I’m used to going to the New York Times website every morning and reading about another bombing in Iraq or Afghanistan, a mass murder in Africa or a national disaster in some part of the world. When I first heard of the earthquake in Haiti, my natural reaction was, “That sucks.” To be honest, I had a similar reaction when I heard about a plane flying into the first World Trade Center.
I was not even a month into my first semester of my Freshmen year at KU. I was outside of Wescoe Hall, having just exited my first class of the day, Ethics. A friend and I were walking out when someone he knew approached him and casually mentioned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. My first thought was, “Weird, I wonder how that happened.” I was thinking something like a private plane had flown off course and into the building. Having never been to New York City at that point, I couldn’t even picture the scene. Some random student walking by overheard us talking about it and said he had just heard about it, too. At that point, I understood that this was a big deal, I just didn’t get how big.
It wasn’t until I walked back to the scholarship hall I lived in and went down to the common area that I began to understand the scope of the tragedy. A bunch of the guys from the hall were downstairs watching CNN as the story unfolded. By that point the second plane had hit and it was pretty clear that this was an attack. The rest of the day is kind of a blur, as I don’t remember when we first knew it was Osama Bin Laden behind the attacks. I’ve seen the footage so many times since that day, I can’t even remember if I watched the buildings fall live, or if they had already come down by the time I was watching TV.
What I remember vividly though was that first moment of hearing about it and not really grasping how momentous the events unfolding were going to be.
And that’s how I was with this earthquake in Haiti. It seems every other month an earthquake (or hurricane or fire) causes large swaths of damage around the world. It’s tragic, but it feels so remote and even in our modern connected times, it rarely feels like something that’s in my world.
If you’re being honest, that’s how you feel quite often, too.
The thing about these massive tragedies, though, such as Haiti where the death toll estimates are at an unthinkable 50,000 people, is that even though I have no connections to Haiti and will feel almost no personal repercussions from this tragedy, there is a riptide that emanates from it and I can’t ignore it or shutter it away with an, “Oh, that’s too bad.”
President Obama has promised 100 million dollars in aid, with more to come later, and I am in full support of the decision. There will be plenty who say that we are not responsible for other countries, that we don’t owe them anything. Those people are right. We owe nothing to Haiti. But this is an instance where our humanity demands more of us than just cold Capitalistic Ideals. It is true, there are tragedies all over the world every day, with millions if not billions of people in need of financial help. And no, we cannot help everyone. But if the choice is between making an arbitrary decision to help one specific group over another, or do nothing, then there really is no choice at all. Only a fool believes moral actions are black and white, yes or no, do or don’t.
If you want to help out, do so. If you feel the urge, do so. If you are broke and have no money or time to give, you are not a bad person for not giving, but consider if there is anything you can do. At the very least, though, go to Good Search and for the next week or month or forever, use it as your search engine instead of Google (I love Google, but it’s a worthy and easy sacrifice). With every search, you donate a little to a good cause. It costs you nothing, but with a large enough base, it can make a huge difference.
In this instance, there are numerous worthy charities to donate money to, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one you trust to be good stewards of your donation.
I need to add that I know there are a lot of good, decent Christians (and other religious people) who will give money and sacrifice time and organize charities to help in this tragedy, but I would encourage those of the faithful to not put preconditions on what you give. There are quite a few faith-based charities who do good works while requiring that the beneficiaries of their work give a commitment to the Christian faith or submit to Christian ethical standards (such as the Abstinence Only AIDS charities in Africa). True charity comes without strings or agendas. (At the same time, there are faith-based charities that don’t have preconditions, and I say kudos to them.)
In general, there are plenty of excellent secular charities out there, and if you want to look into the charities you can give money to, there are sites like Charity Navigator to help you out.
Finally, I want to say for the record that I believe Pat Robertson to be an evil person. There are no apologies for him, no dismissing him as an old kook. He isn’t just some nutjob sitting on a street corner. He has a public forum, a television station that lets his filth spread forth into the public (and he has an audience that listens and respects what he says). I’m posting the video that you’ve probably already seen so that you will get angry. Don’t pray about it, don’t get defensive and say, “I’m not that kind of Christian.” Get angry and use your actions to prove that Robertson doesn’t speak for anyone.
Personally, I’m counting down the days until Robertson’s reign of terror over Christian evangelicals comes to an end.