Friday, May 8, 2009

Who's to blame? (John 9)

There's an old Pollock[1] joke: "How do you drive a Pollock crazy? Put him in a round room, and tell him to sit in the corner." In an ideal world, pi would be exactly equal to three. It is the discrepancies in life that can drive a thinking man crazy. Those things that just don't add up.

And not just people. B. F. Skinner discovered how to induce superstitions in pigeons. After training his birds to peck at a button in order to acquire a food pellet, he started dropping pellets in at random intervals. The pigeons would rejoice, then reflect. What were they doing at the moment the pellet dropped in? Could they get another pellet by repeating that action? After a while, each pigeon would be performing some random act -- looking to one side, perhaps, or standing on one foot -- from time to time, in the hope of manipulating inscrutable providence. To quote Olaf Stapledon's memorable phrase,
But their passion for order and for a systematic reality behind the disorderly appearances, rendered their reasoning all too often biased. Upon shifty foundations they balanced ingenious ladders to reach the stars.
Thornton Wilder's book The Bridge of San Luis Rey described one monk's effort to turn theology into an exact science, by assigning numeric weights to the lives of a group of people who died when a bridge collapsed.

For us humans, the hardest pill to swallow is the mystery of suffering. What caused this disaster to happen to that person? What can I do to avoid his fate? As an American rabbi Harold Kushner asked in a book of that title, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? The Book of Job (Ayub) is, perhaps, the oldest book in the Bible. A righteous man loses everything. Three friends show up to commiserate[2] with him -- but then start a game of "pin the blame on the victim."

Consider the reflexive question asked by our Lord's disciples, and his completely unexpected answer:
Joh 9:1 İsa yolda giderken doğuştan kör bir adam gördü. Joh 9:2 Öğrencileri İsa'ya, "Rabbî, kim günah işledi de bu adam kör doğdu? Kendisi mi, yoksa annesi babası mı?" diye sordular. Joh 9:3 İsa şu yanıtı verdi: "Ne kendisi, ne de annesi babası günah işledi. Tanrı'nın işleri onun yaşamında görülsün diye kör doğdu. Joh 9:4 Beni gönderenin işlerini vakit daha gündüzken yapmalıyız. Gece geliyor, o zaman kimse çalışamaz.
Jesus refused to play the "blame game," and instead used this gentleman's plight as an opportunity to take charge and make a difference. By the end of the chapter, the blind man saw, his parents were terrified, the religious leaders were made to look life fools, and the one whose eyes were opened had been expelled from the religious life of Israel. You might say he had a busy day!


[1] During the first part of the 20th century, America absorbed a massive number of immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe, including my Ukrainian grandparents. IQ tests were invented to screen these immigrants. One way local folks deal with newcomers is to make jokes about them. In today's humorless America, as a shameful badge of our intimidation by internal would-be tyrants, these jokes have disappeared. So, have another Pollock joke:
One day, the Pollocks and the Dagos decided to have a baseball game, just to settle who could be the butt of all the future ethnic jokes.
The game got underway.
When the noon whistle blew, the Dagos knocked off for lunch.
Three innings later, the Pollocks won.
Or, here's a real story. A Hungarian steelworker would sometimes blow his whole paycheck buying drinks for everyone at the local tavern. His wife would make him sleep in the barn those weekends. He showed up for work one Monday reeking, stinking to high heaven. When his coworkers pointed that out, he scowled as said, "What kinda kitty cats you people got in this country anyhow?" Another European had just discovered the American skunk.
[2] As I explained to Natasha in 1992, you sympathize with someone, not to someone. The first syllable, sym-, is from the Greek preposition meaning with, even as a symphony is a collection of voices singing together. The Latinate equivalent of sympathize, commisterate, begins with com -- the Latin preposition meaning with.

No comments: