Stupid Tsunami Quotes,

collected by Arthur Chrenkoff (thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer). Some real doozies there.

Blaming the Victims?

Here's what DeLay said at a congressional prayer breakfast that seemed to heavily focus on the tsunami; from what I've been told, this is pretty much all he said:

A reading of the Gospel, in Matthew 7:21 through 27.

Not every one who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven; but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?"

Then I will declare to them solemnly, "I never knew you: depart from me, you evil doers."

Everyone who listens to these words of mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man, who built his house on a rock:

The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, but it did not collapse; it has been set solidly on rock.

And everyone who listens to these words of mine, but does not act on them, will be like a fool who built his house on sand:

The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined.

Alan Colmes on Hannity & Colmes pointed this out last week, and the DemWatch blog did the same (thanks to Justin Sadowsky for the pointer).

I certainly have nothing against Congressmen quoting the Bible as such. Still, I wonder whether this verse was particularly suited to the occasion. It sounds to me — and perhaps I'm missing something — like blaming the innocent victims: If only they listened to Jesus's words, their house (literal and metaphorical) wouldn't have collapsed. In other contexts, quoting the verse (perhaps as an allegory, for instance when a person does suffer because of his own moral error) might make perfect sense. In this context, this seems quite troubling. Either DeLay's view is that indeed the tsunami victims were injured partly because they hadn't listened to Jesus's words; or if that's not his view, then he didn't seem to choose particularly apt words for the occasion.

Of course, DeLay might have been reminding his fellow Christians of the importance of listening to Jesus's words — let this event be a lesson to us, he might be saying, about the need to rely on God for protection. But wouldn't that still be blaming the victim? After all, if Christians can learn a lesson from this, the lesson presumably would be that they could avoid disaster by doing something that the disaster victims didn't do (accepting Jesus's words).

Now I realize that some people do sincerely believe either that (1) God exacts retribution against those who don't accept Jesus's words, or (2) the world is a dangerous place, and God gives special protection (including from natural disasters, though they are presumably at least indirectly God's doing) to those who accept Jesus's words. But people who don't share this view (like me) may look askance at political leaders who do blame the innocent victims of disasters this way.

UPDATE: Several readers suggested an alternative explanation; here's a good sample, from reader Mike McBride:

As someone who spent a good 10 years teaching bible study to students, and learning to interpret Biblical passages I don't think Delay was trying to blame the victims. The parable he quotes, as with many of the parables from the Gospels, is symbolic in nature. When Jesus talks about building a house on sand he's referring back to the first part of the quoted text. What he means is that trying to "work in His name" without knowing him and having faith in him is building your house on sand. Without that faith, it will not stand the test. But putting your faith in him, and following Him is building your house with a strong foundation. It is a metaphor He uses quite often, many parables include references to the foundation of your building and standing the test of the end-times. He is not speaking of a literal house or a literal flood.

I think DeLay's point was that we should have faith in God and nothing that happens on this Earth can take away the relationship we have with God, but he might have picked a better parable, that's for certain. :)

That surely is a plausible reading of the parable in many situations. Yet when it's said following an actual flood that actually destroyed people's houses, it sounds a bit more literal. After all, the problem of the tsunami victims -- and the breakfast was focused on the tsunami -- isn't that they were "trying to 'work in His name' without knowing him and having faith in him," and therefore failed in their works. They were just trying to live their lives, and along comes this flood that kills them or washes away their homes and livelihoods. And now DeLay seems to suggest that this is because they didn't listen to Jesus's words.

On the other hand, perhaps I wasn't paying enough attention to the introductory phrases. After all, the tsunami victims weren't prophesying in God's name, or driving out demons in His name, or doing mighty deeds in His name -- that introduction does seem to refer to people who are nominally believers in God as Jews and Christians understand him, but who do not actually heed God's words (unless there's some complex theological reference here to Muslims who claim to follow the God of the Old Testament but don't adhere to Christian teachings about how that is to be done). So perhaps in that context the material is indeed targeted to those who think of themselves as Christians but don't heed Jesus's words -- as reader Davis King suggests, using "a well-known passage frequently used in religious circles as a call to action and a condemnation of hypocrisy" -- rather than to those who aren't Christians and don't follow Jesus because of that.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Blaming the Victims?
  2. Stupid Tsunami Quotes,