Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This is not a punishment. God loves you

I was watching ABS-CBN Pinoy Satellite television the other night with Rosemary.  The past two weeks have been wall to wall coverage of the Visayas region in Philippines.  Clean up has finally begun.  Evacuations are still underway in the regions that were hit the worst, and bulldozers are starting to clear the rubble.  The thousands of corpses stiffened and bloating in the streets are finally being removed to mass graves.  The popular variety shows in Philippines are filling their air-time with benefits and fund raisers.  I am proud to say that several doctors here in El Paso recently departed for Philippines, to selflessly volunteer their time and expertise where it is most needed.

Yolanda was one of the most powerful typhoons on record to make landfall.  The Visayas region where the typhoon hit hardest was already weakened from last month’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake.  Yolanda just cleared away what was left over.  Homes were flattened by 200 mph+ winds.  Children were ripped from their mother’s arms by a 30 foot ocean surge.  Some desperate people tried tying themselves to coconut trees to avoid being swept out to sea, only to be found bloated from sea water and tied to a useless tree trunk.  Thousands dead.  Millions displaced.  Rosemary sometimes cannot keep from crying when watching news broadcasts from her island home. 

This past weekend, the first Catholic Mass was held in Tacloban since Yolanda destroyed the city.  The Visayas region of the Philippines is overwhelmingly Catholic, a religion brought to Philippines by their Spanish conquerors.  I do not doubt that these people would look to the Church as their source of strength and courage after a typhoon like Yolanda.  While watching worshippers cramming into what was left of their church, I asked Rosemary if people ever blame God after a tragedy instead of worshipping Him.  I admit, I was being a little flippant with her.

“Oh no.  They would never do that.  They would just not do that.”

My flippancy did not last long.  “Why not?  Don’t they ever question?  Don’t they ever ask?  I mean, I think by now they are justified.  ‘God, you sent an earthquake.  Now you sent a typhoon.  My children have drowned.  I mean, what the hell, God?!’”

One Tacloban Catholic priest, wet and sweaty after hauling bags of rice, was interviewed by a reporter.  Most reporting is in Tagalog, but I happened to catch this one in English.  I wish I could find the clip online but I cannot.  I paraphrase:

Priest: After this destruction, I had to question, ‘God, where are you?”
Reporter: What did you discover after your questioning?
Priest: I found the answer in prayer and faith.  This tragedy is not a punishment from God.  God loves us.

I try so hard to be sympathetic to belief in times of tragedy.  I understand that the people look to the Church as a source of strength when life is at its worst.  I try to see the food and shelter that is actively dispensed by the local Catholic parishes when disaster hits.  But I also know that the Catholic Church as no answers to these questions.  “Prayer” is not an answer to anything.  “Faith” is an admission of defeat. 

I understand that the Catholic Church has no answers to these tragedies beyond those invented by priests desperate to comfort their hurting parishioners.  “This is not a punishment from God,” they say apparently knowing the motivations of the Almighty, “this is a test to bring you closer to God.  Gain strength by reflecting on the suffering of Jesus.”  No Catholic believer ever gets an answer more substantial than this.  The Catholic Church has no answers.  They rely on symbols, rituals and iconography to give meaning to their community of believers.

I try so hard to understand.  But I also understand that the Catholic Church must put effort into keeping their parishioners as helpless, guilty, sinful and ignorant as they possibly can.  They invent the disease, then promote their imaginary cure.  Only the most delusional thanks this all powerful Creature for saving their lives after they have watched others crushed or drowned like caged rats.  Nobody dares blame this all powerful Deity for such death and destruction for fear of torture that never ends.  Nobody dares question their loving Creator for fear of their god, their priest and their community.  But it should be obvious to any of these people, if only they were allowed to think rationally and without fear, that if their god really exists, then He does not give a damn about any one of them.  Any god who allows this kind of death and destruction is not worthy of worship.  Anybody can see this.  Only fear and ignorant superstition can cause those who are shackled and beaten to continue to worship their prison torturer.   

To those who are suffering – you have every right to question, condemn and reject a Deity who claims to love you, yet tortures, destroys and kills you, your family and your friends on a whim.  Nobody prays to this Deity to make the typhoon retreat back to sea.  Nobody prays for the typhoon to miraculously and harmlessly disperse back into the atmosphere before it makes landfall.  Nobody does this because everybody knows that such prayers will do nothing.  Everybody knows that this Deity is powerless to save; He is only there to provide comfort after the destruction is over.  He is thoroughly impotent.  He is worshipped only after disaster has struck.  ‘Peace’ is not living content through the eye of the storm.  ‘Faith’, held at all costs, is not a virtue.  Only the most deluded, fearful and ignorant worships a loving Deity while standing alone among piles of storm strewn rubble and rotting corpses.

I do not like writing articles like this.  It is not tasteful to me.  It is too easy to point at harmful superstition when it is everywhere.  But in the months and years to come, as the Visayas region slowly recovers from these disasters, the shock of destruction will subside, and God will no longer be questioned.  The Catholic Church will again be viewed as a beacon of Faith among a sinful world, and a source of worship among the community.  My tolerance for the Catholic church ebbs and flows with my mood, and I confess that right now I do not have much tolerance left.  Eventually, my temporary hatred of the Catholic Church will subside.  But before I too forget, I want to post my frustration, my anger, my disgust of soul-sucking, parasitic superstition.  I do not write this because I hate the Catholic Church.  Far from it.  I write this because I love the Philippine people.


unkleE said...

Hi HiS, I wonder if you are open to an alternative view?

The horrors of this typhoon, and many other natural disasters, are obvious and distressing, especially to those who, like you, have relatives from there. As a christian, I can't comprehend this.

We don't need to think very hard to be both moved to compassion, even anger, and also to choose to do something to help. But if we are going to draw logical conclusions as you do, I suggest we need to be balanced.

Did you know that it is estimated that more than 300 million christians believe they have been the recipients of a miraculous intervention by God (mostly healings), or have observed such an intervention? Doubtless you will doubt that these alleged interventions were 'real', but suppose they were.

We then have two difficult facts to address, not just one. Yes, God didn't intervene while millions of people (over time) have suffered, but he did intervene to heal many, many millions.

How can we put such "facts" together? I don't know. But I do suggest it makes the picture a little different to the one you present.

I can well understand the "sick in the stomach" feeling of facing up to massive loss of life, but we shouldn't forget the other side of the matter.

Thanks for allowing me to comment.

... Zoe ~ said...

HIS: " Nobody prays to this Deity to make the typhoon retreat back to sea. Nobody prays for the typhoon to miraculously and harmlessly disperse back into the atmosphere before it makes landfall. Nobody does this because everybody knows that such prayers will do nothing."

This says it all HeIsSailing.

Thank you for writing.

HeIsSailing said...

unkleE, we had this conversation last year. I gave you my answer and the reasons for my answer HERE. I know this is terse, but I really do not want to have that conversation again.

unkleE said...

Hi, HiS, thanks for being frank. I will retire gracefully. Best wishes.

DoOrDoNot said...

Amen. This discussion of why people hold beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary makes me think of an interesting book I'm reading now called you are not so smart.

D'Ma said...

I don't know why, but your posts aren't showing up in my RSS feed so I've miss a few.

I wondered how the typhoon had affected your family there. Even though I don't know you or Rosemary personally you've been in my thoughts.

Well written, as always. When tragedy strikes we all want something bigger than us to pull us through and help us put the pieces back together when we feel like we just can't go on. In the end, though, it is just us who clears away the debris and puts one foot in front of the other.

HeIsSailing said...

DMA - I am not sure about that RSS feed. I am not internet savvy enough to quite know what that even means - but thanks for your concern. Rosemary's extended family suffered in the recent typhoon, but her immediate family is OK.