Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Divining messages from disasters could lead to dangerous conclusions

Proving that the interpretation of natural disasters as divine judgments is the not the exclusive province of the loony Right, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin yesterday suggested that the recent surge in violent storms along the Gulf Coast, culminating in Hurricane Katrina, represents a punishment inflicted by God on America (for our invovlement in Iraq) and on New Orleans in particular (because of black on black crime).

One hesitates to scoff: I certainly don't want to incur God's personal anger. Look what Pat Robertson said happened to Ariel Sharon. (Oh, wait, he took that back, didn't he? Not God, I mean, Pat Robertson.)

It's just that two things occur to me when I see these stories.

First, I believe that God could be a bit more clear in getting His message across, if indeed He intends us to send a message -- any message -- in hurricanes or tsunamis or strokes suffered by elderly, overweight politicians who are undertaking the stress of a national election at the head of an untested political party. If God were trying to tell us something specific, whether about Iraq, or western modes of dress, or anything else, God certainly has the ability to make the message unmistakably clear. My suspicion therefore is that God really isn't speaking to us at all through disasters or events.

Second, I can understand where God might be miffed at America generally or New Orleans in particular for a whole host of reasons. You might agree with me on this general statement -- and we might (and perhaps would) disagree as to what those reasons might be. But are our transgressions -- whatever you think they may be -- worse than those of others against whom God has not allegedly flexed His muscles?

Kim Jong-Il starves the North Korean people. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems intent on taking his people to the brink of war so that he can acquire nuclear weapons (and probably not just for display purposes, either). Osama bin Laden is apparently still alive. Living in a cave maybe, but still scheming as to how he'll impose his vision of God's will on the rest of us. So God strikes down Ariel Sharon for retreating from some real estate mentioned in the Bible?

People right now are plotting to entice dupes to strap explosives to their torsos and detonate themselves in the midst of women and children or men looking for work. Slavery is still practiced in Africa (and maybe elsewhere, too). Central and South American militias, some with a professed left-wing ideology, some with right-wing, practice banditry and murder and extortion within their individual domains, harvesting death and despair for drug addicts in the U.S. and Europe. And God sends Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans?

If you see God's hand in New Orleans or in Ariel Sharon's stroke you must conclude also that God has stayed His hand against these others -- and ... well ... you can see (even if Mayor Nagin and Pat Robertson can not) where that logic must lead.

I think better of God than this. I pray that I'm right.

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