Recently, there's a been a lot of discussion about God's revenge in America.
First, Pat Robertson, bless his doddering soul, claimed that Ariel Sharon's stroke was God's retribution for the Israeli right-winger not taking a hard-enough line against the Palestinians and holding onto every inch of occupied turf.
Then, wind-addled New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, possibly having consumed too many Hurricanes on Bourbon Street in celebration of Martin Luther King Day, offered up the theory that Katrina was God's revenge on America for her evil ways.
Moderates and religious people howled with rage after both pronouncements. Both men were shamed into apologies and retractions for having dared to speak for the Great Almighty.
God's revenge, though, is a tempting subject for debate.
Here in New York City, all week long, the desire for terrestrial revenge simmered underneath the 24-7, all-tab, all-TV coverage of the torture and beating death of a seven-year-old girl named Nixzmary
Brown. Sometime last weekend, her stepfather bashed her head against the inside of a bathtub until she was dead, for taking a cup of yoghurt out the refrigerator without his permission and then messing with his computer printer. Mom stood by as the girl was stripped, chained to a chair and then beaten to death in the tub, doing nothing even as the girl uttered her last words, which the tabs repeated in screamer headlines: "Mommy, don't leave me!"
Cops shouldered the tiny white coffin and thousands lined up to attend not one but two wakes for the little girl, who had been beaten for months, so severely that she missed 48 days of school, showing up with black eyes and prompting school administrators to alert the child welfare agency. Social workers visited the predictably grim apartment, noted the peeling plaster on the ceiling and the recently miscarried fetus in a jar on Mom's bureau, but did not take the girl out of the "family." That's because this family was not all that unusual in the annals of New York City child case-working. It was a human unit headed by a pair of 27-year-old dropouts who had somehow already produced in their short lives a total of six children, ages 9 months to 9 years old, all crammed into one or two rooms. The black eyes were frequent enough that police officers were notified, but no cop ever stepped into the apartment until it was time to take the murder investigation statements.
In a flood of child-abuse porn, the New York tabs and even the Times printed horrific details of little Nixzmary's last minutes. Reporters worked overtime extracting blow-by-blow accounts of the torture from disgusted police officers whose unusual loquacity derived from a missed chance to rescue the child.
Mourners who didn't even know the girl told reporters they were furious at the mother, now in jail and charged with second-degree manslaughter, and the maternal grandmother, who attended the funeral and sobbed hysterically on camera after apparently not having checked in on the child for months.
The newspapers, cops, mayor and the people of New York all craved revenge. Someone - parents, grandparents, case workers - must be made to pay! Not enough that the parents were in jail. Case workers were sacked and demoted. More heads are yet likely to roll.
Reading the story of little Nixmary's last hours and then looking at the mug shots of the surly young man and woman she called parents, I felt exactly what the mourners on line were feeling. The desire for revenge is a physical sensation, experienced first in the teeth and in the gut. It is animal, primal, a carnivorous thing. It wants to chew and spit.
There is nothing Godly about revenge. But, oh how delicious it feels on mortal tongue.
In the same week, newspapers reported on a new study claiming that revenge is actually a dish savored more by males, not females, contrary to popular opinion. Researchers found that a primal, hunting part of men's brains actually lights up with electrical activity when they witness a satisfying bit of revenge (a "bad" subject being zapped) while in women, the same sort of event causes no activity in the primal lobe, rather, only a slight flicker in the part of the brain used for compassion.
I would like to take this test, because I think I'm the kind of female whose brain would not register compassion but rather glee. I have underestimated my biology and been surprised by my hormones many, many times before, so perhaps I'm in denial, but some of my happiest and most invigorated hours have been spent reliving revenge-ful moments, or actively plotting revenge.
Perhaps though, there's something called compassionate revenge.
As I write these words, I am illuminated with a compassionate revenge fantasy for that little beaten girl, her ruined siblings and the tens of thousands of other little children in this country born to abusive people who are beyond hope and rehabilitation themselves, but whom the law still treats as "families."
What if case-workers in city slums from New York to Detroit to Houston to L.A. were given lists - the names and home addresses of everyone who has ever given money to a "right to life" organization. Rather than try to keep the abusive "family" units intact, why not simply remove battered children at the first sign of trouble and ship them lickety-split over to those nice, clean people who prize fetal life
Surely many of them - starting with Judges Roberts and Alito - have the financial means to buy abused children the hours and years of psychotherapy they will require to become functioning citizens. If not,
simply experiencing the unconditional, boundless love for human life that the "pro-lifers" share is bound to be good for their damaged little souls.
Even I, with my skeptical view of the motives of our citizen-moralizers, do not believe that a 27-year-old urban woman producing six children, and standing by as her beloved male partner beats and tortures babies is what the pro-lifers intend when they deny women abortions, morning-after pills, and easy access to contraception. They don't think that far ahead. They should be forced to do so.
Welcoming dysfunctional, throw-away baby humans into their homes, the believers will have to start to wonder: When God gives a poor young woman a sixth "little angel" from heaven to care for, in a household utterly devoid of support or compassion, might that not be another form of Heavenly Revenge?
Could God be just smacking His lips right now?