Blaming the victims

The news from Haiti was bad enough. Then came the report of the statement from “Christian” leader and television program host Pat Robertson. His premise was that the earthquake was the result of a “pact with devil” perpetrated many decades before. The result of that pact, according to Robertson, is God many decades later chooses to kill thousands of innocent people who never were part of that supposed pact, without warning and in torturous ways for so many.

I was indignant at the very thought of a recognized (by some) Christian saying such an outrageous and monstrous thing. Like his similar proclamation after Hurricane Katrina he again blames the victims of a natural disaster and proclaims God as the author of the devastation.  I found myself harrumphing about his ignorance, chauvinism, and theological shortcomings. I was in a really good fit of righteous anger.

Don’t blame the victims – there was plenty of blame to go around to others. The government of Haiti might be culpable for allowing such shoddy construction of hotels, schools and public buildings; politicians might be blamed for the corruption which encouraged a system that encouraged greed and graft resulting in poor construction and lack of infrastructure; the industrial nations of the world might well be responsible for the unfair distribution of wealth that allows an impoverished nation to barely subsist with vast numbers living in inadequate and dangerous conditions even before the eartquake hit. The United States might be to blame for our political stance in the 19th and 20th century that kept this island nation marginalized. Capitalism might be to blame for the transience of jobs based on minimal labor costs going first to Haiti and then a couple of years later quickly leaving Haiti and on to the next offshore low bidder stranding thousands living in cities with no employment, and the nation with no economic power to pull Haiti out of the economic pit. Lots of blame…

Then it hit me. Robertson was blaming the victims. But who was I blaming? If one were to look at my beliefs and assumptions from God’s perspective would my thinking based on my pet peeves, my biases, prejudices, and be less glaring than Robertson’s? Am I not projecting onto God through my righteos anger my theology, my philosophy and my political and economic beliefs? It is an all too human propensity to project upon God our own thoughts, prejudices, expectations and desires.

Most of us begin as simply interested in knowing the cause yet always end up needing to assign blame. We know an earthquake is caused by shifting tectonic plates of the earth’s crust. Simply knowing the cause does not seem to be enough for us. We want to answer the question – who is to blame for the tragedy?

Either I can look at this situation to see whom to blame or I can look at the responses to this horrific tragedy in Haiti to see whom to praise.  Only when I am focused on what has worked, what was good and life-giving, what is needed more in the midst of the disaster, am I able to see how to do my small part to assist and to encourage the work to achieve more of what is good, positive and praiseworthy in the months and years ahead.

To figure out whom to blame costs me nothing, and does little good as it continues to focus on that which we cannot change. When we recognize, constructively support and work towards a positive life-giving outcome in the future are we become part of the solution. And in that, not blame, there is Good News.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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1 Response to Blaming the victims

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