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October 18, 2005

God and Katrina

From Enkidu, Theologian-in-Residence (October 1, 2005)

Though I grew up in New Orleans and was distraught, to say the least, as she went under Hurricane Katrina’s waters, it did not occur to me at the time to question God’s role in the disaster.

A number of my relatives and friends felt differently.  “Why has God taken my home, my job, my known world?  What have I done to deserve this?”  Or, alternatively, “why was I spared when so many others, better than me, perished?”

Given God’s purportedly causative actions last Christmas in the eastern Indian Ocean and on an infinite number of occasions before, such questions may seem parochial, though they are unquestionably heartfelt.

A few groups of people, however, had no doubts about God’s intentions.

Al-Qaeda, in a broadcasted news item, announced that "the whole Muslim world was filled with joy" as God “battered New Orleans, city of homosexuals."

Some among the American Religious Right pronounced similar posthumous judgment upon my hometown.

Franklin (son of Billy) Graham explained that “God is going to use that storm to bring a revival. God has a plan. God has a purpose… I would certainly pray that the gay and lesbian movement, the people that have this lifestyle, will come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior and experience their sins being forgiven.”

Perhaps the American Religious Right and their Islamist counterparts worship the same deity after all? 

Then again, the less moralistic among the American Right offered a slightly different explanation for His destructive motives. 

“I truly believe that it was God’s intention to have Katrina come to New Orleans to eliminate the blacks from the city” my mother’s Republican friend told her. 

“This is God’s way of getting rid of the blacks” my dad overheard while having his flood-damaged car repaired.

“And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them” noted Barbara Bush as she viewed the refugee camp in the Houston Astrodome.

Destruction and exile for the impoverished?  Specifically those impoverished by centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, and oppressive social and economic policies?  Destruction and exile as the solution to black poverty?

I doubt the God of Al-Qaeda would be so racist.  He is too busy smiting Shi’a, Australian tourists and, of course, homosexuals, too bother with such things.

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A few weeks ago, just as Rita was approaching Texas and Louisiana, I was in a restaurant in San Francisco waiting for my husband. I went up to the bar to get something to drink, and a guy there tried to strike up a conversation with me. After a few comments about the weather, he said something about the hurricanes, then said "You know, I think with God is punishing these people," and then, seeing the look on my face, he hastily added "these people in the Red States." Like that would make it okay. "Oh yeah," said I, "and if there was a big earthquake here they could say the same thing about us!....I don't think God had anything to do with it." He grinned at me in an unrepentant sorry-you-didn't-get-my-little-joke sort of way, and I stalked off, clutching my ginger ale.

Why would God want to get black people out of New Orleans? I wonder what those people were thinking.

Perhaps the American Religious Right and their Islamist counterparts worship the same deity after all?

I've maintained for quite awhile that they do; the deity in question may have many names, but the most appropriate one is, "Control".

Perhaps the American Religious Right and their Islamist counterparts worship the same deity after all?

They all do. Christianity and Islam are so similar to each other it's almost ironic to see Dominionists and Islamists clash so ferociously. Maybe the conspiracy theory that they're working in tandem to kill innocent bystanders, who are not true believers, and are just faking the Crusade/Jihad clash.

Eli

Nice to see Old Bull cited once in a while. May I elaborate?

Question: If Control’s control is absolute, why does Control need to control?

Answer: Control needs time.

Question: Is Control controlled by its need to control?

Answer: Yes.

Why does Control need humans, as you call them?

Wait, wait. Time, a landing field. Death needs time like a junkie needs junk.

And what does Death need time for?

The answer is so simple. Death needs time for what it kills to grow in for Ah Pook ’s sake.

Death needs time for what it kills to grow in for Ah Pook ’s sweet sake,
you stupid, vulgar, greedy, ugly American death sucker.
Death needs time for what it kills to grow in for Ah Pook ’s sweet sake,
you stupid, vulgar, greedy, ugly American death sucker.


(Present company excluded, obviously.)

Let's not also forget the reaction of Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of the Shas, just to round out bigotry from the loony fringes of all the world Abrahamic faiths. http://web.israelinsider.com/Articles/Politics/6530.htm

Shas spiritual leader and former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said that American President George W. Bush, along with New Orleans residents, are to blame for Hurricane Katrina: the former because of his support for the Disengagement plan and the latter because of their lack of Torah study. Yosef said the victims have suffered "because they have no God".

Veering into apparent racism, the Rabbi explained: "There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn't enough Torah study.... Black people reside there. Blacks will study the Torah? (God said:) let?s bring a tsunami and drown them."

He has called on the Israeli army to "joyfully" annihilate Arabs with rockets, and caused a huge uproar when he stated that the six million Jews who perished in the Nazi Holocaust died because they were reincarnations of sinners in previous generations."

Of course enought sane people in Israel and Jewish heads of faith denounce this as sane Muslim and Christian heads of faith denounce similar statements from their doctrinal camps.

And Alon, remember that in the Inferno Dante condemns Mohammed for the sin of betraying Christ, not paganism or unbelief, but a special sort of heresy.

God wants to get rid of whoever we hate....

Hmmm... I'm not finding that Franklin Graham quote on the linked page. Not saying I doubt he said it, but maybe they pulled it or someone mistyped the link?

You can find the Graham quote here:

http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/10/04/katrina.graham.ap/


What that man says is soooooo vile.

>God wants to get rid of whoever we hate....

Joel is on the money. It's so easy to refute this idiotic argument, by pointing to the many disasters that happen to religiously pious people, that it baffles me that it can find a single adherent among those who aren't mentally ill. It's like the "AIDS gets gays because God hates them" argument, so easily refuted by pointing out that lesbians don't get AIDS very often. Saying that God is targeting blacks or gays in this way is obviously bullshit.

I am (rather confusingly, I know) on record here as believing both in God and in reincarnation, during the Karma discussion. This sort of "they deserved it" stuff pops up, then, not only in the context of the Abrahamic faiths, but in terms of Karma as well. It bothers me because it tends to make Karma, as someone pointed out, into a defacto instrument of cruelty during times of disaster. This might be solved by people who believe in Karma--or anything else--stuffing a fucking sock in it when people are suffering, giving those suffering the benefit of the doubt, and just trying to help, without pronouncing guilt.

I've always believed that the main error of the three Abrahamic faiths was to paint up this angry, vindictive, petty, and capricious God, who goes postal with cartoon steam and thunderbolts whenever someone eats ham. It seems more likely that God, being a confident and self-assured person, doesn't need to pop up and flex his muscles when his ego is threatened, like the cockblockers at the local brewpub. Also, that some canny person realized, 2500 years ago, that the ham of the day often brought trichinosis.

Also, that some canny person realized, 2500 years ago, that the ham of the day often brought trichinosis.

If you mean that trichinosis was the basis for the pork taboo, you are wrong. Or else the pork-loving Chinese must have some special anti-trichinosis gene which has yet to be detected.

No, the reason for the pig-hating of the middle east is explained by anthropologist Marvin Harris in his book Cows, Pigs Wars and Witches:

"The pig is a vector for human disease, but so are other domestic animals freely consumed by Moslems and Jews... Cattle, goats and sheep are also vectors for brucellosis, a common bacterial infection in underdeveloped countries... the most dangerous form is Brucellosis melitensis tramsitted by goats and sheep. Its symptoms are lethargy, fatigue, nervousness and mental depression often mistake for psychoneurosis. Finally, there is anthrax..."

"...the divine prohibition against pork constituted a sound ecological strategy. The nomadic Israelites could not raise pigs in their arid habitats, while for the semi-sedentary and village farming populations, pigs were more of a threat than an asset."


I doubt the God of Al-Qaeda would be so racist. He is too busy smiting Shi’a, Australian tourists and, of course, homosexuals, too bother with such things.

Good sarcasm - but you don't sound any different from an atheist. If you're going to be identified on this blog as a theologian, aren't you obliged to say something theological? Or is your role as theologian to just laugh at fools who believe their god is actively smiting gays and others they hate?

I certainly join you in laughing at them - but as a theologian, surely you can do better than a common atheist like me - exactly what is Yahweh/Allah/God the Father up to with all this weather? Or are you a Buddhist? Or a believer in an impersonal cosmic dark-matter-esque deity? Or are you an atheist too, and you just study religions - you aren't actually part of any?

>If you mean that trichinosis was the basis for the pork taboo, you are wrong.

I was being flippant in that part of my post.

Oh. OK. I thought you were being flippant when you said:

" I've always believed that the main error of the three Abrahamic faiths was to paint up this angry, vindictive, petty, and capricious God, who goes postal with cartoon steam and thunderbolts whenever someone eats ham. It seems more likely that God, being a confident and self-assured person, doesn't need to pop up and flex his muscles when his ego is threatened, like the cockblockers at the local brewpub."

And then you were being serious about the trichinosis. But I guess you were flippant throughout.

>I thought you were being flippant when you said: "...brewpub." And then you were being serious about the trichinosis.

Actually, the opposite. Though I phrased the "angry and petty God" passage playfully, I meant every word of it. The trichinosis comment was sort of an afterthought, to offer a practical reason for the food-and-sex prohibitions in Deuteronomy and the rest of the old testament (i.e., that God just capriciously decided to throw a bunch of rules out there so as to play some juvenile game of "Gotcha" with mankind).

I've studied quite a bit of the history of the post-Mohammed-era Middle East, but not so much ancient history. So no, I haven't read the book that you mentioned by Marvin Harris, but although it gives a different reason for the pork ban than trichinosis, it still provides a practical basis for the old testament prohibitions, to counter the Cranky God model of the very religious. Thank you for providing the passages.

In the context of the above postings, I should mention that I do believe in a supreme being as First Cause, just not such an anthropomorphic one, and not one who jumps in to throw thunderbolts (or hurricanes).

"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."
-Anne Lamott

I'm afraid that if I ran into someone who actually believed that a natural disaster was God punishing someone for having dark skin, I might end up in jail for punching them in the face.

Atheism negates all of these discussions. Events just happen. People get sick and die or maybe get well. They get hurt, do good and bad deeds, all for purely Earthly reasons. That killer storm that leveled your house? It was simply an unfortunate convergence of wind, water, proper temperature and barometric pressure, nothing more. Pray all you want but your efforts are better spent finishing the laundry. Weak minds need a god, being bereft of the inner strength and intellect to accept their lot in life. We're all gonna die and between birth and that moment you need to grab an oar or get swept away in the current, your choice. If the random, sometimes cruel nature of it all has you clutching beads and jabbering incantations into the ether you've conceded you're just not up to the task.

Lacking in cosmos-spanning wisdom myself, I stand humbled before God's methods. Because I could certainly think of more direct ways of accomplishing the same ends.

Want to eliminate all the poor black people in New Orleans? Don't use a hurricane -- just let them strike oil in the Lower Ninth Ward. Poof! No more poor.

Unless God's problem is with blackness itself. In which case, it's his own damn fault for putting the melanin there in the first place, and for thinking that sickle cell anemia would fix it.

Actually, the opposite. Though I phrased the "angry and petty God" passage playfully, I meant every word of it.

Well in that case, I have to disagree that the "main error of the three Abrahamic faiths was to paint up this angry, vindictive, petty, and capricious God, who goes postal with cartoon steam and thunderbolts whenever someone eats ham"

I would say their main error is to torture and murder other human beings for the sake of their deity - ham approval or no.

Lacking in cosmos-spanning wisdom myself, I stand humbled before God's methods. Because I could certainly think of more direct ways of accomplishing the same ends.

Want to eliminate all the poor black people in New Orleans? Don't use a hurricane -- just let them strike oil in the Lower Ninth Ward. Poof! No more poor.

That's certainly an alternative method, but I don't know if it's more direct. But maybe the god you're thinking of is different from the god I was raised with, the god of the Roman Catholic Church. We were told that god could do anything - in which case case the god could simply poof the planet Earth out of existence in a nanosecond. I'd say that's a more direct way of dealing with human annoyances than a scattershot method like hurricanes.

But if the planet Earth disappeared, who would grovel before and flatter and worship this insecure and petty deity?

Can we float out the idea to Franklin Graham et. al. that the old testament vindictive God is punishing us for our lack of environmental stewardship because we have melted our ice caps?

Also, that some canny person realized, 2500 years ago, that the ham of the day often brought trichinosis.

No, the reason for the pig-hating of the middle east is explained by anthropologist Marvin Harris in his book Cows, Pigs Wars and Witches:

But, (pace Harris) if raising pigs were such a bad idea, why would you need a taboo against eating them? You just wouldn't eat them because you couldn't raise them or because they were more trouble than they were worth.

I prefer Mary Douglas's analysis in Purity and Danger: In any system that humans devise, organize, and categorize, there are going to be things that fall outside of the categories or that don't fit them. Those are the things that become unclean, and often taboo.


But, (pace Harris) if raising pigs were such a bad idea, why would you need a taboo against eating them? You just wouldn't eat them because you couldn't raise them or because they were more trouble than they were worth.

I prefer Mary Douglas's analysis in Purity and Danger: In any system that humans devise, organize, and categorize, there are going to be things that fall outside of the categories or that don't fit them. Those are the things that become unclean, and often taboo.

Marvin Harris has plenty to say about Mary Douglas's analysis and that of her fellow Structuralists in his book Cultural Materialism, The Struggle for a Science of Culture:

"The pig was tabooed, claims Douglas, because it had an anomalous status in the zoological taxonomy of the ancient Hebrews. Animals with such a status are dirty because universally, anything that defies classification or is out of place in an ordered view of the world evokes feelings of defilement or pollution. "Dirt is matter out of place" (Douglas, 1966: 35) Therefore animals that were out of place in the Hebrew zoological taxonomy were dirty. Why was the pig out of place? The pig was out of place because the Israelites defined proper livestock as animals with cloven feet who chewed the cud. Since the pig has cloven feet but doesn't chew the cud, it is dirty. "I suggest that originally the sole reason for its (the pig's) being counted as unclean is its failure as a wild boar to get into the antelope class, and that in this it is on the same footing [sic] as the camel or hyrax" (ibid: 55). In other words, the explanation for the pig taboo is to be found in the structuralist formula:

pig : livestock :: disorder : order :: dirty : clean :: nature : culture

Let us accept the idea that the pig is unclean because it can't be placed in the category of livestock. What accounts for the fact that livestock are defined in such a way as to exclude the pig (cf. Bulmer, 1968:21)? Douglas (1972) tried to answer this question by expanding her discussion of the inner logic of the biblical proscriptions. Two new components of cleanliness were added: animals and birds that hunt or eat carrion are unclean (because God commands Israel not to shed blood); and if those who belong to an endogamous group avoid others as unclean in marriage and sex, they will regard the animals others keep as unsuitable for eating:

(quoting Douglas)
On mature reflection... I can now see that the pig... carries the odium of multiple pollution. First it pollutes because it defies the classification of ungulates. Second it pollutes because it eats carrion. Third it pollutes because it is reared (and preumable as prime pork) by non-Israelites. (Douglas, 1972-79)

This adjustment merely trebles the logical and empirical difficulties of the first explanation. Even if one accepts the chain of analogies leading from the uncleanliness of human beings who shed blood to the uncleanliness of animals that shed blood, and thence to those that eat carrion, nothing about the pig makes it more likely to eat corpses than dogs (which do not pollute upon touch) - or than goats, for that matter, which when given a chance will eat anything. Furthermore, among the pig lovers of New Guinea, the pollution acquired by shedding human blood, far from rendering the pig unclean, could only be removed by slaughtering and eating the pig! (Rappaport, 1967: 205-207). And what are we to make of the Egyptian and Sumerian restrictions on the pig which arise presumably in conjuction with a markedly different structure of mythic and ritual components long before the Israelites formulated their own religion? More difficulties assault us as we ponder the third principle. If the pig pollutes because it is raised and eaten by foreigners and enemies, then why weren't cows, sheep and goats regarded as unclean? Didn't any of Israel's enemies raise cows, sheep and goats? (Of course, they all did) Worse still, many of these foreigners also regarded the pig as unclean! Douglas says that in tabooing the pig the Israelites were safeguarding themselves from marrying foreigners: "An Israelite who betrothed a foreigner might have been liable to be offered a feast of pork" (Douglas, 1972L79). But the Israelites were frequently the neighbors of people who were as unlikely to eat pork as they were."

Harris goes on further. And the entire chapter about structuralism demonstrates convincingly that there is no theory too far-fetched and illogical and lacking in empirical evidence that some structuralist won't publish it and teach classes in it. Structuralism must accept part of the blame for the current pro-sociobiology trend of recent years. Because what structuralists practice ain't science - and the sociobiologists are, in their misguided way, trying to bring science back into anthropology.

>That killer storm that leveled your house? It was simply an unfortunate convergence of wind, water, proper temperature and barometric pressure, nothing more.

I agree with this, yet I believe in God (meaning, a supreme, overarching intelligence and potency that created the universe, the First Cause). This First Cause, in my opinion, created the physical universe, with laws: if the water is yea warm, hurricanes can form; when tectonic plates move, earthquakes result. Human structures, then, need to be built yea strong, or yea flexible, or better be built away from the likely disaster zones. It's incumbent upon us to live in harmony with this physical world, and it's true that, for instance, praying for a job is no substitute for typing up a physically measurable resume.

>weak minds need a god

Your fallacy, I think, is this: Some people with weak minds cling to a god as a comfort; therefore, all who believe in any god have weak minds and are clinging to this belief. I am not clinging to my belief in the First Cause. I am holding it, though, and I find that the universe makes sense when I include it, just as you find that the universe makes better sense when you do not.

Similarly, you would find prayer ridiculous, because it seems to invoke a conjuration of a magical God, with physical effects. I see prayer, instead, as an appeal to intuition, and I've said before that I think it necessarily implies a belief in extra-sensory perception (if one prays to the Virgin Mary or to Ali, for example, then one depends upon their power of telepathy, which is a form of extra-sensory--that is, beyond the five senses--perception).

The atheist is at an impasse with the believer. The believer, in order to convince the atheist, must provide proof that this First Cause exists; the atheist, in order to convince the believer, must provide proof that it does not. Could you name your most convincing proof that there is no such First Cause? (And no fair saying, "you go first!") I promise that I'll give it respectful attention.

(I hope I don't need to say this, but again, the foregoing is not meant to imply any fault on the part of victims of disasters--I have lived many years in earthquake country, in California--nor does it imply an insidious desire for Intelligent Design teaching in science classes.

Unless God is scientifically proved to exist, I believe that evolution has its proper place in the science class, and questions about God have their proper place in philosophy, theology, history, and possibly literature classes.)

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