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The solipsism of faith

Human engineering prowess has long sought to protect people from the sorts of natural disasters that have struck the nation’s midsection over the last several weeks.  Some survivors of these recent storms, however, see God’s hand–rather than successful building design or random luck–in their exemption from the devastation that struck down their neighbors.  In Alabama, where almost 200 people were killed by tornadoes at the end of April, a Birmingham minister

spoke of the miracles of the disaster — the people who cheated death; the buildings, like his church, that somehow remained. He talked about trusting in God in times of trouble.

In Joplin, Missouri, hit by the deadliest twister of the season last week, some congregants at the Blendville Christian Church

spoke of their own miracles that kept them alive.
“How many of you have prayed this week?” asked Virgil Eubanks, 60, the pastor.
A chorus of hands shot up. “Oh yeah,” he continued. “If this didn’t catch you up on your prayer life there’s something wrong with you.”

One doesn’t want to deny survivors of cataclysm whatever emotional succor they can find during a period of undeserved loss.  Still, it is always puzzling to me how believers can attribute their escape from calamity to God’s protection without feeling compelled to explain why God did not extend that protection to other people not clearly less deserving than themselves.  If God was capable of working a “miracle” to prevent you from death by tornado in Missouri or Alabama, why didn’t he work that same miracle to save your neighbors?  (We will leave aside the added puzzle of why God would allow the natural cataclysm to proceed in the first place and confine himself to piecemeal, after-the-fact efforts to mitigate its effects for a select number of survivors.)  The implication of attributing one’s own good fortune amid a wave of misfortune to God is inescapable: God cared for me more than for the deceased victims.  Yet only rarely does this implication seem to break through into a believer’s consciousness. 

When it does cast a faint shadow of cognitive discomfort, there are two main strategies for responding. (more…)

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Playing with fire

Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal had large photos on their front pages yesterday of student thugs attacking the police in London (framed by a huge graffiti scroll “REVOLUTION”), Rome, and Bologna to “protest” tuition and education cuts.  What a boon to anarchy—having your self-righteous tantrums treated as important and newsworthy.  I don’t know how to break out of the dilemma that all such preening displays of lawlessness pose.  Ideally, they would not command any breathless coverage from reporters who come running, cameras flashing, at the slightest hint of revolt against the “establishment.”  Pretending that such theatrics are significant is especially galling when the protesters are ignorant students who don’t understand anything about the world and certainly not about work and commerce.  Yet at some level one does need to know  what is going on.  Perhaps photos of riots against common-sense government reforms or good-faith police actions could be balanced by photos of businessmen struggling to balance their books while drowning in a sclerotic, state-sodden economy.


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