Bacteria, Bombs, Boston, Bridgegate, and Burning in Hell.

Prof. George Jochnowitz

OpEds Prof. George Jochnowitz
Prof. George Jochnowitz

Penicillin became available during World War II, and starting in 1945, it was used to treat bacterial infections. Further research led to the development of other antibiotics
Anti-Zionism, the child of anti-Semitism, is the most powerful political force on earth.
and a significant decrease in the danger of bacterial infections. Antibiotics were a major factor in the increasing life span of human beings.

But what about the poor bacteria?  They have to make a living too. In order to save the life of just one human, millions—and perhaps billions—of bacteria in that human’s body are killed by antibiotics. Is this fair?  Is it moral?

Yes, it is fair and moral. Human life matters more than the life of other species to us.  It may even matter more in general, since we humans are intelligent, artistic, and creative. Nobody has ever argued that it is wrong to cure illness by killing bacteria.

When we get to war, the question is much more troubling. Soldiers in opposing armies kill each other. If you kill your enemy, then your enemy can’t kill you. Countries at war bomb each other’s cities. They do so to make their enemy country unable to function well enough to fight a war. Sometimes the bombings can persuade the enemy that war is not worth the cost.

During World War II, the United States and its allies carpet-bombed Dresden and Hamburg. These bombings may well have shortened the war and saved American lives. The United States also atom-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The atom bombings were carried out to hasten Japan’s surrender. How much difference did they make?  We can’t ever know, but those at war don’t stop to ask whether a bombing shouldn’t be carried out because its cost in enemy lives may be greater than the number of lives it saves on one’s own side.

The Boston Marathon bombing was quite different from fighting bacteria and fighting a war. It was done by Chechen nationalists who wanted Chechnya to be independent. There is no conceivable way that the killing of three people and the crippling of, perhaps, 100, could have helped to achieve Chechen independence. The bombing served no purpose whatsoever.

Then why did the Tsarnaev brothers do it? We can never know, but they were acting in the tradition of the 9/11 pilots who somehow felt that committing a massive and visible act of murder would help the cause of al-Qaeda. Instead, their crime led to the end of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that protected al-Qaeda and gave them a home.

The tradition may have begun with the three members of the Japanese Red Army who landed at Lod Airport in Israel and started shooting at anybody in sight.  They killed 26 people, 11 of whom were Puerto Rican Christian pilgrims. Anti-Zionism seems to be what started this crazy tradition. Certainly the 9/11 pilots were anti-Zionist. In all likelihood, anti-Zionism was a major part of the thinking of the Tsarnaev brothers as well.

Anti-Zionism, the child of anti-Semitism, is the most powerful political force on earth.

Unlike killing bacteria, which we can agree is not evil, and unlike bombing the Axis Powers in World War II, which despite its violence was self-defense, the Boston Marathon bombing was unambiguously evil. So was the shooting at Israel's international airport. And like so many evil acts, both could not in any way have achieved the goals of the perpetrators. Serious evil is frequently pointless.

Bridgegate was certainly pointless. It was meant to be an act of revenge against the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mark Sokolich. Sokolich had not supported Chris Christie’s race for governor. Sokolich, not surprisingly, was not trapped in the traffic jams engineered by the Bridgegate perpetrators. Did anyone expect Sokolich to be blamed for the closed lanes? Did anyone think that Governor Christie and his staff would escape blame?

Who suffered? New Jersey residents were the majority, in particular, residents of North Jersey, a majority of whom are Republicans. A majority of New Jersey residents had voted for Christie. It made no sense to trap them in tie-ups at the George Washington Bridge. Bridgegate was not only pointless but very stupid.

If Hell exists, it is more evil than anything else could possibly be.  Nobody could deserve eternal torment, with the possible exception of a Hitler. In general, punishment exists to show people that they won’t get away with their offenses, to make a public statement against crime, or to confine or execute criminals so that they cannot repeat their acts.  Hell does none of these. Those who are dead cannot commit any more crimes.

Since we don’t know who has gone to Hell, their punishment doesn’t make a public statement. Worst of all, the rules about who is 'saved' and who is 'damned' are not made clearly evident in Christian theology.  Why should faith have to be a criterion for salvation?  Faith is not the same as knowledge. Those without faith don’t know the danger of damnation until they are already in Hell and it’s too late.

The ugly story of the rich man in Hell told in Luke 16:19-31 tells us precisely how pointless Hell is. The rich man asks that his brothers be informed so that they won’t be damned as he was. He is told “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Ridiculous! Jesus, who is the first voice to mention Hell in the New Testament (there is nothing about eternal damnation in the Hebrew Bible), tells us this parable with apparent approval. His lack of mercy, too, is pointless.