Unanswerable Questions

murky waters
murky waters (Photo credit: freerangeart)

Last week, NPR reported about a Syrian town blockaded so effectively in an attempt to squelch the rebellion there that people are subsisting on olives, grape leaves, some pumpkin and mint.

“Up to about two months ago, those who sympathized with the plight of the people who are trapped in Moadhamiya would drive past the town and toss grocery bags out of their car windows in their direction. And often people would come out and take the bag, but it would be at great risk because snipers might shoot them. The government realized what was going on so it completely shut down that section of the highway.”

Later in the piece, the government justifies its actions by saying, in effect, “They did it first.”

Justification, indeed, for starving people to death, the guilty along with the innocent.

I felt a little nauseous when I turned the car off after that story. How can such incredible disregard for the human person exist in the world?

You can tell me that the Syrian government isn’t operating on the same moral standards as we are. You can insert gratuitous comment about Islam versus Christianity.

But over the centuries Christian entities have also laid siege to cities, starving the innocent alongside the offending party. And last week, in my state, a state senator–my state senator, in point of fact–asked the governor to consider funding a gas chamber, because as long as we have the death penalty, we have to be able to carry it out. Of course it never occurred to him that maybe he’s pursuing the wrong side of that equation, that maybe someone who claims to be prolife ought to be respecting all life, even that of the guilty. Since when did we develop divine wisdom, wisdom sufficient to decide who deserves to live or die?

I tell myself the world has always been ugly, filled with cruelty and disregard for the dignity of the human being. In Rome they fed people to animals. In revolutionary France they beheaded people. In Japan they were expected to kill themselves if they failed at a task.

For all that we consider ourselves enlightened/followers of Christ/fill-in-your-chosen-descriptor, we tolerate, even encourage, a lot of cruelty and ugliness. The situation in Washington, for crying out loud. Why do we keep sending these people back? Is our world and our governmental system so fatally flawed that it is irredeemable? Why is it that we spend so much energy teaching our children the value of sharing, compromise, love of enemy, only to turn around and pretend none of those things apply to us in adulthood? Do we think our concerns are so much more important, that such tactics are justified? How dare we call ourselves Christians, enlightened, or fill-in-your-descriptor, when we continue to flame people we don’t know from the safety of a computer screen, knowing we’ll never have to look the person we’ve just flamed in the eye? Does no one else’s conscience twinge when yelling at drivers who cause minor inconvenience? Does no one else recognize that name-calling and expletive-laden insult-hurling is at least as offensive to the dignity of others, not to mention the harmony of society, in adulthood as it is in a day care or an elementary school?

How do I explain all this to a child? How do I introduce him to the foul ugliness that is the systematic termination of an unborn child, or the termination of a murderer? How do I explain why things like massacres and starvation by blockade are allowed to happen?

Big questions. Too big for a Sunday night, or a Monday morning. I wish. I pray. But I don’t have much faith in anything changing. I cling to doing the best I can, and I tell myself “success is not the prize.” And I go on, because that’s all I can do.