Gretna, Justice, and God

Earlier this week, I turned on the radio and heard this NPR story about the bridge at Gretna.  My husband, who generally avoids the news as much as possible, hadn’t heard about this event before.  When the story was over, he looked at the handful of goldfish crackers that he had picked up, and discovered that he had turned them into goldfish dust from clenching his fists.

Rob at Big Monkey, Helpy Chalk faxed a letter to Mayor Ronnie Harris of Gretna, and Harris called him back.  Rob posted his transcript of their conversation.  It’s quite fascinating.

Rivka at Respectful of Otters suggests that cognitive dissonance leads some people to portray the victims of Katrina as bad people, who got what they deserved.  She writes:

Cognitive dissonance gets particularly ugly when reality collides with the just world hypothesis, the belief that "the world is an orderly, predictable, and just place, where people get what they deserve." Faced with tragedy, victimization, or injustice, just world believers have four options to reduce the cognitive dissonance: they can act quickly to help relieve the victim’s suffering (restoring the justice of the situation), minimize the harm done (making the tragedy a less severe blow to their beliefs), justify the suffering as somehow deserved (redefining the situation as just), or focus on a larger, more encompassing just outcome of the "poor people will receive their rewards in heaven" variety.

When the NPR story on Gretna ended, I said "And when they die, they shall go to the Pearly Gates.  And there will be a bridge to get there…."

Unfortunately, I don’t really believe in a heaven/hell where everyone gets their just deserts.  So I’m left believing that the only justice in the universe is that which we create.  And that’s often a pretty weak justice.

The usually funny WaiterRant got all philosophical in the aftermath of Katrina.  He quoted a pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed for his part in an attempt to assassinate Hitler, who said: “God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us.”

The Waiter’s take on this was:

"But within Bonhoeffer’s words lies a challenge. Since God doesn’t come down in a blizzard of special effects to bail us out – we have to help each other. We recognize the suffering of others and are moved to relieve it. We can’t coop ourselves up in our apartments, churches, and mosques wishing all the bad things will go away. There’s no room for childish magical thinking. We have to act. The rescuers of 9/11 and the Gulf Coast understood this without all the fancy theological reflection. Bonhoeffer would say when we help each other that is God helping us."

That sounds about right to me.

I’m trying to make Shabbat more a part of my life, and (at least for right now) that involves staying away from the computer.  See you Sunday.

5 Responses to “Gretna, Justice, and God”

  1. Phantom Scribbler Says:

    Shabbat shalom, Elizabeth! I hope you’ll post sometime about how you’re keeping Shabbat; I would be very interested to read it.
    (Going off to braid my challah now…)

  2. merseydotes Says:

    One thing I love about being an Episcopalian is the beauty of some of our prayers. “In peace, we pray to you Lord God…For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble.” It’s one thing to miss seeing the face of God in people in trouble who are far away from your daily life, but when they are literally standing at the gates of your city, crying out to be let in, you have to be a pretty hard-hearted arrogant bastard to miss that one.

  3. Maggie Says:

    Although raised a NYC Catholic (a very different breed, I’ve found), during my time in the Navy I had a lot of contact with members of various evangelical churches, some fundamentalist, some not. One of the recurring themes that I heard from these not-old-line Protestants that I found very striking was the deep belief that this world is a fallen world, and that the best that can be done in a fallen world is to ease the inevitable pain that will afflict those living in it (the “vale of tears” hypothesis, perhaps) while bringing to them hope in the form of belief in a heavenly world that comes next. Put another way: accept the evils of this world, because they are inevitable; assuage those evils as best you can; but realize that there is no way, in this fallen world, to prevent those evils from happening; therefore, belief in the next world is the only way to retain your hope while you live in this one.
    It seems to me that starting from the thesis of the vale of tears makes a person resigned to the status quo in some fundamental way.
    What spurred me to write about this – I think it’s interesting that the “fallen world hypothesis” brings folks to the same place that the “just world hypothesis + reality check” brings some folks, to the conclusion that there is no way to get justice in this world, so you might as well put your faith in the next.

  4. amy Says:

    Or in the strength of your gates.
    It struck me while listening to the NPR piece that it’s not possible to know what the hell was going on in Gretna without having been there. While I believe that the sheriff looked mad and that the decisions were cruel, my flake-o-meter went into the red while listening to the interviewee, and I don’t know how necessarily cruel the decisions might have been, given the limits of all involved.

  5. CGG Says:

    The whole situation just kind of makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve been following Gretna since the Socialist Worker first ran the story. What I want to know is why it’s taken so long for the mainstream media to run the story.

Leave a Reply

× 3 = three