In times of tragedy, a glimpse into our culture


This was as close a look at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as anybody got today when she was transferred from the University of Tucson Medical Center to a waiting aircraft for a trip to a Houston rehab center. But that didn’t stop people from gathering along the route.

Giffords’ recovery from the tragic shooting that claimed six lives nearly two weeks ago is certainly heartwarming. It’s a story that needs no embellishment, and yet it continues to get it.

“Why is so much of the expression around this so excessive?” Kerri Miller of MPR’s Midmorning asked today. In particular, she focused on the assertion that Giffords’ recovery is “a miracle.”

“In part, it’s because we are so disappointed, so taken aback by the horror of the events, that we want to have some kind of moral balance,” ethicist Art Caplan said. “The flourishing the of the miracle language starts to be an antidote to the evil of the shooting. We want redemption. We want that event transformed into something positive, and one way to do it is to use religiously-tinged language about the recovery to get that redemption.”

Caplan said the same word was used — at least in the American press — during the rescue of the miners in Chile. The European press, on the other hand, focused on the science of it. “I don’t think it’s an accident,” Caplan said. “We tend to get religiously tinged language It’s reaching out for that divine or religious theme as part of how we interpret and make sense of our world. It’s just been the culture.”

Deborah Tannen, the professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, says it’s a glimpse into our culture..

“Anytime we confront a terrifying, unexpected death, in our daily life and public figures… what’s overwhelming is the lack of control. Something happens suddenly that we have no control over, we couldn’t foresee, and everything falls apart. We find ways to think about it that make sense,” she said. “When people talk about how they met their spouse, they’re horrified to think, ‘Had I not gone to that party, my whole life would be different.’ So they talk about it in terms of divine intervention.”

Reader Jennifer Zick — a scientist, she says — responded to today’s broadcast. “I agree with Art’s comments about not wanting to take away people’s hope in these situations, but I definitely think this language is overused. I, for one, do prefer to look at these situations as the result of determinism, because that is in fact the only explanation with any supporting evidence. It also avoids the trap of having to explain the counter situation — if god is intervening in Giffords’ care, why didn’t he save the other victims?”

Listener Doug Bieniek of Duluth, however, says he could barely stand the show:

Forgive my impudence, but neither the host, nor the guests have the slightest understanding of the concepts involved with true believers operating in faith. For secular folks such as those on your show to try to discuss a miracle and discover meaning in such a concept is like asking a laborer in the fields to repair the damage Mrs. Giffords suffered. Frankly, it was abundantly clear you had no idea where to begin to talk about such a topic.

Folks are habituated to assigning religious terms to things they do not understand and often throw such terms around devoid the very high value our Creator and the faithful place upon them. They use them without the foundation necessary to grasp such concepts and more often than not misuse and abuse such terms, even going so far as to turn some of these sacred terms into cursing.

Let me explain, to breathe is a miracle. That I may grasp a pencil, or type this message and send it to you is no less a miracle. That Mrs. Giffords should recover from her wounds through the work of all those people around her is still, a miracle. The secular definition of a gift from a Creator God is ridiculous. If one can accept through faith where the power for such things comes from, it is an easy leap to the real truth of all things.

There are all kinds of rock stars in the bible. The difference, however, is those operating with a faithful understanding know where to point the adulation when it comes their way. One can look to science for the truth, but it only reflects the great power of the One God who created all things in the first place. To think differently, in my view, is arrogant and one dimensional. If you are not able to see past the science, which is a created thing, one can never hope to truly understand truth.

Here’s the whole show.

Of course, everyone processes events differently. Some people invoke a divine intervention, others sell their toys:

  • John P.

    I guess I will never quite get it. It is smart doctors and good science that is doing good things for Rep. Giffords and the limits of those things to save the ones that died. It was a misguided or sick human that shot her in the first place, not fate or God. I just don’t see the need to get God involved in everything.s.

  • c

    very well said Mr P