Wednesday, April 18, 2007

And Now, The Screeching ...

Back on Monday, a seriously disturbed South Korean by the name of Cho Seung-Hui shot thirty-two students and professors at Virginia Tech before killing himself. His writing projects (he was an English major) gave indications that he was obsessed with killing people, but that's way too simplistic for some folk.

The inevitable screeching has already begun, usually centering on the tired old "God is punishing America for its liberalism and its sins" argument. We've seen this before, after Katrina and after 9/11. And, truth to tell, we've seen it a lot farther back than that - a little thing that happened on All Saint's Day (November 1), 1755 in Lisbon Portugal.

You see, an earthquake struck the city that morning, while many people were in church; the fires created by the earthquake (overtuned stoves and such) were only extinguished by the tsunami that largely wrecked what was left of the city. Coming as it did during the height of the European Enlightenment, it was a seminal moment.

Its importance was that Lisbon severed the connection people had between moral evil and natural evil. An earthquake is a natural event, with natural causes; the loss of life is always tragic and deplorable, but the Earth doesn't act maliciously. Now, at Lisbon, the reactions between two leaders after the disaster differed. The King's chief minister, the Marquis de Pombal, was all about re-establishing order and looking after the living; he organized disaster relief so well that the local paper soon resumed publication.

The other person was a Jesuit priest named Malagrida, who convinced some that the earthquake was the fault of Lisbon's sins (which seems a bit odd in retrospect - most of the churches collapsed, but a street full of brothels was spared) and a massive auto-da-fe was required to spiritually purge the city.

Pombal thought this was silly, and detracted from his efforts to get the capital of the Portugese Empire back on its feet.

The point I'm making is that people have free will - if they choose to be agents of death and destruction, they are as random as earthquakes and derive from natural causes (things like upbringing, education, genetics, etc.). Any asshole who comes to Blacksburg, Virginia this week to say that these 32 persons died because of their sins will be lucky to escape lynching, in my opinion.


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