Monday, March 14, 2005

Something From Yesterday's News
There's so much to dislike in this news story--and I mean the events, not the way they are covered--but it was the final quote that got to me:

"I wanted to know where God was when this happened," Free [a man
whose niece was wounded in the shooting] told the Chicago Sun-Times. "He was
supposed to be everywhere. He could have at least been there."

That annoyed me, and I'm not quite sure why. I also know I'm not being all that charitable toward this guy. People say stupid things when they're upset. Reporters can fluster people. Questioning God's presence or concern are pretty common whenever we are experiencing tragic events. And I'm hardly immune to the "why me" syndrome myself. But it annoyed me. All I could think was, "Why wasn't God there at the shooting? Why not ask where God is when babies are ripped from their mother's wombs everyday? Where is God when people are torturing and starving their children? Where was God when Ed Gein was making his breast-complete vests of women's skin and dancing around in them? Where was God when Hitler slaughtered 6,000,000 Jews?" Assuming the church where the shooting occurred is some Protestant Christian group (I'm not familiar with them) and assuming Free is a member (the article doesn't say, but in the first flush of my annoyance I assumed he was), is his Christianity so fragile that the first time something bad happens to him, his faith breaks? Is he one of those people who think bad things only happen to bad people? Are the people in that church so socially isolated and historically cut off that they think bad things only happen to people who lack faith? What's the deal?

Today my annoyance has faded and I can pity the man. If he and others at that church (assuming he is a member) believe in a sort of health and wealth gospel in which bad things simply don't happen to people with enough faith and if they see no potential good in suffering, then they are in for some bad times--beyond the relatively uncomplicated stress of having a gunman open fire on you, I mean.

I don't understand the health and wealth gospelers, myself. Or even the more common "have faith and nothing bad will happen" type thinking. What Bible are they reading? Ever heard of Job? Or that bit about being persecuted for Jesus' sake? Having to carry the cross? And do they have any acquaintance with history? I don't recall ever hearing that individual Jews and Christians were always spared disease and disaster because they had faith in God. I don't recall ever hearing that Christian nations were spared trouble just because they were Christian (let's not even mention the Jews as a group--ai yi yi!) But the attitude is everywhere.

This kind of stuff made me angry even as a child. My younger sister came home from a slumber party once, telling how, when bad weather threatened, the host child had said she wasn't afraid because she knew Jesus wouldn't let anything happen to them because she believed in him. I was very angry about that. I already tended toward atheism even then (I was about 13), but my attitude was that, damn it, if you're going to believe, take it seriously. I knew about Job and I knew bad stuff--especially bad weather, for goodness' sake!--happens to everybody. Faith isn't some lucky charm. Jesus isn't a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card. That cross you're supposed to pick up and carry is a torture device, not a Ring of Protection +5. When I was yelled at for criticizing that girl's "thinking", I got off a parting salvo: "It will make people hate God!"

And I was right. It can. Case in point: A lovely older woman my husband and I used to know apparently lost her faith over this kind of thinking. As best my husband could piece together from what she said to him, she came from one of those Protestant groups that, whether it actually preached the idea officially or not, held that bad things won't happen to you if you have faith and act right. And she went along with that up through her early married life. Then one of her children died of SIDS. Explain that, health and wealth gospelers.

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