Here is a great peace by Peter Hallward on the recent events in Haiti. It is devastating and infuriating and I am not sure what the answer is.
We have some friends/acquaintances who recently adopted a Haitian child. They are somewhat famous now, I suppose, since they have been in the news. The woman was in Haiti when the earth quake happened and was able to return with the help of the US with the child they were still in the process of adopting. They claimed that it was a miracle and thanked God for it. I must admit that I find claims such as this somewhat suspect when reading this article and specifically quotes like this.
“Among many others, World Food Program flights were turned away by US commanders on Thursday and Friday, the New York Timesreported, ‘so that the United States could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety.’“
Now, I am not attempting to lessen the significance of the importance of these events for this family. They are a great and caring family and I am happy that both the woman and child have returned home safely and unharmed. I am also happy that the child they have adopted will likely live a great life. I do, however, find myself struck with some cognitive dissonance when trying to match up these two stories.
On one hand we have a story in which a strongly engaged and believing evangelical family has survived an incredible disaster and gotten what they wanted out of it–a new child to raise as their own with love. From one cognitive schema this is no doubt a miracle.
On the other hand we have a white upper class American family who with the help of the strongest military force in the world has been able to escape a crisis that continues to wreck havoc on the wretched of the earth–and who could be in more wretched of a situation than the poor of Haiti. To top it all off, this family can now be used as an ideological buttress for American occupation and “security”. “Look, we have to secure the ground in Haiti so that good American’s, like this family, can continue to save the poor souls who through bad luck (and possibly deals with the devil) have the misfortune of not being born upper class, white and American.” And finally, if one were to be incredible cynical (Conan has told us all how bad a trait that is), the flight that was used to get them out may have been used to justify further military intervention and/or have caused another flight full of relief supplies to be delayed landing any longer. (I don’t know how air-traffick control operates in Haiti, or anywhere for that matter, so this last point should probably be read as hyperbolic rhetoric in order to get the point across, but it may have been true.) So, from this cognitive schema the story appears quite different. It is no longer a miracle, but rather the regular run of things.
The point of this commentary is not to offer a diatribe against this family, as I have already said. It is to highlight a vastly important aporia that we as the Church in America face: how are we to help those less fortunate than us, without becoming the ideological bitch of the state, or worse, furthering its exploitation and domination explicitly? I don’t have the answer, except to say that we need to think deeply about such issues as the recent crisis in Haiti. The Church needs gadflies who are willing to problematise our comfortable philanthropic inauthenticity. We need to listen to the voices of those like Peter Hallward, no matter how much cognitive dissonance they instill into our own thoughts, and our communities. We need, I believe, to think critically about what they are saying, but we need also to think critically about the vitriolic responses that voices such as Hallward’s often evoke from those of us who believe we are already doing good and therefor morally justified.
I have given money to relief work and I provided a way for the college and young adult group that I lead to give money as well. I have also been thankful to God that our friends were able to come home and have been “given” the gift of a beautiful new child. I can’t, however, shake this anxiety and I am not sure that I should. The times are not good and in times such as these if one is not at least a little crazy–i.e. filled with anxiety, confusion, even a twinge of despair–I am not sure one is alive.