Choosing not to know: The spiritual crisis that faces the nation
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When you become very much aware of the humanitarian crisis, I think we need also to be aware that we face a very profound spiritual crisis in this country. And one way, perhaps, that I can make that clear, the kind of spiritual crisis that we face, is by sharing with you something that I just came across just recently.
It’s a short account of what happened in Oklahoma City on 19 April 1995, just six years ago. It’s just about one person. The writer says, ‘It’s been six years now since that fateful 19 April. Yet I will never forget her pain-stricken face. Her soft words cut through the disturbing silence and pierced the hearts of everyone within earshot. “This was my baby!” she cried, as she held up a picture of her four-year-old daughter Ashley. “I want everyone to know what my little girl looks like in case they’ve seen her. If someone finds her please bring her to me, please”, she pleaded. “Please don’t stop searching for my little girl.”
‘Kathleen, the woman, stood in front of the shocked members of the press corps on a cool, spring night in Oklahoma City and meticulously recounted in detail the step-by-step moments of her normally mundane morning as she dressed and prepared Ashley for the day. Nothing could have prepared this 20-something-year-old mother for the news that a mere hour after she kissed her four-year-old daughter good-bye, someone had caused her child to die in a terrorist explosion.
‘For days, Ashley was one of hundreds of people unaccounted for as tired and disheartened search and rescue personnel lost hope of finding survivors amidst the twisted mass of concrete and steel that was once the Alfred P. Murrow Building in downtown Oklahoma City. Like countless other family members, all Kathleen could do was plead and pray.
‘It’s impossible to describe in words the scenes of human pain and anguish left behind of the largest act of terrorism on US soil. Literally thousands of people were touched by this tragedy, their lives transformed and scarred forever. The world knows that 168 people died. Hundreds of others were maimed and injured in the 4,800 pound bomb blast that ripped through the heart of the nine-story building and the nation, reminding each of us that evil exists, sin is real, and our life can be changed forever in an instant.’
Now I bring this event to your attention because it was reported last week in an interview that was done by two writers who are, in fact, I think, doing a book about Timothy McVeigh. And perhaps you’ve read about this. Timothy McVeigh refuses to accept any responsibility for the 168 deaths that the bomb blast caused and certainly wasn’t even aware of a youngster like Ashley, at least not in any real terms. He said he suspected there might be some children in the building, but he didn’t know there was a day care centre there.
But then do you know how he justifies what he did? He puts it in military terms, a term that our military use regularly, our government leaders use regularly. The term is ‘collateral damage’. For Timothy McVeigh, the killing of those youngsters – in fact, the killing of the whole 168 people was simply a case of collateral damage. Their lives had to be sacrificed for the greater good he claimed he was trying to achieve in bringing about a revolution against our government which he says has oppressed the indigenous peoples of our nation. He was very concerned that 19 April was a day on which a vicious attack had been made against some indigenous people by government authorities, and so these were collateral damage.
Now the reaction to that interview and that article on the part of anyone who read it, or heard about it, was outrage, total outrage. And justifiably so. But then where I believe there is a spiritual crisis in our nation is the fact that our Secretary of State, some years ago on that TV interview on ‘60 Minutes’ did not use quite the same words, ‘collateral damage’ when she was told about the 500,000 youngsters who had died in Iraq at that point and that was back in 1995 or ’96. She didn’t question the number whatsoever, she knows it was true. But her words were, ‘Well, it’s a hard decision, but we think it’s worth it.’ The 500,000 deaths of tiny children is worth something to the people of the United States. I’ve never been able to discover really what the ‘it’ is that makes the killing of these children worth it.