Blaming God

Does God ever chuckle at our extraordinary ideas about him? Recently, I received the nth email in which ‘your god’ was blamed for just about everything, from sexual abuse of children to train crashes, acne and the writer’s apparently disastrous love life. (Possibly the acne and the latter were connected, but a suggestion that he visit a pharmacist wasn’t going to endear me, was it?)

I do wonder, sometimes, why people think God is responsible for everything they do not like or find difficult, but never, apparently, for those things they find good or beautiful. Perhaps it is because we perceive certain events to be tragedies and we want someone to blame, someone to pay for them, more than we want someone to thank or praise for what is good. Not all tragedies can be blamed on human beings, so if there is no-one else we can reasonably pin responsibility on, we accuse God. Religious people do this in one way; those who are hostile to religion do it in another; the net result is the same: God comes in for some pretty rough treatment.

Probably some readers will find this idea shocking. They would never, ever blame God for anything and always resign themselves utterly to the divine will. Such people are almost beyond sanctity, for very few of the saints were so restrained. They told God exactly what they thought while they obediently got on with whatever was required. The great Carmelite, St Teresa of Avila, is an excellent example of this, shrewdly remarking to the Lord that it was no wonder he had so few friends since he treated them so badly. That is not the same as blaming God, for she never insulted him or reviled him. She simply spoke her mind with infinite trust and confidence in God’s goodness and love.

I think a little more honesty with God about our feelings and reactions to events might be a good thing. A little more trust in God might be a good thing, too. Blame is pointless. God does not will harm to anyone. It is contrary to his nature as God. But, continuing this week’s theme of dipping into the dictionary, you may find something to ponder in this thought. The word ‘blame’ derives from a popular variant of the Latin blasphemare and Greek blasphemein, meaning to revile, reproach . . . blaspheme. So, when we blame someone for something for which they are not responsible, we are blaspheming God. That might just make us think before we utter.

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Pussy Riot and the Holiness of Place

Yesterday’s sentence on three members of Pussy Riot, the Russian Punk band which performed an anti-Putin ‘prayer to Mary’ in a Moscow Cathedral, has been widely condemned. If my Twitterstream was anything to go by, people leaped in to defend the band without really considering whether their conduct was in any sense justifiable or excusable. Many ignored the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church had asked for clemency and roundly condemned both Church and State for their harshness. Apparently, being anti-Putin makes everything all right and we western liberals will back anyone and anything that protests against his illiberal regime.

As it happens, I too think the sentence was unduly harsh, but I don’t think the band should have got off scot free. I suspect you have to be Orthodox or Catholic to understand the full horror for believers of what happened. To parody a prayer may seem nothing to those who don’t believe, but to those who do, it is bordering on blasphemy. Then to proclaim that parody, full of expletives, before the most sacred area of a cathedral is indeed a profanation. Orthodox churches, by and large, are not just buildings which come alive at occasional services and are routinely used for other purposes. Like their Catholic counterparts, they are charged with Presence; people pray in them at all times (go into Westminster Cathedral after you have been to Westminster Abbey and you’ll see what I mean: it isn’t that the Abbey is any less a place of prayer, it is simply that people in the Cathedral pray all over the place rather than in reserved quiet chapels).

The members of Pussy Riot knew what they were doing, and they must take the consequences. Had they entered a mosque and behaved in the same way, western opinion might not be so forgiving. I hope that the women’s sentence will be suspended or whatever the Russian equivalent is, but I also hope that those who have unthinkingly championed them will stop for a moment to consider the thoughts and feelings of Russian Orthodox Christians. ‘Holy things to the holy’ sings the deacon before the moment of Communion. Holiness. We have not heard much about that in media coverage or commentary, but it does exist, and holiness of place is surely part of it for those who believe in the Incarnation. We may not share the beliefs of others, but shouldn’t we accord them respect?

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