Friday, January 15, 2010

Bhatia's Atheological Haitian Suggestions (Where Is God in Haiti?)

(The banner is from the Livesay's blog. They are a missionary family living in Haiti. For all who want to help they say - do not come personally [especially if you are not a professional doctor or nurse], unless you speak Creole. But in general, send money, not people, because having more people around, esp. those who do not speak Creole, will mean more people to house and feed, etc.)

The recent nytimes op-ed by Poojah Bhatia suggests, implicitly, that Haitians are foolish to believe in God in the aftermath of the earthquake. Bhatia writes: "If God exists, he’s really got it in for Haiti. Haitians think so, too. Zed, a housekeeper in my apartment complex, said God was angry at sinners around the world, but especially in Haiti. Zed said the quake had fortified her faith, and that she understood it as divine retribution." Bhatia concludes: "Why, then, turn to a God who seems to be absent at best and vindictive at worst? Haitians don’t have other options. The country has a long legacy of repression and exploitation; international peacekeepers come and go; the earth no longer provides food; jobs almost don’t exist. Perhaps a God who hides is better than nothing."

My Haitian pastor-friends who are now in Haiti helping their people (if my friends are alive) have not lost their faith in God. Quite the opposite: they are mobilizing their rescue efforts around praying and placing their trust in God. Are they fools for doing so? To infer this is to degrade them. Bhatia seems to suggest that they only turn to God because "Haitians don't have other options," and if they did have "other options" what might those be? What if, in fact, there are no other options for all of us?

I think that is the case; viz., in the face of such disaster, humanity has no other option but to trust in God if one is looking for help. What about atheism as an option? Atheism is the worldview that tells us there are no options at all. Freud's atheism says that humanity creates civilization in order to protect us from one another and from natural disasters. But civilization cannot protect us from natural disasters. So humanity, acting on the basis of its "infantile prototype," "projects" an imaginary father onto the heavens and appeals to it. If we then add Freud's very low opinion of human nature to this, a solitary individual like "Zed" (above) has no options in her plight. (For Freud, humans are intrinsically evil; i.e. self-centered/narcissistic.) Both Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell acknowledged nature's inexorable, punishing onslaught against humanity. With that as a fact, what shall a person do? Nietzsche's option was to bow before "power," and finds such power-worship in pre-Socratic Greek culture. Russell's option was: be free in your own mind. Which, of course, will do nothing in the face of nature's ravages. Just don't bow before them. Why not be atheists and just love and care for one another? I do know that many Jesus-followers have planted themselves indigenously in Haiti and pray and love and work to effect systemic differences in the Haitian infrastructure. Is there such an atheist presence, long-term, in Haiti? I don't know. And I cannot help but think of a meeting I had with one of our local atheists. After talking with him for a few hours I invited him to serve with me in our community soup kitchen, which feeds seven nights week, between 70 -200 people per evening. He declined. He's far too busy laughing and "Christianity" and mocking religious people. I know all atheists aren't like like. This one is. The point: there has been a significant, long-term, systemic Christian presence in Haiti. They have been there and were there when the earhtquake went down and are now there, speaking Creole, helping their Haitian brothers and sisters,  most of whom are Christians. Can atheists claim the same?

Should Zed trust humanity? As Bhatia acknowledges, Haiti has "a long legacy of repression and exploitation; international peacekeepers come and go." What if there's a whole lot of "Christian humanity" out there in the world? Don't things them seem more promising? While there are real Jesus-followers who follow the Real Jesus and work to effect systemic change in the world's impoverished conditions, most Christians - at least in North America and Europe - are too self-absorbed, hoping to achieve their best life now. See, for more detail about this, Richard Stearns's phenomenal and troubling The Hole In Our Gospel.

Bhatia gives us no options, if not God. He admits that humanity hasn't systemically helped Haiti in the past. The "Haitis" of our world have always existed, now exist, and shall continue to exist, even existing within a few miles of you. Why think humanity will be of any real, systemic help in the future, even as the world currently runs to Haiti, as it should?

If I were one of my Haitian pastor-friends I would feel outraged at the kind of atheological suggestiveness in Bhatia-type thinking. I know, personally, that their faith in God runs so deep and is so securely rooted that even this current tragedy is not shaking it, but is rather driving them even more into the arms of the powerful, loving God they still believe in. To ask "Why turn to God?" is to take away their only, deeply-rooted, long-suffered (especially in Haiti), life-option. In the face of the problem of evil, if God does not exist, then realistic atheistic options (Freud, Nietzsche, Russell) provide "nothing" to turn to. As in, e.g., Julian Barnes's agnostic meditation Nothing To Be Frightened Of. Here underline the word "Nothing." Fundamentally, it seems evil for Bhatia to suggest to the Haitian people that perhaps God hates them, is hiding from them, is malevolent, or even nonexistent.

Can we question God? Can we ask, "Where are you, God?" We can, and we do. We see this in the Psalms. Today's nytimes quotes the blog of a Christian missionary family that lives in Haiti, the Livesays. They write:

"Sometimes life in Haiti leaves you wondering “Where are you God?” and other times we witness miracles with our own eyes. Living in that tension has forced us to see how much we need HIM and that we have a lot more growing to do. We are a work in progress - trying to make the love of Jesus known while learning to know Him better ourselves."

Needed: More Jesus-followers like the Livesays.

(Note: in the philosophy of religion, as in my MCCC philosophy of religion classes, we study the "problem of evil." Currently I have read N.T. Wright's Evil and the Justice of God, and am now reading through William Dembski's The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God In An Evil World.