Nature, God, Blame, and Shame

Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator Charles Krauthammer has written a great “big-picture” view of the blame-shifting realities of Katrina’s fallout: “Assigning Blame.” It’s not long and is worth reading. Here’s a graf Krauthammer put out there as a “throw-away” item, but it brilliantly sums up what I wish I had written:

This kind of stupidity merits no attention whatsoever, but I’ll give it a paragraph. There is no relationship between global warming and the frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes. Period. The problem with the evacuation of New Orleans is not that National Guardsmen in Iraq could not get to New Orleans, but that National Guardsmen in Louisiana did not get to New Orleans. As for the Bush tax cuts, administration budget requests for New Orleans flood control during the five Bush years exceed that of the five preceding Clinton years. The notion that the allegedly missing revenues would have been spent wisely by Congress, targeted precisely to the levees of New Orleans, and reconstruction would have been completed in time, is a threefold fallacy. The argument ends when you realize that, as The Washington Post notes, “the levees that failed were already completed projects.”

Let’s be clear. The author of this calamity was, first and foremost, Nature (or if you prefer, Nature’s God).

(You can read the Post article that he quotes here: “Money Flowed to Questionable Projects.”)

Now, my thoughts on blame and so-called “Acts of God.”

This tendency to assign blame when we are morally outraged is commendable. It reveals that within the heart of man there still beats that sense of justice that was crafted by God and set there long, long ago. Fashioned in his image, we imperfect imitators of an infinitely just God reel when we sense an injustice has been done. We vent our spleens, and jab our pointy-little fingers at whoever seems most culpable.

But here’s the dirty little secret that comes to us in the dark, when we are all alone: We are to blame. The shame belongs to all of us—not just a governor here, a FEMA guy there, a president yonder. All of us.

No, we didn’t call down a category 4 hurricane on a town already fighting to keep the sea at bay. No, we didn’t personally cause the levees to fall apart. No, we didn’t cause the thousands who have died to be stranded. And I’m not talking about the alleged global warming being a cause of this.

There are two ways we are corporately responsible for some of this tragedy.

First, all of mankind is responsible for the agonizing birth-pangs all of creation is in. Man strives against nature not because nature is inherently bent upon our destruction but because this is a direct outcome of sin. When Adam and Even disobeyed and allowed death to enter creation, all of creation began to travail; when sin entered creation, all of creation became twisted and warped.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17–19)

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:18–22)

Second, we are responsible because in every natural disaster I’ve heard about in my lifetime, the effects of the tragedy in every single case could have been diminished if we were a people who lived selflessly, who valued others more greatly than we value ourselves, who valued integrity, honestly, and good work done well. The majority of buildings that fall in earthquake-prone areas are precisely the ones that are not built to safety standards or where the work was shoddily done. Why? We know how to build skyscrapers and homes that resist the effects of all but the most severe of shocks. Why aren’t more buildings built that way? Because it costs too much to rebuild old buildings. Yet, when the buildings fall, the bridges collapse on the cars, we have to rebuild anyway, and we get to throw human lives lost into the balance. Our greed trumps risk when the future is unclear. What about the recent tsunami to claimed so many lives? Many would certainly still have been lost because of their nearness to the epicenter of the earthquake, but a warning went out and those farthest away could have responded. Only a few were able to heed the warning. Why not? I submit, again, man’s hubris, greed, and tendency to forget that we strive against nature.

The vast majority of deaths [in India] could have been averted if, like Singapore, India had been part of an established tsunami warning system. Even without such a network, however, there were danger signs that Indian officials failed to respond to. (World Socialist Website)

Vertical evacuation on a solidly engineered structure may be the quickest way of surviving a tsunami in flat area even if there is no warning other than the natural warning of the ground shaking. In Hawaii, for example, a very developed area with many solid concrete structures, vertical evacuation has been implemented, since it would be impossible to evacuate thousands of tourists inland. Moving them above the third floor of a hotel which is solidly built assures their safety. For remote flat areas such as Papua New Guinea, where the recent tsunami occurred, evacuation to a steel or concrete platforms, erected at least 30 feet or more above ground and quickly accessible, could have saved many lives. (Dr. George Pararas-Carayannis)

Our culpability as a race has been dramatically highlighted in the aftermath of Katrina. Failure to heed warnings, slow responses, failure to utilize local resources, law enforcement personnel’s moral failure, failure to plan for disaster, failure to implement the plan, and on and on and on. Even the very existence and construction of a city on ground 10 feet below sea-level (and falling) speaks to the culpability of man to ignore the obvious and blindly plunge ahead for the sake of commerce. Now, at last, our finger-pointing reveals that we sense there must be some injustice here, but who shoulders the blame?

We all do, for this is the nature of sin, its consequences, its price. This is systemic, and the Katrina aftermath is only one symptom.

Finally, I’m not saying that if we were all happy-slappy Christians the world wouldn’t have disasters. No. The fact remains that we are fallen creatures, and this is a fallen world. Disasters will happen. People will die, be maimed, orphaned, and widowed. That won’t change.

Believing in God, trusting in Christ, serving in obedience won’t avert tragedies. But a loving, ethical, moral, upright society can mitigate tragedy’s consequences. If we must point fingers, let’s point them at our own hearts while begging forgiveness on our knees.

We are our brothers’ keeper.

[tags]BlogRodent, katrina, hurricane-katrina, church, tragedy, stupidity, pain, theodicy, suffering, morality, moral-responsibility, original-sin, failure, moral-failure[/tags]

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2 Responses to Nature, God, Blame, and Shame

  1. Steve says:

    Good stuff. Still thinking about a few of the statements, but for the most part a hearty “AMEN!”

    The one area that I would love to hear more about is the responsibility for spending the money on repairs/upgrades/correct engineering at original build out. I don’t think “the Church” could do this on it’s own. I’d love to read your opinion on that.

    Again, good stuff.

  2. Jim says:

    Brother, I don’t know who you are, how old you are, or how long you’ve been in “this”, but you speak with more Biblical sense than I’ve heard coming forth from a pulpit in a long time……….

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