Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Divine Retribution

Religious fundamentalists love employing God when explaining the world's disasters. Usually, I derive some amusement from this, in a head-shaking sort of way. Such events are often described as being the direct result of a terrible wrath. But only some of the world's disasters need explanation in this way. The Asian tsunami was explained by the incredible Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church that that devastation was really wrecked upon the Swedish tourists who were vacationing there. Sweden, you see, is quite tolerant of gay people, something that is clearly upsetting God, so he decided to wipe out a few hapless tourists in Asia. Though there were 175,000 others killed who were not Swedish tourists, Fred probably put this off as acceptable collateral damage. The deaths of 5,000 Swedes was a great victory in the struggle against Satan.

But it was really Katrina that sparked an outpouring of theologising about God's wrath, Allah's wrath, Yaweh's wrath. The gods were seething with wrath and, listening to the various wrath merchants, it seemed that they all got together and agreed on one thing: New Orleans must be destroyed.

In the Christian fundamentalist camp, it was believed Katrina had been an Almighty blow that demonstrated a certain disagreement with the disengagement in Gaza. While some may have believed this, Jerry Robinson seriously explains that this just can't be the case; while the Bible is adamant that we all will be judged, he doubts that the hurricane is that judgement. Jerry tells us that the "dispension of Grace" is actually the only thing keeping the earth and all of humanity alive and that this divine dispensation has yet to be shut off, or closed down, or however it works, it hasn't yet stopped working:
The Bible makes it clear that God's wrath will not be poured out upon mankind until the dispensation of Grace comes to an end. When does the dispensation of Grace end? At the rapture of the church.
Thank heaven for small mercies. Or maybe this is a large mercy. I don't pretend to know these sorts of things. Who can keep track of all the Mercies and Grace while God is busy reigning death and destruction upon humanity?

Now, it is not just vast calamities that are the result of godly wrath. On occasion, fundies will claim that God can and does inflict a very singular and personal pain upon some perceived ne'er-do-well, which is where Ariel Sharon comes in.

The Gaza withdrawal worked fundamentalists into quite a lather and cogger Pat Robertson, as usual, was foaming more than most. Amongst the bubbles of righteousness, Robertson claimed that just such a divine personal attack was evidenced by Ariel Sharon's stroke. This was God's higly focused retribution for Sharon's blasphemous Gaza disengagement policy.

To more impartial observers, just what was being witnessed here? On the surface, the claims appeared at odds; were we seeing a conflict of wrath-based reasoning? Did the Gaza pullout result in Katrina or Sharon's stroke? Maybe this was a holy trinity two-fer of Almighty Indignation. It was all quite confusing.

That confusion in the realm of divine retribution was the result of a number of schools of thought that emerged on the issue of Katrina. While some blamed Middle East policy, Robertson pronounced that it had, in fact, been Roe v. Wade that had cause a enormous pent up wrath that finally unleashed itself on Lousiana in the form of the catagory 4 hurricane. Robertson did not associate Gaza policy and Katrina, and to him, the abortion problem had to be settled by busting wide a few levees on the Mississippi.

But fundamentalist Christians were not the only nuts thinking that God's hand was involved in wiping out New Orleans. We might recall that Muslims, too, saw an opening and immediately began working Allah into the equation. Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi, who is director of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowment, made this pronouncement:
The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah, But Not an Adherent of Al-Qaeda.
Apparently, Katrina viewed Al Qaeda's methods a little too severe. Again, small mercies.

Obviously, the divine nature of Katrina had become a sectarian battle of wrath and lent yet more confusion to this simple storm's provenance. But had we reached the end of it; were all possible explanations now laid out? Oh, no. No, no, no.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has now emerged from months of public attention slumber and has made himself only the latest political figure to explain the circumstances of Hurricane Katrina by way of God's wrath. But unlike Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America, who claimed that God had smote the city for its wickedness, Nagin believes that God is just really pissed about the Iraq war and so chose to devastate New Orleans as a demonstration of his displeasure with our warring ways. Oh, as a coinincidental aside, God is also unhappy with black people and how they treat each other:
Surely he doesn't approve of us being in Iraq under false pretences. But surely he is upset at black America also .... We are not taking care of ourselves. We are not taking care of our women, and we are not taking care of our children when you have a community where 70% of its children are being born to one parent.

If you don't understand how killing a thousand or more aged, infirm or poor people, tearing families apart and scattering them across the country demonstrates that African Americans should take better care of themselves and their communities, well, you obviously just don't get God, do you?

To me, though, this just demonstrates more confusion. For people who claim to know what God is doing and why he is doing it, they can't seem to get the story straight. You'd think they'd just ask and get this settled.

These public pronouncements of godly intervention and retribution all give me a rather ill feeling. Is what we're hearing from these public and political figures that much different than what might have been heard in the Middle Ages? Is it any wonder science is under attack with boobs like these at the controls? How much longer before prayer comprises emergency hurricane evacuation plans?

Oh wait, it already has.

All of this is absurd, of course, and none of it makes sense. But that is the beauty of fundamentalist theologising: it doesn't have to. What should give us all pause is that public officials in the twenty first century find it perfectly appropriate to make such ridiculous statements. Accountability flies out the door when so-called representatives will cite heavenly discontent rather than their own perfidy in such trying times. But that doesn't have to be the case. The people of this country must stand against these delusions and hold those responsible for their glaring faults. They make a mockery of the public when we do not.

There is one natural event that, should it happen, might actually give me pause regarding this question of divine retribution, cause some wonderment. If a tightly focused tornado ripped through a certain ranch in Crawford, Texas and, while George Bush was out doing what he does best, sucked him up into the sky, tore him limb from limb, scattered the parts hither and yon and in each and every place one of those parts landed, a bluebell blossomed.

Now that would make me go, hmmmm....


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