SMilnor: There has been so much to feel heartbroken about in the devastation of Japan. I experienced a particular kind of sadness, though, when I heard a Japanese woman say that surely her people must have done something wrong to bring down so much wrath from the heavens. I surely understand why people struggle with the “Why us?” question following horrors like this, but disturbs me to realize how easily the victims of tragedy feel guilty and responsible. Isn’t it enough to bear the burden of loss and suffering without also having to bear the weight of believing you caused it?
SMinasian: When you first shared this with me, I was a little taken back. I don’t usually think this way when huge “natural” disasters happen. And then quickly I realized that yes…I do think there are messages that we give people along these lines. I think many cultures have this mindset, and it is indeed very sad. Susan, we are so used to the North American rhetoric of “those people who did this to us” mentality. I also wonder what the faith tradition is of the woman who expressed these words. I hate to say it, but I think Christians more often than not have this idea that if they do things right, nothing bad will happen. The reality is that life is messy, and you can do everything “right” and bad things will still happen.
SMilnor: I think that’s true. Often people believe it won’t happen to them because they are right and God is on their side. After I heard this comment, Susan, I then heard that Glenn Beck said that while he didn’t know what was in God’s mind when God caused this disaster, he thought the Japanese people ought to understand that they haven’t been doing something right. He went on to suggest they should realize they need to adopt the Ten Commandments instead of practicing Buddhism. It’s even worse to use a tragedy like this to blame and judge other people and their religion. Plus, I think he insulted not only a major world faith tradition, but God as well.
SMinasian: UGH. I was afraid of this. I wonder if Glenn Beck has ever read the Gospel of Mark. I’m gonna go Biblical on ya…but just bear with me. In the 12th chapter we read: “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’
SMilnor: That’s fascinating, Susan. I’ve never thought about these two commandments together and what each might mean taken with the other. The first mandates the second. Wow! Thinking about it that way, it seems like a pretty clear message that we should treat people from other religious traditions with equal respect. I like that. Of course, it was Beck who was making this into a conflict between traditions. I think the poor Japanese woman was just devastated and asking, in a way, “How? Why?”
SMinasian: You know…Beck has a real opportunity to make connections that comfort others during a time like that. “How? Why?” are laments from the deepest part of a person when such tragedy strikes. Did I ask for it? Another question that I can even remember asking on occasion. It’s a powerful question. Some people do not ask that question. Some say…why not me?
I heard another person say that part of the problem of our competing ideologies is that we have such a sense of being special. None of us is special. All of us are special. I move through my life not expecting real life to happen. Sometimes. There are so many things to distract our minds from the possibilities of what could happen and what is going on elsewhere. That’s probably a good thing. But…we are all vulnerable. So “ask for it”? No, I say. YOU just happened to be there.
SMilnor: That’s it exactly. Things happen, and we just happen to be there. Then we deal with those things as best we can with the grace of God available to us all, as well as our own strengths and understanding. If I believed in that other reality, where God punishes that group of people and saves this group. . . all on the basis of what they believe. . . not what they do, not whether they are compassionate and caring, but on what they believe or which scripture they hold sacred . . . I would despair, Susan. Of course, I’ve just worked myself up into a classic Universalist confession, I guess. And I mean it. We are all children of God.
SMinasian: Yes. May it be so. Blessed be!