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.
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.