The Difference Between “Divine Punishment” and “Shit Happens”

DivinePunishment“What a WEEK I’m having!” – Walter Kornbluth

It’s been a rough week, comparatively. I use ‘comparatively’ because there’s always others who are having even shittier weeks. Some are outright catastrophic. However, as far as my weeks generally go, the last seven days have not been particularly good ones. Between unforeseen legal fees, a major car repair, a minor car repair and my wife ending up with a grade-two concussion from a rather nasty fall, it’s been a bit stressful for everyone here.

Yes, of course, there’s the obvious financial drain – which totals about the entirety of my monthly Social Security check. More importantly, the effects on real human beings and their physical and emotional pain and suffering. However, in my conversations this morning with various human entities, I was inundated with the inevitable references to,

Divine Punishment…

The concept of divine punishment from a psychological standpoint can be complicated, and may stem from many different aspects of the development, environment and indoctrination of any one given individual. I will leave the details to those who are trained in the various fields of human behavioral science, or for when such a time comes that I feel like doing a moderate to heavy amount of research, myself. However, this is not one of those times, so I will sum up that divine punishment is,

“The belief that when something bad happens to you, it is caused to happen by your chosen deity, who has decided to punish you for a transgression”

Now, the transgression(s) could be any one of a gazillion things from the serious to the mundane. I’ve actually met people who think that God punishes people for things like skipping a worship service, not telling the entirety of humanity (read:Facebook status) that they have “given it all” to God (or made yet another proclamation of their devotion to Jesus or that they recognize the overall greatness of God or that they are less than bellybutton lint or…)

Of course, there’s the big one. Having doubts. God forbid (sic) that any “True Christian” have a wavering moment of doubt about something they read in the bible or that has come from the talking head behind the pulpit. Usually, though, these people believe that an unfortunate event or series of unfortunate events are the method that God is using to get their attention.

So, when bad shit happens to them, they chalk it up to being punished by God, and then proceed to try and make amends. Depending on the brand of belief, these attempts at redemption can range from horrific to comic. Usually, it’s the latter. I find it personally amusing when certain individuals take to cutting up their clothing, trashing their CD’s and throwing most of their library into a bonfire in hopes that their lives will be pulled out of whatever shitstorm happens to be swirling around them.

I know, that’s awfully insensitive of me, but I can’t help laughing when people tell me that they’ve decided to start wearing burlap sacks, buy up Gregorian chant CD’s and snap up every Max Lucado book they can find at the Christian book store (and maybe add a few new bibles to their collection), along with increasing the time they spend reading the bible and various study guides, and their time in prayer – with a heavy emphasis on how they perceive themselves as miserable pieces of shit and how much they deserve to be punished with everything that is happening to them and oh so much more.

Yes, I know, I know. And I do feel bad for them. But it’s not like nobody has told them that there are other reasons why sometimes,

Shit Happens…

I would like to introduce you to Pat, who decided to skip church on Sunday to meet some friends at Starbuck’s. Pat thoroughly enjoys the time spent with friends, had a couple of cups of outstanding java, and since having not put that $20 in the collection plate, bought a blueberry muffin, a small bag of ground coffee to take home, and a snazzy coffee mug.

Bidding goodbye, Pat gets into the car and turns the ignition key, only to be met with that familiar oh-shit-the-starter-is-toast clickclickclickclick sound. Pat calls AAA and gets the car towed in and a ride back to the house, having parted with several hundred dollars. The next day, Pat picks up the car and five minutes after getting home, the phone rings. It’s Pat’s spouse. They are sitting in the county jail because during a checkpoint, the local police were not amused at the little crack-baggie full of (legally obtained) prescription drugs that your significant other decided would be more convenient than carrying around twelve individual bottles of pills. Pat posts bail, goes home and calls a lawyer, who says nothing can be done. Pat needs to pay a $2500.00 fine and appropriate fees for lawyerly wizardry to avoid a permanent drug charge.

The next day, on the way to work, Pat gets a flat tire, wearing the best professional attire owned because of a pre-planned presentation to be given at a board meeting. Triple-A says they can have a truck out there in about two hours. This will not do, because the presentation begins in forty-seven minutes. At this point, Pat knows that the presentation will be given in wrinkled, greasy clothing. As well, Pat’s carefully coiffed hair now reminiscent of Reverend Jim or Phyllis Diller. Oh, the joy…

Pat muddles through, though, and gets home only to find out the clothes washer has stopped working – and has done so the only way it ever does, full of water. It’s 9:00 pm, the repairman wants $785.00 per hour to come out immediately. Not happening. Pat decides to look up hints on the Internetz. It takes only a split second to know that “Page cannot be loaded” is the web’s way of saying, “No.” Pat goes to sleep, figuring how much worse can it get?”

The next morning, on the way to the bathroom, Pat trips over something the size of Rhode Island that had obviously been coughed up by the cat. Pat finds the cat, and something isn’t right. That little puff ball of feline love is sick as, well, a dog. The vet says bring it in tomorrow. Same day that Pat has to wait between the hours of 8:00 am to 5:00 pm for the washer and cable repair people to show up. Pat’s spouse agrees to take the cat into the vet. Pat goes to work, comes home, goes to bed.

The next day, Pat’s spouse leaves with the cat for the vet while Pat watches the grass grow waiting for the repair people. Pat can’t watch TV (Cable is out) and the Internet is broken. So, Pat tries to stay amused with various projects that include a half-hearted attempt to bail the water out of the washing machine because it’s starting to smell like Newark in the house. That lasts about half hour because, oh, the smell…

A few hours pass by, consisting of more puttering, straightening out pictures on the wall, chasing dust bunnies, watching paint peel, wondering where the sirening emergency vehicles are going, why the Chicago Cubs exist, considering the very real fact that repair crews have hours similar to Deagle Real Estate and other personal musings. Then Pat’s spouse calls from the vet with news that the cat needs medication that will cost way more than Pat personally thinks the cat is worth (cue: hate mail from cat lovers without a sense of humor) and that someone hit the car in the parking lot and now the blinker doesn’t work.

At 4:45 pm both repair people show up, Pat’s spouse comes home with a retching cat and a $300.00 ticket for failing to use a turn signal. The house still smells like Newark. Pat decides it’s a good idea to go out to eat, but the restaurant not only screwed up the order, the brand new cashier double-swiped the credit card – twice. Pat goes home, goes to sleep, and wakes up the next day immediately knowing something is wrong. First, Pat’s spouse is still in the bed. A quick glance through foggy eyes reveals the shadows on the wall are in the wrong places. Absent are both the sound and breeze from the silently still ceiling fan, and Pat feels like the last time a piss was taken, Reagan was President. Assessment: The power went out, the alarm didn’t sound, Pat is late for work, Pat’s spouse is even later for work.

The rest of the week went about the same. By the time Saturday rolled around, Pat was convinced that the events of the preceding week were brought upon him by his God, as punishment for not only skipping church, but for using God’s holy money for a cup of coffee, a snack and a new mug. Even though the events as I weaved them could happen to anyone, at any time, people like Pat remain convinced that they are not only being punished, but are totally deserving of it.

What A Week…!

Poor Pat. What a week, right? Well, I’ve had weeks like that. Not with those details and circumstances, obviously. But weeks where every possible thing that could go wrong did. This past week was one of those weeks. Loved ones were injured, I was sorely inconvenienced by mechanical breakdowns and my Social Security check was gone three weeks before I had planned it to be. Plus, the usual stresses of life. Shit happened this week, and it happened a lot.

Shit also happens to others that I know, and some of them believe in God. Some of those who believe in God decided to comment on the week I’ve had, and relay the accounts of their own shitty weeks, and how they “know” their circumstances were either,

  • God punishing them
  • God trying to get their attention
  • God trying to teach them a lesson
  • God humbling them
  • God turning into the Incredible Hulk

Then, in spite of knowing me very well and my general thoughts and feelings about the whole “God thing,” a couple of them decided to tell me that one or all of the points I just bulleted pertain to me and the shitty week I’ve had. I have, of course, heard this before. My replies were less than amicable and included questions about rape victims being at fault for their rape, and further explanations of “blame the victim” mentality.

Their replies were predictable. My arguments were met with the usual “You don’t understand how God works,” that I shouldn’t call their personal deity a bully, that I “will see” what happens to those who mock God and if I think my week was shitty, wait until I get to hell, etc., etc.

I don’t give any credence to the concept of “divine punishment” as a legitimate explanation for anything. In fact, I don’t give credence to divine anything. Sometimes shit happens. If someone chooses to think that their unfortunate circumstances are the want, will and desire of their God, and this belief causes them to act irrationally, such as changing their wardrobe or the music they listen to or the television shows they watch or the movies they go see or the words that they use  or anything else for the explicit reason to avoid having their God kick the shit out of them, so be it. It’s a ridiculous doctrine, and I will continue to ridicule it.

As a side note, if you are one of these people and suddenly feel the urge to get rid of “worldy” shit, before you destroy your CD’s, lemme take a rifle through them. If you have any particularly heathen furniture or appliances, I am in the market for a new kitchen table and a clothes dryer. I don’t have any money, but if it means removing a force of evil from your house, I am sure you won’t mind me coming by with a truck…

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  3 comments for “The Difference Between “Divine Punishment” and “Shit Happens”

  1. September 5, 2012 at 6:17 am

    It’s too bad I don’t live near you Al, I could have helped with the car problem. Perhaps saved you a little money. But I’m way up here in PA. I try and help out my friends (and even people I barely know) with their cars because I know garages rip people off. My fee is the cost of part(s) plus a good meal or a few drinks.

    • September 5, 2012 at 10:02 am

      Thanks for the sentiment, Kenny. Your friends are lucky to have you.

  2. September 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Excellent piece Al. I lived thirty years as a hard-core Christian Scientist, mostly wrestling with despair at my failure to heal my fused knee which was the result of osteomyelitis at thirteen. (Treated by my family only with prayer.) Christian Scientists don’t believe god punishes or teaches; instead it’s human ignorance or willful refusal to understand god’s perfection that leads to the shitstorm. Christian Scientists list (and testify to) every little thing (finding lost car keys or a good parking space or the last nice shirt on the store rack) as a healing in a kind of OCD score-keeping, as if that’ll protect them. It’s strongly implied that you are responsible for your daily harmony: no accidents, mistakes, injuries etc.–even as a child.

    Twenty years after my bone disease I left Christian Science, got into therapy, and gradually understood that stuff happens, good, bad and indifferent. Try to imagine THAT relief. I fell in love with a material universe that just…happens!

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