Ludwig Bemelmans said, "It's always wonderful when something altogether wrong ends right, without the help of either religion or the police." I suppose by "religion" he meant what most people mean: pompous, hypocritical, out-of-touch, glory-seeking blowhards who rake in the dollars of the gullible without ever lifting a finger to offer real help.
He didn't mean what we saw yesterday, when something like 150 members of local clergy of various faiths linked arms and processed down the street in downtown Baltimore, past burning cars and over rubble, calling for an end to violence. Reporter Deborath Weiner was with them, and described how they knelt down in the street, praying for peace. This screenshot from the video shows the clergy between the mob and the police line, on their knees:
It reminded me, in a small way, of those apocalyptic scenes of Ukrainian Orthodox and other Catholic priests striding out to stand like divine warriors between anti-government protesters and the lines of police in Kiev. The stakes were higher there, and the priests were probably in more danger, but the basic idea was the same: we still live in a world where people may stop and listen to a man of God. And those men of God still believe that God will be with us when we ask for His help. That going down on our knees will make a difference, both to God and to the warring people who witness it happening.
Even in the Ukraine, although the priests seemed to side more with the protestors, it was not a clear cut case of good vs. evil, just against unjust. Both sides had good and evil men among them; neither sides motives were pure. And the same is true in Baltimore, despite what the news is choosing to report: there are protesters (and tens of thousands of citizens) who didn't get violent; there is the majority of police offers who are not unjust. And there are rioters who are only there to maim and destroy their own city, and there are looters who seem to be making off with the strikingly unluxurious loot of toilet paper and diapers. That's the problem: it's complicated. Maybe too complicated for any administrative fiat or change in policy to change. As the clergy said to the press in Baltimore, "There's been a state of emergency way before tonight . . . it's been a long time coming." How can we fix this? Not by shouting, "You're a thug!" "Well, you're a racist!" over and over again.
To those who still wish we could find some peace without the aid of either police or religion, I would ask: what's your plan, then? I'm reminded, bizarrely, of Ned Flanders' parents, who had completely failed at disciplining their kids. They explained, "We tried nothing, and we're fresh out of ideas!"
I don't know, America. Nothing hasn't worked all that well. Maybe it's time to try religion again. Not the religion of puritans whose job it was to stamp out dancing and drinking and fun; not razzle dazzle televangelists who somehow persuade old ladies to fund their new gold-encrusted Cadillac for the Lord; not useless hand-holding and banjo strumming and felt banner making, and not political lobbying masquerading as something spiritual, but real religion, the kind that brings us to our knees in the street. We've tried nothing, Lord, and we're fresh out of ideas.