Divine judgment?

circles of hellAlan Cooperman’s article in Sunday’s Washington Post on the how some see God at work in the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina disappoints. In taking on such a heady issue, Cooperman fails to go outside the usual sources and seems to trip up over the fact that the typical heavyweights in Christian circles failed to issue harsh condemnations from heaven on the sinners of New Orleans.

Cooperman is successful in digging up pro-lifers who saw to-be-born babies on weather maps and Muslims who saw this as the “wind of torment and evil that Allah has sent to this American empire.” Others include a person who saw the juxtaposition of the Israeli pullout of the Gaza Strip and the citizens of New Orleans as no coincidence.

My personal favorite in Cooperman’s article was Michael Marcavage of Philadelphia:

In Philadelphia, Michael Marcavage saw no coincidence, either, in the hurricane’s arrival just as gay men and lesbians from across the country were set to participate in a New Orleans street festival called “Southern Decadence.”

“We take no joy in the death of innocent people,” said Marcavage, who was an intern in the Clinton White House in 1999 and now runs Repent America, an evangelistic organization calling for “a nation in rebellion toward God” to reclaim its senses.

“But we believe that God is in control of the weather,” he said in a telephone interview. “The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the streets. . . . We’re calling it an act of God.”

Fortunately for the country, it looks like Falwell and Robertson learned their lessons from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:

The Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson, who were roundly criticized for suggesting that the Sept. 11 attacks were divine retribution for abortion, homosexuality, feminism and the proliferation of liberal groups, have been silent on the meaning of the hurricane. Most of the major Christian political advocacy groups also have been cautious.

“It’s a very risky business ascribing divine intent to natural disasters. Nobody but God really knows why these things occur,” said Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America’s Culture and Family Institute.

Well, no kidding. Last time I checked it is risky business attempting to speak for The Almighty.

Cooperman gets himself into trouble as he wades into the deep theological waters of speculating on the way the hand of God works in the world. Unfortunately, he relies solely on the opinions of the Rev. Alex McFarland, who works as Focus on the Family’s director of teen apologetics, and Ted Steinberg, a history professor at Case Western Reserve University. Nothing against McFarland and Steinberg and what they have to say, but couldn’t Cooperman track down someone with a bit more theological weight?

The two viewpoints expounded in the article attempt to pigeonhole the vast breadth of viewpoints from both atheists and Christians, and while I do not expect a relatively short news story to cover the expanse, I would expect it to acknowledge the broad range of views and quote people of greater theological gravitas and significance.

Jeffrey Weiss’ article in Friday’s Dallas Morning News deals with the similar issue of prayer much more thoroughly.

Here is a selection of some of the questions Weiss attempts to tackle:

But many Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who now turn to their deity in prayer must also turn past age-old questions:

If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and if he cares about humanity’s fate, what’s the point of prayer? Doesn’t he (or she) already know everything that we want and everything that we need?

And didn’t he allow — if not direct — the very hurricane that caused the suffering we’re now asking him to alleviate? Yes, the evil in the disaster area increasingly has a human face — looters, snipers, roaming bands of criminals. But the trigger for the suffering was Katrina, an “act of God.”

Didn’t he already ordain what has happened and what will happen, no matter what we do?

Why do we pray?

These are all excellent questions that take more than a news story to answer, but the effort was certainly a valiant one.

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  • Tom R

    > “Marcavage, who was an intern in the Clinton White House in 1999 and now runs Repent America…”

    Err… no saint like a [R]eformed sinner, I guess… Did he find God too, like Dick Morris?

  • http://bunniediehl.worldmagblog.com Bunnie

    This story did seem to be lacking but I have to remark that Cooperman normally does a great job with his religion stories.

  • http://auspiciousdragon.com holmegm

    >Well, no kidding. Last time I checked it is risky
    >business attempting to speak for The Almighty.

    He could speak for himself …

    “I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.”

    Of course, agreed that we cannot know *why* for any given diaster …

  • Rick

    Why do we pray if He knows our thoughts and needs already? It is to grow in our relationship with our Lord. We are called to have a personal relationship with God. That’s why we were created. How can one have a personal relationship with anyone unless you talk to them. And He responds. We may not be listening, but He does.

  • Stephen A.

    It’s obvious that God only sends torrents of rain and disaster to the evil, not the good.

    Just ask Pat Robertson’s followers.

    Just flipping through the channels, I came across him reading a letter from a woman who “called down the blood of Jesus” on her mobile home somewhere in Mississippi. She left the scene, and when she went back, EVERY home in the area was utterly destroyed, but her home was untouched. Even her bike was outside, just where she left it, leaning against her home.

    See? Only the evil, non-christians had their homes destroyed. I guess God protects his own.

  • Stephen A.

    Oops! It appears that God missed after all. Apparently, the French Quarter – that den of sin – was largely unscathed by the hurricane’s (I mean GOD’S) wrath.

    I have to concur (for the most part) with Mark Shea, who wrote today on his Blog:

    “I’m going to stick with the daring theory that New Orleans was destroyed by a hurricane, not by divine wrath….Theodicy is a fun game in the abstract. Sort of like playing “Lifeboat” in a college bull session. I enjoy a good game of “What if” as much as the next guy. But playing Lifeboat is much less fun when you are in a lifeboat and sensible people know that there is a time and place for speculating on the mysterious purposes of the Almighty and a time and a place for shutting one’s trap and just helping.”


  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    Others include a person who saw the juxtaposition of the Israeli pullout of the Gaza Strip and the citizens of New Orleans as no coincidence.

    Only one? Try reading the latest from WND:


  • http://www.christianengineer.org Joe

    Instead of blaming God, why not blame his so-called disciples who sacrificed the public good to their economic self-interest?

    There is no collective and intentional Christian influence in the engineering profession. This failing, contrary to Christ’s cultural commission to his followers to be “salt, light, and leaven” in their spheres of influence, contributed to the existence and persistence of basic engineering design deficienies in the New Orleans levee system (i.e. inability to isolate an interior levee leak) that took down New Orleans.

    I think this is a more valid angle instead of God’s judgement. Put the issue as his follower’s failings, driven by placing individual economic self-interest before public obligation.


    Joe Carson, P.E.
    President, Affiliation of Christian Engineers

  • Stephen A.

    If you mean the corrupt levee boards or the incompetent local government who can’t seem to get their act together in any circumstance (be it on crime, poverty or evacuating the indigent and poor,) I totally agree.

    God didn’t do this. A community largely did this to themselves.