"I’m not excusing looting"

Actually, that’s exactly what some politicos and pundits are doing. The quotation is from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who said on MSNBC

“Thousands of people are stuck and stranded without food and water. Now, I’m not excusing looting. I’m not the attorney general. I’m not a law enforcement official. But the situation is, is that people have been without food and water.”

One of the verities of politico-speak is that you can take the opposite of what is said as the truth. In Landrieu’s case, she is precisely excusing looting, because, after all, “people have been without food and water.”

The source for this quotation is a very nuanced article in the Washington Post on the current state of near-anarchy in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas hit by the hurricane. Here, the word “nuance” is not exactly a compliment. Rather, reading this bit of moral vacuity in the Post is merely another sign of their lack of grounding in the truth. An an example, in the print edition of the paper there’s a photo of a man hauling a large plastic bag filled with stolen goods. The caption is “People remove items from a New Orleans shoe store.” Yes, “remove items.” I’m certain that the man’s family will enjoy eating those shoes. How very sad that the Post can’t seem to call stealing by its proper name.

Getting back to the basic ethical question, it used to be expressed in ethics discussions thusly: “Is it acceptable to steal a loaf of bread if your family is starving?” The answer is, sometimes yes, with several caveats, but, mostly, no. Yes, if this is your last resort and there is no other source of food and if you don’t get this food to your family, they will starve and your theft will not harm another. No in all other circumstances. Epecially relevant to the chaos in New Orleans now: if you steal bread for your family, then perhaps someone else’s family will die for want of that same bread.

This is why looting after a disaster, especially for scarce necessities (nevermind a fresh supply of Air Jordans), is especially heinous. That looting is worse than mere theft, and constitutes a form of hoarding — someone else, in just as much, if not more, need as you, will not have access to those necessities.

The looting and other criminal acts, seemingly unleashed by the hurricane, should be no surprise at all to a Christian, at least of the Reformed persuasion. We are, each and every one of us, totally depraved, born that way. Cut loose some of the bonds imposed by normality, and that evil bubbles to the surface, and it’s no surprise that many are unable to control it. The pleasant surprise is the number of people whose first impulse is just the opposite — to render aid.

Don’t think yourself immune to the evil behavior shown during the hurricane’s aftermath. I surely don’t, though I pray that were I tested in this way I would choose the strait path. More importantly, let us all pray to God that those left with nothing will find the strength, whose only source is God, to bear up under their burdens.

In the meantime, be generous; right now money is urgently needed. Also, my church is working with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board to send relief workers; chances are your church or synagogue is doing something. A short list of places to donate through:

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