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Paying Attention

By Carl S ~

For decades now, some numbers have become so common that they're not even thought about. These numbers are of vast quantity, like millions and billions, as in monies or populations. Often though, they refer to those of humanity who are starving or dying from disease, wars, and natural catastrophes. In reporting the numbers of human victims, as in explaining the number of stars in, and light-years of distance of space, the mind is overwhelmed by information very uncomfortable to its everyday concerns. Thus, the frequently cited “proofs for the lovingness of God” are in the remission of a friend's cancer, or the unexpected windfall of cash donated to one's church, etc. In short, a mind-set of “What is that to me in my neighborhood?” puts this worldwide suffering information into the far periphery of thoughts.

Our experience with religious believers exposed to the numbers of tragedies in this world is their response of, “I'll pray for them,” or “They're in the hands of God,” as if they believe that these are caring and adequate responses. They are used to the practice of mouthing that humans are all “children of God,” or that “All things work out in the end for good.” (And I have to force myself to keep from puking at those words.) Most of all, though, they're not paying attention. We are, after all, confronted with actual mind-bending numbers of people who are caring, loving, non-threatening, and everyday living, just like ourselves.

Not paying real, concentrated and thinking attention when confronted with the huge amount of suffering in the world, including that of animals, is tragedy enough. But in telling oneself and others that it's not all that bad since, “God has a plan,” to comfort oneself and others, is to that extent, just making stuff up, rather than facing reality and actually doing something. Judging by their responses when the evidence is in their own backyards, even believers don't really believe those things, do they?

Even believers don't really believe these things, do they? These reflections were re-awakened as a result of “breaking news” on CNN. “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the former dictator of Haiti, just died. At the time he was overthrown, he fled the country with four hundred million dollars belonging to a country whose inhabitants lived in dire poverty and disease. This news got me to thinking about Haiti (once again), with some of the highest AIDS cases in the world. Haiti, which in spite of billions of dollars donated to help the country, remains in extreme poverty, with ongoing diseases, ongoing recoveries from its last earthquake and former oppressive regimes. I asked my wife if Haiti is a Christian nation. She said she wasn't sure. She did say that the people there “practiced voodoo.” I said that some Christians do. Last I heard, Haiti is Roman Catholic. But Haitians pray, have been praying for decades, and obviously they too are not paying attention.

But, what really caught my attention came in a mailing the day before. Human Rights Watch sent their Sept. 2014 membership newsletter, with a Donor Spotlight profiling Professor Sam G. McFarland. In this it says, “Dr. McFarland launched an honors seminar on Understanding Human Rights and taught it for years,..., including the work of genocide scholar Rudolph Rummel, who estimated that by 1987, 169 million had died by genocide and other government-sanctioned killing during the twentieth century. Soldiers killed during war are not included. That estimate did not include the 800,000 to one million who died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, or the totals from later atrocities.”

Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman spent decades interpreting and translating scriptures, and still teaches at a college in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Why then, you might ask any believer, did he conclude the biblical God does not exist? What was the deciding factor, you might ask any Christian? But don't give the answer; see if that believer has any idea why. And leave it for him to ponder. The answer: Dr. Ehrman said it is because there is just Too Much Suffering in this World for there to exist a caring god.

So, if you are at a dining table in a home or in a restaurant and are asked to pray or participate in saying prayers to a “dear heavenly Father” before the meal and decline, and are asked why you won't, point out these facts to the protesters. They may mock you or offer some typical theological clap-trap, but ignore this, as they are not paying attention.

The numbers don't lie. Facts trump faiths. And those numbers do not account for the countless millions who have suffered and died and are still suffering and dying from preventable diseases and wars. Those numbers are victims: real people, innocent people, just like those sitting at the dining table. And there is no god who gives a damn. Otherwise, we wouldn't need a Human Rights Watch to begin with, right? If believers still believe in a caring deity, they're not paying attention.