Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thank God!

The other day at work one of my coworkers was talking about some news article (which I really, really can't be bothered to look up) about a little girl in Haiti who was found in the wreckage a week or more after the earthquake, "miraculously" alive. Now, this is very nice for this girl and whatever members of her family survived, of course. But this coworker was reacting to this news with a kind of God-is-good, all is well in the world beatific happiness, and it made me sick. If this coworker's inner monologue were honest and candid, I imagine it would go something like this: "Thank God there was an earthquake so this little girl could survive it and I could feel good about her surviving it!"

Whenever I see a survivor of some American disaster bleating about how, sure, everyone they know has died, and they're now homeless, but God must have been watching out for them! They are truly blessed!, it makes me think of Stockholm syndrome. Stories like this (and like the current cover of People, featuring a "heartwarming survival stories" banner right above "Jennifer Aniston: Five Years After Brad!") are a kind of extroverted version, a Stockholm syndrome-by-proxy.

(Despite the repeated mentions, by the way, my intention is not to ridicule a religious response to disaster, which, you know, whatever helps.)


Unknown said...

I dislike stories like those for a slightly different reason - it implies the dead were less worthy. People do it with cancer too. You read that Barbara Einreich article right?

Ethan said...

Oh yeah, that was a good article. Though she sometimes has a bit too much of the attitude of "I don't need religion, so you're stupid you find any value in it," which I can't stand, she tends to write enough good stuff to make up for it.

Yeah, I hate that aspect of it, too, and when you combine it with the use of these stories as feel-good human interest, it gets even worse. A disaster like the Haiti earthquake becomes just an object we can use to have our hearts warmed. Which, as usual, is exactly the opposite of the reaction it seems like we should be having.