Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Thoughts On Looting In New Orleans

Image hosted by Photobucket.comLooting has turned both the flooded and the unflooded streets of New Orleans into states of lawlessness. There are even reports of New Orleans Police driving looters out of stores and then piling merchandise into their own vehicles. Police have also been reported to have broken into car dealers and driven off with SUVs, supposedly commandeered for their "police work."

In some precincts 30-40% of officers have reportedly "quit" and simply stopped doing their job at all, leaving the isolated and besieged citizenry to fend for themselves.

What is it that drives men and women to act in such a way? Sin? Of course. But the nature of that "sin" is complex and convoluted.

If I was protecting my family under the circumstances we are seeing in New Orleans, and if my family was going hungry, I would "loot." Of course I would.

I would justify this as follows: Normally I would go down to the store to buy what I need. Today, there is no one there in the store to take my money. I will take what I need, keep track of it and try to pay the owner back later.

Well, that's probably what I would do. Is this really stealing? Technically and legally, yes. Morally? I'm not sure. Jesus' disciples plucked wheat from a field and ate it. This was done on the Sabbath, which got him a lot of criticism for having allowed his disciples to "thresh" wheat on the day of rest. I doubt, however, that Jesus owned the field from which he took the wheat. Was this stealing? Did Jesus sin?

Even David took the shew bread from the presence of the Lord when he was hungry. Was this sin? Or was it morally right to use available food to satisfy hunger that cannot be satisfied in any other way?

Is it morally right for someone to hoard food...far more than they need for themselves...while others are starving nearby? Do those who are starving have a moral "right" to force their way into the person's home and take that food in order to survive?

Do the "rights" of ownership and possession always trump the "right" of others to live? After all, our own founding documents say that "life" is an unalienable right, given to us by our creator.

It has been said that possession in 9/10s of the law. I suppose that the need for sustenance might be at least a part of the other 1/10.

But looters in New Orleans are not simply taking those things necessary for life. They are stealing drugs from pharmacies, electronic items like TVs and computers. One woman was seen carrying a vacuum cleaner through the flood waters. To vacuum what????

Here we have clearly stepped over the line between "needing" and "wanting."

The when we "want" something but do not "need" it, the Bible describes this with the word, "covet." As in "Thou shalt not covet." This is, of course, the last of the 10 Commandments. The eighth Commandment is also worthy of mention here...."Thou shalt not steal."

Coveting is to stealing what "committing adultery in your heart" is to adultery.

The looting and stealing in New Orleans has its origins in the hearts and minds of those doing it. When the opportunity came to act on their thoughts and desires, they did so.

Arresting these people and putting them in jail might protect the rest of us from their larceny but will not necessarily change their hearts and minds for the better.

It will take months and years of sweat and toil, along with billions of dollars, to reclaim the city of New Orleans from it present polluted and defiled condition.

Yet this will be a far easier task than trying to change the hearts and minds of people who would take a shopping cart full of Nikes home from a store without paying for them simply because they were able to.