If ever a situation called for prayer, for solidarity with the victims, for a generous application of the principles of charity and almsgiving according to our individual means, this one does. And as I read news accounts and scrolled down to see comments from readers all over America, I was heartened to see that most people understand this, and that most left words of prayer, sympathy, compassion, and hope for the suffering people in the areas most affected by the earthquake and tsunami.
Most--but, alas, not all.
Everywhere I went to read about the disaster, I seemed to run into one nasty sort of commenting troll who embodies a "blame the victim" mentality. Japan, these comments went, is suffering this catastrophe because they deserve it.
Sadly, some of those who voice this minority viewpoint call themselves Christians. I think they are the type of Christian described thus by Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights: "He was, and is yet most likely, the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours." Such Curse-Flinging Christians have a tendency to see, in a devastation like the one on display in Japan, proof that God punishes with earthly sufferings only those people who are not His followers; Japan is a pagan nation, and therefore deserves this blow, in their small and wicked minds.
If you were to point out to a Curse-Flinging Christian that there are, indeed, Christians in Japan (albeit a small group), they will smugly contradict you. For a Curse-Flinging Christian there are only as many Christians on this earth as he can count when he attends services at the First Reformed Redeemed Bible Church of the Spirit, location downtown Oak Street in one entire half of the second floor of the old Woolworth's building, and who have received the only righteous baptism by toe-heel immersion, Pastor Chuck having painstakingly combed through the Bible to discern that this is the only way to do the thing properly. When the Curse-Flinging Christian shakes his head sadly over a tragedy, whether in Japan or New Zealand or Haiti, and says, "Too bad there weren't any Christian Believers there," he is saying exactly the same thing he would say if a similar disaster were to occur in Rome, or Paris, or New York, or San Francisco.
The funny thing about this--if any of if can really be called funny--is that the spiritual twin of the Curse-Flinging Christian, the other "blame the victim" message board poster, is in many ways a person who feels deep antipathy and loathing for the Curse-Flinging Christian, and would be horrified to discover how very alike he is to that person: the Radical Prophet of Environmental Doom.
The Radical Prophet of Environmental Doom has been showing up in comment threads to say, just as smugly as the Curse-Flinging Christian, that Japan deserves this disaster because of their habits of hunting whales, eating dolphins, building nuclear power plants, and committing other hideous sins against Gender-Neutral Parent Figure Nature (formerly, in a disturbingly patriarchal age, known as "Mother" Nature). Gaia, who is apparently quite the whimsical goddess, will smite overly consumptive nations again and again until they get the message; if Japan doesn't renounce technology, adopt China's one-child program, and otherwise stop using natural resources, they can expect more of the same in the future, according to the Prophet of Environmental Doom's small and wicked mind.
Just like the Curse-Flinging Christian, the Radical Prophet of Environmental Doom considers that the only people worthy of actually occupying this planet are the people in his fringe environmental group, which split off from a larger group when that group failed to condemn footwear, which split off from an even more mainstream group when that group failed to condemn electricity. He could probably give you a dozen names, more or less, of people he'd actually be willing to share the planet with--but all of that is subject to whether or not they are as deeply committed to the cause as he is.
Neither one of these people is even remotely close to what Christ Himself said about a smaller-scale disaster that occurred in His day:
At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.None of us knows the day or hour when we will die, or whether it will involve a large and devastating national tragedy or a small and private one. Death is tragic because sin is tragic; we die because our first parents sinned, and every one of us deserves suffering on a much worse scale than that we've seen in any tragedy.
He said to them in reply, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!" (Luke 13: 1-5)
And yet death no longer has the power over us it once did, provided we heed the message of that Gospel passage I quoted above: that we repent, turn to God, and take up our own crosses to follow Him. That is the message sent by Our Lady to Sister Agnes Sasagawa in Akita, Japan, a place not far from the earthquake's epicenter; Our Lady's third and final message to Sister Agnes was, in part:
"As I told you, if men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by My Son. Each day recite the prayers of the Rosary. With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and priests."
"The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres...churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.
"The demon will be especially implacable against souls consecrated to God. The thought of the loss of so many souls is the cause of my sadness. If sins increase in number and gravity, there will be no longer pardon for them."
Both the Curse-Flinging Christian and the Radical Prophet of Environmental Doom suffer from a similar affliction: the sin of pride, which keeps them from seeing that they are no less deserving of the suffering being experienced right now in Japan than any of us are. Instead of smugly congratulating God or Gaia for having the savvy to spare them, they, and all of us, ought to be beseeching God on our knees to help our Japanese brothers and sisters, and to spare not only them but all of us from further suffering.