I was driving home from work the other evening, and I noticed that up ahead on Interstate 81 traffic was slowing down. Just as this happened, coincidentally, my wife called me on the phone to tell me that there was an accident on the highway, as she had passed it on the way home minutes before. I told her she was too late trying to warn me, that I was stuck in the resulting traffic, but that, even though it was moving slowly, it was moving, so I should be home soon. Sure enough, within a few minutes, I was abreast of the accident. It was off the roadway on the right, but the traffic backup was caused by the numerous fire engines, EMS vehicles and police cars that had commandeered the right lane, forcing all traffic into the remaining lane. As I went by and rubber-necked a bit (come on, its human nature to be concerned) I noticed that the emergency personnel were in the process of trying to remove someone from the vehicle. It looked like they had to rip open the car to get him/her out, and they had a stretcher and an ambulance waiting to whisk him/her to the hospital. There must have been 20 men and women working at the scene. If I had been religious, I would have whispered a prayer of relief, but as it was, I still thought to myself that the little I knew meant that, at least, the person being extricated from the vehicle was still alive. Of course I thought…
…where was god?
Clearly, not close by, or even in the general vicinity. He had failed to use his magical powers to prevent the accident from happening, though I can hear those of a religious nature saying that it could have been worse, but for god. However, I was focused on the actual work being done to help. I saw a very organized team of men and women, people who had trained for just this situation, using equipment and knowledge purchased by the taxpayers, probably with the help of some charitable contributions to volunteer companies, doing exactly what they had probably dedicated a portion of their lives to doing – saving the lives of others.
Did god have anything to do with this, I asked myself, rhetorically?
No. Of course not. It could have been worse, truly, but not because of god. Aside from the fact that he doesn’t exist, (and please, no comments about the word “fact’) if no humans, fellow citizens of this accident victim, had taken the time to learn what to do in this situation, and had joined together with other humans to ensure the best result from the proper application of their training and equipment, this victim would have new initials.
Speaking of D.O.A., a terrible slew of twisters ripped through the Bible belt the other night, killing dozens of people, injuring more, destroying families along with millions of dollars in property, and generally causing many people to forget the Presidential primaries that were held in 24 states that day. The same class of people I saw on the highway mobilized to save those who could be saved and ameliorate the suffering of the injured and the ones who lost so much, and then proceeded with the process of cleaning up and rebuilding. Yes, a lot of people worked overtime, and a lot of people had their skills and training tested and stretched to the limits. People relied on other people, their friends, neighbors, family and total strangers, to assist them in their time of dire need.
But where was god?
This man thinks he knows:
“I think God was holding my leg, beating my ass, teaching me that I hadn’t been doing everything he wanted me to do,” he said.
Apparently he missed the real lesson in this tragedy, though it could have been the whiskey talking.
FEMA has been called out by our President, and will in due course provide assistance to the area. And what is FEMA? FEMA is people. People who are employed by the federal government to provide assistance to stricken areas of the US in times of emergency and catastrophe (New Orleans notwithstanding). People who have been trained, usually not only as an occupation, but as a vocation, to help other people in times of need. Human beings who know suffering when they see it, and do their damnedest to alleviate it. People who will go out of their way to make sure you don’t have to.
Human catastrophe brings out the best in people. To be more precise, human catastrophe brings out the human in people. Humans helping humans; empathetic, sympathetic humans, seeing themselves in other’s suffering, and being the best that human beings can be to one another. There is no god in that equation.
Even when it is religious people who form the responding parties of assistance, be it churches, Red Cross, whatever, those groups are composed of humans. When people need help, people respond. Not god.
There were the men who jumped into their four-wheel-drive vehicles to carry injured adults and crying children to main roads. There were teams of men with chain saws clearing roads and clambering through debris. And there were the 300 or so emergency personnel, many of them hit by the storm themselves, who responded to the vast disaster scene, oftentimes within 20 minutes.
“They were there so fast,” says Steve Gutierrez, a local builder. “A lot of these people live right here in town, and the response was immense.”
The odds are that there was a mish-mash of spiritual beliefs in those 300 or so emergency personnel, from fundamentalist, Baptists, Catholics, Hindu’s and even atheists. What they had in common was not some religious belief, but the human connection. They would have done the same thing in the same circumstances regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof.
To me, it’s supremely arrogant and nearsighted to posit a god who allows such horrible devastation to be visited upon the species he supposedly designed the world for, the one he created in his own image and loved the most, then claim that it was the same god that was responsible for cleaning up afterward, and for sparing the survivors! Why is that humans give no credit to themselves for the acts of unselfishness and heroism they rise to in times of crisis? Humanity is inherently good, and it’s times like the examples above that the proof shows up in the pudding. Yet religion has so denigrated the positive side of human nature, by postulating fictional explanations for the negative, such as sin and Satan, that we are unable to give or take credit for what we are.
We need to recognize something our ancestors figured out long ago – that we are on this planet alone, that there is no one out there keeping an eye on us, that we will be alright as long as we stick together. We need to remain confident in our abilities to take care of ourselves, and stop relying on a spiritual crutch to convince us that we can do exactly what we can do without it.
So where was god? Nowhere.