June 22nd, 2010

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

From Twitter 06-21-2010

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woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

Acts of God v. Acts of Men

Since both Governor Perry of Texas (R) , and former-governor-of-Alaska Sarah Palin (R) have mentioned God in the context of the oil spill, I've been interested in how they do it, and how that squares with a) Christian theology and b) Republican interest in "accountability."

Gov. Perry has called the blowout of the BP well "an act of God" for which BP isn't really responsible.  Previously, "acts of God" were considered things like blizzards, hurricanes, and earthquakes...big natural stuff humans couldn't predict or at least can't control.   Now Gov. Perry has decided that the failure of man-made equipment and human judgment and practice is "an act of God," thus absolving any humans involved from responsibility.   In order to think that, he would have to think that humans have no free will and are not responsible for any of their actions--and yet Gov. Perry is a staunch supporter of harsh judicial punishment for crimes he recognizes.   Don't fasten your seatbelt?  Pay a big fine.  But...through negligence and mismanagement poison cause the deaths of people, birds, turtles, fish, all the way down to diatoms...ruin beaches, ruin peoples' livelihood...boy, that's an act of God.  Go beat on his lawyers.  

Logic would suggest that if a 13 year old kid picked up on possession should be "held accountable" for his actions, that maybe an adult man, educated, wealthy, with every opportunity to sit back and consider the probable results of his decisions, should also be held accountable...and that if he's not--if you really think he has no responsibility for his acts--then the 13 year old is off the hook as well.   There are hints, in fact, in the Gospels, that Jesus was well aware of judicial systems that found ways to blame the poor for acts that they let slide with the rich.  "Unjust judges" for instance, get a mention.

If you consider that the blowout was literally an act of God,  you might think God had a reason--a purpose--in blowing out that well.  You might think, "Hmmm....maybe God is trying to say something about His attitude towards deep-ocean drilling?   Maybe God wants to create enough uproar to get it stopped.  Maybe God is sacrificing all those bird/fish/turtles/crabs/etc. to send a message...'Hey, Mankind...this ain't good.  Cut it out."   But Gov. Perry doesn't think that way, so he thinks "act of God" means "there's nobody to blame, nothing happened, go home and don't worry your pretty little heads about it."

Sarah Palin, though, just wants us to pray that God will fix it.  I really wonder about her mother.   My mother taught me that when I spilled something...it was my fault, not God's, and God was not in the business of cleaning up my messes.  That's what a sponge and soap and water were for.  Me wiping it up myself, because it was my mess.   God, I was informed as a child, had more important work to do in the world than cleaning up spilled milk (or cereal, or soup, or whatever.)   History would suggest that my mother was right.   When people make messes, either they clean it up, or it stays a mess.  God does not step in to uncrumple that bent fender, replace that broken window, clear the land mines from that field, or miraculously suck up oil spills.    If you believe that we are all God's children, then God is the kind of parent who says "Clean up your own mess and don't make another one."   You do see hints of this in the Gospels, too.  Jesus did not say "Pray for God to feed the hungry..."  Jesus said, "Feed the hungry."   He also said, "Ask and it will be given to you," but a mature reading of the whole body of the Gospels suggests that you'd better ask for what God wants to give...which is spiritual growth, not cookies...or cleaning up your messes.

And how does this square with the Republican determination to "hold people accountable?"   On what grounds do you "hold someone accountable" for breaking a window or "getting herself pregnant" and not hold someone--someone like, say, a governor or a CEO--accountable for bad decisions that lead to, for instance, that mess in the Gulf?   The Exxon Valdez mess.  The spoilation of mountains, the pollution of air and water?

I am not personally convinced that the tropical wave--probably soon to become a more organized bit of weather as it enters the Gulf in a day or so--was sent by God to complicate the existing mess.   But the chain of causation of any individual hurricane is hard to trace back to the actions of any particular humans.   So I wouldn't quibble about the use of the term "act of God" for storms or earthquakes. 

When it comes to obvious acts of Man, however--to equipment failures resulting from bad design, chosen to increase profits, and decisions both pre-and-post-blowout that have worsened the situation...those are human failures, Acts of Man, not in any way Acts of God.    Our mess.  Our responsibility to clean it up.  Our responsibility not to make another one.  If that means smacking BP's CEO upside the head with a dead fish from the Gulf until he gets it...well, beating up on people is a recognized Republican way of dealing with criminals.  I don't know why they don't jump on the accountability train and go after the perps.  (Well, actually, I do.  A lot of money has been spent, and is being spent, to ensure that they don't....but that's another point for another day.)