Tropical Storm Emily appears to have bypassed much of Florida. Thank goodness that we are now spared the worst impact of any natural event -- religious leaders crediting God for punishing whoever felt the brunt.
It happens all the time. The reaction after Hurricane Katrina is a sample. Religious conservatives like Pat Robertson saw the 2005 storm as God’s way of punishing the U.S. for the “sin of abortion.” Charles Colson, the Watergate figure turned advocate of Christianity, commented, "‘Did God have anything to do with Katrina?’ people ask. My answer is: He allowed it and perhaps He allowed it to get our attention so that we don't delude ourselves into thinking that all we have to do is put things back the way they were and life will be normal again.”
Hal Lindsey, whose failed 1970s prediction of the end of the world, The Late Great Planet Earth, somehow made him a pundit, insisted the storm was the start of the fulfillment of his otherwise-failed claims.
The devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti drew the same kind of reaction. Pat Robertson insisted the Haitians had made a pact with Devil in 1804 to shed French control, forcing God to strike back forcefully with "one thing after the other."
Gee, so all the hurricanes and earthquakes that afflicted the island of Hispaniola before the French got there didn’t mean anything? Scientists, for example, recently discovered huge lava flows along the fault line that caused the earthquake. The lava is at least 150 million years old.
Robertson's callous comments don't hold a candle to claims by some Orthodox Jews that the Holocaust was God’s way of punishing European Jews for moving away from more stringent rules to more-liberal Reform or Conservative Jewish beliefs. Fascinating. The Nazis were instruments of God? Who could have guessed that?
Of course, AIDS is God’s way of punishing homosexuals. And, Chernobyl was God’s way of avenging Himself on the godless Communists.
There are several problems with such logic (?), beside the obvious.
In the first place, all of these terrible events ascribed to God in His vengeance are recent. What about older catastrophes? Did Mt. Vesuvius bury Pompeii and Herculaneum in79 C.E. because the residents didn’t accept Jesus, even though Christianity didn’t exist then? Was the Minoan Civilization erased by an earthquake in 1700 B.C.E. the result of their “evil” practice of hopping over bulls? How about the catastrophic 373 B.C.E. earthquake and tsunami that demolished Helike, then the principal Greek city on the southwest shore of the Gulf of Corinth? What had the residents there done wrong?
Did God wipe out the dinosaurs around 65 million B.C.E. because He wanted to chastise them for their unholy behavior?
Secondly, terrible earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, giant storms and other natural disasters have been recorded in the rocks since the earliest history of this planet. For example, lava that covers the Columbia Plateau and the Snake River Plain have been dated back millions of years. Every living thing in the area was killed. What were they punished for?
There is no limited to such deadly events in our planet's long 4.5 billion year history.
Moreover, such disasters will happen again because the processes involved are perfectly natural. The surface of the Earth sits on as many as 12 plates that float on a surface of molten rock. They cause continents to move apart and collide, such as India now ramming into Asia and creating the giant Himalayas.
Moreover, and most importantly, why doesn’t God reward people instead of punishing them? Why aren’t there incredibly positive events, proof of God’s benevolence? Or, can He only punish people into believing? That doesn’t bode well, considering that huge chunks of the world don’t believe in God – and two thirds don’t believe in the Christian version.
In truth, as we all know, God doesn’t have to punish anyone with some natural disaster. The “chastisement” will occur whether a deity chooses to get involved or not. Unfortunately, the hot wind spewed by religious conservatives looking to buttress their unsupportable views is almost as dangerous as anything God can devise.
Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.com. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. Many of his essays are also posted at www.williamplazarus.blogspot.com.