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Let Go of the Dream October 22, 2009

Posted by monty in news, religion, TV.
Tags: , , ,


For all of its failings as a serious news outlet, NBC’s The Today Show always provides me with at least one daily epiphany.  For instance, last week I realized just how far teenybopper music has fallen if Justin Bieber is now something worth squealing over.  The Beatles?  Of course.  Hanson?  I get it.  Hell, I could even understand – to a certain degree – the fervor over The Backstreet Boys.  But this little neutered homunculus?  Ten-year-old girls in this country really need to raise their standards.

Anyway, I often choose not to write about whatever caught my eye on Today simply because it would be silly for my primary inspiration to be a show that features Al Roker as a serious journalist.  But here’s the funny thing about Today: It does a hell of a good job at being populist – from its bite-sized headlines to its fan-friendly celebrity interviews to its cooking segments to the call-in portion of the show where people can pose their money questions to a battery of economist-type folks – and for that reason it seems to pretty accurately capture the “common man” vibe.

This is never truer than when the show features, almost daily, a kid who fell down a well or got a lawn dart stuck in his head or swallowed a bag of rubber bands.  It’s usually inane fluff, the very worst kind of “human interest” b.s. that epitomizes the non-news I wrote about last week.  But every so often there’ll be a story that gives me pause and makes me think about my life or society or The Big Picture™ or whatever.  Today it was the story of Mikey Czech, an 11-year-old kid who died of a brain tumor.

Sad as that story is, that’s not the thing that caught my eye-ear.  In interviewing the parents about the charitable work they’re doing to find a cure for this particularly deadly type of cancer, the host asked them if their son’s death had in any diminished their faith in God.  The wife was very forthright, stating that they were devout Catholics, but that she was still dealing with a lot of anger.  Her husband, on the other hand, offered up that tried and true Christian platitude that underscores exactly why I could never, not ever ever in a million years, be a good Christian: “It has a greater purpose.”

You’re kidding me, right?  Your son, eleven years old, dies of a tumor at the base of his brain, and it’s somehow comforting to think that God intended his death to be part of some great plan?  That kind of belief system is so foreign to me that I don’t know whether to ridicule it or grudgingly admire it.  To claim that your son’s death was part of God’s plan is to admit that God, at the very least, allowed your son to die.  If you want to take a really cynical perspective (which I’m not; I’m just saying), you could even claim that God caused your son to die.  After all, a plan is preordained, it’s thought out, it’s, well … planned. The components of a plan don’t happen by happenstance.  If it’s part of a plan – or serves a greater purpose, to use the father’s own words – it’s not an accident.

Disagree?  Let’s say I have a plan to, I don’t know, sell the best-tasting lemonade in the history of the universe.  This plan means I have to develop a business model, find a place from which to sell or distribute the lemonade, advertise my product, and, last but not least, actually produce the lemonade.  As part of this plan I find the ideal location for a storefront/manufacturing base.  It’s in an old – but still tenanted – apartment building.  The building would be cheap to buy (the owner’s fallen on hard times, property values have tanked, etc.), and because the neighborhood is just starting to show signs of gentrification, it would be in my best interests to snatch up this place for my new business venture before prices skyrocket.  The landlord needs to sell, I want to buy, and the transaction goes down.  The problem?  Oh, yeah.  There are still people in the apartment building.  Obviously I can’t effectively operate an efficient lemonade business with a bunch of deadbeats taking up the space, so, as their new landlord, I evict them.  I know some of them don’t really have anywhere to go, but why is that my problem?  I’ve got a plan to execute and, let’s face it, the world needs more lemonade and fewer welfare cases.  So some of them find new places to live, some move in with their parents (or their kids), some become homeless.  At least one of the homeless dies from malnutrition.  Bummer, right?  But my plan is humming right along.

I know it’s just a dopey example, but I hope it makes the point that the plan – formulated and enacted by me – caused misery and death.  But guess what?  All the misery and death served a greater purpose.  It allowed me to become a lemonade mogul!  Pretty sweet, eh?  And just think: this is an example of a plan where the misery and death weren’t even intentional parts of my plan.  They were just byproducts.  Happy accidents, if you will.

But okay.  To return to the Czech father’s belief that his son’s death serves a greater purpose, if God is, as advertised, all-powerful, why can’t the plan or the purpose be achieved without the death of a little kid?  Let’s give the Big Guy the benefit of the doubt and assume that the purpose for Mikey Czech’s death (the purpose his father is talking about) is for his parents to become philanthropists and start a foundation dedicated to curing brain cancer.  Surely there’s a better way to convince someone to find a cure for brain cancer than to strike down his son with a painful, inoperative tumor.  Is it churlish of me to point out that if God really wanted a cure for cancer he could just bloody well go ahead and cure it himself any time he wanted to?

I know, I know.  The father is searching for comfort, and he finds it, like many before him, in his faith.  But hearing him write off his son’s death as just a cog in the machine set in motion by the Man in the Clouds made me realize yet again that profound religious belief is simply beyond me.  I can’t subscribe to any belief system that justifies the cruel and painful death of a little kid as just being part of some mysterious plan – or some “greater purpose” – that we’re just supposed to trust exists.  I just can’t do it.

I don’t have – nor have I ever claimed to have – any answers or definitive stance about religion or the existence of God.  I try to have an open mind about it, and if I have any beliefs, they’re more in line with the Deists of the 18th and 19th Centuries (see Locke, Twain, Franklin, Paine, Jefferson, Voltaire, et. al.).  If there’s a God, he’s non-interventionist, the Switzerland of deities.  He got the ball rolling, but after that, things happen according to the laws of nature, and he keeps his all-powerful nose out of it.  Believing that way seems much more realistic to me, for instance, than believing that God killed Mikey Czech and allows Dick Cheney to flourish, or that he’s a big football fan who, according to some athletes, allows one team to score a bunch of touchdowns and trips up the other team behind the line of scrimmage.

In the end, it seems to me that Mikey Czech’s mother has every right to be angry.  I suspect, however, that she’s angry for all the wrong reasons.  My guess is that she’s angry at God for allowing her son to die.  It seems to me, though, that she should be angry at the religious establishment that has allowed (and encouraged) her to believe that prayer works.  I know it’s comforting to think that God’s got our back, but if history teaches us anything, it’s that when the serious shit goes down, we’re on our own.


Current listening:

David ziggy

David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars



1. thoreauly77 - October 22, 2009

say what you want there roberto, but god was right-on (!) when he detained polanski.

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