Breezy Point Theology

This photo from Queens has been circulating widely, showing the devastation caused by fires which broke out in Breezy Point during Hurricane Sandy:

The survival of the statue of Mary impressed some Catholics. But as you might expect, I think this illustrates the sort of thing which I blog about often, and which I was talking about with students in my “Faith, Doubt, and Reason” class yesterday: people often use theological language without thinking about the implications, assuming that any invocation of or expression of thanks to God is an appropriate expression of piety, when in fact, the opposite may be the case.

What sort of God would cause or allow a fire to run rampant, destroying 80-100 homes, and would interrvene not to save anyone’s house or belongings, but only a statue?

As we have seen in the case of recent statements by politicians, the statement “a baby is a gift from God” – which few would find objectionable if made to happy parents who had been hoping for a child and who were well poised to care for it – takes on sinister and disturbing overtones when said in the context of rape.

And we have not yet even mentioned the idea that a hurricane itself might be a blunt instrument with which God smacks more than a dozen states, just to send a warning to people not to vote for Romney. Or who floods Wall Street because of his anger at greed and the practice of usury.

Not all mentions of God are appropriate expressions of piety, are meaningful, or are theologically correct even within the framework of the one speaking the words. The mere mention of or giving thanks to God is not an expression of piety, if the result is that you depict God as a monster.

To paraphrase a warning sometimes given in relation to another topic altogether: If you use the word God, use it responsibly.

  • Simon Cozens

    I’m afraid my first thought on seeing that picture on your blog was: It takes more than a fire to destroy a weeping angel.

  • Michael MacConnell

    Petty stuff. Get another hobby.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-MacDonald/1043189517 Bob MacDonald

    What shall we say?
    Aleph
    אֵיכָה יָשְׁבָה
    רַבָּתִי עָם
    הָיְתָה כְּאַלְמָנָה
    רַבָּתִי בַגֹּויִם
    שָׂרָתִי בַּמְּדִינֹות
    הָיְתָה לָמַס ס
    Ah how solitary sits the city
    Filled with people she became as a widow
    Filled from the nations
    Princess among the provinces
    she came into forced service

  • Lavender

    This is a sign that we MUST have faith! Whoever you are writing this article, you sound like a bitter person!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Just as I recommended thinking and reflecting before speaking about God, I likewise recommend finding out who wrote something before commenting on what they wrote and referring to them as “Whoever you are…” It is precisely this sort of unwillingness to engage in basic reflection, thinking, and investigating that I was commenting on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.trotter.18 Rebecca Trotter

    I grew up Catholic and the ethos of Catholic thought is still pretty deep in me, although I am no longer Catholic. I think that Catholics are more open to and have a deeper understanding of the tragic than most Protestants. Their response to this is much more nuanced than the shallow “Praise God” you seem to be responding to here. For Catholics, the question of why God would allow such devastation isn’t so much as the fore-front. Catholicism tends to have a much stronger strain of fatalism in it than Protestant. Life is hard, unfair and often tragic. We don’t really have any reason or right to think that it ought to be different. It’s a reality to be embraced in order to learn what can be learned from it rather than a question to be wrestled with.

    There’s much less of an impulse to drive mystery out by trying to find the reason behind everything. God has reasons all his own. Or the reasons may not be God, but our enemy who makes war against humanity is clearly allowed a lot of latitude. But the Catholic response to this shouldn’t be seen as an attempt to deny or minimize the tragedy of what has happened. There’s just much less of an impulse to turn to slappy-happy denial of reality in Catholism than one finds in many Protestants.

    The point from the Catholic perspective is that even in the middle of tragedy, God (and Jesus and Mary or other saints) are still watching over us. We may feel unprotected, and physically speaking that may well be so. But the spiritual is primary. This statue standing in the midst of devastation is like an invitation to turn into God in the midst of tragedy. That no matter how bad or hopeless, God is still standing firm. I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with that perspective.

    • Gary

      On one front I agree. Absolute poverty in south and Central America follows Catholic doctrine. But then again, I see Mormon temples being built in the same places. Is this a reflection of belief in doctrine, or is it a clinging to desperation, as demonstrated by the devotion to buying lotto tickets in the same places? I’ve never seen poor people devoted to buying lotto tickets more than in South America. Escape of your current lot can exist in the Catholic Church, Mormon temple, or winning the lotto. I hate to be so negative, but maybe that is reality.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.trotter.18 Rebecca Trotter

        Actually, I agree. There’s not much in the way of empowerment in most Catholicism. It’s one of the reasons given for leaving the church by many people in poor areas. But I do find that a touch of fatalism provides some needed balance to the Protestant tendency towards can-do triumphalism.

  • Bill S

    This is all very amusing to an atheist. When you think about how the universe was formed something like 13 or 14 billion years ago, the planet earth some 4 billion years ago, the evolution of life and then of man. Wow.
    To think that the intelligence behind all this would somehow intervene to protect a statue in a hurricane and fire (forces of nature) seems a bit silly, don’t you think?
    Or does everything just happen by accident, with no rhyme or reason? Who knows?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=644337736 John Casey

    I see this as a divine sign that wood burns and concrete doesn’t.

  • CoolHandLNC

    When I first saw that photo, I was impressed with its poignant beauty. There is no miracle in the preservation of the statue. Brick, stone and concrete do not burn. But that depends considerably on your definition of miracle. The purpose of the statue of Mary was no doubt to remind the faithful of her presence and intercession in our daily lives, and she continues to do so in the midst of disaster and destruction. Now, I am not a Catholic, so I don’t view Mary in quite the same way. (I am kind of mid-church Episcopalian. We do sing the occasional anthem about Mary, but its complicated.) Nonetheless, I did see the photo as evocative of God’s presence in time of trouble.

    And that is a miracle.


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