Saturday, March 03, 2007

Yes Virginia, Godless Liberals DO Have Moral Dilemmas

I watched the unfolding mess as tornadoes ripped through the southern US and I have to confess to having to struggle between my own better nature and a huge case of schadenfreude. For the families who lost loved ones my better nature is winning, no one "deserves" a fate like that. In the case of a few others, schadenfreude is winning.

Anyone else remember Alabama State Senator Hank Erwin? I haven't been able to get him out of my head the last few days. See, back in 2005 just shortly after hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans the good senator was quick to publicly condemn New Orleans and made it clear the people of New Orleans "deserved" their fate, in his view it was "God's judgement".

From his 9/28/05 appearance on MSNBC's Scarborough Country:

I am joined right now by Alabama State Senator Hank Erwin.
Senator, thank you for being with me tonight. You—you...

HANK ERWIN ®, ALABAMA STATE SENATOR: Joe, good to see you.

SCARBOROUGH: You have said a lot of things that have shocked a lot of people. Explain to me why you think that Katrina was God‘s wrath.

ERWIN: Well, I think, if you look at what‘s going on, this whole region has always known that, with the church, that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are known for sin.

And if you go to a church and you read your Bible, you are always told avoid sin and that there‘s judgment for sin. And I just think that, in my analysis—and I can‘t speak for everybody, but I believe that, if you look at the factors, that you had a city that was known for sin—the signature of New Orleans is the French Quarter, Bourbon Street. It is known for sin. And you have a Bible that says God will judge sin, you can put two and two together and say, it may not be the judgment of God, but it sure looks like the footprint.

So, I just told my friends, in an opinion, I think it could be the judgment of God on the Gulf Coast and on New Orleans. And I would urge the good folks that are the innocent victims to rally and rebuild that city and get a new signature.

SCARBOROUGH: And you wrote this—quote—“New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast have always been known for gambling, sin and wickedness.”


SCARBOROUGH: “It‘s the kind of behavior that ultimately brings the judgment of God. Why were we surprised when, finally, the hand of judgment fell?”

I have got to ask you this, Senator. I was on the ground in Mississippi. We certainly saw the pictures out of Louisiana. I saw young children, 15-month-old babies, who were suffering. I saw, in New Orleans, young children. I mean, you look on TV, you see young babies dying on the sidewalk of heat exhaustion. Certainly, these babies aren‘t sinful, are they? Should they be made to pay for the sins of tourists from Florida that go over and gamble in New Orleans and Biloxi?

ERWIN: Well, I think you need to understand that, whenever—wherever sin goes, the sins of a few can affect the innocence of many.

And I think that you are seeing also along the Gulf Coast, as well as in the neighbors of our good state of Mississippi, a lot of innocent people that were affected by this hurricane. And that‘s the tragedy of sin, is that you never sin alone. You always affect other people. And we have had a lot of innocent people who have been hurt. Here in Birmingham...

SCARBOROUGH: But, you know, Senator—you know, Senator, though, I mean, the thing about the New Orleans—the New Orleans storm is that it was the French Quarter that seemed to be spared of devastation.

ERWIN: Well, I understand that, and I think the lord sent them a message that we need to turn around or we may have another hurricane come.

And I just think the people who have been going in there, the church people have been going into the French Quarter for years, appealing for the people to turn around and get back right with God. So, I think the message needs to go even stronger, please turn around, so we never have to go through this again.

As anyone who knows me would expect I was furious so I wrote to Senator Erwin. I don't recall the exact text of the entire letter but I do recall that along with telling him that his words were reprehensible for anyone and much more so coming from an elected representative of the people I also told him that if there were a God, he could rest assured that God would not look very favorably upon him either. I also said it would most surely suck when one of these days, the shoe was on the other foot.

Damn, this week the shoe was on the other foot. How does it feel Senator?

Now anyone coming from some saner corner of the world might assume that after making such hateful and callous comments on national television the senator's political career would be finished. Surely no one in their right mind would ever vote for such a person again now would they?

Think again, they sure enough did. Voted him right back in in 2006.

So there it is folks. While my heart goes out to the people who lost friends and family, my sympathy is tempered by the fact that when others suffered a similar tragedy the much touted milk of Christian kindness was nowhere to be seen. No, in fact your elected leaders were all too pleased to blame the victims and bask in their own self-righteousness. Rather than condemning them for it, you re-elected them. I'm just not really feeling your pain much.

I know that's harsh, I'm not particularly pleased with myself for feeling this way but it's honest. It's how you've made me and probably a lot of others feel as well. I'm struggling to feel sympathy but also questioning if I even have any ethical reason to feel I should help nourish a viper in my country's bosom.


Flimsy Sanity said...

I always say we made a mistake not letting the south secede. When you think of the eight times Strom Thurmond was re-elected, you just have to shake your head and mutter under your breath. Sounds like this is another case of a typical citizen getting elected in the Bible belt. New Orleans is a little more progressive so it is hated by the neighbors.

This is off-topic, but once while I was in Texas, I mentioned something about the Bible Belt and a good old boy said, "Maam, you are at the buckle". Unrelated, but it makes me laugh.

Just My Thoughts said...

I too find it hard to have any sympathy for the plight of these people.
It looks to me like the fundamentalists have sympathy only for those who believe as they do.
If one does not then "God" is punishing you.
OOPs people in Alabama...ya'll must have messed up, cause "God" just hammered your asses hard.
Must be a whole pile of "Sinners" there huh? Especially looking at the damage.

Vigilante said...

This world is immense and the universe is infinite, and I don't know where to 'game the blame', but I do not feel that people deserve their fate. A few minutes ago, I was walking with an Aussie who told me that one farmer was committing suicide a week, and thousands of heads of cattle were being shot because of the horrendous drought. One wishes that God would sub the Hank Erwins of this world to sub for them, if nothing else could be done.

RJ Adams said...

In medieval England "Fool" used to be a term for a clown. In 21st century America, it's a synonym for "politician". The pity is that "God's wrath" didn't take out Alabama State Senator Hank Erwin.

Not Your Mama said...

The pity is that "God's wrath" didn't take out Alabama State Senator Hank Erwin.

Big amen on that. No matter how anyone tries to explain things like this to me I cannot find any reason or excuse for someone like this to be holding public office and no excuse for the people who vote them in.

It does explain how we ended up with the administration we have though. I can almost hear the squeals that are going to start when the reality of what we've done starts to come back on us.

Flimsy Sanity: I wish we had, now we're fighting this sort of attitude all over the country.

TomCat said...

This reminds me of an old Jerry Falwell 'prophecy' that a hurricane would hit Orlando as God's retribution for Disney World's policy to tolerate gay people. The next hurricane hit Falls Church, VA., the location of Falwell's HQ.

I have to hand it to God. She has a sense of humor.

Women on the Verge said...

Yes, She does!!


the WIZARD, fkap said...

I lived and suffered through Hurricane Katrina. Here in Mississippi we felt the "wrath of god" or the "awesome power of Mother Nature" at her strongest. It was a humbling event to watch the world around you crumble and be powerless to protect your family and friends.

Within 24 hours of the destruction the "Conservative Christian Churches" were here... from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Texas... and Alabama. Even though FEMA couldn't get a truck within a thousand miles and The Red Cross was MIA (frankly I can't say enough bad things about the Red Cross, but that is another story), The Salvation Army was here with food, blankets, shelter and organization. They saved lives and gave hope.

There was no task the churches were unwilling to undertake. No problem too great. I watched volunteers from hundreds or thousands of miles away leave jobs, homes, families and safety to give aid and comfort. No one was ever asked their religion. No one refused aid because of the color of their skin or sexual orientation.

And guess what, they are still here. Many churches are still sending workers and teams to rebuild homes, schools and fellow churches. As John Edwards has very correctly pointed out, 90% of the reconstruction that has been done was done by private groups (and virtually all those "groups" are churches).

You all know I'm not a Christian. I'm a "secular humanist" member of the Unitarian Church.

But the generalized condemnation I'm reading here about Conservative Christians is unwarranted. I'll say a little "humanist prayer" of thanks to the thousands of Christians who rushed to my aid and the aid of my fellow Southerners.

Not Your Mama said...

Yes, a lot of churches did put themselves out there after Katrina. They damn well ought to since they were a large part of the voting blocks that led to at least some of the disaster ie: the lack of funding for the levee.

Compounding the problem were the social and economic problems that already existed in New Orleans prior to Katrina. No side gets a pass on that, everyone chose to ignore it.

It was also interesting to note that the relief workers, both volunteer and professional, were in many cases afraid of the very people they were there to help.

Some fear may have been justified, the point is, if there exists within our borders an entire city full of people we have reason to be fearful of...does that not indicate a serious underlying breakdown that we have failed to address?

Not Your Mama said...

But the generalized condemnation I'm reading here about Conservative Christians is unwarranted.

No, I don't think so, not at all.

There are undoubtedly some very good-hearted people in conservative churches just as there are some selfish, self-serving asstards in the secular world boils down to the way the majority of them vote and use their bully pulpit to attempt to dictate public policy. It's warranted.

It is not unfair to say that a large percentage of the people who voted Erwin in are "conservative Christians". The same can be said of those who foisted George Dubya upon us. Had they voted for someone sane and with a brain they would likely not have been as desperately needed post-Katrina. They're like the deranged nurse who creates a medical crises so she can rush in and play the hero.

I do condemn them and I will continue to condemn them as long as they continue to try and legislate from the pulpit and muck up my country.

Bill Gnade said...

Dear Not Your Mama,

Vigilante invited me to read this post of yours, and I am glad he did. I appreciate your passion, and I sympathize with your disgust.

But I am not sure, exactly, what you are upset with. Are you upset that God judges people, or are you upset that someone says God judges people? If there is a God, is He/She judgmental at all?

All this, I know you know, is very complicated. I believe that Vigilante said it perfectly (above); and I believe that any sort of answer to the issue you raise would have to be reached only after much struggle.

If we were to strictly look at biblical prophecy, it is clear that warnings of judgment, and calls for repentance, always PRECEDE a calamity, curse, invasion, or natural disaster brought upon the recalcitrant by God's fiat. In biblical terms, the judged almost always know they have been judged because THEY HAD BEEN WARNED that wrath was on the way.

But this is not the sort of thing we see with Mr. Erwin. Mr. Erwin's remarks are ex post facto, after the fact, and thus do not resemble the biblical model at all: there was no warning. In this, then, it can be concluded (though with some compassion on Mr. Erwin's ignorance), that Mr. Erwin was being cruel. If Mr. Erwin were to stand up tomorrow and pronounce that if New Orleans' citizens do not kneel before God by Good Friday they will be squashed on Holy Saturday by a giant gallstone: and should his prophecy in fact come true, one might begin to think there was more to Mr. Erwin than misplaced zeal. But as it stands right now, Mr. Erwin -- who nevertheless COULD be right -- comes across, at best, as unfeeling.

Alas, I did not know anything about Mr. Erwin's remarks after Katrina. Had I heard of them, I no doubt would have blogged against him. As it is, I did blog a lot about New Orleans, but even more about prophecy. I wonder if you have any entries here dealing with New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin's claim that God was punishing America with "hurricane after hurricane after hurricane" because of America's involvement in Iraq? Did you write anything about that? (If you are interested in my take on Mr. Nagin, read More On Prophecy: Punishing America In New Orleans. As you must know, it is not merely conservatives who invoke God or prophecy in search of the causes of disaster. You might also find interesting -- I am guessing -- my critique of prophecy in the strictly religious sense within certain evangelical circles, vis-รก-vis the claims of Pat Robertson. See my The Problem Of Prophets: The Amazing Maze for one attempt at making sense of all this.)

I also think Wizard (above) is on to something: The churches by and large have been an indispensable part of the recovery of New Orleans. You, of course, believe that they should be involved, since you deem them culpable for having elected George Bush. That this is somewhat unfair is clear, for if your argument carries any force, then it could also be said that New Orleans is the fault of Democrats for their inability to elect a decent candidate over what every Republican believes is the weakest presidential contender -- Mr. Bush -- that the party has ever put forward. If Republicans are to blame for electing Bush, are not Democrats to blame for not presenting voters with something better than the insipid Al Gore or John Kerry?

But please don't take this the wrong way. I am not here to challenge you, but to find some middle ground. We both agree on the fact that much of this sort of quasi-religious, quasi-prophetic language is hurtful and confusing. Perhaps that point of agreement will lead us to others. Who knows?

I purposely waited several days to reply to this post so that you would not think I was trying to pull readers away from your blog. I am merely here because of Vigilante's invitation, and, in all honesty, I am glad that he did invite me, for you seem a thoroughly decent soul.

May you have a blessed life,


Not Your Mama said...

But I am not sure, exactly, what you are upset with.

Mainly that people keep voting for nasty, hypocritical excuses for human beings.

I wonder if you have any entries here dealing with New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin's claim that God was punishing America with "hurricane after hurricane after hurricane" because of America's involvement in Iraq?

Ray Nagin is another hypocritical, nasty, lying fool. I hadn't adressed him specifically or George Dubya either for that matter, on this subject but I hold a lot of people to blame on both sides. I'm also on record for not being at all pleased about the re-election of William Jefferson. Rotten eggs should be thrown out.

See this thread if you'd like details re: Katrina:

If Republicans are to blame for electing Bush, are not Democrats to blame for not presenting voters with something better than the insipid Al Gore or John Kerry?

Yes they are. I get "in the soup" on a nearly daily basis for lambasting my own side. That was one of the things I raised a ruckus about in the past.

I don't go ballistic over differing viewpoints that have ANY kind of rational or logical basis, it's really not a problem so no apology needed.

I'm actually about a half step away from having no party at all and just emigrating. If it reaches the point I have NO ONE I can vote for in good conscience, what other choice do I have?

I don't expect candidates to be perfect or even role models for virtuous behaviour but I do expect them to hold themselves to at least the same standards of conduct I'd expect from a co-worker or neighbor.

Vigilante said...

No, NY Mama.

Fewer questions appall me more than this one:

"If Republicans are to blame for electing Bush, are not Democrats to blame for not presenting voters with something better than the insipid Al Gore or John Kerry?"

Politics is not entertainment or sports. It used to be mistaken as such. Now, after the advent of the un-American and alien political mutant commonly known as George Bush, there is no walking across the arena at the 50-yard line, and shaking hands to congratulating the 'winner' or commiserating with the 'loser'. The American people, the American cause, and the American idea lost the last two presidential elections. Democrats are no more blameworthy than Republicans or - for that matter - the casual and inattentive American voter, who couldn't - somehow - divine the critical differences between Bush and his more qualified opponents. Instead of blaming Democrats, Bill should apologize to the American people his myopic political analysis.

Not Your Mama said...

I think I see what you're saying here Vigilante and I don't totally disagree.

I do think either or both were qualified for the position, definitely more so than the thing we ended up with.

The problem is both, and Kerry in particular, failed to address many issues that concern the "average voter". More importantly, people were just not "feeling them". Now in my perfect world, the average voter would be a lot smarter but this is not my perfect world and it is the one I have to contend with.

Given that scenario I think it behooves the party leadership and activists to, to put it in very simple terms, "get a clue". We lost "middle america" because we forgot who it was. With 2 years to go, I see us already in danger of doing it again.

Vigilante said...

Well, NY Mama, if you're pushing Richardson I'll be respectful. He's got unbelievable international experience. But he doesn't come close to the Charisma I'm looking for.

Not Your Mama said...

True enough, Obama is the superstar in that department. I'm not opposed to Obama though I have more reservations. Mostly to do with some of his stances on economic issues and I confess to some uneasiness with all the "Jesus talk" (but I understand it plays well in Peoria). I actually had an eye on him several years back before he became a household name.

Now, if we're talking about "charisma" as it relates to "star power" in dealings with people and governments outside the US...Richardson wins that one hands down. Obama may develop same but no way to know that yet.

My dream duo would be a Richardson-Obama ticket.