How do we challenge the idea that some lives matter less than others? It’s a tough math problem…even worse than the common core…hard to imagine, I know. I hate math too. But these days the math concerning the value of life gets even worse. 147 dead students in Kenya. 43 kidnapped and killed in Mexico. 14 murders per day this month in San Salvador. One more dead black man in South Carolina. I hate this math even more than normal.
From here in Madrid I’ve seen several posts wondering why 12 dead French cartoonists merited more media response than 147 dead African students. It’s a fair question and highlights important underlying prejudices that desperately need our attention. But it must be noted that this…calculating…is a strange math from the outset. It’s a kind of trap to count the bodies of the dead, as if ‘only’ 12 dead is better than 147, let alone to wonder if dead cartoonists are better than dead students.
If we’re concerned about not only how many deaths matter but how any lives matter in the first place, we might want to begin by counting the living. We must not only ask how many were killed in Paris or Kenya or Mexico or South Carolina or El Salvador or Ferguson or Chicago or or or… any number murdered anywhere is too many. We must also ask how many will stand for them. Here is where our stats may become really tragic. Here is where we might see a discrepancy worthy of our righteous outcry. For if we fill front pages with Paris but find no place for Garissa … here is more reason for scandal and outrage.
When our image of what we’d like to be (liberté, égalité, fraternité) blocks our capacity to see what actually is (bigotry, inequality, brutality), we are lost. When the idea of liberty outperforms the reality of fundamental human dignity we have a problem. When those who insult the faith of others are defended more robustly than those who are murdered because of their own faith…we are profoundly confused. These metrics are hopeless, but one thing is sure: We must begin to count the living if we’re ever going to stop counting the dead.
We ought to count the number of folks standing now in protest and in prayer, count those who actually give a damn. Here will be some reason for hope, for if even one stands for peace and justice, they stand with God, they stand in faith against the idea that some lives matter less than others. Those who stand in prayer and protest remind us that there are many more to count, many more who ought to count, many lives that, in reality, don’t yet matter — lives that we only count once they’re dead, persons we can only see as bodies. To count the living, to note what we do in the aftermath, is to account for what matters most.
Where to begin? We might want to count those in poverty. Count those incarcerated. Count those who are refugees. Count those in shelters and those on the streets. Count those persecuted for their gender or their race or their faith…those…count each of them…and count those who stand with them. Count until those become these, until theirs become ours. Count these lives — all of them — if any lives matter…for the love of God, we must count them too. And when we finally count ourselves among those who refuse to remain silent in any circumstances of cruelty, violence, injustice, discrimination and hate, only then will we know how much any life really matters. We must count the living.