Editorial by John Ziegler

God's Double Standard During Tragedy


I am probably one of the last people on earth who you would expect to "defend" Jerry Falwell and his recent remarks that the attacks on America may have been allowed to occur by God because of our sins as a nation. I am a former Roman Catholic who is now an Agnostic and has such disdain for most of organized religion that several years ago I created a now "world famous" fictitious, tongue-in-cheek "church" based on the idea that Tiger Woods may be God (www.tigerwoodsisgod.com). Despite all of that, I strongly believe that Rev. Falwell's remarks have been, for the most part, wrongly condemned.

While I agree with the vast majority of the commentators who say that Falwell's denunciation of several groups such as the feminists, gays, abortionists and the ACLU was poorly timed and far too specific, I fail to see why his declarations, especially considering the mitigating circumstances of the anger and confusion that all of us felt immediately after the attacks, have caused such an uproar and such universal criticism. This, almost knee jerk, highly negative reaction to Falwell's words (and, to a far lesser extent, Pat Robertson's agreement with them) is even more perplexing when one considers some of the other statements about God that have been praised and allowed to stand unchallenged following the tragedy.

While I strongly deny the truthfulness of what Falwell said and implied, there seems to be no doubt that he was expressing a very popular and somewhat logical religious view of God that has been around for much longer than the United States or even Western Civilization. The Old Testament (which Fundamentalist Christians, among many others, such as Falwell believe is the word of God) is full of stories where God rewards and punishes leaders and nations based on their behavior. Falwell was simply taking that view of the way God works and attempting to find some sort of meaning in and explanation for a series of events for which it seems almost impossible to find either. By roundly dismissing Fawell's comments as both wrong and grossly inappropriate, are we not, by extension, saying that large portions of the Bible are flawed to the point of being publicly indefensible? If that is indeed the case, then why isn't anyone saying that?

The irony of the way that we are seemingly handling God's role in all of this is that there appears to be an extraordinary double standard when it comes to what we accept as "reasonable" statements on the matter. The wife of one of those heroes who apparently sacrificed their lives for others by forcing United 93 into that Pennsylvania field, has publicly stated that she believes that her husband was put on that plane by God so that he would help disrupt the hijackers plans. Forgetting for a moment that it would have seemed far easier and less destructive if God had simply given the hijackers a flat tire on the way to the airport that day, it seems that this woman (as well as others who have said they believe God helped them get out of the World Trade Center) is using the exact same thinking and notion of God that Falwell used, and yet there has only been praise for what she has claimed.

Obviously anyone directly connected to this catastrophe could say just about anything at this point and they would be rightly protected from any real criticism, but this is hardly the first time that it has been deemed to be laudable to praise God's role in such horrible circumstances and yet completely unacceptable to even hint that he/she actually may have had anything to do with the "bad" parts of it as well. Even in life's most trivial of endeavors, professional sports, the winners routinely give credit to God for granting them their victory, while the loser's never dare to blame him/her for having caused them defeat (just once I would like to see a reporter follow up an athlete's claim that God helped them win by asking, "why do you think God felt you were more worthy of victory than your opponent?"). Similarly, President Bush, without any reaction or comment from the punditry, rather casually implied during his inspiring speech the other day that God would be on our side in the coming battle.

The amount of intellectual cowardice that so many of us exhibit on the topic of God's role in life and death is truly staggering and can be seen clearly in the aftermath of the attacks. Even the touching story of the beloved New York Fire Chaplain who lost his life while "saving souls," has been edited because of our inability or unwillingness to come to grips with God's responsibility for what happens here on earth. You have undoubtedly heard the stirring story of Father Judge, but you have probably not been told (because it has rarely been mentioned by the news media) that he happened to be openly gay and actually died tending to a man who was killed by someone who had jumped out of the World Trade Centera and landed on top of him. How one comes up with a rational worldview that incorporates a view of God that allows horrific events like that to happen is beyond my ability to imagine, but I do know that the reaction to Falwell's statements indicates a rather stunted view of both reality and God.

We all know now more than ever that very bad things happen to some very good people. As terribly difficult as that simple concept is to fully incorporate into our view of God, it seems to me that we do a disservice to that quest by somehow limiting our belief system to the idea that God can get credit for all of the good in the world, but none of the blame for all of the evil. Even God shouldn't get to have it "both ways."

While I do wish that Jerry Falwell's interpretation of these events would be used as a launching pad for discussion of this important topic, I don't think we should be wasting time and energy attacking him for simply stating his religious beliefs. There are far more pressing matters to worry about and far more dangerous people out there to eliminate.

source: <a href="http://inq.philly.com/content/inquirer/2001/11/04/local_news/04ESSAY.htm">The way this column appeared in the Sunday Inquirer, along with interesting replies!</a>

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