Apocalypse, How?

CAL THOMAS

April 22, 1993|By CAL THOMAS

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- There are two serious questions about the events leading up to Monday's hellfire at the Branch Davidian headquarters in Waco, Texas. And some disturbing conclusions about our government's attitudes.

The obvious first question is, what was the rush? Granted, David Koresh and his followers had amassed an arsenal fit for a guerrilla army. But the group was not threatening anyone. They were 10 miles outside Waco and had given no indication they planned an assault on the town.

After the initial failed raid by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, why the hurry to bring the standoff to a conclusion? The FBI had established a presence. A fence with electronic sensors could have secured the area. Most of the agents and most of the press could have been sent home while authorities waited for the Branch Davidians to run out of food and water.

The excuse mentioned that the agents were tired and had no relief teams to replace them is insufficient. People's lives are worth more than the fatigue and boredom of authorities. Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode has admitted he was wrong in 1985 to order the hasty assault on his city's MOVE organization which led to a similar blaze that killed children and adults.

But there is something else that ought to trouble thoughtful people. It is federal officials' growing antipathy toward anything they regard as religious, whether ''bizarre'' or traditional. Our government increasingly places religion in a different category from, for example, problems involving race.

In the case of the riots in Los Angeles following the state trial a year ago acquitting the police officers who beat Rodney King, and even in the current Lucasville, Ohio, prison uprising, no one gave an order to storm mostly black neighborhoods or the prison cellblock housing mostly black inmates (at least not yet). Authorities grew tired and frustrated in those situations, too. But they didn't use this as an excuse for precipitous action.

In contrast, consider a few incidents in which government officials seem to feel less restrained when dealing with matters ''religious'': a Michigan mother is arrested and charged with truancy for home schooling her child; the National Endowment for the Arts subsidizes anti-religious, even blasphemous works; the Supreme Court rules that a rabbi cannot mention the name of God at a public-school graduation ceremony.

Also consider the violent incidents with religious overtones, such as Waco and the shooting of a Florida abortionist. The government seems to adopt the attitude that it has carte blanche to resolve differences it may have with such individuals or groups -- in violent ways or by attempting to restrict legitimate protest -- if the words ''fundamentalist,'' ''sect'' or ''cult'' can be applied.

These are just some examples of the moral and political anarchy that reigns now, a time when we should be celebrating the end of the Cold War and the promise of a peaceful future. A Wall Street Journal editorial Tuesday hit close to the mark when it said, ''The enemies and critics of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, will say we are getting what we deserve for happily accepting that God was dead. They warned us about removing organized faith from the center of active ideas, indeed ridiculing it. Now we see that the religious urge is strong enough that in many confused lives healthy faith is supplanted by much weird behavior, such as the Koresh cult.''

When the normal and the orderly are opposed, the abnormal and disorderly will assert themselves. Until our government learns to support and respect the simple faith and traditional values of so many of its citizens, it may be increasingly confront aberrants like David Koresh.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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