The Tornado Whisperer: Screw All Y’all, I’ma Get Mine.

A Christian lady in Texas thinks she prayed a tornado away from her home. I couldn’t possibly find a better example of the narcissistic Christian mentality of “screw all y’all, I’ma get mine” than this story, and today I’ll show you what I mean by that.

Storm chasing. (Credit: Anthony Quintano, CC license.)
Storm chasing. (Credit: Anthony Quintano, CC license.)

Sabrina Lowe is a TRUE CHRISTIAN™. When a tornado threatened her family and home the other day in the Dallas-area suburb of Rowlett, Texas, she prayed super-duper hard and told the storm to go somewhere else in the name of Jesus. And it did! It went away and hit another town. Praise Jesus!

(Sorry about your desks, friends.)

Ms. Lowe certainly isn’t the first Jesus Tornado Lady. She might be our example for this post, but she’s far from the only Christian who seems blissfully unaware of her own egocentric worldview. A few years ago a video of another woman praying a tornado away made the rounds, and it isn’t hard to find numerous accounts of Christians claiming that their prayers saved their homes and lives. When I was Christian, we heard plenty of similar legends (remember the one about the house fire that burned everything except the family Bible? That’s the same thinking). One shouldn’t be surprised that these accounts of “miraculous” escapes from harm are so common in Christian urban folklore; disasters are scary and uncontrollable, and we don’t have much ability to influence where they go or what they do–or to lessen their ferocity. They horrify and enthrall us precisely because of their power–which is why even as a non-Christian, I was transfixed by the sight of my first tornado years ago.

As a consequence of climate change, extreme weather–like hurricanes and serious winter weather–is becoming more of an issue in our world. We’re not totally sure if climate change is responsible for tornadoes, but one thing we do know is that they’ve been really inconsistent these past few years; some years have lots of very powerful tornadoes, while others have very few and weak ones.

About all we can do to protect ourselves from these storms is make better buildings and maybe try not to live in areas that are especially prone to such events. Uncertainty and powerlessness like that can make fundagelicals do some very odd and self-destructive things, but even so, it’s astonishing that they so rarely think through the stuff they say to soothe their fears and assert even a false sense of control.

Christian Narcissism in Action.

One thing you never hear is that extreme weather always skips Christian-heavy areas, or that good fortune seems to follow Christians. In between claims of magical aid and deliverance, Christians sandwich pious-sounding proclamations that bad fortune “rains on the just and unjust,” which comes from a Bible verse trying to explain why very faithful believers still seem to have a lot of bad luck, while simultaneously acting like they never expect bad fortune to fall upon their own heads because Daddy God Jesus would never allow it.

This dissonance made it really hard for me, when I was a Christian, to know what bad luck meant when I experienced it. Sometimes bad luck was my god wanting to teach me a lesson. Sometimes it was demons trying to discourage me or push me around. Sometimes it was my “flesh” punishing me somehow for sinful deeds or desires. Sometimes it really was just dumb luck. There wasn’t really a way to tell what bad luck meant even though I lived in and moved through a culture that took it as read that everything had supernatural purpose, and I quickly figured out that anybody who claimed to know exactly how to read a particular eventwas either deluded, mistaken, or lying–if not all of these. That said, my church bought into a particularly insidious form of prosperity gospel that meant that we believed that good luck followed TRUE CHRISTIANS™ (unless it was demons trying to discourage them or their god wanting to teach them a lesson), while bad luck followed fake Christians and non-Christians (unless it was demons wanting to keep them in a sinful lifestyle or our god being very forgiving and kind toward them in hopes of “wooing” them to the truth).

When some terrible event destroyed someone’s home or life, there was always this undercurrent of wondering: Did the victim do something wrong to offend “God”? And you can be sure that this question was something that the victim (if still alive!) was often wondering too.

But when they present these stories to others, Christians themselves are usually very quick to claim that their faith saved them from this or that disaster, just as NPR quotes Sabrina Lowe as doing:

We actually went outside and started commanding the winds because God had given us authority over the winds – the airways. And we just began to command this storm not to hit our area. We – we spoke to the storm and said, go to unpopulated places. It did exactly what we said to do because God gave us the authority to do that.

Notice that our TRUE CHRISTIAN™ storm-wizard doesn’t care about dispelling the winds, only directing them to go somewhere else. She says she wanted it to go somewhere unpopulated, but I’d invite you to look at a map of the area around Rowlett and come up with an area that fits that bill. So dissipation would have been a lot better than directing the tornado away, but she doesn’t have that kind of authority over storms quite yet at her level. (We’re assuming, for sake of argument, that she really did direct a tornado through magic, rather than employing confirmation bias to arrive at a favored conclusion.) You don’t get Dissipation until level 8. Everyone knows that. Either that, or she kinda knew while playing her Adult Pretendy Funtime Game that her prayers couldn’t magically evaporate a tornado… but that’s just me being silly, isn’t it?

She said the storm did “exactly what we said to do,” which tells me that she is totally on board with what happened next. Democratic Underground describes the carnage:

In Rowlett, 446 homes were damaged — 101 were total losses and 83 sustained major damage from a storm that generated winds of more than 135 mph in the city. Although 23 people were injured there, no fatalities were reported along the four-mile gash the tornado tore through the southeast portion of the city.

And in Garland, the next suburb over, 11 people were killed and thousands of families were displaced when their homes were damaged.

If I’d prayed away a storm that then caused that kind of damage, I’d be keeping it to myself and feeling terrible about all those people’s losses, not crowing about what I’d done. But does our storm-wizard-at-large care about all the damage “her” storm did? Does she take responsibility for these losses? Does she apologize for accidentally sending a huge, destructive tornado Garland’s way? Certainly not.

Look, I’m glad that she escaped; tornadoes are damned scary. I can totally understand her being frantic to take any offer of help she thinks exists. What I object to is her thinking that she’s so special that a magical invisible friend chose to save her rather than everyone else who suffered and died in that storm–and her implication that anybody who buys into her delusions can work similar magic. What happened to her is sheer luck of the draw, sheer random chance that she bought a house here and not there. I know that such an idea can feel incredibly threatening and frightening–but the alternative is actually way worse, and she doesn’t even realize it.

I wasn’t kidding when I suggested not asking any close questions of Christians making this kind of claim, incidentally. Asking questions only gets you answers that will infuriate you, because worse and more repulsive than the idea of a god saving one person at the expense of many others are the rationalizations Christians spout on cue when anybody expresses doubt in their claims.

Oh, So Many Rationalizations.

I’ve heard some truly dreadful ad hoc rationalizations for why Christian-heavy areas seem to have the worst luck with disasters, but these attempts to answer that question only raise more questions of their own:

1. “Demons must be attacking these towns extra-hard to make people lose faith!”
I used to hear this all the time. The same Christians trotting out this lame excuse are the same Christians who think that any criticism of their behavior equates to them “doing something right.” The idea behind this rationalization is that demons don’t like seeing TRUE CHRISTIANS™ successfully living good lives and spreading the faith, so they attack constantly to stumble those Christians and make others mock them or think less of their god for failing to protect them.

Why do they think they’re so important that demons actually care what they do? If I were a demon, I’d have better ways to stumble people than attacking them. I’d make their lives as easy as possible and spare them any harm. I’d make sure to answer their prayers every single time without tricking them or doing anything underhanded. I’d be their best friend and constant help in times of trouble. And I’d make extra-sure they knew who was greasing the wheels of their progress. It makes no sense whatsoever for demons to be mean to people–wouldn’t that just make people more likely to hate and resent demons and throw in with the demons’ enemy?

Discerning readers will also wonder why it is that Christians often declare that their god will send disasters to areas that refuse to let Christians trample over other people’s rights, like how they’re all totally convinced that “God” will hit America with meteors for refusing to let Christians bully and persecute gay people, but when that exact same thing happens to these selfsame Christians, it’s never their god doing it to punish them for their own wrongdoing.

Last, one must wonder why this god would allow demons to destroy his people–his children, his very Bride–when the world is watching to see what evidence there is for this god’s existence. It isn’t exactly impressive to see Christian-heavy communities regularly get decimated by storms. Either this god is too weak to stop this destruction, or doesn’t care to stop it, or doesn’t exist at all.

2. “God is a gentleman and lets storms happen because of free will.”
We began hearing this one only in the last ten years or so, but it gets trotted out regularly now, notably after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting when Bryan Fischer, a spokesperson for the Christian hate group American Family Association, offered it up as an excuse for how his god could possibly have let a bunch of little kids die at the hands of a disturbed spree killer. In this excuse, the Christian god can’t possibly lift a finger to stop storms from hitting areas of the country that are naturally prone to being hit by storms because he’s just such an incredible gentleman that he couldn’t possibly expose himself to non-believers or force anyone to do anything.

To this I can only reply that the Christians saying this are not talking about the god depicted in the Bible. One would be hard-pressed to find any evidence in that collection of myths to support the idea that he values or cares about free will, consent, boundaries, or anything else we recognize today as marks of a well-adjusted person and respectful society. The Christian god, in the Bible and in adherents’ folklore, constantly meddles in human affairs, hardens and softens hearts, “woos” people with miracles, and punishes people for doing all sorts of things. Nearly every prayer that a Christian claims is answered in the affirmative is an example of this god not caring about free will. But he suddenly gets terribly coy when it comes to helping people–except for a few, like Sabrina Lowe.

I don’t consider it very gentlemanly, either, or loving, or merciful, to stand by and allow people to suffer and die in agony, or to simply swivel on one’s thumb and watch people’s homes and lives be destroyed, without doing everything one can to help. If that’s a Christian’s idea of “gentlemanly” or loving behavior, then I’m glad I’m not a member of the tribe anymore.

3. Tornadoes and other disasters make people re-evaluate their lives (and convert).
I wouldn’t have believed this one if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, so here’s the relevant link. Yes, a huge Christian apologetics site seriously thinks that horrible natural disasters occur and murder millions of people because gol-dang it, sometimes that’s what it takes to make people realize they need to examine their priorities. The site goes on to say that these storms are wonderful examples of their god’s grace because of all the millions of dollars and man-hours that go into disaster relief and because the opportunity opens up for Christians to prey upon “minister” to the hurt and newly-homeless people trying to scrabble some semblance of their former lives back into place, because that money and time couldn’t be spent anywhere better at all and gosh, who better to prey upon “minister” to than someone that vulnerable!

Really.

I’m speechless in the face of such grotesque opportunism, and it’s hardly a unique mindset in fundagelicalism. Let’s move on, because about all you’re going to get out of me on this one is a lot of profanity and you already know my daddy was a sailor.

Not only do these rationalizations not answer the questions that non-Christians have and that Christians should have, but they all backfire horrifically.

A Culture of False Positives and Silenced Negatives.

If the tornado hadn’t passed Sabrina Lowe’s house by, we sure wouldn’t be hearing from her that she’d failed. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Christian say “Well gosh, we prayed our hearts out but we got hit anyway.” Failures are suppressed and silenced, while any perceived success gets magnified. But she is trying to make the case that for some mysterious reason, her god cared more about her prayers than he did about the prayers of those who were hurt or killed in that storm.

I wish that more Christians put a little more thought into the narcissism their religion encourages them to develop. I wish they understood that we can totally hear them when they talk like this, and even if they don’t quite understand the implications of what they’re saying, we do.

I’d never convert to any religion without it having evidence for its claims, and Christianity doesn’t have that. It’s not like Christian opportunists and narcissists are “driving me away from Jesus” by their behavior. But these people are ensuring that I won’t want to work with them or their churches on other projects, as well as making sure that I’ll never want to hang out with them socially. And I will resist all the harder their attempts to enshrine their religious privilege into law because I can see what immorality their religion has wreaked in their own lives and want no part of it in mine.

And I don’t use the term “immorality” lightly.

In the end, I don’t think I could live with myself if I caused others to suffer or die just to save my own skin. If I could take that damage upon myself to save so many others, I’d do it–and I’m a godless heathen. It’s so weird that the adherents of a religion that stresses self-denial, charity, giving, and sacrifice can’t take one on the chin if it means saving lives.

I guess Christians’ fetish for martyrdom only extends to having to bake cakes for same-sex weddings. Ah well.

We’ll be discussing speaking in tongues next, and I hope you’ll join me! SHALONDA RASHANDA SHAHALLA ANDARAN!

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