Thursday, August 27, 2009

Divine Justice?

Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist published this post today. It is regarding a statement made by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill regarding Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber who has recently been released from prison because he has prostate cancer and is not expected to live long.

Here is the controversial statement [emphasis mine]:

Scotland will forever remember the crime that has been perpetrated against
our people and those from many other lands. The pain and suffering will remain
forever. Some hurt can never heal. Some scars can never fade. Those who have
been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive.

Mr Al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one
that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is
terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.

So, is this just another I'm-a-theist-and-I-assume-you-are-too statement aimed at those who give their god credit for all, and ignoring those who do not relate to it? Or is it something worse? Is this statement benign, or is it deeply disrespectful?

I'm going to have to go with disrespectful. Implying that al-Megrahi's disease is some sort of punishment for his crimes disturbs me for a few reasons.

First, what about all the people currently and throughout history who have committed crimes that were as heinous or even more heinous than those of al-Megrahi, who have gone on to live long, healthy lives? Where is the divine justice there? Are the families and loved ones of the victims of these unpunished crimes to believe that God did not see fit to punish the guilty person? Nice.

Second, there are a staggering number of moral, productive, upstanding members of society who are stricken with terminal disease every day. They are given the same "death sentence" as al-Megrahi. Does this imply that these people are dealt this illness and suffering as a result of some divine justice that is beyond our comprehension? After all, God works in mysterious ways... What a horrible idea to impose upon the families and loved ones of the terminally ill!

I understand the spirit of what MacAskill was trying to say; he was expressing that the man is going to suffer and die, his suffering is not something the judicial system imposed upon him, and it will not make a great deal of difference whether he does this suffering in a prison or at home. I get that.

MacAskill's choice of words was poor, though. It was not simply a metaphor to be glossed over. In my opinion, it was potentially hurtful to a lot of people who are already hurting over undeserved and unbearable circumstances.

Powerful people should choose their words wisely.


AphroditeRising said...

SHIT HAPPENS! THEN YOU DIE! It's not because of a God(dess), it's because shit just happens.

Drives me crazy when people attribute so much, good OR bad, to a higher power's actions or will. Silly.

My mother, growing up, always joked that God was punishing me for something when something bad happened. She said it (half)jokingly, but still. Nothing like trying to get off in the shower and worrying about when you get out God was going to make you slip on the wet floor and crack your head open.

You are right on all points.

Lord Runolfr said...

So... when my father got prostate cancer (he got better, btw), what was he being punished for? It must surely have been as bad as bombing an airliner, right?

N said...

That's right, Lord Runolfr. He must have done something horrible, like look upon a woman with lust.

I wonder, though, was God punishing my father when he struck him dead at 48 of a heart attack, or was he punishing me, his 10 year old daughter, because in his omniscience he knew I would grow up to be a damned atheist?

Unrelated sidenote: my captcha is "sprem." That cracks me up. Because after all these years, I'm still 10.

N said...

Oh, and Aphrodite, if God was watching you in the shower, well, I don't blame him.


Lord Runolfr said...

For a similar level of insanity... this came from "Fundies Say The Darnedest Things", originally from "Rapture Ready"...

We had been concerned about our much-loved dog being cared for when we leave in the Rapture. Bailey was only seven and in good health when he just upped and died on us the other morning. He died quickly and peacefully with the family surrounding him, but when we started questioning why it happened (as we all do, even though it all ends with "blessed be the name of the Lord"), we remembered the rapture connection. Suddenly we felt like the rapture was going to be very soon and God was sparing us the worry.

It just seems weird that we've been praying for Bailey to have a long and healthy life and then he just drops dead!! Could be the devil just making us miserable, but God could've spared him, so since we believe it's God's will that he died, we don't want to get another dog. Hopefully and just maybe, we'll see Bailey again someday!! But, hmmm, get ready everyone!!

Yep... God killed her dog so that she wouldn't have to worry about leaving him behind when she was swept up in the Rapture.

The mind boggles.

Word Verification: causta

N said...

There is so much blog fodder in that story I can hardly contain myself. I'm so writing a post about that when I get home from work.