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My Take: God not in whirlwinds of Sandy, presidential race
A NASA image of Hurricane Sandy.
October 29th, 2012
01:33 PM ET

My Take: God not in whirlwinds of Sandy, presidential race

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

I am riding out Sandy on Cape Cod and wondering whether this, too, is God’s will.

As this storm has carved its path through the Caribbean and up the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, it has taken 67 lives and (so far) spared the rest of us. Was it the will of the Almighty that so many should perish?

Is God angry with Cuba, where 11 died last week? More angry with Haiti, where 51 perished? Relatively unperturbed with Jamaica, where the death toll was only two? If a tree falls on my house today, will that be an Act of God, too?

There has been a lot of talk lately about what is and what isn’t willed by Providence, thanks to Richard Mourdock, the Indiana Republican and U.S. Senate candidate who said last week, “I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.”

Whether “it” in this sentence refers to rape or to conception, it assumes that God is both busy and capricious. Why does God offer the gift of life to some rape victims and not to others? Why does God allow some elections to be close and not others?

One answer, of course, is that God does nothing of the sort. Perhaps there is no God. Or perhaps God is more like the watchmaker divinity of Deism fame who winds up the universe, sets it in motion and then leaves it to its own devices.

In the thought worlds of Indian religions, things operate not by the will of God but in keeping with the laws of karma. So to put it in crudest terms, those who are injured in Sandy somehow have it coming to them, as do victims of rape who find themselves pregnant.

The western religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have argued that God has a hand not only in setting our story in motion but also in seeing it through to the end. So Jews, Christians, and Muslims have had to reckon with the classical problem of “theodicy”: In a world in which God is all powerful and all good, why do bad things happen to good people?

As I wrestle with these questions, I cannot help thinking about how differently my New England forebears interpreted these natural disasters. While we speak of the eye of the hurricane, New England's colonists were ever mindful of the eye of a God who was forever watching over them, and sending storms their way as punishment for their collective sins.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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.

Televangelist 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 with this “Stormpocalpyse” arriving on the eve of the election, I suspect some will suggest that the rain and the wind are God’s judgment on the leadership of President Obama.

Still, American society as a whole no longer interprets natural disasters as signs of a coming apocalypse or evidence of past misdeeds. When it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes, we tune in to the Weather Channel, not the Christian Broadcasting Network. And we interpret these events not through the rumblings of biblical prophets but through the scientific truths of air pressure and tectonic plates.

As a result of this sort of secular turn, 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.” Sandy is a surprise to no one, thanks to science.

Still, we Americans cannot give up on talk of God’s will. At least according to Newt Gingrich, Mourdock’s foray into rape and theology reflects the position of “virtually every Catholic” in the United States. And if we are to believe the full-page ads taken out  by Billy Graham, God wills the victory of Mitt Romney over Barack Obama.

As for me, I am less sure about what God wills for our storms (political or otherwise). In my view, any God worth worshiping isn’t going to be so predictable, or so capricious.

I don’t think Graham, Mourdock, or Gingrich is speaking on behalf of God. They are speaking on behalf of themselves, on the basis of their own fears and experiences. And they are reading the Bible through their politics, not the other way around.

When it comes to storms like Sandy, I just don't believe in a God who drowns black babies in Haiti yet refuses to drown out the voices of cranky white men who claim so irreverently to speak in His name.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Belief • Billy Graham • Christianity • Church and state • Newt Gingrich • Politics • Science • United States

soundoff (2,188 Responses)
  1. Tina

    Keith, why do you believe your life is "absurd"? Your life and mine do have purpose. It's not some cosmic joke. There is real joy, and real meaning to who your parents were, and why you like chocolate ice cream (or not) and why you think that leaving a legacy behind you to benefit others is important. I agree. We don't live just for ourselves, and we are most alive when we are most selfless, yet most self aware. These times are unique in the history of the world and I am fascinated by watching God unfold events, one day at a time. Only a vivisectionist takes delight in destruction, or loss of life...we feel real grief over the deaths of Haitian babies, or any tragic event. To believe God is involved in this world, including the depth of its suffering, is not to say He enjoys our pain. It is my belief that He sees it all, shares our sorrow, stands with us at the graveside of a loved one, yet being "other" than us and greater, not only sees beyond it but can transform it into something unimaginably great. How can He lie? He sees it all. He knows it all, and has from before the foundation of the world. He is outside of time, and beyond the reaches of space. This is where any real security is. Not that we have a "handle" on God. But that He has His hand on us.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  2. Larry LaBarge

    Everytime I hear the weatherman say "Jersey Shore" it convinces me that this hurricane is god's judgement for giving us Snooki.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • brett

      Your comment is funny! But lets hear it for Stephen Prothero for his hilarious comment about cranky white men, after writing one of the most cranky articles I have ever seen! Maybe he needs to look in the mirror to see what color he is!

      October 29, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  3. ArthurP

    You know if God was a woman, instead of a man, she would have continued working past the 6th day and kept on going until she got everything working right.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  4. Terrell

    Stephen, deep down inside of your soul, you know exactly what's up. The bible is very clear, " So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. " Luke 21:31 KJV

    So many people live in denial and blaspheme saying " Mother Nature" but deep down, they know!

    October 29, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • motorfirebox

      What I "know" is that religious alarmists have been saying that the kingdom of God is nigh for over a thousand years. They've said it in times better than these, and they've said it in times far, far worse than these. All of which leads me to suspect that they're all full of it. After all, no man knows the day or the hour.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  5. NorthVanCan

    Funny reading the comments from religious people. So angry and full of hate for one of their own.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Kathy Greene

      You're so right! "The Truth" hates the author of this article because he dares to point out the breathtaking cruelty of some people's interpretation of God's personality/character and actions. This guy is an American version of the Taliban or other Shari'ia Law devotee. Blech!

      October 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  6. Ken

    The author of this article is an atheist pig ignore all he says out of ignorance which is 100%

    October 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      he's not an atheist. he's a christian zombie that pretends to use his brain from time to time.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Peter

      Then again sometimes a hurricane is just a hurricane, even a very big one.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Kathy Greene

      Ken, you see in others what you are yourself!

      October 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  7. scottie

    First of all, to answer your questions as to why God would act one way in one situation and another way in another, BECAUSE HE IS GOD THAT'S WHY. God does not exist to serve you or anyone else. He does what He will, when He will, how He will. Secondly, God is a God of love, but He is also a God of justice. Go back and read the story of Noah and the ark. And finally, God created this earth and yes, He is still active in it. It is still His world and He is the master of the wind.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • E0F0G0

      Exactly. This is a BU graduate? He wouldn't know what Puritans believed if he fell over one of their many wonderful books.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Truth absolute is The LORD AND THE GOD OF THE WORLD, nothing can exist without "HIM"

      October 29, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      he's the god of love? LOL! when he's not murdering people? he drowned babies in his great flood. read that again. BABIES. any god that drowns babies is evil and disgusting. how could you possibly worship such a monster?

      October 29, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Love means submission and God of the world,truth absolute, does not love hinduism, denial of truth absolute, and punishes for their hinduism, criminality.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • truth be told

      @footybunk
      Please name one of the babies drowned in the great flood. It is possible that the whole world was so ho mo se xually perverted that there were no babies being born at that time.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • TruthSeeker

      So you worship a god who doesn't need to justify his actions beyond "because I am God"? What if this god is malevolent? How can this kind of god expect us to follow him blindly without questioning his actions, especially if they bring harm upon us? For someone to accept this wretched doctrine is quite simply beyond me.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Kathy Greene

      SCOTTIE, You are an appologist for the HATE and CAPRICIOUSNESS and INJUSTICES of God! HOW could you be SO blind and evil? A being CANNOT be the epitome of love and charity and SIMULTANEOUSLY condone himself or his followers behaving in a hateful, capricious, and unjust way. You should not be trying to justify the UNJUSTIFIABLE! Think about it. Then pray!

      October 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  8. Bootyfunk

    god doesn't create storms, eh? and perhaps we're forgetting when god brought down the storm of storms and drowned every single human being on earth but one family. yup, god drowned every baby, child, man, woman, the mentally challenged, the physically challenged, the elderly, the infirm, pregnant women, etc. so god didn't make this storm, eh?

    the logical answer is there's no such thing as god. nature is not a sentient force and just does what it does. grow up.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  9. JLS1950

    The bible teaches that when we disobey God's Laws (not to be wholly confused with the Mosaic Law or Torah) we cause certain protections to be removed and then we are subject to destructive influences. In this matter, we know that we have been ignoring or rejecting warnings about climate change – and the bible does warn about "destroying the Earth" – so now we have more destructive hurricanes. Christians also believe that disobeying God's moral and ethical standards – especially in ignoring the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick and the accused – can take certain protections away. I do not see this disaster as a "punishment" from God for e.g. abortion, gay marriage or such like – but rather as a warning about our care for the less-fortunate and our involvement in idolatry. This Presidential election certainly offers us enough examples of idolatry – especially as so many "christians" like up on what seems clearly the WRONG SIDE.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      god is a fairy tale. get over it.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      God's la. limit of truth are called "THEEN ALLAH or consti tution of truth absolute, based on constant of matters, but denied by hinduism, denial of truth absolute called LAW'S.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  10. mama k

    DID YOU KNOW?

    During his presidency, James Madison vetoed two bills that he believed would violate the separation of church and state. He also came to oppose the long-established practice of employing chaplains at public expense in the House of Representatives and Senate on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state and the principles of religious freedom**. Starting from his anger over feuding Christian sects in his home state, until the end of his life, he was a fervent promoter of separation of church and state.

    Who is James Madison? He was the 4th President of the United States and the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution.

    ** Library of Congress – James Madison Papers – Detached memorandum, ca. 1823.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  11. Christopher Strong Heart

    God is attacking blue states, it's a message to left wing liberals. He killed all those godless primitive blacks in New orleans and in Haiti and this is his wrath again.

    Vote Romney for Gods will, vote obongo for the devil and your steep downward spiral. Blacks are a godless evil race and have absolutely no business in any type of leadership position, they can't lead anyway. White is right.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      you could not be stupider. you've obviously had your frontal lobe removed already - just remove the rest of your brain. you don't seem to be using it.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Mike

      Must be nice living in such a simple world. Can I assume you have equally clear views on the virtues and vices of right and left handed people?

      October 29, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • k

      God helps retard those who retard themselves.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  12. Hegetarian

    //As a result of this sort of secular turn, we are much better at predicting the course of hurricanes. //

    Not quite. As a result of science and technology, WHICH ARE COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT OF RELIGIOUS BELIEF, we are much better at predicting the course of hurricanes.

    And from the look of what Sandy did to Atlantic City, I would suggest that God is going for Donald Trump's hairpiece (this is an unscientific assessment, of course).

    October 29, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  13. Socal Reggae

    goto shorelinerootz.com
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HATNN2cyq6A&w=640&h=360]

    October 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  14. Rummy Pirate Times (In Greed We Trust)

    http://www.examiner.com/article/mitt-romney-implicated-perjury-and-stock-fraud-made-millions-process

    October 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  15. PaxLoki

    Imagine there's no heaven
    It's easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today...

    Imagine there's no countries
    It isn't hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace...

    You may say I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope someday you'll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world...

    You may say I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope someday you'll join us
    And the world will live as one

    John Lennon

    October 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • mk

      Love that one.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  16. Rummy Pirate Times (In Greed We Trust)

    Marc Wolpow, a former Bain partner who worked with Romney on many deals, said the discussion at buyout companies typically does not focus on whether jobs will be created. “It’s the opposite—what jobs we can cut,” Wolpow said. “Because you had to document how you were going to create value. Eliminating redundancy, or the elimination of people, is a very valid way."

    October 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  17. Rummy Pirate Times (In Greed We Trust)

    For 15 years, Romney had been in the business of creative destruction and wealth creation. But what about his claims of job creation? Though Bain Capital surely helped expand some companies that had created jobs, the layoffs and closures at other firms would lead Romney’s political opponents to say that he had amassed a fortune in part by putting people out of work. The lucrative deals that made Romney wealthy could exact a cost. Maximizing financial return to investors could mean slashing jobs, closing plants, and moving production overseas. It could also mean clashing with union workers, serving on the board of a company that ran afoul of federal laws, and loading up already struggling companies with debt.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  18. Rummy Pirate Times (In Greed We Trust)

    In 1994, Bain invested $27 million as part of a deal with other firms to acquire Dade International, a medical-diagnostics-equipment firm, from its parent company, Baxter International. Bain ultimately made nearly 10 times its money, getting back $230 million. But Dade wound up laying off more than 1,600 people and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002, amid crushing debt and rising interest rates. The company, with Bain in charge, had borrowed heavily to do acquisitions, accumulating $1.6 billion in debt by 2000. The company cut benefits for some workers at the acquired firms and laid off others. When it merged with Behring Diagnostics, a German company, Dade shut down three U.S. plants. At the same time, Dade paid out $421 million to Bain Capital’s investors and investing partners.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  19. Bootyfunk

    "I am riding out Sandy on Cape Cod and wondering whether this, too, is God’s will."

    it's not god's will. god doesn't exist. that's a silly, ignorant thought. storms are natural occurrences. they have nothing to do with divine power being flexed. get over it. grow up.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  20. Rummy Pirate Times (In Greed We Trust)

    Southern Illinois:

    Controlling share owner Bain Capital closes BRP plant so the 340 jobs there could be outsourced to Mexico.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • OpposingView

      Meh...

      October 30, 2012 at 7:30 am |
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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.