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.
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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.
When something important or shocking happens on a large scale ... there will be morons who will see the invisible mans influence in it. I fear for our species ...
Yep. It's just plain ignorance and a inability to understand the natural world as it really is. For them, it's much simpler to play make-believe and pretend there is a god controlling everything. Primitive humans living thousands of years ago without any science could be forgiven for this. But there is no reason any modern person should still be bowing & groveling to non-existent deities. It's embarrassing.
Seriously...if there is an all-powerful deity out there, and he was REALLY full of wrath at us – wouldn't he be able to point a finger (so to speak) at us, and go "pffft"? Why would he waste his time killing us piecemeal, one "natural disaster" at a time?
I mean, a deity has gotta have better ways to manage his time.
God gave humans free will, when he created humans in his image. God also entrusted humans with an awesome responsibility to behave like him, in terms of his justice, wisdom and humility, as we travel through history.
The Bible makes two things clear: God has considered giving up on the human race, but decided not to give up; and, as such he is committed to saving us, much the same way a loving parent is committed to a child, who has lost their way.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him should be saved and should not perish. For God did not send his son to condemn the world. He sent his son so that the world might be saved through him.
(Of course John doesn't just mean mentally accepting that this is true, it implies that one is willing to trust Jesus and make a complete life-changing commitment to him–to follow, obey and serve him, no matter where that leads. Many Christians fail to see this.)
I've always wondered the same thing.
I like to think that if god really wanted to kill all the nonbelievers he would just take and just start firing. It would be the ultimate birdsnest with the ultimate sniper with 100% accuracy. I would think after a bunch of people just randomly started dropping dead all over the place from unexplained deaths he'd get a lot more converts in a jiffy!
This comes as no surprise, considering so many in this country have little, if any, faith in God, and have little or no knowledge whatsoever of the Scriptures of the Bible.
Jesus once asked his disciples, “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
(Jesus, of course was referring himself as “the son of man”, calling attention to his human nature and, of course, as a sign of humility.)
The opening book of the Bible, Genesis, makes clear that God charged humans with the responsibility of caring for the earth, the animals and the plants. As Jack W. Vancil stated, God charged humans with the great responsibility and honor of being royal caretakers of his creation.
This fact is often overlooked by not only the laity of the church, but it is often overlooked by the teachers and preachers, who are responsible for teaching the people.
I believe it was Nahum Sarna who stated that the book of Genesis teaches that God is in control of nature, and the book of Exodus teaches that God is in control of governments and rulers, through his control of nature.
It is clear that the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures were confident that God was in control of everything and that there was a high price to be paid for violating his commandments.
These commandments are succinctly outlined in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), and these commandments are summarized even more succinctly by Jesus when he said the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength; and, he said that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor, as you love yourself.
The Old Testament is the story of how violating God’s commands consistently resulted in punishment from God, in its various forms (e.g., drought, famine, plague, warfare, etc., and death).
Incidentally polluting and destroying God’s creation is clearly a violation of God’s commands, and global warming is clearly consistent with God’s commitment to justice.
How can anyone not see that the current economic woes of the U.S. and the world are the result of irresponsible and greedy leaders, who have engaged in reckless and unethical actions for the past twenty to thirty years?
How can anyone not see that the current decay of the country is largely the result of the decay of the family and the home?
Both of these points are made clear in the Bible.
You're nuts. People like you have been spouting off about Dooms day since the beginning of time. Someday people will get smart enough to leave such childish behavior behind. That day cannot come soon enough.
"How can anyone not see that the current decay of the country is largely the result of the decay of the family and the home?"
It would seem this has been a question of mankind for as long as recorded history, even before that of the times of the Bible. Some examples for you:
"There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end: Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book. "
- from Assyrian tablet, 2800 B.C.E.
"Our youth have an insatiable desire for wealth; they have bad manners and atrocious customs regarding dressing and their hair and what garments or shoes they wear."
"The world is passing through troublesome times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint; they talk as if they alone know everything...."
~ Matthew Paris (13th Century A.D.)
"Our young men have grown slothful. There is not a single honourable occupation for which they will toil night and day. They sing and dance and grow effeminate and curl their hair and learn womanish tricks of speech; They are as languid as women and deck themselves out with unbecoming ornaments. With out strength, without energy, they add nothing during life to the gifts with which they were born – then they complain of their lot."
"The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence [respect] for their parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint; They talk as if they alone know everything and what passes for wisdom in us foolishness in them. As for the girls, they are foolish and immodest and unwomanly in speech, behaviour and dress."
~Peter the Hermit, 1083
Yet here we are, still believing in God(s), still experiencing the same human conditions. This should help you realize how our current generation(s) are so very NON-unique.
Agree. You ARE nuts. By your twisted logic, all those innocent babies starving in Africa did something bad. (Don't give me that ridiculous "god works in mysterious ways"). And those people who are experiencing floods from the hurricane and tornadoes this past spring were somehow worse than the rest. It's all BS, and YOU know it.
The bible is just one of many old archaic books of mythology. It served its purpose in ancient time, it kept the ignorant masses in line and was in fact a fairly good book to teach human values. But it's just an old book of myths like may others. All primitive cultures had their mythology the Judeo/Christian myth is no different. Modern, intelligent people are finally starting to reject the indoctrination from birth by society and are accepting science, logic, and reason instead of archaic myths.
God didn't destroy the world when there was slavery. God didn't destroy the anything during world wars. He didn't smite down the wicked during the most violent times during history. Despots still live, cheaters still prosper, genocidal murderers still walk free, tyrants rule – and terrorists who have killed innocent civilians still conduct their cowardice unpunished.
But he's going to smite down POLLUTERS? He's going to destroy because of our decaying FAMILY VALUES?
Puh-leeze. Don't insult my intelligence while you reveal the extent of yours.
I can say with absolute certainty that you, sir, are a nut.
Sunrise over Villano Beach
Your video of sunrise is beautiful. Thanks.
well, that settles it. the two things that i have been questioning have been settled. 1. is there a god? 2. is the person in the white house a good president. the answers are 1. no and 2. yes. and i know it must be true because i read it here at cnn.com!
I suppose this is proof, also, that a person can be ever learning and never come to the knowledge of the truth. We live in interesting times. Yes, there have been storms in the past, but there has not been a concentration of storms, sickness & disease, earthquakes, famines, volcanoes, heat waves, dust storms, animal deaths, killings, etc., like we are seeing. This is no judgment on a town or village. No, this is a beginning of sorrows, as stated in Matthew 24. Events will continue to escalate in frequency and severity until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and his final judgments. Respectfully, as a religious scholar, I would have thought you to be more correct and honest in your representations of Christianity, but from the start, you seem more inclined to worship science and the mind than an Almighty God. By the way, that is the kind of thinking also foretold by Scriptures as a sign of the end of the age.
It is true that a person can be ever learning and not know the truth (Plato's allegory) but we also can recognize that the reflective images we perceive are not truth but also that there is truth and an Omega (truth source or cause).
"Yes, there have been storms in the past, but there has not been a concentration of storms, sickness & disease, earthquakes, famines, volcanoes, heat waves, dust storms, animal deaths, killings, etc., like we are seeing. "
No, No, No...the only reason you are seeing a "concentration of natural disasters" is because information travels much faster than it did 2000 years ago, let alone 30 years ago. Stop fear mongering.
Sounds like the end of an age should have come during the Renaissance. Or the Enlightenment. Or maybe in the 10,000+ years of human civilization that predates Judeo-Christian thought.
100% right the time is now !
“has not been a concentration of storms, sickness & disease, earthquakes, famines, volcanoes, heat waves, dust storms, animal deaths, killings, etc., like we are seeing.” Your source for this statement please, or did you pull it from the same hole most Christians get their facts?
You can continue to give me all the examples of evolution...really...but I don't agree....believing in evolution is as convient for you as you say believing in God is for me..
I see proof of God everywhere...just as you see proof of evolution everywhere....
Science and God can coexist....for those who choose to believe
I can't begin to argue with you about the existence of God because you have closed your mind to Him...I won't argue why God allows bad things to happen...because you don't even want to see the good things...
I don't believe in evolution, because nothing in its right mind would want to evolve into a giant tree sloth.
A runt of a tree sloth would.
No one "believes" in the scientific theory of evolution. That's like saying that I believe in the quadratic equation. They're both soundly proven principles. Disbelieving them is the mark of a mind that wants to reject that which doesn't neatly agree with a pre-established worldview.
Do you believe in life after love?
I can feel something inside me say, "I really don't think you're strong enough."
Oh brother – here we go again. Evolution is a fact that has been proven independently in many different fields of science. The evidence is everywhere we look: in the fossil record, in the genetics of all living things, in a petri dish full of microorganisms. Ask any biologist and they will tell you the same thing: it is the basis of all life sciences. Without it, everything we know about biology (not to mention many other scientific fields) would make absolutely no sense. Why is America the only modern society that is still debating this?
The issue is that while the examples you've given are not preventative of a god, and could be used to show that one may exist, they are not provative. Nothing you've given so far could ONLY be done by a god. That would be provative evidence. So until that comes up belief in gods is subjective, it's what you consider most likely, a physical explanation, or a supernatural one.
Your rejection of evolution is not the same thing. You have the right to say and think whatever you want, noone can change your beliefs, but there is evidence that proves that speciel has the capacity to change to select benificial traits over the course of many generations. That's a fact. You can say that it works that way because "God" designed it to be so, and noone can prove you wrong; but to say it isn't that way is to deny the world around you. And that is a very slippery slope.
Humans once believed the world was flat and the earth and sun were the center of the universe. Also, people were tortured or in some cases murdered if they went against this belief. So what was the tipping point when people discovered and then agreed, that the world wasn't flat or the earth and sun weren't the center of the Universe? This same principle of people discovering reality and refuting an outdated, non-reality source (the Bible) is what is happening in the last several centuries and even more now in today's modern age.
I used to believe in evolution too, just like I used to believe in gravity. That gravity stuff is dang inconvenient though so I choose to believe in something a little more flexible. It's been great to be hovering around the city using the power of faith.
It's the wrath of God if it happens to somebody you don't like. It's a storm if it happens to you.
Bingo! It's also the wrath of God when you attack people you don't agree with. For example the nut jobs blaming the east coast quake on gay people. Oh please!
And it's god's will if your sports team wins, but the coach's fault if they don't.
The very moment atheists can prove there's not a God, I will become one. I cannot prove there is a God, therefore I don't invite atheists to church.
Ever heard of the teacup in the asteroid belt?
There is no need to disprove an inherently ludicrous proposition.
One atheist coming up. Follow me if you can:
a) You believe god created man.
b) You believe god is perfect.
c) You believe man is imperfect.
Question. How can a perfect being create something imperfect? The moment he does he ceases to be perfect. You are now an atheist (unless of course you've moved the goal post yet again).
Science needs religion. In the absence of religion, science would have to answer questions, it is not prepared for. How did the universe begin? What is the meaning of life? What defines a good life? Is love really just a chemical reaction or is there something spirtual about it?
In the absence of science religions has more questions to answer. Like 'How do we get warm?'.
Funnily enough, scientists do strive to answer many of those questions. Except the one about the meaning of life- and plenty of non-religious people have been working on that one.
Science doens't need religion at all. In science it's okay to just say "I don't know" and leave it at that until you can figure it out. In religion, you just say "god did it" and leave it at that until someone who doesn't believe in your god figures it out because he was the only one looking. Religion slows the advancement of science. Science is better off without religion.
@JTC One question...Were you there in the perfect universe? There could have been storms and there could have not. All I know is that all of creation(Universe) groans because of the sin Adam brought upon us. Romans 8:22 says that ALL of creation groans. Now how does creation groan? A little further back in Romans 8 it says very clearly that God did put a curse on all the universe in hope. " For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope(Romasn 8:20) I bet very loudly "Nature, with its melancholy charm, resembles a bride who, at the very moment when she was fully attired for marriage, saw the bridegroom die. She still stands with her fresh crown and in her bridal dress, but her eyes are full of tears"
Stephen Prothero is obviously unfamiliar with his own nature as well as Nature and Balance: Nature’s law IS balance. Constant adjustments are made between heat and cold, light and rain, sound and the elements. There are Angels whose provenance in the court of God – the entire creation – is a divinely mandated commitment to keep nature’s elements in balance. With equilibrium, the process of evolution flows smoothly. But man’s actions are now so unnatural that nature has been deeply disturbed, resulting in destructive chaos, widespread immunological breakdown, environmental degradation and toxic chemical pollution penetrating the very DNA of human, animal and vegetable organisms – nature totally reeling and out of balance by man’s drunken lack of environmental awareness.
As a defense, nature tries to adjust itself. Floods, tsunamis, droughts, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, hurricanes and even plagues are some of the ways by which nature’s immune system seeks to shout out – to cleanse and balance itself on earth. The reaction of nature is a blindingly flashing red-light that man’s actions are unnatural; that he need be true to his inner demands, which acted upon automatically set a proper balance within human consciousness and adjust the physical conditions in the entire creation around him.
When creation is overwhelmed with such unnatural processes, it seeks divine intervention; what more can it do?
I agree with most everything you said except for the projections of angels or any of the religious overtones. One person I think you'd find extremely interesting would be Howard Bloom. You can do a YouTube search on him with some of his interviews. I agree though that there is a balancing act taking place with our environment and also even with our own biology and evolution.
Very nice, now where is your evidence?
I find it amazing that fundamentalists believe that their god doesn't make his presence known in the world via supernatural miracles anymore because he wants us to understand good and evil on our own and make our own choices.
Wasn't the whole point of the Adam and Eve story that we weren't supposed to know anything about good and evil? Adam and Eve aren't banished for practicing evil. They're banished for eating a fruit that let them understand what it was. Apparently if your god had his way, we'd be happy and naked, living in a little garden for all eternity.
And I'm not even going to start on how an omniscient god contradicts free will. That's just obvious.
The story also demonstrates "Blame" as Adam blames Eve and isn't being accountable for his own disobedience. It's a wonderful made up story with a lot of great 'human dysfunctions' demonstrated that we could learn from. Just don't take the story to be literal. When a person takes the stories of the Bible as simply metaphorical with underlying lessons, then it becomes a bit more relevant in our human process. I'm sure we could learn a few lessons from Harry Potter or the Characters from Lord of the Rings or any of the Narnia books.
Christianity will eventually become a truly dead religion just as Latin is a dead language. We know about it. One can learn it but it's simply not fully used. Such as with the rules of the Bible that are, now in this modern age, either outlandish or illegal and can't be practiced. In reality all Christians, even the Pope are all hypocrites. They are losing the argument to keep up their illusions and spreading the lies that have kept people in a state of brainwashed non-reality for centuries. The parental reward or punishment control factors are seen for what they are as we evolve into deeper understandings of psychology and neuroscience. Once you transcend with more wisdom, you see these truths and stop falling for the religious scam.
The BLOG god erased about six replies
RightTurnCycle .... LOL ... yeah, you have to remember that there are a list of words that cannot be used because it goes against the 'Terms of Service' for CNN's postings.
How bad do you want to bet about what you are saying?? Christianity will never die!! Yes some people are hypocrites and have destroyed the credibility of the faith. But the foundation is not of man, even if man, with its messed up natures discredits Christianity. God(Jesus) is the author of this "religion". Whether you believe in God or not, I promise you, even after you and your kids if Jesus don’t come soon. Christianity will keep expanding, because amongst the hypocrites, God has a remnants of faithful ones, who supersedes the wrong doers. It's just sad that only the bad ones are recognized while millions of good Christ followers are forgotten. Nevertheless whether the world recognizes the faithful ones or not, we know that Jesus see's HIS true people.
Sorry King, the odds are against you here.
Pretty much every world religion has died off eventually.
Your arrogance is very impressive.
You have your beliefs but through your human process, those are not set in stone. They can and do change as they've done for millions of humans. What if you found out that the Jesus Character was simply taken from other older stories and then remodeled and retooled to form a religion? What if some day people really believe that there was a Harry Potter who fought against the Dark Lord (Thomas Riddle)? What if people some day think that the magical land of Narnia was real and then form rituals to keep that belief going? Humans have wonderful imaginations indeed.
Interesting point. Did you know that the Chronicles of Narnia were written by Christian theologian C.S. Lewis, and were created as "mythology" to present Christian principles in another form? I'm not arguing, just conversing about a possilbe mutual interest. I'm not sure about the Harry Potter thing, though.
Beg to differ. To deny one limits your ability to enter the Kingdom of a holy God!!!
Sounds like someone's not prepared for Valhalla.
Oh please crawl back under your rock..
Modern, intelligent people have gone beyond archaic mythology and don't live in a fairytale world of invisible, supernatural beings in the sky.
"I know there are bitter divisions over evolution and creationism"
No division, just fact and nonsense.
But this is not about creation v evolution. This is about God did not cause the losses that resulted from the hurricane.
Of course, an invisible supernatural, imaginary man in the sky can't cause hurricanes or anything else.
Incorrect jma58.......science is the opposite of limiting learning because it agrees it does NOT know all the answers and therefore continues to seek them. On the other hand religion likes to pretend, although we all know it doesnt, it clings to old ways because god has seen everything and knows how we should live therefore nothing needs to change. Again, we all know the interpretation of the bible keeps changing however, the adherents want to pretend it hasn't.
you do not understand (or accept) faith (no religion) and so you have incorrect ideas about it AND you do not understand "science" or "Scientific method" and so you have wrong ideas about that too.
I disagree, I think Mouse was pretty spot on.
Mouse, sounds like you do some basic critical thinking. Good for you! People are so easily sold on concepts, even as outlandish as they are. Once a person starts to study other religions of the world, they soon realize that Christianity is no better and it's full of inconsistencies and grossly exaggerated stories. But here we are, with millions still believing in the myths and legends... just as people once believed that the world was flat and the earth or sun was the center of the universe. The next big jump into a new reality is happening. Very exciting times!
Anger is a human emotion that is a symptom of fear.
If there is a God than God is beyond anger and beyond wrath.
God is not a human and does not have negative human emotions.
So do you agree the Biblical representation of "God" is at best stretched and more likely just flat out wrong (if not impossible)?
"Anger is a human emotion that is a symptom of fear.
If there is a God than God is beyond anger and beyond wrath.
God is not a human and does not have negative human emotions"
Anger as a symptom of fear is only ONE definition of what anger is.
If this is all you know about anger, then you must have never felt it about injustice and evil that's happening in this world.... There is such thing as "righteous anger", when everything one has inside of him cries out against it. That is the kind of anger the Scriptures are describing that God has against sin and evil .
So, friend, your conception about God, His character and His nature is not correct, and is not based on anything He reveals about Himself.
I have not heard many people in my lifetime who speak with such wisdom and profound depth about things of God. I could listen to this man for hours, and totally forget about time.....
The truth is that none of us really know the answer to the mysteries of our existance. I have lived my life torn between faith in an unseen diety or endlessly exploring theories of natural occurance. To deny either severly limits the ability to learn.
You are wise. I trust science as well as the God I know. Remember that faith and science are not really opposed. The faith that many here criticize is a "blind faith" that ignores reality, but that is not the true faith. Keep believing.