8.30.2005

Katrina Sent To Smite the Sinful?


If He did intend to destroy New Orleans for being sinful, giving the city time to evacuate probably wasn't a good idea.

Did God Send the Hurricane?

from BeliefNet

What caused Hurricane Katrina to slam the U.S. Gulf Coast? Was it a typical late-summer tropical storm caused by wind, water, and heat? Mother Nature crying out on behalf of the earth’s pain? An angry God?

Depends whom you ask. All along the theological and political spectrum, Katrina has crystallized people’s fears into a now-familiar brew of apocalyptic theories similar to what we saw after September 11 and after the Asian tsunami several months ago.

At least one New Orleans-area resident believes God created the storm as punishment because of the recent role the United States played in expelling Jews from Gaza. A website columnist described Katrina as "the fist of God" in a Monday column. "What America is about to experience is the lifting of God’s hand of protection; the implementation of His judgment on the nation most responsible for endangering the land and people of Israel."

Meanwhile, spiritual and political environmentalists say that massive hurricanes such as Katrina, along with the Asian tsunami, are messages from the earth, letting humanity know of the earth’s pain.

Stephen O’Leary, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California and an expert on the media and apocalypticism, says, "God’s got a two-fer here. Both sides are eager to see America punished for her sins; on one side it’s sexual immorality and porn and Hollywood [Katrina's devastation to sinful New Orleans], and on the other side it’s conspicuous consumption and Hummers [Katrina's devastation to the Gulf-area oil industry]."

In some ways, these are mainstream feelings: In a recent CNN poll, 55% of those responding believe that global warming is causing the severe weather we've experienced recently. Meanwhile, most polls show that 40% of all U.S. adults believe the physical world will eventually end as a result of a supernatural intervention.

The rush to doomsday thinking, O’Leary says, is related to our need to process emotion in the face of suffering. “The mass media confront us with emotion that is almost impossible to process, and the only way we have to deal with that is to put it in terms of the drama of apocalypse and redemption - you transform suffering into a story of God’s plan. If you don’t have that, then what you do is turn off the TV and have despair.”

It’s not just conservative Christians who tune in to this cycle of apocalypse and redemption, however. New Agers and left-wing environmentalists subscribe to a theory that the world is undergoing what they call Earth Changes - a time when, because of humanity’s degradation, the climate severely reacts.

"When people leave behind the Christian version of the apocalypse, they don’t quit being apocalyptic," O’Leary says. "They switch brands."

The thought of this region, or even the nation, being somehow punished for its sins, conjures twin feelings of excitement and dread among apocalyptic thinkers. On one hand, they seem delighted that a divine plan appears to be unfolding. With horrific events such as this, they believe, God (or Mother Nature) has shown them the world is so evil that it is closer than ever to the end of human history - which means they will spend eternity in a happier place. Yet they also believe God (or Mother Nature) is punishing Americans. That gives rise to their urgent need to stave off destruction through prayer, scolding, and trying to convert people to their way of thinking.

It’s worth noting that end-times fever also broke out during the Persian Gulf War, around the turn of the millennium five years ago, and then around September 11, as it has many times in history. Each time it happens, Americans (and humanity for millennia before) become convinced the End is upon them because they’ve sinned and that God or Mother Nature is angry.

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