Editor's Comments - An Excruciating Tension

 

[1] Haiti’s centuries-old struggles never seem to end. Recent reports of increasing gender-based violence and degradation stress again the urgency of Haiti’s problems.1 This, of course, was completely predictable. It’s not the first time men caught up in a catastrophe have inflicted widespread rape on women and girls. The roughly 1,200 encampments throughout Haiti, not to mention countless neighborhoods left in shambles, are currently the focus of security concerns. One reporter summarizes, “Poor or nonexistent lighting, unlockable latrines, adjacent men’s and women’s showers and inadequate police protection have all been problems.”2

 

[2] When will this end? If the answer to this question is that it will not end, how would you feel? Would you disagree? Would you despair? Evil and suffering are not coming to an end (at least in this world), no matter how hard we try to overcome or eradicate them.

[3] Apparently, Paul Griffiths shares my conviction, which leads him to view Christians as unusual political agents. “[Christians] act politically, often with passion and vigor. But they tend to act with a deep sense of the inevitable failure of their actions. Since imagined political communities are by definition not perfectible...action without this sense would be an idolatrous error. There is...no finally successful political solution to systemic injustice, to violence inflicted upon the weak, to the corruptions of wealth and power, and to all the other difficulties to which earthly cities are always subject.”3 Christians are thus political agents caught in an excruciating tension.

[3] Just because evil and suffering will not come to an end (in this world) doesn’t mean that we should sit around and do nothing. In fact, we can do much to relieve suffering. As Griffiths puts it, “Political action in the earthly city is...more likely to be understood by Christians as an attempt to alleviate and reduce unavoidable horrors than create a world order in which such horrors will cease to be.”4 Incidentally, this more modest approach corresponds to what Amartya Sen recommends in his recent book The Idea of Justice.5

[4] So what’s the upshot? How should we face the evil and suffering affecting Haitians and others across the world? I suggest that we join the people of Haiti and others affected, availing ourselves of every just means possible, in seeking to resist, reduce, and relieve more of the same.

[5] This issue of JLE tackles the ethics of development, giving, and volunteering in connection with Haiti. It also includes reviews of significant books on development: Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion, Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty, and Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky. Writers include Gina Athena Ulysse, Patricia Hansen, Rev. Kevin Massey, Rev. Sarah Scherschligt, Gretchen Zelle, and Mikka McCracken. Our “Cloud of Witnesses Series” continues with Mary Gaebler’s essay on “Martin Luther on the Christian Life.”

 

Victor Thasiah is co-editor of Journal of Lutheran Ethics.

 
Endnotes

 

1. See, for example, Deborah Sontag, “Sexual Assaults Add to Miseries of Haiti’s Ruins,” The New York Times, June 23, 2010.

2. Ibid.

3. Paul J. Griffiths, “Christians and the Church,” in The Oxford Handbook of Theological Ethics, eds. Gilbert Meilaender and William Werpehowski (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) 411.

4. Ibid.

5. Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2009).

 

 

© July 2010
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 10, Issue 7