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.
It's tragic that perv Americans call common moral sense as fundamentalist. USA has no hope because of them. Sodom gets nuked.
The Bible said what the "sin of Sodom" was. Please state it.
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.a . .r e l i g i o n . .t h a t . .p r e d i c a t e s . .G o d . .a s . .t h e . ." g r a n t o r " . .o f . .B i l l y ' s . .n e w . .F o r d . .F 1 5 0 . .w i t h . .r a d i o . .a n d . .h e a t e r . .i s . .a l s o . .f a d i n g . .r a p i d l y . .G o d . .i s . .n o t . .d i r e c t l y . .b e h i n d . .g o o d . .o r . .b a d . .f o r t u n e . G o d . .i s . .n o t . ." m o v e d " . .b y . .b u r n i n g . .c a n d l e s , . .h o l y . .w a t e r , . .f a s t i n g , . .n u m b e r . .o f . .r o s a r i e s . .s a i d , . .p e n a n c e , . .s e l f . .a b u s e , . .s t a t i o n s , . .d o n a t i o n s , . .t e a r s . . .n o r . .w o u l d . .G o d . .a l l o w . .o r . .p r e v e n t . .g o o d . .o r . .b a d . .f o r t u n e s . .( s u c h . .a s . .J o p l i n . .o r . .M o b i l e . .o r . .K a t r i n a . .o r . .I r e n e . . .o r . .J a p a n . . . .T h e s e " "T h e . .k i n d . .o f . .r e l i g i o n . .t h a t . .i s . .n o t . .f a c i n g . .i s . .a n . .u n d e r s t a n d . .o f . .G o d . .a s . .t h e . .O m e g a . .( c a u s e a . .p r i m a ) . .a n d . .H i s . .b e n e f i c e n c e . .i n . .c a u s i n g . .a . .w o r l d . .o f . .s p l e n d o r . .t e e m i n g . .w i t h . .l i f e . .a b o u n d i n g . .i n . .j o y . . .f u l l . .o f . .a d v e n t u r e . . .a n d . .o u r . .i n d i v i d u a l . .b e i n g . .i n . .t h i s . .m a g n i f i c e n t .( a n d . .h i g h l y . .i m p r o b a b l e . .m i r a c l e . .b u t . .f o r . .t h e . .O m e g a . . .t h e . .c a u s e . . .t h e . .u l t i m a t e . .b e i n g ) . . .T h e . .g o o d n e s s . .o f . .t h e . .w o r l d . .p r e d i c a t e s . .t h e . .g o o d n e s s . .o f . .t h e . .c a u s e . . . .t h e . .g o o d n e s s . .o r . .l i f e . .a n d . .j o y . .a n d . .w o n d e r . .p r e d i c a t e s . .t h e . .g o o d n e s s . .o f . .t h e . .c a u s e . . .A . .f a t h e r . . .o n e . .w h o . .g i v e s . .f o r . .n o . .r e a s o n . .a n d . .w h o . .p o p u l a t e s . .f o r . .n o . .r e a s o n . .a n d . .w h o s e . .w o r l d . .i s . .i n t e l l i g i b l e . .s o . .i t . .c a n . .b e . .e n j o y e d . .a n d . .l o v e d . .a n d . .a n . .a d v e n t u r e . .o f . .u n t o l d . .w o n d e r T h a t . .k i n d . .o f . .f a i t h . .a n d . .b e l i e f . .i s . .n o t . .e n d i n g . .N o r . .i t s . .i s . .r e s e r v e d . .t o . .o n e . .f a i t h . .o r . .o n e . .c u l t u r e . .A l l . .o f . .o u r . .b r o t h e r s . .a n d . .s i s t e r s . .c a n . .s e e . .i t . .( i f . .t h e . .o p e n . .t h e i r . .e y e s . .t o . .i t ) . .T h a t . .i s . .t h e . .u t l i m a t e . .m e s s a g e . .o f . .J e s u s . .C h r i s t ( w h i c h . .n o b o d y . .c a n . .s e e . .s i n c e . .t h e y . .a r e . .b e n t . .o n . .a r g u i n g . .i t . .t o . .d e a t h . ) ( a n d . .t h a t . .i s . .h u m a n . . .o u r . .n a t u r e ) . . .
Americans should think about why they are being condemned lately from both inside and outside instead of staying haughty aganist God. When mothers, fathers and godly leaders lament over your conducts, there are good reasons you need to reform the way you think and live. Autonomy is a filthy, destructive thing for secular Americans.
Perhaps some of us just do not believe in this "god"
Blah Blah Blah ... total fear based rubbish with your brainwashed but faulty 'punishment' system rolled in. Not buying it. Not scared either.
More and more natural disasters. Get use to it. They were all prophesied. The US will become a third world country. Watch and weep.
There have been disasters since time began. Nothing new. Just fantasy.
Only time will tell the truth? This is the only Fact!
Move to SE Asia. You will get used to tropical hurricanes which happen every summer.
People there don't attribute such natural phenomenon to deities. They're way more intelligent than Americans.
Christian Americans rescue and save the South East Asians. Secular Americans consider their misery amusing. Secular America is evil.
@Xenia, please present your evidence that the US is helping SE Asia in terms of Typhoon Nanmadol.
I understand that Christians must lie for Jesus, but you're obviously trying way too hard.
" More and more natural disasters. Get use to it. They were all prophesied. The US will become a third world country. Watch and weep. "
Well, if the were all prophesied, as in it's gonna' happen... you know God is all-knowing, so we can't deviate from what he knows, otherwise... he's not all-knowing, then what's the deal...?
We should hurry-up and "get saved" so we can go to heaven with 'warrior jesus' when he returns to earth...?
BTW- The U.S. is without question, one of 'the' most religious (Christian) countries in the world. Possibly 'the' most.
So...@rdg18... I don't get your posting here at all. Is it because, i'm not a Christian...?
Help me out here... maybe you can 'save my soul'
Yep... I'm with ya' on that brother.
" Only time will tell the truth? This is the only Fact! "
Well, according to a couple of major polls, ~44% of Americans believe that Jesus is...'literally' coming back, clouds and all, within the next 40 years or so.
Is this the kind of truth you are thinking that 'time' will bring about as 'possible' Fact...?
And, actually... it is a fallacy to 'assume' that "time" will "tell the truth." What does seem to be happening is that as "time" is marching on, the scientific community continue to answer questions that we never thought would be answered. It is getting harder and harder for the 'believers' to continue to say "Goddidit" This 'God of the Gaps' argument...i.e... (insert God into the equation, every time science doesn't necessarily have the best answer or testable, verifiable, predictable models...(yet) is again becoming harder to do.
So... actually, on one level, I do agree with you in that as "time" is marching on, we are answering questions and making discoveries that we never even dreamed of.
Who knows... maybe they discover a Deity or the God Process, or something like that in "time."
Speak for yourself.
Many people including me see the hand of God in what these storms DO NOT destroy when they come through.
I would rather pay homage to God and be wrong then to not pay homage to God and be wrong.
God's been with me through alot of crappy times and He's been a real champion helping me through it all.
You don't feel like that -good for you-but that does'nt and won't ever change how I feel about God or the storms that come my way.
Please present something other than an anecdotal evidence, which is completely worthless.
Phil G: What if you pay homage to the wrong god?
Those little seeds. How did they do that? How did those little seeds on those trees grow little propellers on them so they won't get choked out by the mother tree? It's the darndest thing! How did a tree, which doesn't have a brain, know that he has to encapsulate his/her seed in a propeller in order for it to repopulate the landscape??? Oh, and why can't science create any sort of life? According to a "big bang" theory, it just so happened randomly via dumb luck but our best and brightest can't create a cotton-pickin thing using their own dead materials/elements. Hmmmmmmm.
PhilG. Amen, when I was against Him the storms didn't destroy me and the evil in my life would have made the most evil proud and most of these atheist would have had nightmares if I where the person that lived next door and they knew my thoughts when I didn’t know or care for God. The mind of men is desperately wicked. Only a fool will say in his heart there is no God.
Am on your side on that I all my life felt that GOD Allah was on my side in Good time and at the worst times, which makes me feel things would have been worse and deadly if it wasn't for GOD mercy whom I call upon in good and bad times...we ought to be spiritually sensitive to realize signs from GOD whether it was a sight or a over heard word or a dream...when ever feeling tight chested just pray thanking,glorifying GOD asking for pardon of our sins... Am sure many had remembered and prayed well at the moments of the Irene hurricane...towards which it contributed to it to slow down or go...although it is true that not any lives were lost thanks to GOD but many billions of US Dollars financially lost at hard economical times which means maybe to say that "Individuals are not being blamed but rather it is their governing system is...?!!
"Only a fool will say in his heart there is no God."
Opinion only. There have been many extremely smart people who were nonbelievers.
" Many people including me see the hand of God in what these storms DO NOT destroy when they come through. "
While I certainly understand and respect your faith, I just want to point out that whether one looks at what 'gets destroyed' or what 'does not' get destroyed has really no relevance or bearing on the subject of whether or not there is a God. 7-8 million Jews died in the holocaust, but... look at these 'few' who survived...? It's a miracle ! I'm not trying to be snarky here, but to make a point.
You Said: " I would rather pay homage to God and be wrong then to not pay homage to God and be wrong. "
Pay homage...? It seems that you are hedging your bets here by invoking a "Pascal's Wager" way of going through life. Basically, if I'm wrong, what have i lost... I'll be dead, etc... but if I'm right, then I go to heaven, etc...
Just some friendly and respectful suggestions... you 'may' want to expand your thoughts about your faith. You never know... it be become even better as you open your mind !
You Said: " God's been with me through alot of crappy times and He's been a real champion helping me through it all. "
Well, who's can really say whether He has or hasn't, but apparently if believing that works for you and gets you through the "crappy times" and the "storms that come your way" then more power to you !
Humans latch onto "psychological reasons" to rationalize something outside of themselves. We use our imaginations to create answers to things we simply don't understand. It's OK to stop fooling yourself, because in reality, that is exactly what you are doing. Healthy skepticism is OK to have.
God is shrinking into the gaps. Much like the demon trying to reappear in a pentagram drawn on his belly, god shrinks further and further towards the infinitesimal.
The Universe is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old but we're able to see distant stars that are millions of light-years away. How is that possible if it takes millions of years for the light from such distant stars to reach us?
Some Creationists argue that the speed of light was much faster in the past. Others claim that light was already on its way when God created everything.
Please, Creationists, I beg you to start THINKING!!!!!!!!!!!!
Mr. Gutspoo, This may help you, " You must come to God believing that he is and that he is a rewarder to those who diligently seek him". You are invited but you do not have to come. You can live in Gods Kingdom right here, right now like millions of other currently do. I know you are blind to the spirit world but someday you may see the light. Unlikely but possible. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. You have nothing to work with. You are stuck here.
If only you could answer such a simple question...
Christian amputees live with gra-ti-tude with God. Anti-God Americans are too spoiled regarding real life; the reason they cannot cope with reality.
– Leviticus 21:16-23 “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to Aaron, saying, 'No man of your offspring
throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a
defect shall approach: a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb, or a
man who has a broken foot or broken hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or
eczema or scabs or crushed testicles. No man among the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a defect is to
come near to offer the LORD'S offerings by fire; since he has a defect, he shall not come near to offer)the food
of his God. He may eat the food of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy, only he shall not go in to
the veil or come near the altar because he has a defect, so that he will not profane My sanctuaries. For I am
the Lord who sanctifies them.’”
Can't cope with reality? Coming from a person with a big imaginary friend in the sky? Puhleeeze
to observer below:
I'm glad Jesus came along to correct that old moses
Unfortunate, so if "you are God" then what ever you do should have no condemnation. Hence Hitler was right and should not have been confronted. If the KKK members are individual gods then their practices are ok also. What about the Kama rouge? the Cambodians benefited from the choices of a god over other less powerful gods? The slave trade was another case of Africans bought and sold into slavery is the result of another expression of a god over less powerful gods. So if you are not able to defend against other "god" the result of your suffering is supportable by the fact that "you are god"? Under your moral standard whatever I do is ok and if the rich oppress the poor it’s ok and if the white oppress the black or even vice versa it is ok? Who sets the standards of morality and assurance that it will it be consistent?
Certainly not YOUR God.
Show me a man capable of better than my God?
First, show me that ur god exists.
Well I've got to go to bed so I wanted to end the evening with a couple of thoughts. 1. Bashing individuals for their religious beliefs is so 1940's german-era thinking. 2. If you lived your life on a flat prairie in the days before technology and had lived there 80 years, and the people you hung out with only stuck around the prairie, yet every once in a while an individual came around talking about things like oceans and mountains and gorges and things of that nature, it is understandable that you might be a little skeptical. And that's okay; I'm not telling you you have to believe. But I've seen the mountains, I've traveled the oceans; I've swam in the depths. Just because you live on a flat prairie doesn't mean those of us who KNOW what we know are lying about it. It's like some of you who don't believe in God think that you can convince us that what we experience everyday is absurd. Do you understand and realize how absurd that is? I pray God will reveal himself to you as he did me so that you too can truly live, know the truth, and be set free!
The problem with your analogy is that every person who believes in god has a different description of god. On the other hand, the person who has never seen a mountain or ocean will get the same description from anyone who has seen them. Also, the world view of those who have not seen mountains or oceans isn't impacted or changed because of the other person's claim. Therefore, it's reasonable to belive mountains or oceans exist even if you haven't seen them. I believe Austraila exists, even though I've never been there. I reject your god claim because there is insufficient (zero) evidence. This flawed argument is for the pulpit; not for people who think logically.
God hates amputees because he nevers regrows arms and legs, or God is fake!
Christian amputees live with gra-ti-tude with God. Anti-God Americans are too spoiled regarding real life; the reason they cannot cope with reality on Planet Earth. All they have is their wants and needs when they are given better-offs in everything. Airheaded, immature kids = secular Americans.
Then I guess we can conclude God has a grudge against you because He gave you a non functioning brain.
" Then I guess we can conclude God has a grudge against you because He gave you a non functioning brain. "
So, @Enlightenment shouldn't 'use' his brain that God gave him because he asked or posited a valid discussion point...?
you said, "Christian amputees live with gra-ti-tude with God."
so now u just make up stuff and it becomes true?
Americans have a Christianity complex. They should stop saying ignorant, stupid things on Christianity and listen to their Evangelical Christian leaders and reform their lifestyles from the foundation.
Americans have a problem with Christianity. They should stop listening to the ignorant, stupid things that Evangelical Christian leaders say, like the Earth is 6000 years old.
Evangelical Christians are one of the most disgusting, twisted, and perveted group of human beings walking the earth today.
Evangelical Christians are the only normal Americans left in the land. True heirs of USA who live out the founding purposes.
Yes, the right-wing religious zealots have all the answers. Telling people how to live their lives is top of the list. Unfortunately, the "fundamentalists" of any religion preach the answers alright. Those who listen to these preachers become the fanatics who end up in headlines all over the world. Religion is the number one killer in the world. What zealots do in the name of religion justifies death and destruction.
The scientific background of most Americans lead them to simple minded, supernatural and super stupid explanations for natural phenomena. These people are as dumb as a bag of hammers.
Don't be so hard on yourself. God created you.
Summary: besides, it's the planet that hates Americans, not God. God showed mercy to Americans who never get lessons from anything.
And yet you ignore God's will, and reject those who HE loves. You are bad.
Rich, American perverts are spoiled with a half-truth Gospel. You need full truth. Planet Earth wants you out.
"God showed mercy to Americans who never get lessons from anything."
That's one thing I certainly, wholeheartedly agree with ! ! !
All hail, navier-stokes!
Secularism in seventies was only sick immoral; secularism this century is sick Sodomic and blasphemous.
Oh? So, you reject the laws and const i tution of this nation and yearn for the church to rule this land?
That IS what you are saying.
W-, Americans just need a common sense. You have too much fear. Fear against religion has crippled you.
"Our storms have not yet been tamed. But our God has."
Wow, it's scary to think some people actually think God is capable of being tamed. God is bigger, better, more powerful and awesome than anyone. No one has the capability to 'tame' him – and why would we want to do that anyway? This is such a dangerous way of thinking...
Yes, thinking is definitely dangerous...
Foolish, foolish child. You think of God as a vengeful creature in the sky ready to smite on a moment's notice.
UTTERLY ignoring the lessons given by Jesus Christ, who proclaimed we have a LOVING God.
So, are YOU right? Is Jesus Christ a liar?
God has NEVER, EVER, EVER repeated himself or a lesson in history. WHY would he promise an eternal judgement AND punish during life, it is repeating himself.
Learn your own religion before you even CONSIDER correcting a scholar, who dedicated his life to learning our faith.
Yes, perhaps it would be more fruitful to preach to Reverends like Pat Robertson and others who practice and preach about infliction of pain upon supposed sinners. The reason many turn away from religion is the very hypocrites who preach how sinners will pay on Earth and in Hell for sins of their own design.
Mr. Prothero, mankind never tamed its own nature and death, either. You only tamed your own ideas on God, nothing else, yet the fact does not change anything in the universe. American secularists and hedonists are too haughty against God – their graviest tragedy on earth and for their eternity.
Christianity.... responsible for more torture, bloodshed and murder than any other religion. So here we have the delusional trying to push their rubbish with political agendas. You will NEVER get the blueprint or the architecture of your soul to understand your true human-spiritual process from the brainwashing cycles of the dead christian religion.
God is love. God is not the one responsible for all of these terrible things you mention. God hates seeing these devastating things even more than we do. This world is flawed and it's terribly sad, but assign blame where blame is due – not on God.
Christianity overthrew brutal atheism last century; Christianity is the only good religion on earth. Only filthy, uneducated Westerners hate Christianity.
I dont remember that name. Did you just bring that one back or did you decide on a new one?
JW, it's me. Xenia means "hospitable." Knock off your pseudo-christianity. Mr. Prothero is your kind.
"Only filthy, uneducated Westerners hate Christianity."
Incredible ignorance. Many Christians bring dislike on themselves due to hypocrisy.
This Prothero guy is either writing 'tongue-in-cheek' or is just plain silly. I vote for silly.