"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

God was there; where were we?

I drafted something about this, then decided to ignore it; and now I see it in context.  Let's start where I was going to start, first:

Some of the more regular viewers here may remember when this blog essayed a motto:

Things don't matter.  Ideas don't matter.
People matter.

“It may seem, on the surface, that God was refusing to give such protection to his Texan children,” he writes. “But we are also praying that God would deliver us from evil eternally. Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.”

Fiene then says that, in order to fully defeat evil eternally, God has to let evil get some temporary victories, such as this weekend’s mass shooting.

“So when a madman with a rifle sought to persecute the faithful at First Baptist Church on Sunday morning, he failed,” Fiene says. “Just like those who put Christ to death, and just like those who have brought violence to believers in every generation, this man only succeeded in being the means through which God delivered his children from this evil world into an eternity of righteousness and peace.”
I just want to pause and say:  whatever that is, and the speaker is identified as a Lutheran pastor, those ideas are not Christian, are not in keeping with any Christian doctrine I know, are not in anyway statements aligned with Christianity.  But then, neither are these, nor are they meant to be:

In a statement distributed to reporters Tuesday morning, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma called the goal of covering more people a “hollow victory of numbers,” and instead called for changes that “reduce federal regulatory burdens, increase efficiency, and promote transparency and accountability.”

The announcement also promises to fast-track approval of states’ proposed Medicaid changes (which HHS grants in the form of waivers from existing Medicaid requirements) and to scrap some of the requirements that states report back to the federal government whether the changes improve health outcomes for recipients.  (emphasis added)

Shorter and sweeter:  screw people, we've got to save money!  Medicare and Medicaid aren't about helping human beings, they're about pinching dollars 'til George Washington screams!

Which, frankly, is the same attitude that Lutheran pastor displays:  the people in the pews in Sutherland Springs weren't people, they were just things.  The people on Medicaid aren't people:  they are cost units  impeding the goals of "reduc[ing] federal regulatory burdens" (on whom?), "increas[ing] efficiency, and promot[ing] transparency and accountability."  Helping people just gets in the way, because people don't matter.  Ideas matter; things matter; people are a damned inconvenience.  Or expendable, in the service of an idea.  And that's exactly where the Trump Administration and the Lutheran pastor join hands, and jump off the cliff.

And just to answer this question "Where was God?"  God was with the people of Sutherland Springs, wondering where the rest of us were.  God didn't make that gun, market that gun, sell that lunatic 450+ rounds of ammunition, or promise people in a small church a bullet proof shield.  God was with the people, wondering how much savagery the rest of us are going to allow, and why we still allow it.  I'm reminded of a Damon Knight story which I think Harlan Ellison published in one of the volumes of Dangerous Visions:  a devastating war has wiped out humankind, and God comes strolling through the aftermath, only to confront a sign meant for God that reads:  "WE WERE HERE!  WHERE WERE YOU?!"  Knight's feeble stab at theodicy.  In the case of the worst mass shooting in Texas history, the proper question comes from God:  "I WAS HERE.  WHERE WERE YOU?"

As a civilization, we are our brother's keeper at least to the extent of protecting them as best we can against violence like this.  Where were we, and what did we do, to try to keep this from happening?  We stop murderers, we stop drunk drivers, we work to abate floods and natural disasters, but against this we are helpless?  We can defend ourselves and others against acts of God (fire, flood, storm), but against a gunman with an arsenal and a boxful of bullets, we can do nothing?

Things don't matter.  Ideas don't matter.
People matter.


Blogger rustypickup said...

Hans Fiene, looks to be the pastor here fiene , a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. As a Lutheran in the ELCA, I don't remotely recognize what he is saying as Christian. As a former pastor once put it, prayer is not the end, it is the beginning. It brings us to action. We are called to face evil, not accept it. I am sickened. His comments rank right up there with Paul Ryan's, Faith that critics don't understand faith.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

MO Synod; why am I not surprised? Yeah, I would tap dance on Ryan, too; but I did that already with Trump's tweets.

And BTW, Trump tweeted about 7 (or was it 9?) times about the NYC attack that killed 8. He's tweeted about the Texas shootout precisely once, unless he slipped another in today (which seems unlikely). "Terrorism" is an idea, too.

1:37 PM  
Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

This is so excellent I'm just going to post a link to it this morning, both the piece and the comments.

7:28 AM  
Blogger trex said...

I remember when I first read this statement of principle you'd written it was really an epiphany for me because it articulated an unspoken value of my own, and I refer back to it a lot. If we were to ever assemble Aasimovian-style Laws of Humanity that governed behavior, this would or should be be one of them.

Since our behavior isn't governed by programmed laws, however, this becomes a barometer or litmus test of how human we are acting in any given circumstance. I think there's an argument to be made that it maps onto progressive ideals pretty well, as conservative and reactionary values broadly speaking tend to subsume human concerns to traditional ideas and/or financial opportunity - borne out by the individuals you quote in the post - acknowledging that at either end of the spectrum leftist totalitarianism and hard-right fascism have little concern for the individual against the elevated needs of the collective or state.

The ethos of the right-wing twitterverse is living proof. It says that if someone isn't like me or doesn't believe what I believe they need to be deported, jailed, or put to death. They aren't individuals, they aren't people, they're just disposable things, and this is the subtext of every Trump tweet when it's not explicitly the text.

1:52 PM  

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