April 21, 2007
Where Was God?

Terrible events, like Monday's shootings at Virginia Tech, bring up questions like "Where was God?" The more general question is something like "If God is all-powerful, and God is (and desires) good, then why is there evil?" One of the better discussions of this question I've read was in a column written this week by Don Crawford because of the Virginia Tech shootings. That article is good despite saying Tuesday rather than Monday.

Of course, the answer the article gives is from the Christian perspective. The answers from at least some other religions are different.

From reading in Experiencing the World's Religions just this week, for example, I understand that the Jain answer is that there is no god, and the earth just is. So this question doesn't occur.

Islam has an equally simple answer -- what happened at Virginia Tech was the will of Allah. Muslim philosophy has been governed since the middle of the ninth century by Asharite doctring and al-Ghazali’s teaching Allah's unlimited power, expressed in the view that each instant exists as is does entirely because Allah wills it so.

Obviously, I prefer the Christian answer, but I think there's more to it,too. The whole issue brought to my mind an essay by Bill Whittle called "Tribes" that I ran across right after Hurricane Katrina, a little more than 18 months ago. (I used some ideas from this essay in discussing Hurricane Katrina.) Whittle's tribes are not characterized by black and white skins, but by the black and white hats the tribe's members choose (by their choices and viewpoints) to wear. To avoid unconscious overtones, he tags these tribes as the Pinks and the Greys. The Pinks just want to be left alone, feel that everyone is really much like them, and feel that any conflict can be resolved if we just understand the other side's issues. This has as a corollary that, if something bad happens, somebody made it happen. The Greys would also rather be left alone. But they also know that bad things sometimes happen, even without a malicious agency. Putting it in engineering terms, they know that "things break sometimes," and feel "please don't let it be my bridge." And the Greys know one more thing that the Pinks don't, or won't -- they know that an enemy exists that wants to destroy both Pinks and Greys. (Whittle does not give the enemy a tribe or a color.)

Whittle mixes metaphors a little to relate his tribes to the Loony Toons cartoon characters -- sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves -- featured in the introduction to The Bulletproof Mind by LtCol (Ret.) Dave Grossman, whose related essay "On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs" was reprinted a few days ago. (Update: The imagery apparently goes back to a lecture to the United States Naval Academy by William J. Bennett in November 1997, referred to more recently in a letter on the proposed memorial to Medal of Honor winner Marine Col. Greg Boyington.) The sheep are the Pinks, the sheepdogs are the Greys, and the wolves are the enemy. When the wolves are actually in the flock and attacking, they fill the sheep with terror. The rest of the time, though, the sheep would rather believe wolves don't exist. The sheepdogs, when the sheep recognize them, make the sheep uncomfortable -- they are a reminder that evil exists. And some sheepdogs are always recognizable. Others, like the shaggy cartoon sheepdog, may be taken by sheep as other sheep, and so pass unnoticed -- until the wolves arrive.

And so we come back to Virginia Tech. With a wolf loose in the fold, a few people showed their grey. The heroism of Holocaust survivor Professor Liviu Librescu was outstanding, and he paid for his heroism with his life. (Update: So was that of Waleed Mohammed Shaalan, who distracted the shooter's attention from another injured student at the cost of his own life.) The grey of others was less obvious, and less deadly, like that of student Derek O'Dell. And others, like the student sitting next to O'Dell in class, never got the chance to show their color, pink or grey. There are other grey stories we may never know, in some cases possibly because the sheepdog was unsuccessful in stopping the wolf. After all, there's nothing that says the sheepdog always wins. But what's undeniable is that there are people alive today who would not be alive were it not for the protective actions of these individuals.

Note that these were not recognized protectors, recognized Greys. These were what we might call "undercover Greys" -- apparent Pinks who stepped up when they were needed, and helped save others' lives.

In a way, maybe that's an answer (though perhaps not one we'd hope for) to the original question: Perhaps it's as I was taught, that God usually works through people. And in this case the people he was working through are the ones who showed their grey.

Recommended: Read the Crawford article, the Whittle essay, the Grossman reprint, and the Boyington Memorial letter. You'll be glad you did.

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