I will admit to having a difficult time processing the events associated with the Boston Marathon tragedy. It feels as though something will be revealed pointing toward the whole thing being a terrible mistake, but I know that this is not the case.
Equally confusing to me is the nation’s reaction to the bombing. What does a government do that seems to be wanting to shuck all connection to religion do in the face of such tragedy? Does its congress close its session with prayer? Does its president thank priests for opening the doors of their parishes to those who are lost and confused in the affected area? For that matter, does NPR interview the Episcopal bishop of Boston about the good work the local churches are doing in the wake of the bombing? For that matter there are all kinds of public displays such as flags flying at half-mast and every event is being dedicated after a moment of prayer to the victims of the Boston bombings from Dancing with the Stars to professional baseball. What are they doing?
If God is taken out of the picture, what do these gestures mean? If we are simply pausing to remember, or to unite ourselves with the people gathered in Boston, it amounts to not much more than the rally cry, “Remember the Alamo!” We will not forget because it will not happen again. We won’t let it. And part of that is not forgetting. If there is no God it can result in little more (ultimately) than remembering to send help to those we like and wreak revenge on those we don’t.
But of course, that is not why we ultimately do these things. Not unanimously, but as a people we are reaching out. And like the atheist who is in crisis when he is truly thankful and has nobody to thank, what do we do when we pretend not to be “one country under God” and we need somebody to whom we turn? We could turn to a president, or an armed militia, or the police and cry out, “Save us! Repay our enemies! Bring us peace!” (Is this how the Caesars became deified?) But can they bring meaning to these events? Can they bring hope? When we need consolation, when we need pulled out of ourselves and our fears, when we need something to do, someone to whom we can turn, when we need someplace to go, we drag out God like a neglected parent that only gets a call when we need to borrow money.
Or it may be, that at our heart, we are still a nation that believes in God even when we don’t want to.