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Terror and tragedy have been so rife in the news lately, it’s enough to drive one mad. But what’s more maddening are some of the responses to these disasters. Read the online comments section after any calamitous news story — Boston, Texas, the ricin attacks, you name it — and what you will read is blame. That’s where our minds go, instantaneously. Something bad has happened. Someone must be blamed.

All too often, we let the blame fall widely, ludicrously. I’ve seen the Boston terror attacks blamed on Obama, on liberals, on Illuminati conspiracies. The Westboro Baptist “Church” (and yes, they deserve the ironic quotes) would have you believe that our own godless acceptance of gays is at fault. Enough already.

Even worse is the sport of blaming victims. In the wake of Steubenville, two young women (Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott) committed suicide after being raped and finding out their attackers took and distributed photos of the attacks. Read the comments sections related to their stories, and you will see the word “slut” featured prominently. There is a consensus among some of us that these girls got what they deserved because they drank too much alcohol and passed out at a party.

To these people I would like to say this: If a girl deserves to be raped because she passes out at a party, what then does a boy who passes out at a party deserve? What do you yourself deserve when you make a foolish mistake? Girls who drink too much are guilty of nothing more than youthful stupidity. Since when does that carry the death sentence?

More radically, I want to say this: No one deserves to have violence done to them. Even if I decide to strip naked and walk up and down the street carrying a sign that says, “Rape me,” I do not deserve to be raped. I might need to be taken to a mental health facility for intensive therapy, but I don’t deserve rape. No one does. If we judge others with narrow-minded harshness, what are we saying about ourselves? What happened to forgiveness, to mercy, to empathy? For a so-called Christian nation, we seem to have forgotten the very basics of Christian love and charity.

In the weeks ahead, a lot of blame is going to be bandied about. Let’s make sure not to rush to judgment. Let’s make sure we don’t dump our blame on whoever is convenient or politically expedient. Let’s not blame the victims.

We will need a sober head and a cool temperament to deal with all the evil that’s going down. Here’s hoping we remember that.

If I’ve learned anything during my years on this planet, it’s this: People just want to be heard. It’s a need more pressing than money or fame, though it has its hand in both. Money and fame grant the stature that accords recognition. But no matter what the means to an end, the end is the same: Here I am! Hear me!

Maybe I have a kind face; I don’t know, but people tend to talk to me: in checkout lines, parking lots, and public spaces. They tell me their stories. They don’t always need me to reciprocate, or even to validate…simply to listen.

I think many horrible tragedies might have been averted if only someone had listened to someone else. School shootings, for instance. Clearly, the shooters in these instances are trying to get people to listen to them, to understand something about them. Had someone encouraged them to bare their souls in advance, might things have gone differently? Maybe. Maybe not. No one can make someone else talk. And some people are in such pain (or delusion) that words no longer suffice. But you never know.

What I do know is that from online comment sections to newspaper opinion pages, people want their thoughts, feelings and experiences to be witnessed. Some just like the sound of their own voices (I’m looking at you, Internet trolls), others are angry about a particular issue. Some are crying out for understanding. And some (like the Westboro Baptist Church) still believe, toddler-like, that negative attention is better than no attention at all. But everybody wants to be heard.

We are quick to dismiss people whose opinions are not our own. Just write a blog post, and you’ll see what I mean. For every reasoned argument, there is an equal and opposite argument. Finding two people who agree on everything is less likely than finding a ruby in your Cracker Jacks box. But that doesn’t stop us from arguing, emoting, pontificating or just reaching out for a friendly ear.

I wish there were a place where anyone who wanted to be heard could say whatever he or she pleased and know that he (or she) had been well and truly heard. It might make the world a more peaceable place. Luckily, I know the very best listener there has ever been — God. You can ramble all you want, talk up a storm, and He will listen with patience and care. Only two problems present themselves: You can’t see God, and you can’t hear His response to you, at least not aurally.

This is where faith comes in. You just have to KNOW that He is listening. And you have to believe that if a response is needed, one will come. It may not be the response you want. Its arrival may not adhere to your desired timeframe. But it will come.

Unfortunately, this is also where the system breaks down. We are not a patient people. We want everything now. So, if you can’t wait, if you need an ear (albeit a fallible, human one) then find someone, anyone. There is, I promise, someone out there who will listen to you. Or just look for me in a parking lot or checkout line. I’ll be the one with the listening eyes. I promise I will do my best to hear you.

A question came up on my radio show the other day: Can atheists go to heaven? My vote? Yes, with a proviso: That they’ve lived good lives, been accepting of others and caring in their actions. To me, choosing to live a moral life is extra commendable in this particular situation because:
1) There are no religious strictures in their lives commanding such behavior.
2) They don’t believe there will be a reward for this behavior. Yet they choose it anyway.

I know a few atheists, and they are good people. Their choice not to believe in a higher power stems from a whole host of reasons — from trust issues to a reliance on pure logic to the quite just realization of the havoc religion and religious people can cause in the world. Let’s face it. Any sane person who looks at groups like the Westboro Baptist Church really should think, “If that’s religion, I want no part of it.”

I understand them. I wish they had the gift of faith in their lives because it brings such peace, but if they don’t want it, I understand. And I don’t think it bars them from heaven. Because God understands them, too. And He sees how they behave. And isn’t that the true indicator? They will know we are Christians by our love — by what we do, not just what we believe in our hearts.

No one knows what heaven will be like. We will all be surprised in some way. The beliefs we held on earth will almost certainly be challenged or shattered or laid before us in a new light. I don’t think atheists will be those most shocked by the afterlife. No, that honor will go to folks like Fred Phelps’ tribe. It’s gonna be hotter than you imagine, guys. A lot hotter.




Have a Mary Little Christmas

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