Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Ravages of Sinful Humanity

Following on from the ravages of nature, the people of New Orleans have been subjected to the wickedness and depravity of opportunists. The world has looked on in horror as the city, already plunged into chaos has so quickly declined into anarchy. Desperate to survive, some people abandoned all sense of civilization. Deprived of food, water and having had to live "like animals", some became less than human and behaved as such - raping, pillaging, looting.

It is troubling, this aftermath of a great natural disaster in the nation which deems itself the "Leader of the Free World". For all America's 'civilization', all it took was one natural disaster, to induce social chaos and anarchy. Even police abandoned their positions and selfishness reigned as people battled to survive, at the cost of others. Overnight, we saw "The Lord of the Flies" enacted on a city-wide scale.

Somehow, civility and social rules do not translate as a true transformation of the person. As such, the basic sinful impulses still control the person and as soon as an opportunity arises, the person breaks loose in acts of depravity. It matters not that these people come from a rich country, a powerful First World country with more education and opportunities than most... because they have not learned to live in Christ and be transformed by the Spirit, they are still prey to the dreadful ravages of sin! I cannot help but hear the words of St Paul: "While they claimed to be wise, in fact they were growing so stupid that they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an imitation, for the image of a mortal human being, or of birds, or animals, or crawling things... Since they would not consent to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to their unacceptable thoughts and indecent behaviour..." (Rom 1:22-23, 28).

Many of the degrading and unacceptable conditions described by the people of New Orleans, holed up in the Superdome, I have seen on a daily basis among the very poor in Manila. But there, among the poor and humble, in a nation struggling for economic recovery, I simply cannot imagine such anarchy and vile opportunism. Time and again, the Philippines has been struck by disaster, but they cope with hope and dignity in the face of adversity. Whole villages were wiped away by mudslides only a year ago but despite all the devastation and desperation, I never saw nor heard of victims attacking and violating other victims. People did not rape others, loot stores and attack the innocent - that is unthinkable in the Filipino milieu. That is a peaceable and a truly humane and civilized people who achieved a major revolution (against Marcos) without a single gunshot or shedding of blood. Sadly, this is not so in New Orleans...

So, civilization is not about wealth or what one has; it's about how we truly respect other human beings and live or suffer with dignity and principle. This basic principle of humanity is enunciated clearly in tomorrow's Sunday Liturgy, wherein St Paul exhorts the Romans to love one another: "Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law." Indeed, a theme of tomorrow's Liturgy could well be solidarity and unity among God's people. The terrifying display of anarchy in America, this aftermath of the hurricane, has served to reveal just how rotten the core of individualistic Western society is and how far we are from that Gospel vision... and thus, just how much it needs the healing and transforming grace of Christ.

Meanwhile, may I recommend Happy Catholic's round-up and links to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

ADDED ON 4 SEPT: I continue to pray for all the victims of this tragedy and all involved in relief, aid and recovery operations. This post is not a criticism of America at all, nor of its government. I wish to stress again, my sympathy and indeed, empathy for the people of America affected by these tragic events. I have always refrained from 'USA-bashing' and even 'Bush-bashing', no matter how tempted I may have been (particularly in the latter case).

Rather, this post is a musing on the issues of sin, grace, transformation in Christ, poverty and humanity, which touches each of us, as people of God. I think the anarchy that took place after the hurricane, shattered the illusion of civilization and the 'First World' and revealed (again) the sinfulness that still reigns in our hearts and societies. It also revealed the poverty that still exists even in the USA, an "uncomfortable truth" commented upon in The Times.

Or perhaps I am just reading too much into the situation?! Gen-X Revert has this basic piece of common -sense about the goings-on in New Orleans and it may well be that the disaster has only magnified the basic struggles of the human heart between 'good' and 'evil'...

Anyway, the ever-reliable Against the Grain blog has superlative round-ups on the news and views with regard to Hurricane Katrina and is well worth a visit.


Anonymous SMC said...

"has served to reveal just how rotten the core of individualistic Western society is"
Please, Paul, hasn't everyone done enough America bashing!
You DO NOT know the heart of the American people! They are very generous!
The situation in New Orleans is horrible, there is no doubt about it but contrary to what the world thinks, there are very poor, uneducated people in the USA, too. What has happened in New Orleans is not a "slice" of what the American people are all about. New Orleans hasn't exactly had a reputation for virtuous living, by the way! It has a lot of poverty, besides.
There are tons of American people giving aid, trying to help, offering their homes, offering goods, trying to help in any way they can. Is the media telling you this? No!
I have a friend in the Red Cross and she said that people MUST understand that although response WAS slow, it was in fact, VERY difficult to get into these ravaged towns and cities because of the severe flooding.
I'm sorry to be so strong in my response but I am tired of the constant vilification of the United States by the world and in particular by the Dominican Order. Contrary to what the Order tells us, America is not the "evil empire." (Direct quote from an article in IDI.)
YES, we agree that there are many things that need big fixing in the USA and while the situation in Iraq is one of them it is not the only one. The Right to Life, ethical issues, civil freedoms are others.
See America is a bit like the government in the Order. We can disagree with our President, our elected officials, etc. but we still respect them and the office they hold.
I saw so much good in the Filipino people when I was there in 2000. I really love your people. But I saw a corrupt government at all levels. I saw shoddy building and crumbling infrastructure because of corruption. I saw many rich not caring for the poor and not seeming to think that they have a responsibility to help them. I saw peoples working and living conditions that were horrible. However, I don't look on the Philippines has a evil nation. I don't think that the EDSA revolution and New Orleans can be accurate comparisons.
All I can say is that this terrible tragedy has brought me to the realization that should America suffer a serious attack or serious natural disasters we won't be able to count upon the rest of the world to help. Instead, they will clap their hands in glee, forgetting that not so long ago, this same country sacrificed thousands of young men to free them from tyranny!

12:19 am  
Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Thank you for your comment. I was afraid that about this post being misconstrued and I see my fears have come true...

You see, I don't think America is an evil nation. My mum, who lives in North Carolina, seems to love it... no nation is entirely good or evil just as few people are entirely one way or the other. Such caricatures are naive and inaccurate. I certainly don't wish to caricature the USA in any such way.

However, I am commenting on human nature, sin and the effect that an individualistic society may have on the human ability to grow in virtue and make good choices in adversity.

I am commenting on how a good education or a rich country (compared to the Philippines - which is just one of many nations and the one I know better than these other nations) does not necessarily translate into better moral values or humane responses to tragedy.

This is not intended to vilify or ignore all the good being done by Americans in New Orleans, nor the aid the country gives to the world order. That would be unfair and ignorant and I would not classify myself in either category. However, this is intended to ask pressing questions of how chaos and anarchy descended so quickly. It is a question that challenges the West (and I include myself in that category) to examine if its society is transformed by love and virtues and therefore truly civilized.

Poverty in New Orleans has been cited as a reason for opportunism and the looting etc. But I challenge that excuse by drawing a comparison to the poor Filipinos who suffer daily indignities and injustices (all accurately brought to the fore by you in your comment above) and would not dream of commiting such heinous an act as rape in such dire circumstances. There is solidarity there which the individualistic society lacks...

Nowhere have I commented on governments and I don't wish to do so. The focus is the human heart...

5:32 am  

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