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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. Doc Vestibule

    The hurricane is Thor's punishment for Christianity supplanting the Norse Pantheon as objects of worship.

    October 30, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • LoLo

      No, that would be Neptune's wrath over the supplanting the Greek Pantheon. Just you watch, Percy Jackson is just about to release the Kraken. 🙂

      October 30, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  2. Seriously?

    Or, you know, it could just be the WEATHER. Perfectly explainable by science!!! We are far beyond the point of needing to create deities in order to rationalize perfectly natural phenomenon! Such a useless article.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • LoLo

      Well, if you account for our affect on climate change, superstorms like this may not be as "natural" as you think.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  3. Ch. Nadeem Aslam

    With the name of Allah (God), The Almighty, The Most Gracious and The Most Merciful.

    Dear, In this universe every thing is created by Allah and He loves his Prophets more than anyone on this earth. In all Holy books Torah, Zaboor, Bible and Quran, Allah states to respect his Prophets. It is responsability of all humans to give respect to every religion and all the Prophets, which Allah has sent on this earth for well being of humans. When humans laugh and disrespect Prophets then one should be very clear that soon they will be catched and will be punished. Allah has command on everything so he just orders water, air, fire, earthquakes to happen and this start. So this is due to newly movie which has sparked anger in Muslims and even those who believe in God, and Allah is the one who can decide much better than anyone. Seek forgiveness from Allah. Ameen.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Huebert

      Allah is just as fictional as every other god conceived of by man.

      October 30, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  4. Tea Party Patriot

    This storm is most definitely God's way of punishing Americans for putting a black man in the White House.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • midwest rail

      Trolling should never be this obvious – or boring.

      October 30, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • LoLo

      More like God's way of punishing Gov. Chris Christie for campaigning against Obama. He sure doesn't have anything bad to say about the president now that the chips are down, does he?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • jr66

      Tea Party members aren't racist. RIght!

      October 30, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • sir

      you are just another idiot

      October 30, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Miriam

      for your information that black man is our president and he will prevail he is gonna be a winner you can count on that !!!!

      October 30, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Spencer

      And this is why we can't have nice things.

      October 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  5. Steve Minos

    When we observe man owning everything needed in life, living in constant anguish, bitterness and grief, we must recognize God is missing from their lives.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • LoLo

      Or it could be more the Taoist teaching that clinging to material things is the root of unhappiness. You could get tons of other helpful advice from Dr. Phil, or from some other self-help advice-giver. Opting for Christianity only forces you to have to pile on other troubling things, like forcing yourself to reject things that are obviously true, like evolution, in favor of things that are highly improbable, or even downright impossible. Thanks, but I'd rather keep my sense of reason.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • tallulah13

      Do you know why god is missing? Because he doesn't exist.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  6. Huebert

    "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."

    I love that line. 😀

    October 30, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So do I. "The cranky white men" makes me think of the two codgers on "The Muppets."

      October 30, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  7. Steve Minos

    God exist's, Christians must live an ethical life otherwise the Holy Spirit will not abide with them and they will not find salvation. The more we abandon God, the more God abandons us, God will remove His Candle Stick from all ungodly.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Bob

      Steve, sounds like your god is quite the vindictive jerk. No thanks, you can keep your god fictions to yourself. And where are you sticking that candle stick?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • tallulah13

      Is Candlestick some kind of metaphor?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • HarryJ

      Isn't finding personal salvation a rather selfish thing to live your life for?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Miriam

      Amen !

      October 30, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • airportkid

      I'd be cranky too with some god's candle stick "not removed" – which definitely explains the pained crankiness of so many religious devotees – they're a PITA because they've got a big one UTA themselves.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • sam stone

      wow, i suppose the godly still has his "candlestick" inserted into a tender area on those godly folk

      October 30, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  8. SAM

    Yes its a God Fury, for Insulting Prophet Mohammad PBUH and hurting Muslims all over the World, Atleast Now American should understand that Free Speech does not mean Hurting others sentiments, if they continue as before then a bigger and more stronger Gods Fury will come to Teach Them

    October 30, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Huebert

      Do you honestly believe that God communicates his displeasure with people by occasionally hurling giant, imprecise, natural disasters at them? Wouldn't an e-mail, or phone call, or telepathic message (revelation) be more efficient?

      October 30, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • joe

      Prophet Mohammad = Push Bus Upon Him (PBUH) is not real. And if allah was real I seriously doubt he would need your help

      October 30, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  9. Mark

    God give us strength and guidance and help us to continue to help others. Amen.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Margie

      Amen – God help us and remember to thank Him and His son Jesus for safely bringing us through this storm.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Mark

      Margie are you really that stupid, not everyone has come through the storm safely. Christians like you who put blinders on to reality are really dumb people, now put your head back in the sand.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Miriam

      AMEN AMEN AMEN

      October 30, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  10. sanjosemike

    All throughout these blogs we see religious people libeling atheists for every wrong ever committed. I get sick of it. Atheists are NOT what is at fault with humans. You have NO right to judge me: I pay my taxes. I have never cheated on my wife. I raised my kids as atheists and they are contributing members of society. I have never been on welfare. I am still married to the same lady I always was. I give both time and money to many charities. I am very satisfied and happy being an atheist. I try to do what I can with every day I have, knowing that there is nothing after. And yes, I VOTE.

    sanjosemike

    October 30, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • James

      Kudos Sanjosemike. Its not the people of this world who judge you that should be worrisome, it's the God of creation. He loves you and me in spite of ourselves and wants to be a part of your life

      October 30, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Huebert

      What evidence do you have that shows that your God exist?

      October 30, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • PAT

      @james – that's funny because my god loves atheists and looks down on creationists. God is funny like that.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • tallulah13

      Apparently god loves us all so much that he can't be bothered to leave any trace of his existence and in fact goes out of his way to make himself look like every other fictional god ever invented.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  11. Dawg

    God Ddirects the weather –

    (NIV) Job 37:
    3He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
    and sends it to the ends of the earth.
    4 After that comes the sound of his roar;
    he thunders with his majestic voice.
    When his voice resounds,
    he holds nothing back.
    5 God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
    he does great things beyond our understanding.
    6 He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’
    and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’
    7 So that everyone he has made may know his work,
    he stops all people from their labor.[a]
    8 The animals take cover;
    they remain in their dens.
    9 The tempest comes out from its chamber,
    the cold from the driving winds.
    10 The breath of God produces ice,
    and the broad waters become frozen.
    11 He loads the clouds with moisture;
    he scatters his lightning through them.
    12 At his direction they swirl around
    over the face of the whole earth
    to do whatever he commands them.
    13 He brings the clouds to punish people,
    or to water his earth and show his love.

    October 30, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Primewonk

      Except, of course, that your god is a scientifically ignorant putz.

      October 30, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • joe

      All of those myths were written when the earth was still flat and the center of the universe.

      October 30, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • tallulah13

      I think a more likely case is that ancient middle-eastern men experienced storms, and lacking the scientific knowledge to understand the very real and natural causes, did the sort of thing humans have done since the dawn of time: They invented or credited a god.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  12. Ann

    "God isn't allowed?"

    So, he's not all powerful. I guess we need to find out who sets up the rules for god, and check in with them instead.

    October 30, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  13. Doc Vestibule

    Sin does not cause natural disasters.
    In 2010, an Iranian Imam named Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi stated that the earthquake in Haiti was God's punishment for "Many women who do not dress modestly and lead young men astray, corrupt their chast.ity and spread adultery in society".
    In order to test this claim, some 200,000 women across the world dressed "immodestly" at the same time and global seismic activity was monitored for the next 24 hours.
    Unsurprisingly, the only observed instances of abnormal shaking and quaking involved said women's cleava.ge.

    October 30, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Karl

      Rev. Pat Robertson, racist and ignorant also blamed january 12th, 2010 on the fact that Haiti supposedly won its independance using voodoo. Followers said AMEN.

      And now we are astonished that so many people are turning back to the almighty God?

      October 30, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Bob

      Problem is, Karl, there is no such god.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  14. Helen

    God rains on the just as well as the unjust,he sends us warnings but we refuse to adhere to them,and this world and everything in it belongs to GOD,and he tells us in his word(the bible)that if my people who are called by my name would humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive them for their sins and heal their land

    October 30, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Reality

      And now moving to the 21st century with an updated prayer:

      The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
      ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen
      (References used are available upon request.)

      October 30, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Primewonk

      Science has progressed quite a bit since your version of a god was cobbled together from various other minor deities worshipped by various bronze-age nomadic tribes of shepherds in the middle east 6,000 years ago.. We know what causes rain. we no longer need your magical skydaddy, or any other gods to make it rain.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I remember when we learned about the water cycle in school. I assume Helen still believes rain is god crying due to gay intercourse.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • tallulah13

      That will probably make you feel a lot better, Helen. It won't actually accomplish anything, but that's the nature of prayer.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  15. No Pearls

    To the "Rational Libertarian" in response to NO PEARLS' comment below:

    You are the one who called the poor and uneducated "stupid", not I.

    Academia is filled with godless humanism that is the source of foolishness. "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God". "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom."

    Intelligence and wisdom do not reside only in the classroom. And indeed today, many that lead the classroom are running from God, and thus true wisdom. I have nothing against true education, but irrational humanistic pseudo-science in origins and the arts are not true education, but indeed a false religion.

    Apparently money and education cannot solve our problems, no matter how much we spend on it, scores go down and immorality goes up. You cannot figure this out because you deny God, but there are many who see the correlation, and those that believe in God and trust in Christ know the answer.

    This response is not so much for you, but for those who can see the truth and love God, and yet might not see through your comment to see that you insult the poor. No matter the date within the last 2000 years, TRUE Christianity does not oppress the poor; but more importantly, faith is not about the filthy lucre of this earth. It is about our relationship with God. Many today and throughout the centuries have taught and lived wrong things and called it Christianity, but the clear teaching of the Bible is one that loves wisdom, true learning and most importantly teaches loving your fellow man.

    The fool's "irrationality" cannot understand this, but many people do, it was and is to those that have not rejected God that I made the first comments.

    Now I do speak to you and to all the mockers who slander the name above all names, Jesus Christ. You will one day stand before Jesus Christ and be judged according to His Words.

    You will be FORCED by the Holy presence of His glory to bow your knee to Him, and confess that He is Lord. But it will be too late for repentance on that day. There will only be a chance for all to see the list of lying, stealing, adultery and blasphemy that has inundated your life. There will be no mercy because you have trod underfoot the blood of the lamb that COULD have saved you.

    This is not an argument awaiting response, but a warning of what is to come. There is One who will respond to you, and YES, HIS name IS to be feared.

    Hurricane Sandy may or may not have had anything to do with judgment, but there is coming a day that will have EVERYTHING to do with judgment, and it is the Christ that you mock that is your only hope and will be your judge!

    October 30, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      So I was right, go for the stupid and desperate instead of people capable of rational thought.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • BU2B

      "No Pearls" – Spoken like a true sheep, well done. If you have any original thoughts of your own, feel free to let us know. Until then, keep using the bible to justify your belief...in the bible. Circular referencing is awesome.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Nothing like a dose of Christian schadenfreude to start the day off right.
      Threats of eternal damnation – part of your nutritious breakfast.

      October 30, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • tallulah13

      Actually, No Pearls, Hurricane Sandy is a natural event that may have been exacerbated by the effects of global warming.

      Nothing like a natural disaster to show how deeply ignorant some christians have chosen to be.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  16. Art B.

    Come on, CNN. Really, now you are using "bloggers"? Any fruitcake with a half baked notion of some whacky idea can now publish manifestos using CNN to purport him or herself as a "journalist"?

    CNN has become nothing more credible than the Huffington Post. What a shame.

    October 30, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • midwest rail

      If only "journalists" could give opinion pieces, Fox would close today.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • OccupyEverything

      CNN has not had any credibility in a long time.

      October 30, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  17. Reality

    Only for the crazy believers in the Book of Revelation:

    Previous Pennsylvania Frankenstorms:

    Pre-1900

    September 18, 1876- A tropical storm produced 50 knots (93 km/h, 58 mph) sustained winds in at least parts of Pennsylvania. [1][2][3][4]

    September 13, 1878- A extratropical storm produced at least 70 km/h sustained winds throughout the state. [5][6]

    October 24, 1878- The Gale of 1878 destroys at least 700 buildings, causes $2 million in damage, kills at least ten people and injures more, and produced 80 km/h sustained winds throughout the state. [7][8][9][10]

    October 13, 1885- An extratropical storm produced 70 km/h sustained winds throughout the state. [11][12]

    August 22, 1888- A tropical storm produced 75 km/h sustained winds throughout the state. [13][14][15]

    August 29, 1893- A tropical storm produced 100 km/h sustained winds throughout the state. [16][17][18]

    October 25, 1893- A tropical storm produced 65 km/h sustained winds. [19][20]

    September 30, 1896- An extratropical storm produced 95–100 km/h sustained winds. [21][22]

    November 1, 1899- An extratropical storm produced 95 km/h sustained winds. [23

    October 30, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  18. Jarsbait

    Really, CNN? At least give this space over to someone a little more thoughtful about the issues. I happen to agree with this guy, but really, there are better writers on these topics out there.

    But to do us all a service, please stop with these stupid columns altogether.

    October 30, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Tying religion and natural disasters together will always lead to poor articles, regardless of the writer.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  19. Norman

    "In a world in which God is all powerful and all good, why do bad things happen to good people?"-
    Please don't group Judaism, christianity, and Islam together. Islam has answers to questions Judaism and Christianity stare at like deer in a headlight. Please do your unbiased research!!!

    October 30, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • truth be told

      Islam is a demonic lie,allah is not God and mohammed was a godless fraud. You are right not to include islam with true faith.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Who worships a pedarast?
      We do.

      There's one question Muslims have an answer to.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  20. Christian American

    I believe that God sent this storm as a response to this election and as a warning against electing a Mormon President!!

    Read you Bible! Mormons are a satanic cult!! And the pathological liar that is Romney wiil bring us to ruin!

    Please vote for anyone but Romney!

    October 30, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • Ann

      Well, you sound like a nut, but I'm glad you'll be voting for Obama.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Christian American: I believe you have no comprehension of how the earth and weather patterns work. Your imaginary friend has nothing to do with this. You need to get an education.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • BU2B

      Mormonism is no more a cult than Christianity. The only difference is the Christian cult has more members.

      October 30, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • OccupyEverything

      Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life Christan American,

      October 30, 2012 at 9:57 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.