Orientation, Victim-Blaming, and The Financial Times

The first thing you need to know about is Walter Brueggemann. He’s a leading Hebrew Bible scholar – some might say THE leading Hebrew Bible scholar in the U.S. today. Brueggemann has written eloquently about many topics, but the point here is what he’s written about the psalms. Specifically the seasons of the psalms.

Brueggemann breaks the psalms into the seasons of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Orientation is the viewpoint of Wisdom literature in the Bible – the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked will be punished. The world is ordered and all is well. This is wonderful. If everything is indeed going this way. This is the world of D.C. comics – the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad. Law and order.

But then bad things happen. Bad things happen to good people. Children die. Young parents die. Hurricanes destroy a city. Police shoot and kill unarmed youth. Women are raped. Terrorists storm the offices of a magazine and murder 10 of the staff and 2 police officers. This is disorientation. The righteous are not being rewarded. The wicked are not being punished. Sometimes there aren’t even any wicked to punish.

New orientation – or re-orienation – that comes later. That comes after disorientation. That comes from living and learning that the world isn’t all black-and-white. That comes when we learn to weave the disorientation into our lives and move forward. That’s more like Marvel Comics.

But what has this to do with victim-blaming? Or the Financial Times? I’m getting to that. Yesterday, three terrorists committed an assault upon the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, killing 10 of the staff and 2 police officers, because they didn’t like the magazine’s sense of humor. Wow. They wanted to avenge the prophet. Um…I think the prophet had a better sense of humor than that, but I’ve addressed that in a previous blog post. Here’s the thing I want to address here – the fault for the attack lies with….the attackers.

That’s it! It’s the fault of the three people who planned and carried out the attack. If it turns out that the French government was truly following these brothers, and that they missed something they ought to have caught, well, then they missed an opportunity to stop something. But it still wouldn’t make it their fault. Because the French government didn’t plan and carry out the attack. They didn’t make these terrorists go on their rampage.

Enter the Financial Times. Oh, Financial Times. You are so comfortable in your orientation, aren’t you? If you aren’t familiar with the Financial Times, it’s the British equivalent of the Wall Street Journal. That is, it’s the very pro-business, pro-wealth, conservative full-sized daily newspaper. Mind you, I’m not anti-business, or anti-wealth, but the FT isn’t all about standing up for the oppressed. It’s much more interested in maintaining the status-quo.

Today, an editor of the FT wrote an opinion piece in which he stated that Charlie Hebdo has been foolish. He said they’ve been Muslim-baiting. Essentially, he blamed Charlie Hebdo for the attack. IF ONLY Charlie Hebdo had backed off. Wow. Well, of course, it’s much easier to blame the victim. It maintains the status-quo.

So when a woman is raped, people are quick to start judging what she did wrong. Because we don’t want to admit that bad things can happen to good people. It upsets the status-quo. Much easier to tell ourselves that she must have done something to deserve it. As if anyone could deserve being raped.

IF ONLY Eric Garner hadn’t resisted arrest. As if the police do not have a duty to protect and serve FIRST. As if the police, being the ones in power, don’t have the responsibility to keep EVERYONE safe. First. But to admit that, to admit that even people who are being arrested have the right to protection – that everything isn’t just black-and-white, good-or-bad, upsets the orientation – upsets the status-quo.

When I was little, I’d watch Superman on t.v. – both the cartoons and the live-action Superman as portrayed by George Reeves. Superman, fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way! Superman would catch the bad guys and often deposit them directly in jail. They were bad guys. Bad guys go to jail. Who needs due process? Not D.C. Comics, apparently – the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished.

Out in the real world, though, things aren’t like that. Bad things do happen. Blaming the victims might make the rest of us feel a little better, but in the long run it makes things worse. It heaps abuse upon the victims, it misdirects the conversation, and it often hides the issues we ought to be talking about.

I remember that in a systematic theology class we once compared the writings of N.T. Wright (a well-healed British theologian, established in the Anglican church, and definitely part of the establishment) to those of Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, born poor, and with an affinity for the oppressed. They both wrote on the fear of God. From Wright’s perspective, safe in his stone cathedrals, there was no need to ever fear God. If we did, it showed we weren’t faithful enough to trust. For Thurman, it made perfect sense that people would fear. He wrote about how to work with that. Thurman had a more expanded world-view.

If your life is in orientation, I’m happy for you. All is well. But I ask you to consider that your world-view is not the only one. People’s lives have been disrupted. Don’t blame victims.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.IMG_1252


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