidels.

Now, from where do they get all this nonsense? With certainty — NOT from the Qu’ran. The latter never even so much as implies that Jews or Christians are infidels. Rather, such feelings originate within the hate literature of the radical Whabbists and, most of all, from the pathetic garbage that is being passed off as educational material in their school systems. This is why the textbook curriculum in Saudi Arabia and Palestine needs to be removed. As previously noted, the hate garbage has instead, now, found its way into schools in Great Britain. It has also popped up at a school in Fairfax, Virginia, right here in the United States.

As noted in our Open Letter, NPR author, Vicki O’Hara reports the following:

The Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House has studied some of the textbooks currently in use in Saudi public schools, from grades one through 12. Nina Shea, the center’s director, says the texts do not comport with what Saudi officials have been saying. The textbooks “reflect an ideology of hatred against Christians, Jews . . . and others who do not subscribe to the Wahhabi doctrine,” Shea says. The center’s report cites numerous examples. It quotes a fourth-grade text as telling students to “love for the sake of God and to hate for the sake of God.” The report says that textbooks instruct students that Christians and Jews are “apes and pigs” and warns students not to “greet,” “befriend” or “respect” non-believers. Saudi officials have told Washington that their reformed curriculum encourages tolerance and understanding of other religions and cultures.

Shea says any changes in that direction are miniscule. “They have made some changes,” she says. “Sometimes though, the changes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. For example, they will say, ‘You have to hate the unbeliever, but to treat them justly.’ That’s supposed to be an improvement.” In its defense, the Saudi embassy in Washington issued a statement saying that curriculum reform is a massive undertaking and that the process in Saudi Arabia is ongoing. Shea is skeptical; she notes that the oil-rich Saudis began the reform process five years ago. “They certainly have the money to change all the textbooks for next semester,” she says, “or, last semester for that matter.”

Our question then is this: Does the Islamic leadership in fact advocate teaching this sort of hatred to children? Would it, actually, be acceptable to hate someone for the sake of God? If so, then are we not endorsing blasphemy against a holy God? And finally, will the Islamic leadership openly rebuke school officials who print such material? Please, understand we are not blaming the Leadership of Islam, or Islam itself for these teachings. We are more than willing to accept the assumption that Muhammad himself would have voiced disdain toward children being taught these things. However, it is meaningless for us to take such a stand. Such a proclamation needs to come from the Muslim Leadership itself . . . . We are, therefore, asking that such a proclamation be made in regards to terrorist attacks as well as the aforementioned school literature.

My friend, Kamal Nawash, is a highly respected lawyer and a good man with high moral standards. He and his wife are in the beginning stages of raising a great family. Yet, he is a Palestinian born in Bethlehem in the midst of a community that often advocates and promotes radical terrorism. Change is possible for everyone, but we need the help of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, the people of Abraham – a man of peace.

Recently, a group of concerned parents in Fairfax, Virginia, brought attention to local authorities that the hate literature had found its way into their school system. And, to the surprise of some, the parents themselves were Muslim – a fact that really shouldn’t surprise us at all. You see, responsible Muslim parents don’t want their children exposed to such garbage any more than responsible Christian or Jewish parents do.

Back in 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, a group of rowdy teenagers decided to use the parking lot in back of our housing development as the location for wild parties late at night. The music was incredibly loud and there were rumors of drug trafficking each night. Over and over the neighbors responded by calling the police and having the teens run out.

However, the teens decided to take matters into their own hands. One Saturday afternoon, five young boys and a young girl set off a loud explosion (which was likely no more than a smoke bomb) right out in our courtyard. Smoke went everywhere. The entire neighborhood was engulfed in it. The message was clear: “Stop calling the police on us or we will blow up your house when you least expect it.” Such a plan had reportedly worked in a neighborhood in nearby Edgewood where the adults stay locked in their homes at night, while the street gangs run wild.

But, in Bel Air, the rowdy teens got a surprise. I remember hearing the explosion and running outside to grab my daughter and pull her inside. Out of the huge cloud of smoke emerged these six vigilantes with a smug look on their faces. “Guess we showed you,” they seemed to be saying. However, they were stunned to see seven or eight of us come running out of our homes in hot pursuit of them. And, these cowardly terrorists did what all cowards do; they ran! Again, seven or eight of us chased them down the parking lot, up the sidewalk, across the main road, and down into the business section. Now, I was a bit younger in those days and, as it happened, I was the fastest runner. I cornered them outside the Verizon building. Now, please understand that this was no act of bravery on my part. There was a crew of six or more men, some of them very large, coming up behind me as reinforcements, so it took no great courage to challenge the teens. They panicked and ran inside the building. By now, the air was filled with the sound of police sirens and it was, thus, no problem to go inside, identify the would-be terrorists, and have them arrested.

Afterwards, I sat on the uppermost of the sidewalk steps witnessing as the teens were read their rights, frisked, and handcuffed. And, I could see a look of terror in their eyes. They were like frightened children, which, in fact, they were. “What have we gotten ourselves into?” they seemed to exhibit.

Do you see what had happened? We had terrorized the terrorists. That event was nine years ago as I write this and we have not had a similar problem since. In fact, I have even been told that at least two of them have straightened out their lives, retained jobs, and are now raising families.

This is what needs to happen in any community, Christian, Muslim or whatever. When terrorists attempt to take over – implant a little terror in them. Underneath all of that intimidation, you will find a misguided, frightened child visibly trembling.

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About openlettertoday

Howie Gardner has been pastor of Bel Air Assembly of God in Bel Air, Maryland since 1987. He is a graduate of Oral Roberts University and has done graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, United Theological Seminary and ORU's Graduate school of Theology. He is the author of two books; "Oral Exam" (originally titled "Oral Roberts in the Eyes of One of His Students") and "The Church and Terri Schiavo." Gardner is a three time cancer survivor and, as recorded in "Church & Terri" has had a "clinical death" experience and a personal glimpse of the other side" He is quite an active distance runner with a number of awards; most recently a bronze medal in the Senior Olympics. Howie and his wife Angie have three children: daughter Lindsey (whose bone marrow donation spared his life) and twin boys Bernie and David. They live in Bel Air.
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