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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. Perhaps

    Perhaps the storm should have been named "Obama".

    October 29, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Scott

      Perhaps you should check yourself into a clinic.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • dzerres

      You tea baggers are so funny: such wit, such insight, such intelligence. You ought to put out a CD of your most clever yuk yuks. You and underwear crapping Ted Nuggent are a real laugh riot.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      now now

      October 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  2. Billy

    Bustin' out my Doors music. Riders on the Storm. The world on you depends. Our life will never end.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  3. Heather

    Okay, first of all, I don't think God is that petty. Everyone says "God wants this" or "God wills this". For some, it's a way to cope with the unfairness of life, for others it's just a way to gloat and say "God is on MY side". Either way, many of us admit that God created all things, right? So why would God want a kingdom when the whole Universe is their domain? Why would God wish for all people to follow one religion? Why would God wish for one ethnicity of people to prosper and another to suffer? Is God now a Social Darwinist? No. WE all belong to God. His love extends beyond all. What happens on earth happens because nature is a force of Her own and God respects that balance and humans will do as they please.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Patricia

      Amen Heather! Although I don't know why you bring darwin into the conversation. His sinful preaching against the LORD is the problem.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Scott

      Did God give you a brain, Patricia? If so, please use it.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Spencer

      Patricia, Right because observing the natural world is totally blasphemous.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Heather. You're either admitting that god has no power to answer prayer or that god is capricious in choosing which prayers to answer; if the latter then all disasters ar god's will, if the former well you may as well switch to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
      Patricia. Darwin did not preach against god; his work is just another nail in the coffin of the bible being the literal truth.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      Well stated Pluralism, disagree, but well presented.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Patricia

      Only the LORD will judge me thank you very much. Speak all you wish to about coffins you will need a waterproof one soon just like the evil character in MOBY DICK you will float away on it because HIS power has humbled you. My husband says that Los Vegas is next then Hollywierd and the librals are going to fall. Better get your life boat and that boat is the Ark and will withstand the flood. You must ask for forgivement because his judgement is harch and I am not worried about me. Sinners are going to drown in their tears and there lives will be forgotten.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Spencer

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

      October 29, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  4. JohnnyYuma61

    Prothero is simply posing the old question, "If there is a God, why is there evil in the world?". Some people are like crybabies. If it can't all be perfect, or if you don't come and talk to me and reveal yourself to me then I won't believe in you. God exists nonetheless.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I know, right?!? Some people even deny that unicorns exist just because they've never seen one and because there isn't any evidence for unicorns. Stupid.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • JohnnyYuma61

      Thar he blows! Read Psalm 2 if you can read.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      You're so right. I can't read. But seriously, you've got no evidence for your god that a unicorn believer doesn't also have for unicorns.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      Agreed, its another why to bring it up. However, it is utilized as another way to take a blow at those on the right.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • dzerres

      please provide the proof.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  5. Patricia

    He IS the storm. His wrath is upon Atlantic City – a modern Gomorrah! Witness all HIS will! There is little time left to repent your sins, if you have time at all. Our time has come!

    October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • JohnnyYuma61

      Personally, I hope you are right, Patricia!

      October 29, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Patricia

      I watch HBO I know how bad it is! It's okay my husband gets it for free we don't give those sinners our money! 😉

      October 29, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      You r a du sche

      October 29, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Sly

      What is a GommorRah? Is that the little black things the Jewish people wear on their heads?

      And .. where is 'Atlantic City'? Sounds like kinda a fun place to go get drunk, get laid, maybe make a little good old fashioned money.

      Last time I was there, I bought God several drinks and taught her Craps, which she found quite entertaining.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Sean

      I guess Vegas is still good though, right?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      What did Cape Hatteras do to upset this spoiled brat that you worship?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • David

      Be careful how you pass judgment, you will be judged by the same standard.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Patricia

      If you want details you will have to ask my husband he is posting out here to. His ministry is large and located in ORLANDO which is great place always sunny their. I just know that Atlantic City is the heart of sin in the North and the LORD is exacting his revenge on the sinners! The meek shall inherit the earth! GOD said that people not CNN. You are sheep but CHRIST is the shepard and he will beat you with his stick when you sin.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Patricia

      Only the LORD will judge me thank you very much. Speak all you wish to about coffins you will need a waterproof one soon just like the evil character in MOBY DICK you will float away on it because HIS power has humbled you. My husband says that Los Vegas is next then Hollywierd and the librals are going to fall. Better get your life boat and that boat is the Ark and will withstand the flood. You must ask for forgivement because his judgement is harch and I am not worried about me. Sinners are going to drown in their tears and there lives will be forgotten.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      More Churches in Vegas then casinos! Also most church-ed city in America! Plus strategically located away from earthquakes, floods, and the like. So, God will just have to destroy it the old fashion way, Fire from heaven!

      October 29, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  6. Yo Mama

    People fail to realize that the devil is at work in all of our lives. The devil is out to kill and destroy us! God gives us the opportunity to believe in him and trust that he will protect you. God does have a plan for us, but he is not going to decide for you whether you want to live a righteous life or a sinful one, you make that choice, what you do during your time on this Earth is up to you. But the devil is working through people everyday, he is making women have abortions, and kill, and even make ignorant comments on this website...

    October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      "God does have a plan for us" He had a plan for the possum I ran over this morning too, lady. It was called "getting run over." Possibly He has a similar plan for you?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Bob

      you swallowed the red pill didn't you?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Sly

      Honestly, you are really dissing this devil guy – he is NOT that bad.

      What's wrong with a few abortions – come on, we have way too many babies anyway. And Devil can get you some seriously good blow, maybe help you roll around with a cute blonde, and send a little moonshine your way.

      I'm not denying that when he does all that death and destruction stuff, He is getting a bit out of control, but most of the time, the Devil is a rather amusing, perhaps a bit mischievious, but all in all a pretty decent fella.

      Get off the Devil's back I say!

      October 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Emma

      Sly I think I love you

      October 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • saggyroy

      "People fail to realize that the devil is at work in all of our lives." – Thank god...he killed a lot less people than Yaweh

      October 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  7. Beelzebub

    I send this massive storm to kill people, and God still gets credit?

    October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      Don't tease the crazies. Someone right now is cringing away from the screen, screeching "Oh no, it's the DEVIL!!" You are talking to people who think you go to hell for eating Halloween candy.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  8. Phillip Neff

    It seems that many of today's theologians dwell in secular reasoning to explain God and His will rather then refer to the book like the Bible that has much to say on the subject.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      "many of today's theologians dwell in secular reasoning to explain God and His will " I am sure that it is God's will that they do so.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      Funny, Hugh Touche

      October 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Scott

      Oh, you mean that book that was written by fallible human beings and changed hundreds of time by church officials to fit their particular biases?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      Scott, if the Bible is a fable then so is God, If God is a fable then why study Him, why be degreed in a fable, and why waste your time in his article blog post?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  9. Mike

    The dumbest thing in the world to do is try to figure out what is "God's Will", and what is not. If God exists, man couldn't possibly comprehend it anyway.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  10. Sly

    Not only do I clearly see God in the photo of Sandy, but I know of at least 2 people on the East Coast that sinned yesterday (yes, they were in the NFL).

    I really don't know how much clearer it could be that this is Gods Will.

    The evidence is overwhelming, and only some dolt like a scientist would argue.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      Cowboy's played at home...

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

      not sure if trolling...or really that stupid

      October 29, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Sly

      God was quite perterbed by that Felix Jones fumble, I will admit, but upon closer review of the replay, She decided it really wasn't a mortal sin worthy of generating another hurricane.

      She is, however, deliberating whether it is a sin to just be a Cowboy or Cowboy fan. No estimate of when She'll Decide, and even though I am a big Niner fan, I actually hope she doesn't give the Cowboy's the (so-called) Death Penalty.

      We NEED Tony Romo on this earth for entertainment! (And ... yes, I'll admit, the Cowboy Cheerleaderes as well).

      October 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      LOL

      October 29, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  11. LeeCMH

    Baptist Reverend John Hagee said Katrina was God's punishment to New Orleans over gay people. Pat Robertson said the massive Haiti earthquake was God's punishment over something their ancestors did. on and on and on.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      John H. is a Pentecostal not a Baptist

      October 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Billy

      So which fundie is right?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  12. Hindu

    Just look at the sheepish smile on this slimy guy's face. He is smiling because he gets paid to be a "religion scholar" and the smile is sheepish because he is a hard core atheist. He know that is fooling all of us while laughing all the way to the bank making money writing stupid stories on serious tragedies like this. Get lost, you m0r0n!

    October 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  13. Clausen

    This is the world, not Heaven. It is not perfect and bad things happen. Innocent people get killed, while others get away with evil deeds. Christians and Atheists will believe that it is simply a part of life. Whether God's hand is in this storm I cannot say. No one can for sure. All we can do is hunker down and do what we've always done from day 1. Survive.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Jamie

      Right on, your comments are much smarter and informed than this so called religious scholar's crap.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  14. Phillip Neff

    Stephen Prothero, is a secular, liberal, theologian who rarely quotes the Bible. Old time theologians would debate the Bible because they actually knew it. Today's "theologians" know very little of the book that has much to say about the study "ology" of God "theo". It's kind of like a biologist not ever referencing Darwin.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Biologists don't reference Darwin very often. Darwin was a man who made many mistakes despite his incredible insight into a principle that has been thoroughly proven beyond his wildest imagination, but he wasn't a prophet or a mouthpiece of god-–he was just a man.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      I like to slander people who I don't agree with. It's a very Christian thing to do.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      Oh Contrair (Spell?) !!! Every chance they get the reference Darwin's theory of evolution!

      October 29, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      Funny, stealing my name how mature! Only shows I am doing damage here.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      And since when (Phillip, if that's your real name) is calling some one a liberal, slander? He went to a school that is called a liberal arts school and got a degree (as is mine) stating liberal arts!

      October 29, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      No, Phillip, the theory of evolution is the most proven scientific theory there is, so that theory is discussed quite a bit. It's not "Darwin's" evolution, so no, biologists don't reference the man, Darwin, very often. Buy a clue, one day.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      "Stephen Prothero, is a secular, liberal, theologian who rarely quotes the Bible." In other words, he's correct, and you hate him and want to fling p00 at him. How very Christian of you, sir. You are a credit to your faith.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Phillip Neff

      You know what I meant, I left of "evolution" after Darwin in the original quote. It's still his idea. So in my mind they are synonymous. yes I have a clue!

      October 29, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Phillip

      You've shown you have no clue when you stated "So in my mind, they are synonymous".

      October 29, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  15. Jesus Christ

    What's really scary is that you people will wonder if Sandy is my or my fathers work and then after the storm has cleared, all the survivors will thank me and my father for living through it. Now why would you thank us if we sent it to you in the first place?
    Why believe in a God (or son of God) that can't make up its mind?

    October 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Billy

      I'm glad when you send helicopters and boats..

      October 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Snowyowl

      Hi Jesus! Do you know that Beelzebub is posting on here too? Maybe the two of you could chat offline and settle a few things between you.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  16. Mike

    What?

    October 29, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  17. Goofiness Decoder

    God is invoked to explain mysteries (that which cannot be explained). The problem is that God cannot be explained (i.e., is himself a mystery), making God useless as an explanatory device.

    Mysteries cannot explain mysteries. When humans say that God explains mysteries, they are saying, "that which cannot be explained, explains that which cannot be explained". As you can see, believing that God explains mysteries is irrational nonsense.

    Religion is a game of social and political control. The irrationalism in religion is deliberate to exclude intelligence and egalitarianism. If it were rational anyone could, with superior intelligence, be an authority. The clergy use Authority based on faith and irrationalism to cement their control. Is all of this mysterious to the average believer? Well then, God moves in mysterious ways. Wink! Wink!

    Faith IS anti-reason. Religion is at its core a con game that people will never figure out as long as they elevate Faith above logic and evidence.

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

      Sandy is clearly being caused by god because it is mad at the United States for not killing more non christians.
      It is the only answer.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  18. Jesus Christ

    What's really scary is that you people will wonder if Sandy is my or my fathers work and then after the storm has cleared, all the survivors will thank me and my father for living through it. Now why would you thank us if we sent it to you in the first place?

    October 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Christian Psychosis 101

      It's very convenient that dead people can't have their say, that only the survivors get to say "God saved me! It's a miracle."

      Much better PR for God when the people he killed are silent.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • MalcomR

      Sorry Jesus, but you and your "dad" err, I mean YOU, made their stupid little brains like that. Poor job there by the way.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  19. Patrish

    I'm big on karma, and also believe that your thought can also influence your life. Still common sense must also dictate that you prepare for all disasters as best you can. If it makes you feel to pray, by all means do so, but pretty much feel what ever happens – happens and tend not to worry about life.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  20. 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 6:23 pm |
    • Pshap

      The string of cliches that you call a comment is highly frustrating. "Talk to any number of scientists"? Nice, quite a rigorous response! I am a scientist. Not everything fits your tiny Christianized conception of God that any two year old could disprove.

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

      Yes, an interplay of matter and energy. That IS a manifestation of the Divine. You are the one who must grow up, along with your hyper-simplified conception of "god".

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

      No, you are a liar. I'm a scientist, I know colleagues who are believers, and you come across as a petulant child. The deeply religious always tout the "deep complexity" of their "god" whatever they conceive it to be. Show me how you correlate the interplay of matter and energy that is a hurricane, with the "divine". Will you use thermodynamics? Will you choose quantum indeterminacy? How about doing some differential equations on the heat flows in the ocean-atmosphere boundary? Oh, wait. That would be for us scientists to dabble with. Your god is so much more complex and "deep" than that. Spare me.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Pshap

      You awe me with your knowledge. I lie? Yes, of course, scientists can't be "believers". How arrogant and foolish are you? Pick any one my friend. How about quantum mechanics. Let's try Newton's conservation laws. The total energy in the universe is constant. Now let's take Einstein's relativity. Mass has energy and energy is mass. So, ultimately, all is interrelated, all is in interconnected. All is One.

      October 29, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
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