Weeks before the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi urged Islamic leaders to look at their faith from another angle. Shortly after the attack, David Brooks urged all religions to do likewise. They’re referring to faith’s fourth estate.
In 1887 Edmund Burke coined the term “fourth estate” to describe the press. Parliament has traditional three estates: The Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal, and the Commons. The Lords Spiritual are the 26 bishops of the established Church of England. The Lords Temporal are the nobility of the House of Lords. The Commons represents the commoners. The press became the fourth estate, satirists and provocateurs looking at issues from another angle.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi called for this angle in late December. Speaking at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, he urged Islamic clerics to “take a long, hard look at” their hypocrisy in excusing an ideology making “our entire nation a source of concern, danger, killing, and destruction all over the world.” He urged Islamic scholars and clerics to take at a look at the faith “from the outside.”
Shortly after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, David Brooks chastised Americans for their hypocrisy. Americans lionize the slain journalists but had they tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus “it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds.” They would have been accused of hate speech even though satirists “serve useful public roles.”1 They expose the “stupidity” of passionate religious folk who are often “incapable of multiple viewpoints.” True, provocateurs act in an “unguided missile manner,” Brooks adds, but they’re “saying necessary things that no one else is saying.”
This is why Edmund Burke called on satirists to save Parliament. In the 1770s, King George III was acting hypocritically, seeking to expand his powers while restricting the American colonies’ rights. Burke argued that the king’s actions were not against the letter of the constitution but they were against its spirit. Burke was ignored and the war came. Parliament would have benefited from seeing their colonies from another angle. Burke believed the press provides this view. It became the fourth estate.
It’s worth asking whether today’s church is similar to yesterday’s Parliament. Interestingly, the four estates correspond with the four offices of Jesus—prophet, priest, king, and savior. The Lords Spiritual represent the priestly role. The Lords Temporal represent nobility, including the king. The Commons represents the common man, just as Jesus as savior represents humanity. Parliament, however, didn’t heed the prophetic voice. What about today’s church? It honors Jesus as priest, king, and savior. What about prophets? The faith’s fourth estate exposes inconsistencies and idolatries that passionate people often ignore. It says necessary things that no one else is saying. It would certainly benefit Islam, but how about the Christian faith as well?
Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike
1 David Brooks, I Am Not Charlie Hebdo” The New York Times, January 8, 2014.