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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. ssc

    Nah. God also hate US sometimes like Pakistan, Afghanisthan and other middle east countries where people get hurt with bloody wars

    October 29, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  2. Hindu

    How absurd! This atheist m0r0n gets paid to be a "religion scholar". We might as well appoint a hard core communist as head of NYSE.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Christian Psychosis 101

      Hey, religious scholar is a great job! You never have to produce anything but hot air, and no one can ever say you made a mistake. It's almost as good as Messiah, which Jesus went for to get out of that manual laborer thing he was doing before.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  3. George

    How is this news? How is this even in print? CNN...we have a major disaster on our hands.. Please start acting responsibly and keep crap like this (and anyone who takes the exact opposite and equally inane view) bottled up and stick to something different like NEWS!

    October 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      it is in the opinion section isn't it?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    October 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Nathan Kapusta

      Prove it.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things
      Proven

      October 29, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • KneonKnight

      Go away troll – I banish thee to some circle of that hell that you believe in.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Nathan Kapusta

      Exactly the kind of reasoning any thinking person would expect from an ignorant-by-choice creationist.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Pshap

      : )

      October 29, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • God

      I am going to murder some people with that storm, people who are praying that I help them.

      Gosh it's fun to be God! I get to slaughter millions and no one can do anything about it!

      October 29, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • TBM

      Religious teaching is the same as brain washing. "Do not question the word of god!". "Believe and be willing to die for something that cannot be seen, cannot be felt, cannot be explained but can only be interpreted by those who benefit from your blind "faith" and perhaps your willingness to die for your faith"!

      October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Guest

      I am praying you stop your posts and get rid of your internet connection.
      ......
      are you there?....

      yep, you are.
      nope, prayer didnt change anything.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Nathan Kapusta

      If a god existed, he's even more cruel than this "God"'s mockery. Don't believe me? READ THE BIBLE! Everyone likes to talk about the story of Moses in Egypt. No one talks about the parts in the desert where God kills more of his own people and sends more plagues than he ever did to the Egyptians! The best arguments AGAINST gods are in religious doctrines.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Imagine No Religion

      So, have you ever threatened YOUR children with eternal dam nation? I haven't, but I'll bet you have!

      Prayer changes nothing.

      I challenge you to take the George Carlin Prayer Test. Pray to your imaginary god friend for a month, then pray to Joe Pesci for a month. You'll find the percentage of prayers answered by god, and those by Mr Pesci, will be about the same (50/50).

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RT6rL2UroE&w=640&h=360]

      "There ain't no jesus gonna come from the sky.
      Now that I found out, I know I can cry." – John Lennon

      October 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  5. Dani3l

    If one posits an all-knowing, omnipotent Deity fully engaged in Creation, then how can such events not be His will? And yet how can one believing in a loving God think that He wills such destruction, loss of life and suffering?

    Perhaps because without the bad, we don't value what is good when we have it. Perhaps so that we all have an opportunity to support and care for our neighbor, to live by the values we believe Jesus taught?

    Do we believe in the wrathful God who punished Israel and Judah for falling away from the Covenant and disenfranchized the Canaanites who stood against the Chosen People, or do we believe in a God of Love?

    Where is the reconcilation between the two? Why do we presume the God of Love smiles on us but wish the God of Wrath upon those we judge as the wicked?

    October 29, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • God

      I'm not responsible! It's my evil twin!

      October 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  6. AJ

    What a joke! I'm actually embarrassed that I read this ridiculous article....and even more embarrassed that we are legitimizing anti-science religious zealots by even considering their ridiculous claims.
    We are slowly evolving. At one point we needed to invent god/religion to answer questions we could not answer. We, humans, will continue to evolve that we will not need this invention from both a logical and spiritual standpoint.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Pshap

      If your idea of "god" was even slightly complex, you would understand how absurd it is for you to think it possible for spirituality to exist in absence of a True God. Alas, the god you don't believe I do not either, as I left him at the door of my first grade class, along with my other immature psychological and intellectual constructs.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  7. LeeCMH

    God is punishing gay people. Didn't you know that?

    October 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Yeah

      If God is hitting the Carolinas, then isn't he after ignorant redncks? That's God's country over there, so he must be pissed at his own people.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Pshap

      Do you think you're so intellectual and open-minded because you can criticize a deity that doesn't exist, while sparing nary a brain cell on true intellectual exploration of the spiritual? America's philosophy: Santa Claus doesn't exist, so I'm an Atheist. Moronic to the extreme

      October 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      The rednecks are collateral damage. It is okay with the rednecks because they hate gays more they they love their own prosperity.

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

    This "religious scholar" has more questions that answers. What is the point? Why does CNN hire only atheists like this guy to be their "expert religious scholars". He is here only to deride faith. Shouldnt CNN give chance to more religious persons to write for the belief blog just to balance things out. Shame on this guy trying to get paid on a story that threatens so many lives. Just shut up, m0r0n!

    October 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Not that I often agree with the author, but... intellect and religious observance have very little in common...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      I don't mind that they utilize liberal scholars, but they rarely use true believing ones. Very biased, as is Fox news, but this is life, would not be fun if everyone agreed with me.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      What religious scholars? Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, Cherokee, Hindu? Perhaps we can read about how Muslims rationalize violence, or even Christians (Olympic bomber, other abortion clinic murderers?)

      October 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Pshap

      For Christians they have very little in common....again, do not conflate. Judaism, for example, holds the intellect to be the very seat of the soul...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  9. truth

    Anyone who links natural disasters with god should be frickin banned from voting, made sterile, and shipped off to the middle of the Sahara so they can just die there and not spread their retardation.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      In a perfect world...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Guest

      Agreed. and I propose surrounding them with signs popping out of the sand saying this is God's will.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  10. Brandan

    HAHA... you people are very opinionated.
    I believe in God and my savior and what not..
    But you guys take things way to far.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Which "God" did you have in mind? There have been so many... some of the ones who may be linked to this or other storms would be Aheramenmthoou, Ares, Atalacamani, Baal, Hadad, Hera, Indra, Leucetios, Set, Tempestates, Thor...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Nathan Kapusta

      "opinionated" is believing in iron age texts that have been disproven over and over again.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  11. Pshap

    How long will the world oversimplify everything spirituality, dumping vastly different philosophies into the category "western religion", talking about a "God" on a kindergarten level, and dealing with deep theology as if it were something easily amenable to break-fast table talk, or the whims of a blogger trying to crap out an article. Nothing of value is in this article.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Kindergarten Level is still higher than that displayed by many in this country... the tragic part is that they get to vote...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • MalcomR

      "Deep theology"? There is no such thing. All of your internal musings are nothing more than a brain overwhelmed by a universe that is completely indifferent to it, and that it refuses to look at realistically. "Spirituality" is just another way of saying you have nothing of value to say about the universe. Talk to a scientist in any number of fields if you want to get a glimpse of reality. God in a hurricane? No. Sorry but it is just the interplay of matter and energy on a scale that terrifies you. Grow up.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  12. Peikovi

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” – Epicurus

    October 29, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Pshap

      What is "God"? Is he above it all, and therefore a third party actor, either "preventing" or "allowing" from the beyond? Is he within nature itself? What of free will? These questions are not simple. Why do we respect rigor and expertise in all subjects but spirituality? Why is spirituality the realm of the whimsical pondering and simplistic observation? Arghh

      October 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  13. Hindu

    Can not believe this ignoramus mor0n gets paid to be a "religion scholar" when he does not understand even ABCs of spirituality ... what is the world coming to?

    October 29, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  14. PraiseTheLard

    “theodicy” ??? I believe the author misspelled it... Correct spelling: The-!diocy

    October 29, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  15. Chris

    Youch...only in the States can you find stupid articles, stupid fear about nothing and a lot and a lot and a lot of stupid people.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      No... you can find stupid people all over the planet...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • TinKnight

      Chris,
      You apparently know nothing of the rest of the world...stupidity is the one thing that binds Mankind more than anything else except death.

      Religions, genetics, politics, cultural values of life and how to treat others...all of those have significant variances, even within a small group of people.

      But I can guarantee that you, I, and everyone else in this world will do something stupid this week, did something stupid last week, and will continue to do something stupid every week for the rest of our lives.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  16. Phillip Neff

    Hebrews 1:1-3 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

    October 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      It says in Jibberish 10:23. Go ahead, quote some ancient scribble.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  17. Phillip Neff

    once again, I am amazed at how many atheist hang out at a theologians article?

    October 29, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I'm amazed that you call this a "theologian's article."

      October 29, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • OOO

      Once again, I am amazed at what some people believe with no proof at all. That's why I check into this blog every now and then.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • TBM

      Because we have to battle evil where ever it rears it's ugly head.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Yeah

      I like the way religious people, when confronted with legitimate questions, answer "Go away!"

      October 29, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      read the writer's credentials!

      October 29, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • barnboy

      The reason we hang out here is merely to confirm and solidify our belief that the religious zealots continue to be finger pointing, mis-guided, hypocrites who are out of touch with reality.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Cyle

      Only by constantly pointing out how ridiculous the belief in a deity is can we hope that the human race gets over it.

      Someday God, Jesus, Mohammad, Allah, & Vishnu will be placed in the same historical category as Zeus, Thor, Ra, Ashura, and El.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • NoMoreLabels

      Feel free to check out science articles...you might trip over something 'new'.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  18. MIKE HUNT

    God created the universe and the laws by which it abides and set it in motion. Thats where his hand in things stops. Man has free will. So what man does to another man is not the will of God and is not allowed or dissalowed by God. Same with the weather. Its just the laws of nature in motion.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • The way it really is

      You realize that you are basically an atheist, except for the "A long time ago in a galaxie far, far away" fairy tale thing.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • tony

      And has been for the last 13 plus Billion years. Which means there is effectively no god.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • tony may

      its not athiest if you understand the scriptures. No where does it say God makes everything happen. Why the hell would he care anyway? We all die eventually. And if you believe in Heaven or Hell, we all end up in the same place. So for a God believer, this time on earth is minutes in the grand scheme of eternity. No matter what happens to us here on Earth, when we finally die, no matter how it happens, eventualy we will look back on it all and laugh at how much importance we put on our individual suffering. Think about being a kid and falling off a bike. When it happened you cried and though you were going to die. When you look back now, you hardly remember it.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  19. Phillip Neff

    God's will is done in Heaven and we are to pray that is done here on earth, why? Because it is not! Death is not His plan, that is man's choosing, Genesis 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
    Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

    October 29, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  20. John

    There is no GOD anywhere because there is no god. This is called Climate Change its science look into it........

    October 29, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • tony may

      hurricains have been arround long before man and his SUV.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
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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.