&#91SCRIVENER&#93War, accidents and conspiracies

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&#91SCRIVENER&#93War, accidents and conspiracies

A war on Iraq has been building for months and, in the disquiet that underlies the rationality of the inspections debate and its new terminology -- hands up if you know what a "material breach" is -- people are getting extreme.

Case in point: after the Challenger accident two weeks ago, someone on an Internet news group I'm signed up for surprised other participants by declaring that the accident was God's way of saying the United States should not attack Iraq.

"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," he said. Fair enougheth. But why not thpeak properly? But then he added, "If by His purpose, seven are taken to save hundreds of thousands, their lives have great meaning and their sacrifice is worthy.

"Death is not the question," he continued. "We all die. The question is whether your death will give meaning to others, even more so, that the Lord might use your death to impart a message to the world." (Memo to Grim Reaper: My message to the world is: "97-year-old blokes should not fall asleep.")

As you can imagine, this started a furious round of debate.

Written on the screen, his words seemed absurd, but, then, so do the tenets of any religion, if you've not grown up in the culture that believes in them or had an inexplicably profound conversion experience, which a lot of people have.

But, back to the Challenger. When you've gotten over the initial shock of a public tragedy like this, the mind searches naturally for an explanation. The media sticks to technical theories because mystical ones would sound flaky on CNN, but they're out there, ranging from aliens to America, Israel and India paying a sacrifice in order to solve the Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir problems. Some forget that the wreckage was strewn over several states and say the shuttle broke up over Palestine, Texas. Palestine, Texas, George Bush's home state, Middle East, Israeli astronaut who bombed Iraq 20 years ago. Get it?

I wonder if even NASA folks and investigators assembling the physical evidence do not, in the back of the mind, wonder about some deeper meaning. Should a planet warring on itself take its rivalries into space? Will aliens take kindly to us if we go about as American-Earthlings and Iraqi-Earthlings, with different space suits and different wake-up music?

At a time of foreboding, when America is uncharacteristically starting a war for reasons that people do not fully grasp, people may feel this accident was an omen. Was it? Who knows? As beings who do not fully understand our origins, it is natural that we strain for meaning in life. My first assignment as a young reporter in New York in 1982 was to hit the streets and ask people how they felt about the unseasonably heavy snow. A majority had a religious explanation.

Some, I found, were drawn to interpretations that emphasized love. Such religious people are happy to know they are loved even if they don't understand things. Others are drawn to power. You feel they seek to control others through the power of hidden knowledge that their conspiracy theories give.

The appeal of religion, you would think, is the claim that we are unconditionally loved by our creator. This love is so uppermost in the Christian mind that believers don't consider the image of a crucified body to be unpleasant.

What puzzles me, though, is how so many religious believers, like our Internet friend, believe in a God who swipes aircraft out of the skies. Do they really think the deity is thinking, "How can I tell them they shouldn't be doing this? Oh, here comes an aircraft." Flick.

No wonder we talk about "fearing" God. Your life may be used to send a message.

But this type of image of God is surely a projection of personal fears. After all, is it not insulting to suggest that, given the dullness of mankind's interpretative skills, God is still killing people as a way to send messages? Wouldn't rainbows be enough?

* The writer is managing director of Merit/Burson-Marsteller and author of "The Koreans." He is a member of the JoongAng Daily Ombudsman Committee.

by Michael Breen
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