A tragic story is illustrating the hypocritical and immoral nonchalance America has for the mass deaths of non-Christians.
All the news services are headlining the tragic murder of 58 Christians in Our Lady of Salvation Christian church of Baghdad. Al-Qaida-linked militants burst into the church during services and killed the priest and nearly everyone in the front row. They demanded that someone call the Pope to arrange for the release of Muslim women they claimed were being held captive by Coptic Christians in Egypt. Iraqi forces invaded the church, the militants blew themselves up, and 58 people ended up dead with 78 others wounded.
It was a terrible tragedy, and everyone from the Pope to presidents has been condemning it, as they should.
But where where the cries of outrage when America started our bombing campaign on Iraq? Over 150,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by American bombs (even the U.S. Government admits this), mostly women and children. That's 2,586 times as many people as were killed this weekend in the Christian church.
You would have to blow up 58 people 365 days a year for the next seven years to equal the death toll that America has inflicted on Iraqi women, children and old men.
My fiancé and I had the pleasure of hearing Sam Harris talk last week. He described an interesting experiment. If you show a group of people a photo of one hungry child and ask them to help, it brings out the best: they donate a lot. Show another group a picture of two hungry children and ... surprise! They donate less. Show a third group a picture of a room full of hungry children, they donate very little. Show them a whole country, and you get little or no response at all.
We seem to be congenitally incapable of feeling sympathy for large groups. We are genetically programmed to empathize with the individual. When one little girl falls into a well, we get 24/7 live coverage. When a few dozen miners get stuck in a cave in Chile, over a thousand news reporters descend. But when 800,000 were killed in Rwanda, it barely made the news and the documentary Hotel Rwanda was only seen by a small minority of Americans. And when 150,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs, well, too bad.
But it's outrage everywhere when militants blow up 58 Christians.
Atheists and Humanists ask, "Can't we do better?" We all agree that a room full of starving children is a greater tragedy than a single starving child. So shouldn't we try to act accordingly? Why can't we evolve our society to a higher moral standard? Why can't we see death and suffering in rational, logical terms and strive to minimize it?
Why can't we treat 150,000 dead Iraqis as a much greater tragedy than 58 Christians?
Could it be because our morality is still stuck in books that were written thousands of years ago, and is defended by people who don't believe in progress? Could it be that our morality is in the hands of the same people who didn't protest when 150,000 Iraqis were killed but were outraged when 58 Christians were murdered by terrorists?
Could it be that religious anti-rationalism prevents us from seeing that it would take 2,586 blown-up Christian churches to equal one Iraq war?
I don't know the answers to these questions. I have many Christian friends who are as horrified as I am at these numbers, and who do hope that as a society we have some hope of moral evolution. But when I look at the big picture, at people like the Pope and George Bush, I don't know what to think.