The old testament is full of killings and genocide. Whole tribes slain, women raped, towns and cities pillaged. From the killing of Abel to the captivity of Israel, it is a continuous story of sin and retribution. And the wages of sin was death. Literal death. No kidding.
One of the stories tells of a bunch of kids dissing Elijah the Prophet. The man summoned a bear to devour the kids. Just think about it and let a shiver run through you. Kids, man! A bear! To eat them? For calling you names? A “prophet” who tosses children at wild animals today will be lynched by angry parents.
But Christians, and many other non-Christians don’t shudder at the bloodletting of the Old Testament. The tragedies and deaths in verses and chapters seem far too remote for them to worry about the details. Instead they pick up the moral lesson to be learnt and continue to the next story. But the death of Jesus is the theme of almost 27 books. A situation best explained by the the words attributed to Stalin: “One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic.”
This is not just a Christian predilection. Its all too human. We ignore large numbers and focus on the smaller ones. However the death of one man is as tragic as the other–and you shouldn’t fault him for dying with company. The Rwandan Genocide, the Jewish Holocaust, 9/11, Biafran Civil War–we bunch up all sorts of individual deaths in one mouthable phrase. But we go haywire over a singular event: Anita Smith, age 24, a banker, single, was murdered.
And that is why I refuse to mourn individual tragedies any more than I mourn collective ones. I am sober about the death of a single person, but life goes on for me within the hour. The statistical death is as tragic as the single one. The fact that I know someone’s name does not make his death more important than the one whose name I do not know. The death of the people of biblical Sodom and Gomorrah is as sad as that of Michael Jackson. And when I read of those two events, I read them with thoughtfulness–not indifference for one and sorrow for the other. Statistics are tragic too, and the tragic is also statistical.