Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In Times of Crisis

You'd have to be living under one hell of a large rock if you haven't heard about the Virginia Tech shooting lately, so I'll just avoid discussing any details. If you want more, pick your favorite news source and it's currently on the front page. Or you can visit the Wikipedia page, where they have titled the incident the Virginia Tech Massacre.

Tech is around where I grew up. I interned briefly with a professor there during high school, as did my wife. I also spent plenty of time in the research library. Virginia Tech is my father-in-law's alma mater, and is where my mother-in-law is currently working. My wife and my sister each have several friends that currently attend, and I've known several people that graduated from there. Also, I'm only three degrees away from one of the victims. One of my best friends from high school, his friend's best friend was one of the first two victims in the dorm. I know that sounds silly and remote, but it's made a real impact on me. Hearing about this makes me incredibly sad. Not just from the pointless loss of life and unnecessary misery, but from actually having a frame of reference -- something I didn't have with, say, 9/11 or Columbine.

The interesting story here is from my mother-in-law. Their part of Virginia had three inches of snow the night before the shooting, very unusual for this time of year. They lost electricity (they live in an extremely rural area and losing power during a snowstorm isn't very unusual), and a tree fell over their driveway, right outside the garage. They had to get neighbors to come over and help them just so they could leave the house. By the time they got everything cleared out, the shooting was over and they were sending everybody home. My mother-in-law never even got to campus that morning. Of course, she works in the administrative office and would not have been in any danger, but we're all happy that she avoided the whole mess, and had several concerned inquiries about her wellbeing from friends and other family members that day.

Anyway, I was relating this story to a client earlier today. As an atheist, I'm still solidly "in the closet" when it comes to my clients, for political reasons. (Most of my clients are very religious, and many of them operate religion oriented businesses -- like a Christian tree nursery, no kidding!) After hearing about the tree barricading my mother-in-law from work, my client whispers, "It's a miracle!" I'd been expecting this, but still had difficulty holding my tongue. Aside from all of the points I could make about it hardly being a localized snowstorm, and it certainly was not the only tree down, and that having a power outtage is rather unfortunate -- what I take real issue with is this being labelled a miracle.

What I would have said, had this been an indifferent acquaintance, would have been, "It doesn't sound like much of a miracle -- 33 people are dead!" That some theists will praise their own well being, or the well being of specific others, in the face of suffering is one of my biggest pet peeves. Although I must make this very clear, I don't think people realize how callous they are acting when they say these things. I think it is a kind of knee-jerk reaction. I have a little theory on this.

The bible, obviously, is very one-sided. I can't stress how insanely one-sided it is. No tears are shed for the dead first-born of Egypt. When Joshua goes around killing all of the men, women, and children from 31 good-sized cities, there is not a single word said on behalf of the innocent victims. The polarity of these stories is absolute. There are the good guys, and there are the bad guys. Everything is a God/Devil mirror. The 'historic' miracles that Christians are indoctrinated with are all black and white. Only the good guys get the miracles. Only the bad guys suffer.

Theists are taught to look for miracles in real life, but unlike the examples they have learned from, real life is not polemical. This leads to failure to acknowledge the other side of events. I don't believe for a moment that theists couldn't see the other side if they tried. It's just that they were never encouraged to see the other side.

There are also those that purposefully ignore the plight of the sufferers. I'm talking about those like the Westboro Baptist Church, who plan on picketing the funerals of the Tech victims. These theists, I believe, take the scriptural reference miracles way too seriously. They attribute the same 'crimes' of, say, the firstborn of Egypt, or the Midianite women, to those that suffer in the face of events they consider modern day miracles (or, to look at it from the other side, those that suffer punishments). The suffering is caused by sin, or the devil.

We should be proud, as atheists, to have such clarity of thought that victims are not clouded from our point of view. It is sad enough that so many lives are wasted because people believe a better one is coming, but to know that many live their lives through the foggy lens of indoctrination is truly heartbreaking.


Anonymous said...

Here is the number for the Westboro Baptist Church : (785) 273-0325 call them and let them know how much you disapprove;)

The Alpha said...

"It doesn't sound like much of a miracle -- 33 people are dead!" That some theists will praise their own well being, or the well being of specific others, in the face of suffering is one of my biggest pet peeves.

Someone else I talked to stated that God intervened to limit the number that died. While I'm an open-atheist, there are some things that are so ridiculous they completely leave me speechless. I had nothing to say.

The Alpha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ebonmuse said...

Wonderful post. I don't have anything to say on the Virginia tragedy that hasn't already been said better by someone else, so I'll hold my tongue on that, other than to offer families and friends of the victims whatever sympathy a humanist can give in such a dark hour.

These sorts of 'miracle' claims pop up after every tragedy, and are unbelievably callous, as you pointed out. One wonders, what about the other side of the equation? No doubt there were some people who died only because an equally unlikely chain of coincidence put them in harm's way on that day. But no one ever proclaims these happenings to be miracles, despite the fact that they should logically seem just as miraculous as the people who escaped.

Greg said...

Hearbreaking indeed. It is amazing what people will say without consideration. Good point David about the brutal polarity of so many bible stories, "insanely one-sided," so true.

If a supposed omnipotent being were deserving of credit it would most certainly be deserving of blame.

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