Preposterous Universe

Monday, January 10, 2005
Tom DeLay is right (or at least consistent)

From DemWatch, Atrios, Volokh, and a million other places, we hear about the uplifting piece of scripture that Tom DeLay chose to read at the Congressional Prayer Service on January 5th:
A reading of the Gospel, in Matthew 7:21 through 27.

Not every one who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven; but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?"

Then I will declare to them solemnly, "I never knew you: depart from me, you evil doers."

Everyone who listens to these words of mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man, who built his house on a rock:

The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, but it did not collapse; it has been set solidly on rock.

And everyone who listens to these words of mine, but does not act on them, will be like a fool who built his house on sand:

The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined.
The poor Congressman is taking some grief for his choice of text, due to what some perceive as insensitivity towards the victims of the actual tsunami that knocked down quite a few houses.

The problem seems to be that DeLay is blaming the victims for this terrible catastrophe -- if they had listened to Jesus, this never would have happened. I should point out that, well, that's because it's true, at least if you believe that God is in charge of the natural world. God (or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, I can't always keep track) could easily have prevented this disaster, but chose not to. And for an all-powerful being, it's hard to distinguish between "chose not to prevent" and "caused." So it would be equally legitimate (and less dependent on theological fine points) to say that DeLay's choice of text puts the blame squarely on God's shoulders, for having such a maliciously petty approach to being omnipotent.

On Morning Edition this morning, Barbara Bradley Hagerty spoke to representatives from various faiths about the meaning of this disaster in the light of God. I only heard snippets, but the commentators were at least admirably consistent, choosing not to weasel out of the obvious conclusion. The Muslim agreed that, yes, the fact that Allah chose to do this meant that there was some very good reason why those people had to suffer and die; we might not know what it is, but presumably they did something bad. The Protestant was more in the Enlightenment tradition of egocentric individuality, choosing to interpret the tsunami as God's way of telling him, personally, to shape up. Not a comforting thought to the actual victims, but at least intellectually honest.

Of course, it is also true that DeLay is an insensitive jerk. Just because his God is petulant and vindictive doesn't mean he has to rub it in our faces.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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