Thoughts on New Orleans

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The events of the last week on the Gulf Coast have been a gradually unfolding, slow motion disaster. Every day appears to be worse, along with each new day causing the realization to sink in deeper — this is the kind of natural disaster that has not occurred in our nation within living memory. But in order to react properly, we have to process this properly. And toward that end, here are some initial thoughts. But these are offered with the recognition that just as New Orleans will take years to rebuild, so it will take years to begin to comprehend the nature and magnitude of what has actually happened there.

First Things First

This event is not the kind of thing that will be “over and done” in the foreseeable future. Because of this, we need to maintain the right priorities, and that means mercy first. When the Good Samaritan came across the guy who was beat up by the side of the road, that was not the time to raise questions about whose bad idea it was for him to come that way in the first place. Mercy first, and after that, a long term application of mercy can include assigning responsibilities, correcting mistakes, and learning what God is revealing to our nation in this. More about this later.

Practical Help

That said, Thursday morning our session of elders at Christ Church authorized the processing of gifts for hurricane relief. We will be processing these gifts and sending them to Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana, which has also established a relief fund there. In addition, we have received word that our denomination has established a relief effort in East Texas. More information about that critical and necessary effort can be found here. I would urge all Christians who read this to help as much as they can.

Spiritual Needs

After we established the fund, a young woman in our church (who had just moved here from New Orleans) emailed me to let me know that one of the pressing needs that many of the storm refugees had was their need for Bibles. And this is fully understandable. Men and women do not cease to have spiritual needs and questions in the midst of disaster. Rather those needs are accentuated. Once out of immediate danger, it is obvious that the fundamental questions of why, why me, why now, and why here are all going to be asked by many thousands of people. And many of these people will be looking for answers in Scripture. God’s providence is inscrutable, but at the same time we need to recognize that it is not absolutely inscrutable. He expects us to understand what we are called to do in this world, and we are supposed to be able to interpret the signs of the times. This does not mean that we have the capacity to interpret every last detail of every last circumstance, and it is hubris to try. But at the same time, the broad principles are obvious. So just as we chide the gobal warming anxiety-mongers for seizing this stupifying natural disaster as an opportunity to advance their own petty political misunderstandings, so Christians should be wary of doing the same thing on the theological front. “This happened because the New Orleans public schools did not allow for prayer.”

But the Broad Principles Are Obvious

New Orleans was well-known as a city of easy virtue, and the civic corruption in certain places there was notorious. But you cannot disregard the concept of virtue and duty when everything is peaceful and safe, and then magically summon them back when a crisis arises. A crisis always amplifies and reveals what you are — very rarely does it create what you are. Entirely apart from the question of why this happened to New Orleans, I am speaking here of the ability of the general populace and the local government to respond after the fact. If the civic government there was shot through with various forms of corruption (as it was in places), you cannot make all the corruption vanish instanter just because a Category-5 hurricane is bearing down on you.

Best and Worst

At the same time, it is not as though there has been no display of civic integrity, high profile courage and sacrifice. While it is one of the ironies of modern life that that we can usually get cameras and reporters to a disaster area before we can get relief there, this fact does have great revelatory power. And this disaster has shown us this as few other things could have. We have seen, through multiple cameras, the very best and worst. Courage, sacrifice, and duty have been on prominent display. Nurses, doctors, helicopter pilots, public officials, engineers, volunteers who drove across the country to help, and many more, have shown the high nobility that men and women are capable of. At the same time, the murders and rapes taking place among the refugees in the Superdome, the looting of big screen televisions, and the violence directed at rescue personnel, have shown us the mind-numbing spiritual stupidity that the human race is capable of. Neither picture is the whole story. The glass is half empty and half full.

Put the Race Card Away

In order to get out of this thing with some measure of racial dignity, somebody needs to do something to get certain “civil rights” spokesmen off the air. I have the Rev. Clowns Jackson and Sharpton in mind, but there have been others, gobbling up air time, making a bad situation worse. New Orleans is about seventy percent black, and what this hurriance did was wash up into public view the lives of America’s urban underclass, putting them on display in a concentrated form. That underclass in America is largely black, and in New Orleans it is almost all black. But this underclass has been the creation of the welfare state, a welfare state that finds its pathetic shills in men like Jackson and Sharpton.

But the fact that this does not have any necessary connection to race should be obvious. A recommended book here would be Life At the Bottom, by Theodore Dalrymple, a medical doctor in the UK. He nails it, and our architects of urban misery could learn a great deal from him. “Genetic or racial determinism is no better. It will come as a surprise to American readers, perhaps, to learn that the majority of the British underclass is white, and that it demonstrates all the social pathology as the black underclass in America — for very similar reasons, of course.” And the reason the underclass in America is overwhelmingly black can be laid squarely at the feet of statist do-gooders, guilty of GBGI, or Genocide By Good Intentions. In Britain, the same kind of statist do-gooders are destroying different people of a different color, but the destructive results are the same. Because of the peculiar policies of our suffocating statism, the underclass in America is basically black. But had a disaster of this magnitude hit a city like London, the television images of the looters there would have been very different.

Because the images of reprehensible behavior on television showed a striking racial disparity among those responsible, it became necessary to talk about it, or address it somehow. And so “civil rights” spokesmen, figuring the best defense is a good offense, got on the tube to begin accusing the media and others of bigotry and racism in the reporting, which of course is plain humbug. Returning to the earlier point that we should be concentrating on mercy right now, and not the politics of blaming, the plea here is to shut up about the race issue for the time being. But when we move on to the questions of long range mercy, we really need to learn what it is that our government has done to create this kind of wretched lifestyle for so many, and we need to call on our leaders to do something else.

But for the time being, we should not spend a lot of energy on the privilege of indirect criticism; these circumstances from the hand of God have given us many years of direct responsibility and first-hand opportunities for mercy, and more mercy.

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