My Take: God no longer in the whirlwind
Seeing the wrath of God in natural disasters was once commonplace.
August 28th, 2011
04:56 PM ET

My Take: God no longer in the whirlwind

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.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Belief • Faith • Science

soundoff (2,530 Responses)
  1. The Grizz

    "religion scholar " ... what a joke. This guy just proved he knows nothing about God.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • Rick

      And you know more about "god" how?

      August 29, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • jimtanker

      It is a joke to offer any kind of degree in any kind of theological study. That is the same as getting a degree for reading fiction.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  2. Lou

    Here are some questions you might ask yourself. How many religions were taught to you as a child? How Many Religions were taught to your parents as a child? Did your faith come from your parents? Did your parents faith come from their parents? If you had been adopted when you were a baby by a Jewish family what would be your religion today? Is It True That Faith is the opposite of rational thinking?

    August 29, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • IceT

      True, without being "taught" (loose use of the word) you would never come to believe in any of the known religions .. you'd come up with your own to explain what you can't yet understand.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • Rick

      IceT: That is the way it should be. Belief is personal

      August 29, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • CNN, Harbingers of BS!!!

      All of the religion...the WHOLE of it, should be summed up in one great RULE: DO UNTO OTHERS as YOU WOULD HAVE THEM to do UNTO YOU. That is it! Thing is nowadays the rule is SCREU OTHERS BEFORE THEY SCREU YOU...or that is the way it has to be done today! So, until the time comes until we can go back to the basic rule as outlined firstly above, we have LUCIFER TO PAY! AND that, my friends (and enemies) is BAD!

      August 29, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  3. Robert Landbeck

    " Our storms have not yet been tamed. But our God has." Mr. Prothero is confused, but so is history itself. It is not God that has been tamed, it those all too human, theological based religious tradtiions that has been tamed. But only just, and only in the West; they remain the most divisive body of ideas necessary to contend with. God hasn't even started yet. His 'whirlwind' is only now taking form! http://www. energon.org.uk

    August 29, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  4. SciGuy

    I have no doubt that Mr. Prothero's god is quite tame. And his god is an idol invention of his own mind. The God of the Bible on the other hand is the mighty, wrathful, vengeful God who is indeed in the whirlwind, who is the Judge of all the earth and will one day judge us all by the principles contained in his word.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • jimtanker

      Are you just cutting and pasting these inanities? How many times are you going to paste this?

      August 29, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • CNN, Harbingers of BS!!!

      Good post and spot on correct!!!

      August 29, 2011 at 7:38 am |
    • MikeC

      Our you talking about the God of the Old Testement or the New Testement. Most Christians believe that Jesus changed everything. God went from a wrathful to a caring God who took pitty on US. The judgement people talk about is not of vengence but of love. He means to seperate and punish those who did not love him and reward those who did love him.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • Rick

      The god of the bible, on the other hand, is from the imagination of bronze age sheep buggerers

      August 29, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • Rick

      He means to punish those who do not love him? Is your worship based on love or is it based on fear?

      What you described sounds like a petty punk

      August 29, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • Fred1

      If the god of the bible exists at all he is totally im_potent. He couldn’t even protect his cathedral from the earthquake

      August 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  5. SciGuy

    Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases. When his delayed judgment finally falls on you mockers, you will cry out for the hills to crush you away from his holy and wrathful presence.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • jimtanker

      That "sci" in your name stands for sience fiction right?

      August 29, 2011 at 7:31 am |
    • SciGuy

      Hardly. Masters degree in electrical engr, masters degree in math, in process of getting PhD in math.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Jim...sci is sic...he just wants to mislead people like the delusions he believes in

      @Sci: your God is not so great if he is so vengeful....use what little brain you have left and think long and hard about what you believe in...when there is proof and solid evidence of this so-called then you can make your claims until then you belong in an asylum with your friend Xenia...they have nice cozy ball gags and wrap around jackets for people like you two.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • MikeC

      The proof is all around you. The problem is that you need proof and the only type of proof that can satisfy you is God coming down and telling you. I would say sir where is your proof that He doesnt exsist. Mathematically and through science it is a impossible problem that is so complicated that even with computers you still cant prove one way or another. So insulting one's beliefs seems to be the idiotic thing to be doing. Just a thought

      August 29, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Michael S.

      Well, fine, you have some degrees in hard Science. I am that much MORE willing to discount your opinions on religion.

      You just plainly lack the training. Had you concentrated on the Social Sciences as I have done, History, Sociology and Psychology you might have a clearer understanding of how the human mind creates and maintains the framework for understanding and defining "Reality".

      Religion is a social construct that takes, and has taken, many forms. No religion lasts long unrevised or amended . Christianity has not even come close to remaining "pure". The beliefs of people of two thousand years ago are just not suited for today. They no longer even remotely model our "Reality".

      August 29, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Chip

      Malachi 3:6 "For I am the LORD, I do not change.. That great truth will not change, because our Savior changes not. His word and eternal promises remain the same throughout all eternity. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Thank God... The next sign is not far behind...

      August 29, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • Rick

      More empty proxy threats.....my god is going to torture you for disbelief.....be very afraid. What a frigging slave

      August 29, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • Chip

      The next sign will be before the days up... Blame it on Rick...

      August 29, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  6. CNN, Harbingers of BS!!!

    The recent earthquake and hurricane are definitely two thumbs down or two middle fingers up at the Obama administration! God has seen entirely enough of our crooked government who really cannot lay claim to being much better than that of Moumoar Gadafi, who CNN keeps putting down. What goes on with the theivery of our US govt. is BAD presently and we are all suffering for it!!! The WORST has not come to pass yet!

    August 29, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • Jarod47

      Did you make a similar comment with respect to mr Bush when New Orleans was hit ?

      August 29, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Rick

      So, god does not like the administration, so he delivers earthquakes and flooding? What a moronic statement

      August 29, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • CNN, Harbingers of BS!!!

      Hey Jarod, I agree...the Bush administration was no better. It seems as since 2000 we have entered a milennium of SOLID corruption! We will pay!

      August 29, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Dan

      how can you say that? you have never lived in Libya and have never experienced the living conditions there... btw. it's Muammar Gaddafi.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • CNN, Harbingers of BS!!!

      I write quickly so spelling should not be a major concern here. Don't worry about an occasional spelling error. I am 64 and know the deal here. America's stupid and decadent lifestyle has caught up with it. That is why so many of you are answering my original post, whether you like it or not...you really believe it!

      August 29, 2011 at 7:31 am |
    • jimtanker

      Let me guess CNN, October 21st right? You're just as loony as those guys are.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • CNN, Harbingers of BS!!!

      And I am not a religious person...I am scientific by belief, but KNOW when men around the world have become very sloppy and decadent. We have now entered a time with a lot of bad living going on around the world. It is time to pay the piper!!!

      August 29, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • CNN, Harbingers of BS!!!

      and to the idiot author who ended this article with the fact that "We have tamed our God". That is BS...God is about to tame us with a vengeance that will put an end to the money grubbing world we now live in!

      August 29, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • Michael S.

      OK. But then Katrina sto be a hard boot up the Azz for "W" and Puppet-master Cheney.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  7. Kevin

    Hilarious to read Christians (by the way, I think you should be spelling God with a capital 'G' ) sneer at science.
    Let's see you sneer while you get your next X-Ray or put a bagel in the microwave!!

    August 29, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • Alyssa

      Eww, a bagel in the microwave? What a perfectly good way to ruin a bagel.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  8. Craig

    Where knowledge ends religion begins

    August 29, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • Jarod47

      Where religion ends knowledge begins.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  9. cliff

    god has been gradually pushed out of relevance, the bible "true" stories shown to be wrong....why do people still believe in these fairy tales as if word-for-word truth? it's fine to take the moral lessons as general lessons, but those that take it as "Truth" ...gotta wonder about the critical thinking skills...

    August 29, 2011 at 7:11 am |
  10. joe23444545334

    Numbers 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

    August 29, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  11. Jsfraptor26

    Quote "But their God no longer acts out his fury as in Bible days. Our storms have not yet been tamed. But our God has."

    1) God definitly acts our His fury – God's Will, Precepts, Judgements, and Plan does not change. God is the same with the First and the same with the Last for He is One.
    2) "But our God has [been tamed]" – Really? The darkness comprehendeth not the light, and it's really apparent here. God does not arbitrate with man, and most certainly cannot be 'tamed' by His creation. You, sir, will meet Him one day, and i hope you will have humbled yourself before that Day.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • jimtanker

      Your god doesnt DO anything because it doesnt exist. Face reality and get on with your life. You will be happier for it.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:06 am |
  12. Idol Girl

    Great article! I'm in complete agreement with it!

    August 29, 2011 at 6:59 am |
    • Idol Girl

      Sites I visit for religious inspiration:


      August 29, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  13. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Blasphemy! How dare scientists accurately predict and warn people about an approaching disaster, and how dare authorities and individuals dare use all the inventions of scientific progress to mitigate the effects of such disasters. How dare science save hundreds of thousands of lives from certain doom! Blasphemy!

    August 29, 2011 at 6:53 am |
    • jimtanker


      August 29, 2011 at 6:59 am |
    • Unknown

      Here's something that took a little critical thinking when I think of God he is immortal and can never die but let's take a closer look at him. If God can get angry then he can get hurt, If God can get hurt then he can die. Anger can always make you do things that you might regret later on in life.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  14. W.Lake

    God is so far removed from today's society as a whole, but he is the same God of the old testament as he is the same God of the new testament and the present day. Many people can't accept this and conveniently invent a god that suits them best, hoping that sin will be accomodated. But we forget that God knows and made everything, his ways are so much higher and thoughts so unimaginable, that who are we to question him.
    As for the hurricanes and earthquakes, the bible warns us of an increase in such natural disasters in the end times. Could this be god warning us?
    Katrina hit New Orleans when a gay pride festival was supposed to be taking place, New York just legalised gay marriage and Irene headed straight for it. Is this just a coincidence?
    God is sovereign.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • jimtanker

      Isn't that exactly what you and many others are doing? Inventing a god that suits them best? Your god is a compilation of many other gods and mythologies through ancient history. Nothing special.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:01 am |
    • Carole

      The same God in both testaments? My, my...he certainly changed his ways a lot. The last description I would give the God of the Old Testament is loving.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:07 am |
    • Jarod47

      Your comment contains the usual religious phrases: Could this be god warning us? Is this just a coincidence?
      You will never know, so don't ask those questions.
      Where I live gay marriage is allowed for a many years. In a nearby town a gay parade is held every year, with members of the government attending.
      No natural disaster has struck us for more the 60 years. Is this gods way to show his approval of our behavior? More likely: gods have nothing to do with what goes on on our planet and in our lives.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • Queen Lattice

      quote: Many people can't accept this and conveniently invent a god that suits them best

      Yes, that's exactly what religious people do. those who don't believe in the invisible man in the sky don't invent anyone. it's called reality.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  15. Lucille

    Jeremiah was not a rambling prophet.

    Science fiction is just that – untruths. But what the prophets wrote were divinely inspired and therefore all truth for us humans. We may not understand but "... all things work together for good to them that love God..who are called, according to his purpose"

    August 29, 2011 at 6:41 am |
    • jimtanker

      So all of the inconsistencies and outright BS that's in the bible are devinely inspired too?

      August 29, 2011 at 7:03 am |
  16. Michael

    Interesting opinion by Mr. Prothero, but it flies in the face of various scriptures, including Amos 3:6-7 which states "When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets." Or how about Isaiah 45:6-7: "I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things." (All quotes NIV)

    If through Jesus "all things hold together" in the physical universe as stated in Colossians 1:17, he apparently knows or controls the existence of all particles in "real-time" (whatever that may be), I'll bet he can still control the weather just as he did in the boat on the waters of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:27).

    August 29, 2011 at 6:33 am |
    • jimtanker

      So you are saying that your god created hurricane Irene? Then we should tax the heII out of the churches to pay for the rebuilding in the aftermath.

      August 29, 2011 at 7:05 am |
  17. Selvan

    Over the so many disasters that are coming on the United States including 9/11, I am not surprised. They are just Old Testament in action. In the Old Testament you can also note of God's wrath and blessings, depended on the Kings of those countries. Today, you can see parallels to it in US Administration – Ronald Reagan (born again Christian who supported Jews and Israel), in contrast to other Presidents, and their outcome. If you talk of Science, today's science is not very scientific – it is a blind faith. Besides, for many happenings, they (Atheistic Scientists) don't have answers. They say that earthquakes happen because of movement of plates underneath. But they are unable to explain WHY those plates moved. Only answer to it is: God is in action.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:20 am |
    • Dan

      Um...how do you figure they have no idea why the plates moved? What does "today's science is not very scientific" even mean? And what an absurd argument regardless; "oh since you don't know everything through the scientific process yet, you're wrong. I don't have a microwave, toothbrush, television, antibiotics, refrigerator, electricity, etc. Science is the dumb."

      August 29, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • eyesopen

      The science of why and how the earth's plates move is well understood by many. Just because you don't understand doesn't make it an everlasting mystery.

      August 29, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  18. M. DaSilva

    Another article about Christianity by a non-Christian. Yawn.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:55 am |
    • Limbaugh is a liberal

      Yes, as opposed to all the articles, postings, statements, and policies about science by non-scientists...

      August 29, 2011 at 6:54 am |
  19. Casey

    This guys is full of it no one listens to him anyway geesh.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • pastmorm

      Great article! Good to know that someone has some sense; realizing that god is indeed dead. I love the comments from the christians on here that can't even spell or use proper grammar. Says everything....

      August 29, 2011 at 6:36 am |
  20. Kathy Quinn

    God doesn't change. He is the same yesteday, today and tomorrow. He doesn't get tamed. He still judges his children and the heathen. Don't put God in a box. God is more powerful than you can think up. He is the great I AM. Read up on Revelation of the earthquakes and wars and the like that will come multiplied before Jesus comes again. Read up on your Bible.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:22 am |
    • SB

      "God doesn't change."

      Nonsense, god has changed throughout the ages. God has changed from an ambiguous force, to the Sun and Stars, to the Moon, to the Earth (Gia), to imperfect anthropomorphic concepts such as Zeus and Apollo, to the perfect father figure of the Judaism and Christian blood cults, to the pedophilic lord of Islam, to neo-religious extraterrestrials of the Raelians and Scientology. God hasn't changed you say? My goodness. God can't stand still!!! Humans are constantly redefining god to fulfill their needs. You think your god is any more special than these? Any more right? Any more real? If so then you're delusional. God will change again, it's just a matter of time.

      August 29, 2011 at 5:39 am |
    • Liutgard

      Matthew 5:45 "so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

      Maybe *you* need to read up on your Bible.

      August 29, 2011 at 5:56 am |
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