At 2:30 AM on Friday, I sat watching the TV, unable to turn it off and go to bed. Embers had been blown from a rapidly moving brush fire into a mobile home community in Sylmar, Ca., and now I was watching horrified as random homes in the densely populated park began to go up. As I watched, scared and frantic residents scrambled to get what few belongings they could and got out. The police and fire department, trying to prevent destruction were then quite literally chased out of the park by the relentless winds and roaring flames that eventually consumed the park.
By Saturday morning, the devastation was obvious in the light of day. The mobile home park, which had arching rows of 600 individual homes, now had but a small cluster of homes on one side still standing. Out of 600 homes, only 60 were able to be saved. Approximately 540 homes burned to the grund in this one park. The fire had started at 10:30 PM, after many residents had gone to bed. The winds were so furious that the fire spread rapidly, changing directions just to make the work of the firefighters that much more difficult. The fire and rescue crews had to bug out of the park, only to make a push back in once they got regrouped and developed a new strategy.
The poor residents were in high school gymns or staying with friends after their evacuation, and would regularly be treated to arial and ground views of what once were their homes. Now it looked like a war zone with very little but a foundation and some charred remains to show where each family once resided. Personal belongings were gone. Sadly, many pets perished, as the evacuation had to occur so fast. People barely had time to get themselves out.
I live in the city of Simi Valley, a community very familiar with the ravages of fire due to raging Santa Ana winds. This is why I was glued to my TV at 2:30 AM. I find that I cannot pull myself away from fire reports when they are so bad, because I want to know if I or my family or friends scattered throughout southern California may have to evacuate or need help. I think many in California do the same.
So it was that I was also still watching fire reports on Sunday, two days after this terrible event occured. As I watched the news they kept going to residents who had most likely lost everything as they waited in the HS gymn. Some people cried, some people laughed to keep from crying. To the point that I was getting frustrated with the reporters shoving microphones in these poor people's faces. Sadly, I knew that at some point someone was going to say it...it was inevitable.
A woman and her husband, in their early retirement years, were on camera as they peered over the park fence to see if their home was one of the few saved. They were excited and relieved, as their house was one of the few still standing. The reporter put the camera in her face, and the first words out of this woman's mouth were, "Somebody up there loves me!"
Now...for starters, I know that the poor woman had been through a nightmare, and I do not blame her for relief and joy at finding her home intact. In fact, I am very happy for her. I also am quite sure that she did not once consider the actual meaning of what she instinctively spouted the moment that she could.
I am not blaming her for her terrible comments...as she has heard survivors and athletes do this her whole life. Praising god for surviving. She honestly thought nothing of it. And that is where the logic...even couched in religious illogic all seems to slip away. I am going to pick on this woman, not because I think the fault is hers, but because I think she is a prime example of one of the many flaws of religious belief...and she just happened to inadvertantly prove it.
The problem here is to insinuate in any way shape of form that god helped, in light of the amount of random destruction that took place. In this case, this woman directly implied that her home was saved because god loved her. Which means god didn't love any of the other 540 families in the park? It also must be assumed that he loved the 60 families that were saved. If you see the remains of the park, you can see that the homes saved were all in one area...so all of the people in the park that god loved were all huddled together in one area. God let the fires sweep through the rest but saved this group because he loved them?
Whatever the case, this woman, in a fit of religious praise brought on by relief, really summed up the way christians view themselves in this world. In a world of random death and destruction...in a world where our number may come up at any minute...it is increasingly apparent that the praising of god in the wake of disasters is self serving and not indicitive of any kind of deity that has the labels loving, kind, just or merciful. Any time someone says this, it really just leads to a bunch of questions that I am sure many of those who are now homeless are asking. "Why me god? Did I offend you? Did you not hear my prayers?" And then have to hear someone who's house survived claiming god as the reason has now just slapped her neighbors...mostly christian...with a judgement that is almost unthinkable...that god loved her enough to save her home. The 540 other families who lost theirs were not good enough or faithful enough or whatever to receive his blessings? I am quite sure many of them were praying just as hard and earnestly.
In times of death and destruction I have found the religious to say some pretty revealing and, well, stupid things in light of what they claim to believe. They have problems with the contraditions that they cannot see in the doctrine of christianity. They are blind to these only because they refuse to question or even let their logical minds wander into those kinds of inquisitions into the doctrine. The creation of hell and the promise of any kind of eternal punishment completely contradicts any semblance of a loving, kind and merciful god. When the christian god, who has identified himself with the terms love and mercy then creates a place called hell, and describes it as a place for eternal punishment, he has now just contradicted who he claimed to be. There are no two ways about. If we are going to live for eternity...and god sent us here for what is a sliver that is unperceptible...and yet our actions here (complete with no clear path and hundreds of different interpretations of the bible, which is supposed to be perfect and from god) can cause us to be punished for the rest of eternity...well, there is no justice in that at all. Period. But this is how chrisitans view things...the good get rewarded for eternity, the bad get punished for eternity.
This irrationality about our status in the afterlife then gets projected right back into the daily lives of those chritians. There is a rewarded/punished view of all good and bad that happens. A person makes their flight, they thank god. A person survives a car crash, they thank god. A boxer beats the snot out of his opponant, he thanks god. If a person who survives a car crash believes they survived because god wanted to save them, well what is the assumtion then extended to those who perish in a car crash? Was the other boxer a sinner or did god have a bet in place? On the opposite side, they have actually listened to their leaders on television openly claiming preposterous things like "America was punished by god for being evil with the 9/11 bombings"...not to mention countless other minor punishments that continually get attributed to god. They begin to see good things means god's blessings, and bad things mean punishment.
When people utter their irrational thanks to god, they almost never see the implications of the corollary of their statements. The woman who claimed "Somebody up there loves me", never once stopped to think about what that means. That 540 of her neighbors, who have obviously lost far more than her as it turns out, were not loved by god. After all, if the reason her home was saved was simply because he loved her...well, either god has far less power than they claim (and so saved as much as he could...60 out of 600) or he just didn't love those others. What else can it be if god's love for one person saved a home amid all of those others being destroyed.
The truth is, the woman and 59 other families owed their homes to the firemen who rushed back into the park to save as many as they could, not god. There were no miracles...there was no divine intervention. There were fire crews who regrouped and pushed back in. Her home was saved because of it's location inside the park, that is obvious by the arial views of the park. Nothing special about her. The firemen didn't know or care who's house got saved...they wanted to save as many as they could. The firemen did not interview the residents to see who was faithful enough to have their houses saved, nor did their religion or spirituality matter. They saved the homes they could using their considerable talents and exhibiting their willingness to sacrifice for their fellow men. The determining factor was not god loving anyone, but the geography of the park and the logistics of the fire crews and the fire...and the technology, skills, heart and will of those firemen.