Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Disasters as God's Punishment

The Sago mine explosion. Many hopeful prayers and statements about God and miracles. When it was thought that twelve out of the original thirteen miners had survived we heard on television how God is great. When the grim truth of just one survivor was revealed did these commentators call God small? Not on the whole, though some relatives did voice their anguish:

News of the 12 deaths came hours after church bells pealed and friends and family of the miners celebrated and sang hymns when word spread that 12 miners had survived. West Virginia's governor said there were indications within 20 minutes the initial report of 12 survivors was wrong. Friends and family were not told for about three hours.

"It hit people's hearts so hard ... One guy said what in the hell has God done for us, but just a few minutes before that we was praising God, because they believed that they was alive," John Casto, a friend of the miners, said on CNN.

Virginia Dean, whose uncle was in the mine, said: "Only one lived. They lied."

But mostly people don't put the blame of natural disasters on God acting immorally. In our arrogance we believe that it was something we did that caused the disaster, and sometimes it was, of course, but the belief is usually not based on things like perhaps badly maintaining a mine. It is based on the belief that the moral fiber of humans has failed and that God is punishing us all, indiscriminately, for the sins of the few.

The outcome of such blaming is not too bad when all it does is make the survivors go around in hairshirts and whips, to be used on their own bodies, as happened after some of the horrible plague epidemics of the past. But it can get very frightening very fast when the blaming is used to attack the traditional scapegoats of the society.

In the United States, Pat Robertson is a good example of this medieval mindset*:

Hollywood – Pat Robertson on Sunday said that Hurricane Katrina was God's way of expressing its anger at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for its selection of Ellen Degeneres to host this year's Emmy Awards. "By choosing an avowed lesbian for this national event, these Hollywood elites have clearly invited God's wrath," Robertson said on "The 700 Club" on Sunday. "Is it any surprise that the Almighty chose to strike at Miss Degeneres' hometown?"

The conclusion Robertson wants us to draw is a sinister one: if only we could discipline the gays and lesbians in our midst God would stop sending us hurricanes.

In Indonesia, it is the women who caused the tsunamis:

MARLUDDIN JALIL, a Sharia judge who has ordered the punishment of women for not wearing headscarves, was uncompromising: "The tsunami was because of the sins of the people of Aceh."

Thundering into a microphone at a gathering of wives, he made clear where he felt the fault lay: "The Holy Koran says that if women are good, then a country is good."

A year after the disaster which many see as a divine punishment, emboldened Islamic hardliners are doing their best to eradicate sin — and women are their prime targets.

With reconstruction slow, irrational fears of a second tsunami high, and nearly 500,000 still homeless along 500 miles of coastline, the stern message falls on fertile ground. A Sharia police force modelled on Saudi moral enforcers enthusiastically seeks out female wrong doers for public humiliation.

"Enthusiastically seeks out female wrong doers". Yes, there is enthusiasm in all this, a feeling that, finally, it is a good thing to act viciously, that God wants it. What a coincidence that it is someone else who is to blame for the disaster, someone who in any case deserves to be controlled, restrained or punished. How nice that the sins are the sins of others.

It remains to be seen whom Robertson will blame for the Sago mine disaster, but it's unlikely to be the mining company.
*Ok, so Robertson maybe didn't say this. But Falwell did blame the ACLU and abortionists for 911 and Pat concurred.