Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Questions On God and Government
Grace Church With Broken Steeple, Slidell La
Evangelicals. People of Faith. Believers. They're everywhere down South, in Katrina's wake, the Christians. Baptists. Methodists. Presbyterians. Lutherans. Catholics. And more. Helping to clear yards, clean houses. Helping to feed people, shower them, clothe them, often with a beatific smile on their face while doing it. For every dark cloud there's a halo to be earned.
They come down in great convoys, and spill out of extended white Econovans, wearing matching bright t-shirts with hopeful slogans, and crisp tan Dockers, and new work boots. These new arrivals meet up with their local brothers and sisters, muddied and sweaty, already on the ground with a battle plan and a staging ground, and they all set forth like worker ants to fix the world one little bit at a time. It's very impressive, this show of giving, and solidarity, and it makes me feel a little safer that my people are in good hands....
I keep my eyes out for the governmental activity. The secular corollary. I see National Guard troops clearing roads with massive green machinery. I also see them efficiently handing out MREs, ice, water. These are very good things to see. But what I'm really looking, hoping for, is evidence of more personal effort. I want to see my government asking "How can I help you?" and "What do you need?" the way I saw the religious groups doing it.
But no. I mainly see the runaround. I see long lines and little help. I see their frustration with our frustration. I see a huge pile of our forced tax tithes being squandered. Not coldly, or calculatingly. Worse. Unthinkingly. Like a rich kid with a big allowance and no worries, clocking an easy part-time job just to look industrious.
Now, I'm an atheist. Free thinker. By our nature we tend to be individualists. We don't get together every week in a specially-built house and recite quotes from Darwin in unison. We don't sing songs together. We don't go in for matching uniforms. When we help people we don't ask them if they'd considered joining us in not believing in a higher power. In short, by our very nature, we don't have a strong collective voice, or muscle. We don't have the force and organization of the religious.
The closest we have to this is our government, and perhaps this is why it so pissed me off to see how ineffective it has become in recent years. Now, I don't want the religious to be less effective, less organized, I just want my government to be more effective, more organized. I want to know that when the shit hits the fan anywhere in the country, there are people working for us and with us, people who know what to do, who can coordinate relief. People who care, and have the tools to get the job done. But, no, we get incompetence and squabbling while the storm rages. Power struggles and finger pointing.
I see how effective the religious have been, and I see how useless the government's been. And this leaves me with a strange frustration, a feeling I'm torn in two, and nagging questions about the way this all mixes up, God and government. When I look at the bigger picture, I see that in the past few years it's been the religious that have largely taken control of the government, and I have to ask myself, is there some thread that helps connect these dots? Ascendant religion and diminished government. A turf battle. Do the religious feel that an effective secular government is a threat to them?
How can I reconcile my love for these people, my thanks at their massive personal efforts to help the survivors, with my nagging feeling that they are at least partially responsible for how badly hobbled government has become, and how that only served to exacerbate the disaster in the first place?
How can I resolve the idea that they are both helping greatly, and harming greatly? Is it possible for them to have a case of collective societal Munchausen's Syndrome?
No, I don't think it's that devious. I'm not saying they all intend to dismantle government, to neuter it, although a great number do, and not all of them religious. And I'm not saying any of them mean real harm in so doing. Far from it. I believe they are good, decent, loving people. But what I have to ask is, is it possible that, just as the atheists seem naturally incapable of collective private relief and action, is it possible that the religious have such a distaste for government, philosophically, that they can't help but render it ineffective when they control it? And that this ineffectiveness makes us all less safe in a thousand ways?
These are some of the questions I've been working on in the wake of Katrina. They're a tangled knot. A seemingly hopeless lot. But the answer feels important.
Posted by clayton cubitt at 6:00 AM