What's so Bad about Wrath?
I try not to watch much television because it is like eating a Big Mac with fries and washing it down with a couple of 32-ounce Old Milwaukis: I never feel good afterwards. That was the effect of channel surfing past Pat Robinson and his critics regarding the earthquakes at Port-au-Prince. I initially found myself nodding in agreement that Haiti is cursed, but Robinson's clarification and the pot shots fired at him made me queasy. As cure and to help humanity, I need to return judgment and condemnation to their rightful places.
When I was an atheist tilting toward Zen, I thought everyone believed in curses and blessings and good old-fashioned judgment. I clung to those fundamental precepts as zealously as a Southern Baptist.
Case in point. If you study hard for an Organic Chemistry exam and get over 95% of the questions right, you should receive an A. An A looks good on your transcript, and might be the very thing to get you into graduate school and from there come up with a cure for stuff. In short, an A is a blessing.
Because I didn't bother to study hard, I received Ds and Fs. Whether I should have been blessed with a good grade or cursed with a bad one was dictated by an academic discipline that I didn't care to understand, and left in the hands of an instructor who, as far as I knew, objectively applied its principles for judgment. I didn't like his Doomsday edicts, but the process seemed very fair to me and put me in lockstep with the hippie commie freaks who were my contemporaries. They found most everything unfair but not Organic Chemistry.
Objects of Wrath
How and why an individual is targeted for other things in life that curse or bless is a usually a highly subjective matter, different for me and for the freaks and probably for you. What is absolute is that every one of us has been in situations in which we've felt royally screwed. We have been the objects of wrath.
Wrath is a term usually used in religious contexts, but it is as a good way of describing getting screwed as saying we've been dumped on or punked, or got the shaft or the short end of the stick. These situations are predicated on what might be compared to disciplines—methodologies, manners, expectations, misunderstandings, sheer craziness—that aren't as cut and dried as Chem 103. In consequence judgment is prejudiced or stupid, or based on rules seemingly made up on the spur of the moment.
Getting fouled out happens every day all around the world. It is hit and miss whether today is when you get short changed or tomorrow lied to. Some days are worse than others. A very bad day is to find "Gas guzzler" keyed into the paint job of your new Escalade (by an environmental whack job) or across the roof of your Kia (by someone who has a sense of humor, but yes, OK, is sick). Even so, you have to admit that that other people have it a lot worse.
If you think about it, you can predict that really, really bad things are going to happen to otherwise good people, certainly when they are an already exploited people reeling from one mishap to another, and maybe to a lot of them if certain conditions prevail. For example, let's consider the recent history of.... How about a Caribbean country? Let's say Haiti.
The two most famous Docs were the dictators Papa and Baby. Their secret police, the Tonton Macoute, was a force for stability compared to the street gangs governing with machetes in more recent times. Interim leaders were sort of democratically elected but no sort of about being corrupt. Outsiders felt so bad about the collapses of law, sewage systems, power grids, health care and virtually everything else, they poured in massive relief, some of it getting waylaid from Swiss bank accounts to actually help the poor. Among the latter were subsistence farmers and mom-and-pop entrepreneurs who could no longer make a living because what they did for meager profit was given away for free. Thus almost everyone became a recipient of international largess and after decades of it had the same beggar's refrain: "Help us."
Compounding Haiti's ills is that fact that it is situated in an area of seismic activity. Building codes are a hodgepodge; inspection, non-existent; construction, shoddy. When the Richter Scale hits 7, death, destruct and decay are loosed on a grand scale. The human suffering should grieve and shock us, but it is rather naive to be surprised.
"But It's Just Not Right!"
Hey, no kidding.
The appeal to right is for something beyond what is subjective, something higher than what is immediately felt. It looks to judgment that is just. For thousands of years that something has been called God.
Many post-moderns do not believe in God, at least not in the ways their fathers and grandfathers did. Nonetheless they voice moving opinions about social and political issues. Their point of view presumes some behaviors are better than others. No to parliamentarians who take bribes. Yes to helping Haiti in the aftermath of horrific destruction. To me those are ethical positions based on morality that points unwaveringly to judgment. But I have to wonder, on whose authority do they arrive at their judgments?
I keep meeting people who persist that authority is always individual unless it deals with a pet cause—legalize marijuana, ban cigarettes. The tendency for all of us is to tolerate only that with which we agree. In cases in which there is no self-awareness, the tolerance of intolerance creates the chaos of moral relativism. Therein God is whatever grabs your personal fancy, and his name (or hers) becomes legion. Fate. Education. Population control. Randomness. Scientific Progress. Global Government with a billion laws and a cop on every corner to make sure everyone else toes the mark.
Heck, why not Voodoo as a legitimate religion?
Voodoo Women and the Theory of Relativity
Pat Robinson expressed what many other Christians believe about Voodoo. It is the root cause of Haiti's problems. Early revolutionaries made pacts with the Devil that have cursed the generations that follow. (This is somewhat akin the psychological theory that, if you beat a kid mercilessly throughout his childhood, the adult is going to be one messed up mofo and likely to produce little mofos.) Whether wittingly or not, present day practitioners of Voodoo allow demons to run rough shod over their lives. If not actually possessed, the residual effect of their beliefs clouds their minds. Ergo: man-made solutions to governance can't help but be off track.
I'm not so quick to judge. Socialism is doing a good job of sucking the gumption out of Europe. Printing money willy nilly most likely will do the trick here. Come to think of it, though, those secular curses might be due to looniness that springs from spiritual roots that are rotting in the occult. Typically, the occult includes witchcraft (black and white), channeling, conjuring up the dead, fooling with Ouji boards, fortune telling, palm reading, consorting with demons and so on. I would add buying into Keith Oberman's rants or thinking that the cute midget on the barstool next to you in Vegas is really interested in your life story.
People have a three-fold problem with accepting the occult as dangerous or even real. More precisely, they don't like the antithesis, a religion that is absolute about what is pure and what is defiled. They can choose what they will, but no longer can they pretend that it is irrelevant to God. The first problem, then, comes from the implications posed by absolute authority. Whether you agree or not doesn't change a thing. It's not about you; it's about Truth with a capital T.
The second problem is how media trivializes nearly everything. All truth is with a small t. Religion is about platitudes, for and against. Satan and Hell are inspiration for the cute costuming of kids at Halloween and profitable scare-me-some-more-with-gore movies. The demon possessed become part of the lurid line up of comic book super heroes. Bored teens begin to believe they can gain power through the black arts. Looser adults think they can incant love into lives and cast spells on enemies. One might hope all this is harmless, but whenever people believe fire isn't hot, they tend to get burnt very badly.
Finally, there's the sophisticate's objection that all this mumbo jumbo ain't scientific. But golly, Mr. Wizard, whoever said it was?
Albert Einstein made the physics of Sir Isaac Newton obsolete. What Einstein's Theory of Relativity couldn't do was make falling in love obsolete. Some would like to pretend that the science of an Einstein and later of a David Hawking prove that morality is relative. But science isn't about morality. The job of science is to destroy or modify the science that preceded it. Science is relative because it keeps changing. That's how alchemy became chemistry. But it is impossible for scientific change do away ethics and morality. Thus we can have mind-boggling discoveries about atoms and stars that are just that, mind boggling, but tell us nothing about our souls. An all-powerful, infinite God might illuminate some religious understanding through science, but science can't get into the ballpark to determine whether God exists or not.
Further, science can be tainted, as with the cook-the-book stats of climate alarmists. California legislators, who have already pushed the state to the brink of bankruptcy and are never at a loss for screwy ideas, talk seriously of policing carbon footprints by finding means to control household thermostats. Penalty taxes are proposed now, but superstitions have ways of breeding worse. Home invasions by Brother Government aren't likely, but then, who would have thought an Austrian body builder would become Governor?
But Which Religion?
There are eight or nine major religions in the world. Ten if you count, "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual," which translates to, "Hey, I don't want to talk about anything serious. Let's just get down and do it." A variation is, "I don't believe in organized religion," which sounds a lot less stupid than, "Yeah, I'm into disorganized religion."
I would recommend Dr. Todd Albertson's easy to read, objective overview of the world's diverse religions, The Gods of Business: The Intersection of Faith and the Marketplace (Trinity Alumni Press 2009). The reason is that I'm going to parse only the monotheistic ones here and probably piss everyone off in the process.
There are two major monotheistic religions. One is Islam. Adherents are divided into two camps, those who kill Jews and those who cheer. The other biggie is Judaism, of which there are three strains—Jews against bacon, Jews for and Jews who are really Unitarians. Oh. There's a fourth. The heretical sect of Judaism called Christianity, of which there are the Catholics and the break-always, otherwise known as Orthodox and Protestants. Most Protestants claim their sole authority is the bible and are divided into about 60,00 denominations that disagree about what the bible means.
To make this account manageable, let's ignore Islam. There may be a place for wife beating, but so far no one has suggested it has anything to do with conditions in Haiti.
That leaves us with Judaism and its offshoot, Judeo-Christianity. In spite of all the differences there are broad points of agreement.
1) God created the heavens and the earth, including creepy crawly things, and made man and woman to stomp them flat, or anyway, to be in charge. For sure he wanted the characters of humans to reflect his own, and as long as they did so, they lived in a paradise called Eden.
2) God keeps his own counsel, so no one is quite sure why he gave them free will to do anything they wanted, but there was just one thing that he told them not to do. Of course, that was very thing they did, and having pooped in the punch bowl once, showed themselves capable of crapping on everything else. Because they chose their course, God had no choice but to kick them out of Eden and send them to Dodge City, Kansas.
3) That's right, pard, Dodge. There are worse cow towns, but Dodge is metaphor for a fair portion of this great big messy world of ours. There is some debate whether Satan is in charge. If he is, he works behind the scenes; his powers are limited; and he has only so many masked pistoleros to make life miserable. If he ever has to stand single handed against God, Old Scratch won't clear leather. But the time and place for the showdown isn't yet. Meanwhile, there are some citizens who want to get out of Dodge. Most have forgotten after so many generations that they are genetically and spiritually connected- and therefore alike- those ancient kinfolk who were run out of Eden. Hence the good citizens of Dodge have to put up with saddle tramps shooting up the town from time to time and longhorns stampeding down Main, trampling women and children. Solace can be found at the Long Branch Saloon: cirrhosis is offered downstairs; spirochetes, up. The barkeeps and soiled doves do listen to your woes. They just can't do anything really helpful to relieve them.
4) It is God alone who can relieve them, redeem the situation, save you from yourself. While doing that, God keeps drawing men and women back to becoming better mirrors of his own character. But he never overturns their free will to say, "No way, Jose."
5) Two major qualities of God's character are mercy and compassion. Compassion is the understanding that your brokenness, those things that curse you, may not be visible to anyone, but that doesn't make you less needy than a cripple in a wheelchair or some poor sod trying to read the future in chicken guts. Mercy is doing whatever you can to help, and God is so rich in mercy he doesn't care whether you do so in his name or not.
6) So there you are. You can give money for Haitian relief. You can pray. You can help load a cargo container. You can go over and do what you can on the ground. You may not have the means to be as generous as Pat Robinson usually is, even to people he believes are cursed, or as the government of Venezuela that is braving U.S. secret weaponry and sending over a shipload of supplies. But you can do something.
7) In doing it, the curse that overshadows all of us is lightened a little. That is a very good thing. A blessed thing.