Moral Theology Vs. The Tsunami
It strikes me as odd that a the followers of the supposed Son of God can't handle a little criticism. That every suggestion that they might be a little off about putting so much stock in 5000 year old shepherd poetry and the ranting of ergot addicts is met with feverish derision and screams of moral outrage.
Christians are the thinest skinned hegemony in history. Despite their omnipresent influence in society, their faith can be challenged by movies, weakened by Rock and Roll and completely undermined by children's literature. In spite of the face of Jesus on billboards and God-themed television shows, the faith of the faithful seems poised to wither away at the mere hint of a bare breast. And sugest that there might be no God? Well, then you're a blood drinking satanic commie and you like to kick puppies, too. If there's no God, than what meaning is there in the world? The very thought shimmies the spines of the true believers. For a lucid example, see David Brooks' most recent existential crisis concerning the Tsunami:
If you listen to the discussion of the tsunami this past week, you receive the clear impression that the meaning of this event is that there is no meaning. Humans are not the universe's main concern. We're just gnats on the crust of the earth. The earth shrugs and 140,000 gnats die, victims of forces far larger and more permanent than themselves.
Most of the stories that were told and repeated this week were melodramas. One person freakishly survives while another perishes, and there is really no cause for one's good fortune or the other's bad. A baby survives by sitting on a mattress. Others are washed out to sea and then wash back bloated and dead. There is no human agency in these stories, just nature's awful lottery.
In the newspaper essays and television commentaries reflecting upon it all, there would often be some awkward passage as the author tried to conclude with some easy uplift - a little bromide about how wonderfully we all rallied together, and how we are all connected by our common humanity in times of crisis.
The world's generosity has indeed been amazing, but sometimes we use our compassion as a self-enveloping fog to obscure our view of the abyss. Somehow it's wrong to turn this event into a good-news story so we can all feel warm this holiday season. It's wrong to turn it into a story about us, who gave, rather than about them, whose lives were ruined. It's certainly wrong to turn this into yet another petty political spat, as many tried, disgustingly, to do.
This is a moment to feel deeply bad, for the dead and for those of us who have no explanation.
I agree with him on one point: It is a time to feel bad, but just about the dead and dispossessed. Then you shake yourself off, roll up your sleeves or pull out the checkbook and look for a way to help. This is not the time to natter on about the thinness of your fairytales and gaze at your navel and wonder aloud why God let this happen. Perhaps there is a reason events like the Tsunami fill us with horror and fear of the abyss: because it's a concrete reminder that stories about a man who lives in the sky are just that: stories told to children to shut them up and rock them to sleep. We're alone in this world, with just each other to get by on. Of course, admitting this would require a reexamination of the claims to infallibility of the witch hunters, past and present. Who wants to think about God's Plan in Iraq (as revealed to George W. Bush) when it's simply easier to believe that their is a plan and someone else knows what it is? Because if there's no plan, no simple moral message, painted on the clouds and illustrated in the blood of the dead, what reason is there?
We in the reality based community realized a long time ago that we all stand naked before the pit. That nature is beautiful and tragic and unconcerned with our days and ways. And you either accept that and get on with life or go hide in monastery somewhere and pretend that if you just believe hard enough, in Jesus, God or the President pretending to talk for them, that somehow you can avoid the next Tsunami. But you can't and you won't and you're just fooling yourself by anthropomorphizing nature and ascribing human reasons and applying broad moral shoehorns to events that have no reason or purpose.3 The 200,000 dead Tsunami victims weren't Noah's neighbors. They weren't wicked or decadent or Unchristian. They were people. Just like you and me. To try and find some Sunday School Moral Theme to this tragedy is not just petty and disingenuous but vile and unhinged. It disgraces the memory of the dead.
1. Though church attendance in the US is at or bellow the 50% mark. He resides in their minds, if not in their hearts, at least.
2. However, a movie that graphically depicts Jesus' torture and crucifixion, that's a religious experience. Seems we Americans really do like torture.
3. Or worse have an all too human purpose. Sometimes I wonder if the majority of my fellow Americans are willfully deluding themselves about the President. For them, he has become a substitute savior (and a piss poor one at that). They realize this on some unconscious level but are so used to believing in their authority figures (it's a short ride down the elevator form King of Kings to the Office of the President) that they just ride a wave of blind faith and hope that somewhere, someone knows why we torture and kill. I guess it's easier than admitting that it's all human folly and greed. Good to know someone can sleep at night.