Division problems

I started the morning crying my eyes out with Ellen Degeneres, who began her third talk show season today not with a flashy premiere filled with dancing and jokes and uber famous guests, but with a show dedicated to raising awareness, raising money, and raising consciousness. I’m not saying there was no laughter, but in Ellen’s own words, “Things have changed now. I can’t just pretend to do a normal show.” New Orleans is Ellen’s hometown and she has family there, and even if that were not true, Ellen is just that kind of person. She cares about humanity and she’s in a position to make a significant difference when needs arise–and she does so often. She gives, and she facilitates giving. She also makes us laugh and reminds us to dance, things we should do even in the face of terror and fear.

But then I logged on to the Net and read a few of my regular blogs, and the combination heartsick/hopeful/buoyed feeling I acquired during my hour with Ellen dissolved–no, erupted–into fury. In the fine print of a fellow blogger’s most recent post is a link to a story about a conservative Christian group that’s blaming Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath on a gay pride festival that was set to occur in New Orleans this past weekend. This is not a new outcry from the fundamentalists. Apparently last December’s tsunami was thanks to gays and premarital sex, and Jerry Falwell and his little friend Pat Robertson have been blaming Florida hurricanes on the sinful who reside in Miami and Key West for years. And let’s not even talk about all the reasons AIDS is an international crisis.

I have a question? If the Almighty is doling out punishment for sinful behavior–and not just a slap on the wrist, mind you, but life-altering, deadly devastation–why hasn’t Los Angeles fallen into the Pacific by now? And why is Washington, DC still on the map? And New York City, and Provincetown, MA, and Las Vegas? Wait, wait. I’m being narrow minded. If God is truly sending down destruction for sinners, not a single damn one of us should be left on the planet.

I believe there is a God. I believe that old hymn we used to sing in church: God is love. That’s the extent of my religious certainty at this point in my life; everything else is sort of gray and fuzzy. But I’m certain I don’t believe that a God who is the ultimate manifestation of love is in the business of wiping out entire populations and geographic regions as punishment for sin. If that were true we’d have to ask ourselves what those skeletal babies in Africa did to deserve starvation, or what thousands of children in Iraq did to be blown up by any number of military operations, or what kids in our own country do every day to warrant subjugation at the hands of sexual predators and abusive caretakers. And what of the now homeless in Louisiana who couldn’t evacuate because they had no car, no money for gas? Their only “crime” was poverty, so tell me Pastor Falwell, were they just in the wrong place at the wrong time?

The irony of this morning has not escaped me: some so-called Christians blame the gays for what is being called the worst disaster on American soil, and one of America’s most recognizable gay women weeps with the rest of us and then rolls up her sleeves and begins what I know will be a multi-million dollar aid campaign to help those who are affected, some of them her own flesh and blood. What Ellen remembers, and what many “Christians” often forget, is that we are all human. We are not Americans, whites, blacks, Christians, sinners or saints. We’re people. In spite of our differences we are basically the same: we hurt, we feel, we cry. And some of us need help right now. What we don’t need is an outcry of division from the very people who have the power and the voice to draw us all together. Shame on religious groups for attempting to point God’s finger. Shame on the likes of Kanye West and others who are making the relief debacle a racial issue. Shame on every single survivor who has said from the comfort of a living room recliner with the power to change the channel and make the ugliness go away, “It’s their own fault for not evacuating. They should have left when they had a chance.”

I’d say it’s time to start adding and multiplying in the shadow of this crisis. I’m not good at math, but I’m pretty sure division eventually leads to nothing, and that, to me, would be the most egregious sin of all.


3 thoughts on “Division problems

  1. I agree and I don’t agree. Ultimately, we are all human beings and it is as humans that people are suffering, but in our society it’s impossible to ignore the impact of race and class, whether in daily life or in disaster.

    It’s certainly oversimplifying to say that the entire reason for the mismanagement of the response and evacuation was racisim, but it definitely played a factor and we should not pretend otherwise. The divisions in our society already exist, and the only way to heal them is to confront the truth head on, acknowledge the pain, and work together to move beyond the past.

    Kanye West was intemperate in his remarks but there was a lot of truth to what he said, particularly in terms of the media characterizations of African Americans in New Orleans. The mainstream media has chosen the easy imagery – the gang banger, the thief, the welfare mama – and used it again and again and again.

    Robin of The Other Mother had a link to an eye-opening article on the role of race in New Orleans life before and after Katrina.

    Acknowledging the divisions doesn’t fix them, but avoiding them only makes them stronger.

  2. Amen sista! I am a Christian and I have been appalled at the finger pointing that has happened. By golly people, this is one of the worst natural disasters our country has seen since the 1906 earthquake that hit SF and the magnitude of that does not even come close to rivaling what is going on today. The Muslims claim it is our fault because we invaded Iraq, the Christians claim it was the sin and debauchery of NO, the Jews claim it was because we kicked them out of Gaza. When does it stop? When do we stand together and lend a helping hand instead of a push down?

    Shan

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