When Christians Blame God for Disasters

When Christians Blame God for Disasters July 9, 2019

In the Jonah story, Jonah doesn’t like the task God assigned for him. He flees in a boat, and then a terrible storm comes up. The sailors draw lots (which is portrayed in the Bible as a reliable way of discovering the truth) and discover that Jonah is the problem, which Jonah admits. They throw cargo overboard but that’s not enough. The storm finally stops only when they throw Jonah over.

God caused the storm. The Bible even admits that God causes all evil:

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, Jehovah, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7).

Is it not from the mouth of El Elyon that both calamities and good things come? (Lamentations 3:38)

This idea that disasters are caused by God continued in the medieval period. With the Black Death, which killed roughly half of Europe’s population from 1346–53, the Christian continent again thought that only God’s rage could explain the pandemic. The best way to protect oneself from this terrible disease was penitential activity such as public and bloody flagellation (see the painting above), pious commemoration of the dead, and persecution of those groups that God was probably angry at such as the poor, beggars, or minorities like Catalans or Jews.

Our approach to evil today

Things are different today, with modern science to tell us what causes storms and disease.

Or maybe not. When it suits them, some apologists and politicians will dismiss the science and fall back on superstition. Remember what Jerry Falwell said on Pat Robertson’s television show two days after the 9/11 attack:

The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say, “You helped this happen.”

Remember Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005? God was obviously mad about something, but what was it? Maybe racism (Louis Farrakhan’s conclusion) or abortion (Pat Robertson) or America’s insufficient support for Israel (an Israeli rabbi). Or, of course, the gays.

Remember the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed 300,000? It was the result of that pact they made with the devil. Just ask Pat Robertson—he’ll tell you.

Remember the 2013–15 Ebola epidemic in West Africa that killed over 10,000 people? Reverend Ron Baity of North Carolina said that God was furious about same-sex marriage:

If you think for one skinny minute, God is going to stand idly by and allow [same-sex marriage] to go forward without repercussions, you better back up and rethink this situation. . . . You think Ebola is bad now, just wait.

(For even more examples of everything that’s the gays’ fault, check out this list from The Advocate.)

Remember when Texas governor Rick Perry prayed for an end to the 2011 drought in Texas? A California State Assembly member in 2015 thought that God was similarly involved with her state’s severe drought, and she made clear what God was livid about this time: abortion.

Remember John Hagee’s groundless fulminating about the “Four Blood Moons”?

A little reason

Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson both backed away from their hysterical 9/11 slander. The first major rain after Rick Perry’s 3-day public Days of Prayer came six months later. And Hagee ignored the failure of his Four Blood Moons hysteria and launched off into flogging some other groundless catastrophe.

Do these Christians know their own Bible so poorly that they’ve forgotten this verse?

The prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. (Deuteronomy 18:20)

(Maybe it’s not these Christian readers of tea leaves that have forgotten the Bible but their own timid followers who keep giving them attention and money.)

We know what causes hurricanes, lunar eclipses, disease, and droughts. We understand terrorism. We know that homosexuality is natural. God isn’t part of the equation. Pointing to God as the puppet master behind the world’s disasters is an empty claim. It’s like pointing to Halley’s Comet as the harbinger for the victory of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

It’s hard to believe that it’s the twenty-first century, and Christian leaders still make these claims. Or that their fans accept the claims and then come back for more after they fail. And what does it say about their God that they can easily imagine that he’s behind all the natural evil in the world? What catastrophe could possibly happen that God’s followers wouldn’t bounce back and praise him for his fabulousness?

I can do little but suggest that that’s what our imperfect brains can do, that we’re all susceptible, and that we must be continuously on guard. And to offer this bit of insight from author and professor Kathryn Gin Lum:

This instinct [to fear an angry God] is also why conservative evangelicals care so deeply about same-sex marriage and abortion even though they don’t engage in those activities themselves. It’s why people who are anti-big-government want the government to intervene in affairs that don’t seem to have that much to do with their own lives. This is why some evangelicals take a laissez-faire view of the financial markets but a highly interventional view of the government’s role in policing others’ individual choices.

I love seeing the Universe described by math.
I also love seeing it described by Michelangelo and Beethoven.
I’m appalled at seeing it described by William Lane Craig and Ray Comfort.
— commenter Richard S. Russell

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 6/22/15.)

Image credit: Wikimedia, public domain

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • LeekSoup

    It’s amazing how powerful gay people are. They should start holding urban areas to ransom the way NFL owners do. “Give us $250 million dollars or God will send a hurricane to flatten your city.”

    • Jack the Sandwichmaker

      Build me a new mega-church or I’ll go move across the country where they WILL build me a new mega-church. With a runway and hangars for both my private jets!

      • Michael Neville

        Bye. Alabama is thataway —>.

        • Greg G.

          Alabama is thataway —>

          < Turns computer 20° counter-clockwise > Thanks, Michael. My laptop was askew.

        • Mike Panic

          I thought it wasz ===>. LOL

    • Jim Baerg
  • Jack the Sandwichmaker

    The prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. (Deuteronomy 18:20)

    He doesn’t really give a timeline. Falwell’s dead. Time for everyone else will come.

    • You could easily intepret this as saying false prophecy should be a capital crime. However, they probably wouldn’t like that idea.

      • Jack the Sandwichmaker

        I’m pretty sure that calling for execution IS what was meant. I was just joking because in that particular translation, it’s ambiguous. I don’t feel like checking other translation to see if they’re more specific (and I can’t read the original Hebrew)

        • I’d bet that is what’s meant as well.

  • Polytropos

    It’s hard to believe that it’s the twenty-first century, and Christian leaders still make these claims. Or that their fans accept the claims and then come back for more after they fail.

    It’s hard to believe, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. When people have an irrational worldview based on magical thinking, they can accept the craziest claims. And they don’t link cause and effect effectively, because they don’t see the world in those terms. They do see patterns, but they’re not good at figuring out which patterns are meaningful and which are not. In short, we shouldn’t expect irrational people to behave rationally.

    • eric

      IMO humans have an in-built, instinctive assumption of agency for important events. This is part of our ‘we are pattern-seeking animals’ thing and the whole ‘when the grass is moving, better to assume tiger and have it be wind than to assume wind and have it be tiger’. That sort of instinct spills over into things that have happened, too, not just things that might happen in our future.

      Religion enhances this irrational assumption, making it worse. But it doesn’t create it. As a father to one atheist kid and helping to raise someone else’s other atheist kid, I can guarantee you that religion is not at all necessary or at the root of people wanting to find someone at fault, some entity to blame when bad things happen.

      • Jennny

        I ponder about human beings’ instinctive assumption of agency as I live on a welsh hillside with the remains of bronze age hut circles around me. It’s on an atlantic coast, cold, windy and harsh. The inhabitants relied on fishing..and the climb down steep cliffs there would be very risky for a start..and the soil poor for grazing an animal or growing crops. So one storm, one patch of winter weather or drought and one’s family perished….no wonder they had to think outside themselves and create rituals to appease angry capricious ‘gods’ who must be responsible for these happenings. I’m a kind of concrete thinker…can’t come up with the proper word for it, but I stood in one of those huts recently and thought about the bible, a bronze age book…that as a x-tian I believed was divine, but now see as the product of this primitive era.

      • Polytropos

        Yep, we’ve evolved to find patterns, and we all have an inbuilt tendency to look for agency even when it’s not necessarily there. As we grow up we get better at figuring out what’s a real pattern and what’s just noise, but religion stunts people’s psychological growth and prevents them developing the tools to critically assess their perceptions.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      When people have an irrational worldview based on magical thinking, they can accept the craziest claims.

      Well said. Religion champions irrationality, and that’s why it is critical to address even its moderate forms.

  • Jim Jones

    > the Christian continent again thought that only God’s rage could explain the pandemic.

    But also Jews and cats. The Jews because fewer of them got sick, due to bathing rituals. The cats because witches.

    They killed lots of both.

    • Were Jews’ bathing rituals healthy? I read about the buildings at Qumran. They had a ritual bath that you had to walk through after using the latrine outside. So everyone walked through water, the same water, when coming back from the latrine.

      A solo shower with soap would have been healthy. Not this.

      • Jim Jones

        Even that was better than most Christian ‘hygiene’.

        • epicurus

          Some medieval christian aesthetics purposely didn’t bath and referred to their body lice as “Pearls of God”

        • Queen Isabella of Spain was one of them, I think.

        • epicurus

          I bet Ferdinand loved that!

      • I don’t think that’s what they all did individually however. Just regularly bathing at all, in privacy as opposed to communally (since they didn’t change the water much-it was expensive to) would be good.

    • Mike Panic

      Some think the plague was made worse by xtian killing of cats. No cats meant rats and their fleas were free to multiply. The fleas were carriers for plague.

  • larry parker
  • Otto

    This instinct [to fear an angry God] is also why conservative evangelicals care so deeply about same-sex marriage and abortion even though they don’t engage in those activities themselves.

    Abortion?

    Yeah right….

    Gay marriage?

    Well… no not the marriage part anyway.

  • If you posit an all-powerful God, who else would these things ultimately come from? Even assuming that he’s not actively sending them at all times, he would have created the forces which cause them. So, while not all believers will say he literally sends out plagues or other disasters for our punishment, he’s still the cause of them all in the end they must admit. Thus the problem of natural evil.

  • anne marie hovgaard

    If you believe in a violent, narcissistic, sociopathic father-god, it’s understandable that you want the rest of us to behave and not make him angry. They know he’ll punish everyone (or just whoever happens to be nearest when he starts throwing temper tantrums), not just the guilty ones.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      Like kids who’ll stop each other from doing anything that’ll set their (bad) parent(s) off.

    • Maltnothops

      There’s a fable to help explain the weight of institutional memory in dysfunctional organizational behavior. I know this fable from Organization Development literature. It goes like this.

      There is a room with 5 chimps and loads of stuff chimps like to eat and play with. One day the researchers put a banana on the top of a step ladder. The ladder and the chimps collars are rigged so that every chimp receives a painful shock if any chimp goes for the banana. This continues until every chimp knows to leave the banana alone. If a chimp forgets, the other chimps will pull it off the ladder to prevent a shock. One day the researchers replace a single chimp with a new chimp. New chimp doesn’t know the rules and goes for the banana. The other chimps pull him down. This continues until the new chimp knows to never go for the banana, although the new chimp does not know the reason for the rule. One by one, the researchers repeat the remove-and-replace with every remaining original chimp. In the end, there is a room of chimps that won’t go for the banana even though not a one of them knows why.

      • Norman Parron

        They all know why they can’t get the banana… because the others will beat the crap out of me to try! But like chimps in the 3rd generation, xtians and other superstitious dimwits, no one has the brains to question WHY??? This is the reason ALL religions, dogmas, and other unquestioned customs are ALL evil!

        • Norman, may I quote you? “ If someone STATES AS FACT something they do not KNOW as fact (with evidence and/or proofs) then they are LYING!!!”

          You can’t require a disclaimer for others while making rash, absolute and unsupported statements yourself. So “all religions are evil?” Please add your disclaimer or support your statement with some kind of evidence or reasoning.

        • Norman Parron

          The evidence is everywhere! Name any religion that will accept an action (with no real consequence) that their mythic gawd does not like and then the parents punish their kids for doing so?!?!? Yes there are some who are better than the religion but so what?!?! The religion still calls for punishment for no reason…perfect example is blasphemy! My statement stands as the evidence for it is all around us! And ALL dogma is evil by the very fact that questioners get crapped on and at the least told to shut up!

        • Norman
          Name any religion that will accept an action (with no real consequence)
          that their mythic gawd does not like and then the parents punish their
          kids for doing so?!?!?

          Mine.

          My wife and I reared two children. We taught them and modeled the moral standards we believe honor God and we modeled charity toward others for them. I do not recall even once punishing them any failure. I don’t remember any of our friends and fellow believers who had children punishing there children for anything like you accuse us of doing. I don’t remember ever being told to do so by any teacher or pastor. I don’t recall any of the books we read having to do with rearing children as Christians teaching anything more than the usual discipline any parent might employ in rearing children.

          Having lived in India for a time among Hindus, I don’t recall their ever doing anything like you accuse people of religion doing. Many of the more fundamentalist Hindus did react strongly to people of other religions including Muslims and Christians. But even that was rare and involved few people.

          I don’t know what your experience was. Maybe you experienced this. But please do not arbitrarily transfer your experience to others.

          Norman
          My statement stands as the evidence for it is all around us! And ALL
          dogma is evil by the very fact that questioners get crapped on and at
          the least told to shut up!

          Your statement is evidence of nothing but your own opinion.

          Norman, almost every group has “dogma,” even atheist groups. Sometimes people with strong opinions – like your own – do respond to people with different opinions telling them to shut up. I’ve seen that happen on various atheist blogs, certainly. But I must tell you my experience as a Christian for more than fifty years that it rarely happens in the circles I have frequented. On the rare instance when it did the person was asked to air their issues in a different venue. The problem was that the person was inappropriately trying to hijack a meeting or conversation with his opinions. That is simply not civil behavior in any venue.

          I think you are allowing your experiences to color the reality most of the rest of us experience.

        • Norman Parron

          I stated that there are individuals better than their BS religion. That does not change the dogma of your religion or the hate in the books o”BS. AND I said ALL DOGMA is evil. A good example is Stalin, where xtians love stating evil atheist, where in fact that was also a dogma and it was evil. And so long as the buyBull is dogma it is evil, besides the hate & intolerance in it!

        • Hate and intolerance?

          “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

          To call this “hate and intolerance” is like calling the Coast Guard crews rescuing victims of hurricane Dorian haters.

        • Norman Parron

          Your dimwitted gave nothing and suffered next to nothing. He sacrificed a bad weekend for something that was all gawd’s fault. ANd to give a son to suffer and die for no good reason is evil!!!

        • epeeist

          He sacrificed a bad weekend for something that was all gawd’s his own fault.

          FIFY

    • Mike Panic

      Their godthingy made me Gay because some woman got an abortion. The moral of this is “Go forth and sin heavily because someone else will pay the price.” Somehow the xtian fools claim this godthingy is “just.” Yes, it is just an abomination.

  • epicurus

    I would love, just once, to hear one of these blowhards say that a disaster is the result of God punishing because divorce is legally allowed.

    • eric

      I imagine the Westboro Baptist Church would likely do that. And might claim some disaster is the result of mixed race marriages, to boot.

      • epicurus

        Yeah, there are some groups who would, but I’m talking about the more “mainstream” types who have big audiences and television influence like the Falwell’s, Roberson’s, Graham’s, Hagee’s etc.

        • eric

          Divorce is pretty old in the US; in many states it’s been legal (in some form…typically in a form unfair to the woman…) since the late 1800s. So even octogenarian televangelists* probably wouldn’t have grown up when this was a really active issue.

          *Assuming you’re talking about Protestant sects. Obviously Catholics are a bit of a different case when it comes to accepting divorce.

        • epicurus

          Yes, my point is just that they claim to be “biblical” and I’m just pointing out how something the bible condems more than homosexuality is ignored by them.

        • Jack the Sandwichmaker

          i’ll have to check, but I’m pretty sure we had hurricanes even in the 1800s! Divorce MUST have been the cause.

        • Greg G.

          Q: Which states take the brunt of the most hurricanes?
          A: The Bible Belt states.

          Q: Which states have the highest divorce rates?
          A: The Bible Belt states.

          I report, you decide.

    • guerillasurgeon

      Too many of them are divorced right?

      • evodevo

        Exactly. And the fundie divorce rate is way higher than the rest of us lol – guess G-d didn’t pick right the first time? Or you heard the Big Guy incorrectly? What?

  • RichardSRussell

    Y’know, I’d be totally down with modern-day Christians flagellating the hell out of themselves every time some natural disaster strikes, but these new guys aren’t like the ones of old. Instead of taking all the blame on themselves, they’re always looking to put it on someone else.

  • Lisa Cybergirl

    God gets all the credit when your football team wins, but when your team loses, does it mean God is mad at you, or likes your opponents better?

  • JBSchmidt

    Both Bible verses misused to serve your need as you do with most quotes you pull. Also with most quotes, I will argue you have not read for understanding either of those books.

    Question: If people within a non-theist belief get an idea wrong, does that make invalid the non-theist belief as a whole?

    • eric

      Okay, I’ll bite. Why don’t you tell us the proper interpretation of “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, Jehovah, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7).”

      I like this quote in particular because it’s God talking. Given his perfection, it means that if his words are confusing it must be because God intended it to be confusing.

    • Both Bible verses misused to serve your need

      Misused? Deliberately misused? So you’re saying that my understanding is just like yours, but I take a deliberately false interpretation to make my point? Wrong again.

      . . . as you do with most quotes you pull.

      Most? Prove your claim or withdraw it.

      Question: . . .

      Prove your prior point first. Then I’ll think about doing your homework.

      • JBSchmidt

        “Prove your claim or withdraw it.”

        I did on a past blog in which only 1 in 3 quotes you used were actually taken in context. However, having proven the first 2 to be used incorrectly I left the door open for the 3rd to also be pulled out of context since I didn’t have the source material.

        “So you’re saying that my understanding is just like yours, but I take a deliberately false interpretation to make my point?”

        Funny how you pulled a quote, [Both Bible verses misused to serve your need], and added your own meaning. Only 8 words later I explain that you don’t actually have an understanding of the text, context or book which you quoted. Thus only further confirming what I have been pointing out regarding your use of quotes. If you pull a quote, disregard context and apply your own meaning; you have misused it to serve your purpose.

        “Prove your prior point first.”

        Which point? That you misuse quotes (done), or that you don’t understand (inherent in your usage).

        • “Prove your claim or withdraw it.”
          I did on a past blog in which only 1 in 3 quotes you used were actually taken in context.

          Did you convince me? Even if you did, your claim “as you do with most quotes you pull” still falls on its face.

          Funny how you pulled a quote, [Both Bible verses misused to serve your need], and added your own meaning.

          Share with us the many meanings of this phrase.

          If your point was instead that I misunderstood, then you were wrong to say, “Both Bible verses misused to serve your need.” Maybe write for comprehension in the future?

          Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if you’d just choose your words carefully, making sure that the bullshit quotient is low, so we could get on to the Christian discussion? Having to stop and respond to your slanderous claims is a fucking waste of time.

          Thus only further confirming what I have been pointing out regarding your use of quotes. If you pull a quote, disregard context and apply your own meaning; you have misused it to serve your purpose.

          Misusing a Bible verse to serve my need is not the same thing as not reading for understanding. The former is deliberate misuse, not the second.

        • JBSchmidt

          “Did you convince me?”

          Was that my objective? I never expected you to come clean. Just show the world the inaccurate and dishonest premise of the article.

          “still falls on its face”

          Does it? 1 in 3 on that previous article, 0 for 2 on this article. That 80% inaccurate. Seems like ‘most’ to me. It doesn’t include the previous times I have pointed this out, before I started keeping track. Maybe if you are honest you can improve your percentages.

          “so we could get on to the Christian discussion?”

          That would require an honest representation of the works you quote.

          “Misusing a Bible verse to serve my need is not the same thing as not reading for understanding.”

          False. If I were to pull a quote to bolster my case, but have no understanding of the context. I have misused that quote. Further, if I am using the source of my opposition, refuse to understand it and use it as a tool to prove my opposition wrong; then I am using it to serve my needs. You did both.

        • “Did you convince me?”
          Was that my objective?

          Ah, the “just put up some words and declare victory” approach. You win.

          I never expected you to come clean. Just show the world the inaccurate and dishonest premise of the article.

          You didn’t convince me. You didn’t convince anyone.

          Does it? 1 in 3 on that previous article, 0 for 2 on this article. That 80% inaccurate. Seems like ‘most’ to me.

          As far as actual, y’know, evidence, you’ve not argued a single one. But you’ve won in your own mind, and that’s what counts, right?

          “so we could get on to the Christian discussion?”
          That would require an honest representation of the works you quote.

          But hey, we’re exploring some useful topics right here, aren’t we? Apparently your agenda is just arguing tangential shit. Bravo.

        • JBSchmidt

          “Ah, the “just put up some words and declare victory” approach. You win.”

          In my defense, other than to repeat the out of context quotes, you have yet to provide an evidence I am wrong.

          “You didn’t convince anyone.”

          You know this having asked everyone or just the groupies that hang on your page?

          “As far as actual, y’know, evidence, you’ve not argued a single one.”

          Evidence is a strange animal on page. It only counts if it can been seen through your rose colored glasses.

          “Apparently your agenda is just arguing tangential shit. Bravo.”

          You are correct. Truth is tangential in your articles.

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          Bible scripture is like trying to pick up jello. It lacks coherent structure and eventually slips through your fingers leaving nothing but slippery bits. Your context is every bit as wrong as everyone else’s. To quote Ken Ham; “Were you there”?

        • Otto

          In my defense, other than to repeat the out of context quotes, you have yet to provide an evidence I am wrong.

          Sooo….your strategy is to just declare Bob is wrong (offering nothing substantial to refute him) and then invite him to prove you wrong. The ‘I’m right…just because’ defense. Impressive.

        • Otto

          Only 8 words later I explain that you don’t actually have an understanding of the text…

          An assertion is not an explanation…smh

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      That’s an / those are ASSERTIONS.

      *Demonstrate* them or recant and apologize.

    • Phil

      Sorry, I can’t follow all this disagreement you have with the others. Can you just simply say what verses were misused and what the correct interpretation is? It would save a lot of hassle. Communication is the art of getting your meaning understood. If it isn’t understood then you aren’t communicating very well.

      • It would save a lot of hassle, but I suspect it’s secret.

        • Otto

          Mystery religion and all…

        • 3vil5triker .

          It’s so secret that apparently not even he knows.