I sometimes wonder if, like people of color, homosexuals, or other groups acutely self-conscious of their oppression, that as an infidel I have more acute tendency to view the world through metaphysical lenses. Perhaps that hardly needs to be stated to any regular visitor to these pages. But, heck, they are my pages, and I gotta be me.* And some stuff just strikes me as really stupid; especially when people go spouting off about “God’s will.”
Like this, President Obama pontificating at his appearance at Moore, Oklahoma tornado devastation site: “The Book of Isaiah says, ‘And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind,’ . . . it reminds us that God has a plan and we are an instrument of his will.”** Excuse me, but who elected this guy “Pastor-in-Chief?” Could we have a little separation of church and state from the constitutional lawyer?
Does this highly-educated man, the President of the United States, arguably the most powerful man in the world, realize just how colossally stupid such as statement sounds to anyone who is not a member of the incident-stunned, credulous immediate audience or the religious-right zombies watching on television to whom he is (still!) pandering with this less than sincere religiosity?
We can remember the hubris of Mr. Obama’s predecessor who truly seemed to believe that his election to (and not theft of) the Oval Office was divinely ordained. Could Mr. Obama be possibly suggesting something similar by allowing that he is reminded that “God has a plan and we are an instrument of his will”? Let us give him the benefit of the doubt for a moment and assume that he was not employing the royal “We” because it is sufficient to question him on the matter of just how he comes by the knowledge that “God has a plan.”
“God has a plan,” and things that happen are “the will of God,” we hear from a good many clerical and secular mouths.*** It’s total bullshit of course; there is no way of even knowing ifthere is a God, much less if that God has a plan and that he micromanages the universe with his will. Such Biblical blather reflects, of course, in simplest terms that human need to assign some meaning and direction to existence. But at the same time, it is riddled with contradictions. If indeed, we all in God’s “plan,” and fulfilling his “will,” then our human existence is pretty much meaningless, as such statements really mean we are little more than set pieces being divinely maneuvered under the illusion of free will.
Not that we exercise any logical consistency in holding such beliefs and at the same time having to deal with the realities of human existence. If the terrorist, or the mass murderer is operating under the same divine plan, then how are they, and not God, culpable for such crimes. For that matter, does not the religious fundamentalist terrorist invoke the will of his divinity as justification. This is as we know, in the philosophy of metaphysics the vexing “problem of evil” when we give God authorship for everything that happens.
But when we are existentially shell-shocked (sort of a metaphysical PTSD) by planes flying into buildings or tornados and tsunamis, we tend to apply a corollary to Pascal’s edged bet: disasters happen and, if we believe that God has a meddlesome hand in everything that happens then we have to accept them as part of some plan whose purposes are beyond or ken; then we can either curse God (and possibly piss him off) for selecting us to suffer under his “plan” or bow down and worship the boss (sort of a metaphysical “Stockholm Syndrome”).****
So why is the president pronouncing that a destructive meteorological event is somehow an instrument of God’s plan? First, he has seen this drill enough times to know how he has to play it. Aside from the fact that such explanations make for good politics in that particular ideological neck of the American woods, isn’t that we just cannot abide more logical explanations. Would the president get any points if he said that the fate of Moore, Oklahoma was just “bad luck”? It certainly would not do to remind us that the consequences could owe to injudicious land-use planning (as this particular area has a history of being in what is called “tornado Alley”); or the result of the lack of application of appropriate building codes, which might have required the installation of storm sewers or other structural safety measures; or, in that there had been warnings by forecasters beginning a few days before the event that tornadoes were probable, a lack of good judgment on the part of people and public officials to remain in its path.
Putting it all on the divine plan has its advantages. It’s a comforting “grand delusion.” A survivor thanks God for his survival; the victim plays his Pascal card; for him it is a Hobson’s choice he sees no comfort in not accepting. So, it seems that God gets credit for anything good that happens to us, but gets a pass on the fact that there is death and destruction in the world he has created, and that even the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, accepts that it is part of his plan. Even the President of the United States is not going to gainsay Godzwilla.
If the President’s little scriptural “explainer” did not satisfy me, maybe the answer might lie elsewhere on my television.
A Note on The Magic Philosophy of Happenstance:
On the same day that I listened to the president’s little sermon, on another channel, a sports channel I spent a few minutes listening to a discussion by former pro basketball players of a blatant foul that had taken place in a previous evening’s playoff game. The players could not agree whether the follows blatant, although the videotape that was played several times, and from several angles, showed an elbow being delivered viciously to another player’s head. I was about to leave the channel when former basketball star “Magic” Johnson held forth on the matter and said that it was not a follow at all, just something that “happened.” “These things happen in basketball,” he went on, topologically, “it just was something that happened.” Apparently, Johnson’s world is one of non-causality, where stuff just happens, and players elbows find their ways to opponents heads in some fuzzy universe of random coincidence. One wonders, whether Johnson, who had to retire from his career owing to the HIV infection he had acquired from some groupee on a road trip, explained to his wife that the acquisition his serious, communicable condition was something that “just happened.” Yeah, sure.
There, but for the grace of Godzwilla (?), go I . . .
Oh, and to save anyone the trouble, please do not respond catechistically to remind me that God(zwilla) created us to “Know love and serve Him in this world and be with Him in he next.” We got a few other things to do in this world than recover the bodies of gunned-down and drowned kids from our schools.
© 2013, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 5.30.2013)
*Actually, I think I am too much of a dilettante to even unconsciously slip into becoming a singular brand; I will never be able to escape my urbanist’s eye, affliction of wanderlust, or the sinister lean of my politics.
**NPR, “Powerful Tornado Struck Moore, Oklahoma, 1 Week Ago” Morning Edition, 05.27.2013
***Like saying “shit happens” only it’s “holy shit.”
****I never dared broach such concerns in my Theology and Metaphysics classes in college—we had 24 credit hours of that stuff, and pissing off your profs (almost always as Jesuit) could result in a “C” lousing up your GPA and chances for grad school. Best to play along with the grand deception.