I walked away from it because I lost faith in the belief that God could either cause or prevent hurricanes. In walking away, of course, I gave up the right to have anybody bless my body when I wind up strewn on whatever street fate has in store for me. You don’t get anything for free, not in this world. We need to look at both sides of this coin.
The people of Tacloban City believed in God. They still do. By all accounts, prayer is the only consolation they have. The government isn’t helping, food is in scarce supply, their homes are gone and the loved ones whose bodies they can find are rotting in the streets. The question of “How could God let this happen?” is secondary to the need to hang onto the last and only available straw when the stark reality of the human condition calls in its loan. Our priest has his work cut out for him.
We know what causes hurricanes, or typhoons as they’re called in the Pacific – weather systems caused by the blind interaction of heat and cold, at the beck and call of that damn butterfly flapping its wings, how much ice is melting at the north and/or south poles, currents running up against each other and millions of small and large events as removed from our control as the earth’s rotation around the sun, not to mention the pull of other planets on our own. We understand it, but we can’t do anything about it, and our success at predicting it well or soon enough to protect ourselves from its hazards can be clearly observed over a priest’s shoulder in the Philippines as he blesses his hundredth body of the day. The fact that our own use of fossil fuels may be making it worse is hardly comforting, and unlikely to cause any additional faith in the ability of our science to help us out of this.
Nothing can help us out of this.
What we chose to do about that is the ultimate human task. We can’t beat it, we have to learn how to live with it. We’ll get better at forecasting, we’ll start moving everything to higher ground – the value of beachfront property is going to take a serious hit in the decades to come. We may even start using cleaner forms of energy, if all else fails. But the storm doesn’t care. Only we can do that – the caring. In the same story I was talking about, a women from the parish was interviewed wearing the only piece of clothing she had, a red t-shirt stolen from a wrecked store by one of her neighbors when looting broke out. The uncaring storm vs. the generous thief - that’s the story, the whole story. We need to care for each other because the storm doesn’t. God has no wrath and less mercy. We’re the only ones capable of either.
When the storm waters recede to get ready for next time, you’ve got neighbors stealing for neighbors, doctors performing operations in a roofless bicycle shop, total strangers three thousand miles away pointing and clicking to send money for food, and a priest trying to keep the praying going because it’s all he’s got to offer. In its own way, it’s a victory, the only one really available to us. We’re better than the storm.
And if the priest dropped from exhaustion and there were still bodies to be blessed, and if I was there and he asked me to, I’d take his place in a second. I still know the words – Latin, English, take your pick. God doesn’t care. We do. And I wouldn’t be lying - just bluffing.
As are we all.