Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
As I am riding out Hurricane Irene on Cape Cod, I cannot help thinking about how differently New Englanders in colonial times interpreted these natural disasters. While we speak of the eye of the hurricane, they were ever mindful of the eye of a God who was watching over them, and sending storms their way as punishment for their collective sins.
A fierce debate among academics about secularization theory–the view that societies will become less religious as they modernize–seems to have been won by the skeptics.
Yes, secularization of a sort is happening, but only in certain places (western Europe, most notably). And it seems to be reversible (see the United States today vs. the United States in the 1970s). So simple versions of secularization theory seem just plain wrong.
However, one place where American society, at least, plainly seems to be growing less religious is in the realm of natural disasters.
When the Great Colonial Hurricane raced up the east coast and lashed New England in August 1635, its 130 mph winds and 21-foot storm surge were almost universally viewed in supernatural rather than natural terms—as a judgment of God on the unfaithful.
We still have Puritans among us today, of course.
Pat Robertson is notorious for turning natural disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Katrina into supernatural communications—God’s curse on Haiti or New Orleans for bad religion or widespread abortions.
And on the radio a couple days ago I heard a talk show host suggest that the one-two punch of the recent earthquake and hurricane were two thumbs down from God on the leadership of Barack Obama.
Still, American society as a whole no longer interprets natural disasters as signs of some coming apocalypse or evidence of some past misdeeds. And those that do (Robertson, for example) we generally regard as cranks and outliers—relics of a bygone age.
Some say science and religion are engaged in a battle for the soul of America. I don’t buy that.
I know there are bitter divisions over evolution and creationism, for example. But there are all sorts of spiritual arenas where science is mum, and vice versa. Science and religion run on parallel tracks far more often than those tracks intersect.
Hurricanes and earthquakes are one arena, however, where the language of science has almost entirely routed the language of theology.
Psalms 107:25-33 reads: “For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. . . . He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground."
Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans—including the overwhelming majority of American Christians—believe that when God has something to say He speaks in less dramatic ways, including the still small voices in our hearts and the slightly louder voices of the preachers in our pulpits.
When it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes, however, our authorities are geologists and meteorologists. Most of us interpret these events not through the rumblings of the biblical prophet Jeremiah or the poetry of the Book of Revelation but through the scientific truths of air pressure and tectonic plates.
As a result of this sort of secularization, we are much better at predicting the course of hurricanes. The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 arrived as a surprise and took many lives with it, including, according to the report of the Massachusetts governor John Winthrop, those of eight Native Americans taken by the storm surge while “flying from their wigwams.”
So we are better prepared, thank science. Our stories are far less dramatic, however. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God. But their God no longer acts out his fury as in Bible days. Our storms have not yet been tamed. But our God has.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
I think the simple fact that you can't prove there is a god, proves that there isn't a god. If there was a god and he did perform mericals, we would see it in experiments where the physics didn't make since, or in medicine where something happened that should never happen.
Without god, the universe still makes since, I've never seen anything that couldn't be explained by modern medicine, physics, or just coincidence.
Is your spelling and grammar a coincidence ?
But god does do miracles!
This one time, I was praying for my sports team to come back and win the game and voila! God clearly loves the Denver Broncos (I mean, why else would sunsets be orange and blue?)
That doesn't convince you huh? Well I thought it wouldn't so here's another one. There was a tornado a while back and it bowled through this town and it hopped over this church, his own place of worship! Sure it killed a bunch of people, destroyed a bunch of other churches in its path and left everyone in general misery, but thank you jesus lord he left a church where we could go inside and give him money that we needed to rebuild our houses!
If that still hasn't convinced you then I have one last example, I've never told anyone this because people would think I'm crazy but god spoke to me (He has a higher voice than you would expect) and was like "Laughing, I need you to go outside, right now" He wouldn't tell me why, but I did anyways because I usually listen to voices in my head. When I walked outside it started to rain! Sure I got wet, but it rained when I walked outside, if that isn't a sign from god, I don't know what is!
If all these examples don't convince you I don't know what will, I mean I have given you solid, 100% proof and if you still disbelieve than you are just a puppet of satan and I have every right to refuse to listen to your evil lies!
No, that's due to the fact that I'm just bad at them. Always have been. I'm much better with numbers and physics. I'm an engineer, I design and build things that help you live well enough to post on internet threads. So I'm sorry if you didn't find my spelling and grammar acceptable, but you're welcome.
Well: how did the Himalayas, Everest, the Grand Canyon etc formed? Only by the grace of God? They formed due to earth tectonic activities.So that's what's happening now with the "earthquakes" (tectonic activity) it's got nothing to do with God. And how do we know if these climate shifting is not happening because of all above and underground explosions we apply to our planet? We could be the ones behind the rapid changes taking place in our world. No God. he is not the one bombing everybody and everything along the way.
just because one idiot say storms are to punish people and other idiot says has discover storms are not cause by God, both of them need medical care....no one knows the mind of God, or how it works.....Like I say I don't care if the entire earth goes atheistic, what is important is that I believe until the end!!!!!
I emailed god yesterday. He said he is on vacation and has nothing to do with the storm
If "no one knows the mind of God" then how can believers be so certain that He loves them, or even has their best interests at heart?
The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof. He who made the weather is fully in all of it and doubting GOD cannot change a single word of His truth. There is still time to say yes to His amazing love.....and that to you who doubt and condemn.
proof please...your invisible friend is one evil persona
So, if God controls the wether completely, then His sparing some people while allowing others to die doesn't bother you any?
Who TALKS like that?
19 dead. 5 million without power. Flooding. $10 billion in damage. 8,000 flights canceled.
"Amazing love". What a "blessing".
Go to a children's cancer ward and tell me about "God's amazing love".
Supposedly, God does save a few children from cancer, through miracles supposedly given not for the purpose of actually saving the kid's lives, but as a 'sign' that he's still around. Too bad he can't be more like the doctors who at least try to save them all.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
its called free will... and each lifetime we live, we have the opportunity to raise our thinking(and vibration) to a higher plane of consciousness... This is how we finally become one with God, when we no longer vibrate at the physical plane but at the highest plane of pure conscious energy...
Get a Grip
Unless you are choosing not to evacuate ahead of a storm then I fail to see where someone's free will plays into God's allowing a storm to kill them.
if there is a God who made everything, then i imagine that God can do whatever it wants.
I don't feel greater than God, nor do I feel I have the right to judge God.
You can logic God out of the picture, but then you only have an incomplete picture. I also believe it is negative grandiosity to suggest God would not send a savior to mankind , out of love. Humility and prayer have an affect. Try it sometime, you might be surprised.
If we exist merely at God's whim then how is this different from just believing that nature is just randomly destructive?
Where man’s understanding stops, God starts. A few hundred years ago, gods, ghosts and goblins inhabited the terrifying night and virtually every act of Mother Nature was interpreted as God acting in some way. When the whims of nature did not seem to fit the picture of god, we had a ready-made excuse – he was “moving in mysterious ways.”
Science has gradually illuminated the natural world and pushed back the gods, ghosts and goblins. Our biologists have catalogued the species of life on Earth and found no monsters or kraken, our doctors and psychiatrists have penetrated the human mind and found no evil spirits in the heads of the mentally infirm, our meteorologists now explain the whether in terms of barometric pressure, not angry sky-gods, our geologists understand earthquakes in terms of plate tectonics and continental drift – no angry deity is shaking the ground.
In short, with every scientific breakthrough, the gods are flushed out of their hiding place and they must scurry off to the next dark crevice science is yet to explain. The march of knowledge and enlightenment is inevitable however and hopefully, it will soon be only in the dark, unquestioning recesses of the believers’ mind that the gods will have any existence whatsoever.
Well put. I totally agree with Colin. Excellent Post !!!
Wherever government buildings have religious objects or ceremonies, your comment should be allowed to be posted too.
maryanne you might want to read Colin's post here.
Very well said, Sir.
I've always theorized that eventually the human race would wise up and acknowledge the world and universe around them for what it really is. With each passing generation, more and more scientist are making great strides in discovering and explaining our origins so that we may learn from our mistakes in our past and better ourselves for our future.
You may one day realize that everything around you was not the work of God, and that is okay. It doesn't mean anything less. It is what you make of it, no more, no less. Atheism is already a considerable percentage of most developed countries and it has seen a steady increase in the United States (Up over 8% from 1990). People are finally starting to realize that with all the tools and resources readily available, we are shedding more and more light on what was once darkness and the unknown.
Just like how people today look at slavery in the United States as unacceptable and barbaric, centuries from now children being educated will read about the once predominant religions in our society and think the same thing.
My only regret is I won't live long enough to see that society unfold.
Well, Christians are halfway there. Now all they need to do is to stop tricking themselves into thinking that they are telepathically connected to a supernatural force that they could not possibly interact with telepathically or otherwise. In other words, if we are the products of a supernatural creation source, then that power is clearly beyond our ability to contact or understand. And it probably has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity or any other man made belief system.
@STLBroker You live you're life like there is a God. I refuse to believe that if there was a God, he would be so vindictive, hateful and cannot even write a proper book with out going off on tangents of hate speech against Jews. If God created the entire universe in it's complexity, then why can't he come up with a book without contradictions and flaws?? If the God in the books is real, and I face what ever God is, and God says that all the stuff in the books were true then I would not want to be a part of a God like that I'd face my punishment. But I doubt I will have to do that. I CHOOSE to believe that if there is a God, he is much, MUCH better than the God that people talk about in the books. Will god punish me for believing in that he was better??
"Better" by whose standards. Yours of course. God is God, whether He meets your standards for what is "good" or not.
Bottom line is that none of us are without sin. The wage of sin is death. God cannot deny himself and God is just. Therefore sin HAS to be payed for. So the question is whether you think you have enough spiritual capital to pay for your own sin (hint, you don't) or whether you are going to accept Jesus gracious offer to pay your debt for you. I pray that you do.
Hahaha, you are hilarious. I was trying to have intelligent conversation with you then you said
"Bottom line is that none of us are without sin. The wage of sin is death. God cannot deny himself and God is just. Therefore sin HAS to be payed for. So the question is whether you think you have enough spiritual capital to pay for your own sin (hint, you don't) or whether you are going to accept Jesus gracious offer to pay your debt for you. I pray that you do."
No thanks, I won't cop out and have Jesus pay for my sins. I'll believe that if there is a God, he'll be kinder, smarter and less hateful and if the God in the books are right, I'll pay for my own sins and not have some other man pay for it. Way to sell out, lost all respect for you after that statement.
Oh no! I lost your respect. What am I going to do now?
Go on following the one true God. living a fulfilling and abundantly blessed life capped off by paradise for eternity I guess.
Somehow I will make it without your respect.
By the way, in your brief comments it is apparent that we have different definitions of what "good" and "intelligent" are.
I don't claim to be either but God who is both "good" and "intelligent" says that "a fool says in his heart that there is no God".
HE also says "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
HE, the good and intelligent one, has a lot of other good and intelligent things to say. I humbly recommend that you read them and read less CNN articles. Which I often times find are neither good nor intelligent.
"By the way, in your brief comments it is apparent that we have different definitions of what "good" and "intelligent" are.
I don't claim to be either but God who is both "good" and "intelligent" says that "a fool says in his heart that there is no God".
Actually a guy wrote that not a god, that's what so hysterical about posts like this, duh...your god can't write.
There is little debate as to whether Jesus the man existed. Also, little debate that he was very intelligent and could read and write. His disciples suffered gruesome deaths because they wouldn't deny that he was the Son of God. Also, not debated is that these men were intelligent men that could read and write. So they believed as I do that Jesus and God were one and the same and lacking video recorders at the time, they recorded His words the best that they could, by writing them down and then went to their deaths sticking to their story. Why would they do this? (rhetorical question) Why wouldn't they just say they must have been mistaken and have their lives spared? (also a rhetorical question)
The answers to these rhetorical questions are of course that Jesus IS who he said He is and that these intelligent men that could read and write believed it so passionately that they were willing to die for it.
Think about it, there have been countless religous zealots put to death over the centuries. If anybody should have been forgotten, it is Jesus. Born in a small town, son of a carpenter, lived 33 years and died the death of a criminal. One of thousands that the Romans killed. Yet, Jesus, 2000 years after his brief appearance on this earth is still changing and saving millions of lives. If he isn't the Son of God, his disciples would have fled after his death and we would have never heard from them or about Jesus again.
But when a man who claimed to be the Son of God drops by three days after you saw him die and buried, it seals the deal as far a who Jesus is and you write everything you ever heard him say down and tell all that will listen. Those words, the words of God, are living words and continue to transform lives 2000 years later. Praise be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!
"God no longer in the whirlwind". Convince Michelle Bachmann of that.
I suspect that this shift in belief has something to do with the fact that San Francisco and Provincetown have the nicest weather in the U.S., while the Bible Belt gets slammed by hurricanes, tornadoes, and droughts every week or so. Vermont may be having the worst flooding in generations, but it's nothing compared to the weather that happens to Texas, Kansas and Louisiana.
But California has earthquakes! Seriously, natural disasters are part of NATURE and can happen at any point on the planet at any given time. Just because we can't always predict and control them doesn't mean they have anything to do with a deity.
Hahahahaha, have you ever been to San Francisco in the summer? It's cold, windy and foggy. That's why there's that old saying, "The coldest winter I have ever spent is a summer in San Francisco." And it's about accurate, trust a native. :)
Maybe it's the difference between learning to accept the randomness of natural disaster, and still being superst.itious enough to believe that nature can be controlled, in tis case by prayer.
So true about San Francisco weather. I'll bet that the vendors of sweatshirts, long pants and socks do a land-office business from the tourists!
We need to redefine meaning of GOD. We are placing a lot of blames and attached a lot of concepts to GOD. I think GOD created this earth and give us Wisdom and knowledge and now this is our responsibility to take care of earth. I see a lot of man made disasters and I do not see any link to GOD.
If you read about the earth's history, you'd know that it started out burning. You say God made it, so the resultant earthquakes are entirely his fault. Did man create hurricanes? All the biggest disasters are related to "God's creation".
Are you serious?
But what if man's wisdom is leading him away from the belief in God?
But the good news is, we ALL can spend eternity with God. Just have a private talk with Jesus and tell him that is what you want. He is very generous and no matter what you have done it will be forgiven and you will be covered for eternity.
VERY generous offer and I pray EVERYONE take Him up on it. Your life depends on it.
did your mommy tell you that?
No, my Heavenly Father did. Thanks for asking.
The chances of your prayer being answered is the same as praying for the regeneration of an amputees leg.
Fire up your prayer chain and try it.
Someone call the authorities we have a broker in STL who has obvious bouts of hallucination!
@STLBroker, in a previous comment you stated "All I have to go by is scripture." What, no ability to think for yourself? Are you sure that an "eternity with god" wouldn't be extremely boring?
I was leaving open the possibility that God may make an executive decision and not go by the letter of scripture. If He does than most of us are screwed, even many of us who think we are Christians. Many that think they are Christians will be told by Jesus "Depart from me, I never knew you".
So the way to eternal life in paradise is trully narrow. The path to destruction is very wide. It is not difficult at all to find many that agree with your point of view. My point of view as you can see is attacked by most. So it appears that as far as being able to think for myself goes and not just echo the majority, I am doing okay.
It is my duty as a follower of Jesus to let others know that He is the way, the truth and the life. It wouldn't be very loving and compassionate of me to let folks go to their destruction without telling them that there is way for them to be spared. I am simply pointing to the narrow entrance and praying that folks aren't just lemmings and follow each other over the cliff.
Ok, can I have that little chat with Jesus, but still keep my better judgment based on my confidence in science and logic, which suggests that he wasn't divine, or do I have to trade in my better judgment and just accept that Jesus was divine on faith?
ah, so storms aren't God's wrath anymore. Great news. So are your fellow Christians lying then, Mr. Prothero? Michelle Bachmann is sure that they are, same with Pat Robertson and earthquakes, and so many concerning AIDS. Are they mistaken, Steve and only you know what your god "really" meant? Now, Mr. Prothero, your god is being forced into smaller and smaller gaps. Those "non-overlapping magisteria" that you want to appeal to are vanishing in front of science day after day. Soon, your god will have no where to go and it will end up on the historical dustheap with Zeus, Odin, etc.
Most people who claim to be Christian don't have a clue what it means and don't understand what they claim to be divine scripture. Ignorance and stupidity seem to be ideals in Christianity and will continue to be because religion doesn't place value on actual knowledge and understanding. Christians are mostly lip service hypocrites who can't be bothered to read the book they pick and choose parts of to pass judgment on people who's behavior doesn't fit their ideal mold.
Religion is for the idiots of the world and they vastly outnumber the rest of us.
So us Christians should listen to you then?
No you shouldn't. You "Christians" aren't smart enough to comprehend most of what I say. Try thinking for yourself to start.
Ok, I'll think for myself. The first thing I'm going to think about is not listening to you.
@KM, you're not completely wrong, there are believers in all of the world's religions who are perfectly content to let their religious leaders tell them what to think, but consider that 95% or so of the world's population believe in god in one form or another. That includes many intelligent people. As an atheist, I prefer you didn't speak for me. There's no need to insult every believer out there.
nothing new ... sinful man wants to ignore God ... Noah's contemporaries did the same thing.
I reject your assumptions and replace them with logic. You have no power over me.
@Qularkono, you are so wrong. What causes me to, in your words, "ignore god" is not sin but logic.
I'm sorry Qularkono are you advocating an LITERAL reading of Genesis and Noah's ark? That one man built a ship of around 500' out of WOOD and EVERY animal came in pairs and spent – how long at sea? – and that waters covered the ENTIRE earth and then after that, still an Olive branch was able to be found as a sign? Oh, and Rainbows are God's pact with Noah..
The 3 people reading this blog who still buy that were probably very swayed by that post...
From a different perspective (Buddhist), these types of questions are moot. Things simply happen, they happen for no one. It's not personal. We are compelled to attach "reason" and rationalizations for events that simply are because the incessant noise in our heads we call "thought" demands answers that don't always exist. It's our complete acceptance of whatever is right now that leads to Liberation. You have no control, don't understand, just be.
you said: "You have no control, don't understand, just be."
So, Terrorism. Crime. Violence. Hatred. etc, etc. We can't and should not try to control these things, "Do not try to understand them let them just be: These are the concepts that you accept? as a Buddist?
Whenever a class is silenced by a loud voice, later on some kids whould say: "we did not do anything wrong." "we are always helping ...". In this particular article, I hope the author can make a clear definition of "tame" and "pledge to". All people giving their heart to try to prevent tragedy and fight for saving life are pelege to God's mercy. Including those who prayed with their heart. Pray for us to stand along God and do His will.
I believe God still rides on the storm ... that He speaks these maelstromic whispers to remind us that we live in a fallen world, and sin destroys the perfection He wants for us ... that each disaster He does not prevent is an opportunity He provides for us to reflect His deep love and generosity toward each other, to the comfort and recovery of the hurting and surviving. It would not be loving for Him to sponsor a world in which sin has no consequences, or honest for Him to pretend that this world is still perfect the way He originally made it. It's not a complete answer, but I confess I do not have a complete picture of God. This answer, for me, is consistent with the partial picture I can piece together from scripture and His creation: a God who is not willing that any should perish, but who is anxious for us to come to penitence over self-led lives and openness to a life that love directs.
You do realize you are following a religion based on a god that impregnated another mans wife (why should it do that when it allegedly created the first humans out of dirt?) in order to recreate itself in flesh. Disappeared for 33 years then showed up to commit suicide by cop to atone for imperfect beings that in its omniscience should have known would be imperfect in the first place.
So you claim God wants protection for us, but can't deliver it? Then your God is not all-powerful.
I believe Zeus still rides on the storm ... that He speaks these maelstromic whispers to remind us that we live in a fallen world, and sin doys the perfection He wants for us ... that each disaster He does not prevent is an opportunity"
and now we see how ridiculous claims of gods are. They are interchangeable.
Please read Mark 13 in the New Testament of the Bible. These things that are happening are just the beginning. These things are pointing to the fact that Jesus is coming soon to take the people who love him and keep his commandments and testimony with him to heaven. It is not to punish people, but to wake people up from their selfish lives that they may discover their need for the Lord to live in their hearts. If they confess their sins and repent of them, ask and receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and experience a revival within their hearts. They will live a life of joy and self sacrifice as they follow the Lamb where ever He goes. May God Bless You and Keep You.
"end of days" bingo! 2 points for me!
Sorry Tracy these "things" have been happening way before your bible was written and before anyone lived there.
Nice little fairytale about the magic man in the sky.
I totally agree Mary. There are worse things to come. I totally watched 2012 the other day (excellent movie) and the earth was like, totally ending for realsies and stuff. I'm pretty sure the Mayans were using Jesus magic to punish gay people for inventing AIDS, abortions and cigarettes. However, John Cusack survives everything, so in the long run we should be fine. As long as he's not gay.
The "end of the world" was suggested as being in the lifetimes of the disciples in Jesus time. It's been wrong for 2,000 years so tell us you know more about it than many Christians for 2,000 years who said the same thing. Nothing new.
It never ceases to amaze me how so many Christians long for the end of the world. Christ was expected in the 1st century, but has thus far been a no show.
“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.”
—1 John 2:18
So the last hour was two thousand years ago?
"Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."
The biblical definition of a generation can be found in Psalm 90.
"The years of our lives are 70; and if by reason of strength they be 80 years, yet most of them are labor and sorrow; for life is soon cut off and we fly away."
26 Psalms 90:10
This is confirmed in the Gospel of Matthew.
"Therefore all the generations from Abraham down to David are 14 generations; and from David down to the Babylonian captivity are 14 generations; and from the Babylonian captivity down to messiah, are 14 generations."
– Matthew 1:17
Matthew is using the Psalm 90 definitions of Generation in order to tell a specific chronological story.
He fully expected Jesus to come back soon!
It would appear that the much lauded Jewish carpenter has been thoroughly dead for 2000 years and will remain so.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.