Tuesday, June 04, 2013

god with the wind

It's the little things that bother you. And I'm not talking about the minuscule size of my genitalia, though I will concede that's a bit annoying. No, I mean the sort of reflexive goddiness that people retreat into in the event of natural disasters. How often have you heard the phrase "our thoughts and prayers are with the victims' families" or some variant thereof after people have died? Examples are easy to find; a quick Google reveals David Cameron doing it after the recent Woolwich murder, the Queen getting in on the act in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings last December, and various world leaders doing it after the Boston Marathon bombings in April - Canadian PM Stephen Harper and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg are the ones cashing in the specific phrase on this page of reactions. There were a whole host of them in the wake of Thatch's demise as well. Harking back to a recent post, recall President Reagan's twaddle about how the seven Challenger astronauts had "slipped the surly bonds of Earth" and "touched the face of God".

And you might say: weeeeeeeeeeelll, yeah, but where's the harm? Most of these people aren't really doing any actual serious praying, they're just trotting out a stock phrase because that's what they think people want and expect to hear on these occasions. Well, maybe the Americans really are praying, but I bet Cameron isn't, even after his heroically garbled declaration of religious belief.

To which I would say: yes, but words have power, and just because these have been dulled by familiarity to the point where we almost don't notice them any more it doesn't mean they don't mean anything. If David Cameron responded to some terrorist atrocity by saying something like "at this tragic time I extend to the families my thoughts and gibbering woad-smeared incantations to the great and vengeful Nuclear Space Octopus" or "at this tragic time I extend to the families my thoughts, prayers and the frenzied nude ritual slaughter of a pregnant she-goat as the holy scrolls dictate" people would think: blimey, that's a bit mental, and rightly so.

You can see the same sort of thing from the media and Joe Public in the aftermath of natural disasters. A good recent example was the Oklahoma tornado - much media hoo-ha followed the news video piece about the slightly batty old lady who was bemoaning the loss of her little doggie (and her ENTIRE HOUSE, but, you know, priorities) only to have him snuffle his way out of a pile of debris while the cameras were rolling. It's profoundly revealing of the religious mindset to listen to the lady's reaction, which goes something like this:
Well, I thought God just answered one prayer to let me be OK, but he answered both of 'em. Because this was my second prayer.
So, to recap, then, you're thanking your God for sparing you and little Bowser while ignoring the fact that he's just FLATTENED YOUR HOUSE AND DESTROYED ALL YOUR STUFF. The guy is meant to be all omnipotent and shit, so why not divert the tornado out of the way of your house, or just not have a tornado in the first place? And if you've been spared by a divine hand, then are you saying that those who were killed were less deserving than you in some way?

Really, the aftermath of something like this would be a good moment for a bit of a re-evaluation of your belief system, along the lines of: crikey, my supposed God didn't do much to help me there, did he? I mean, yes, I'm alive, but why couldn't he have fixed things so I didn't get flooded/tsunami-ed/tornado-ed/whatever in the first place? And why did he have to kill that nice Mrs. Johnson from number 46? I mean, I can console myself by trotting out the usual "mysterious ways" stuff, but really, if literally anything can be hand-waved away with that then how would I ever know if God was looking out for me or not, or indeed if he exists or not? Maybe it's time to have a rethink. To put it another way, you either have to conclude that your God is at best capricious and/or incompetent or at worst actively malevolent, or you go with the mysterious ways, we cannot know God's purpose, it's all for the best approach and find yourself trapped in an unfalsifiable theory.

But, instead, paradoxically, people tend to cling to their belief systems all the more tightly when something like this happens. Which makes it all the more commendable when someone puts a hand up and says: no, actually I'm not going to go along with the normal default background goddiness here, I'm going to make a point. Like this young woman who responded to being repeatedly asked whether she "thanked the Lord" for not being tornadoed to death by very politely saying: actually, no, I'm an atheist. She was clearly slightly embarrassed and even apologetic about being put on the spot, but she stood her ground and didn't just cave in and say, yeah, OK, thank the Lord, thoughts and prayers, yadda yadda yadda, whatever. This is braver than it might seem, particularly in Oklahoma.

No comments: