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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. oldusafsarge

    My greatest happiness is seeing religious fools proven wrong every single day of the week. Religion and beliefs in an untold number of gods for tens of centuries has brought more death and destruction to this world than anything else in human history. Not storms, not earthquakes, not floods ... religion, of all shapes and sizes. You only believe what you believe because it was drilled into your head, probably by your parents, as it was drilled into theirs by your grandparents, and back for generations. Unfortunately most of humanity doesn't believe in itself well enough to get by, so they need that psychological crutch ... hinduism, christianity, buddhism, judaism, islam, sikhism, mithraism (that's the one that almost beat out christianity if not for the dream of an emperor, which of course is a perfectly logical reason on which to base a religion) they are just crutches. If you truly believe that your god oversees everything (and of course that everybody else's god is wrong), then that sure is one mean SOB that you look up to. I'd suggest learning to believe in yourself, but I've already wasted enough wear and tear on my keyboard ... you're brainwashed and there's no changing that. Too bad, really. Hey, after hundreds more get killed in this storm, probably elderly and kids included, go ahead and let me know how that's your god's will and that good will come of it.

    Idiots.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • truth be told

      Atheists have tortured and murdered more people in the last 100 years than were killed in all previous centuries.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • MalcomR

      @truth be told:

      You are an idiot.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • @truth be told

      And so they may have. The point is – they didn't commit crimes because of atheism. To say that Stalin killed people because he was an atheist is the same as to say he killed people because he had moustaches (and hey, Hitler had moustaches too, so there's your motiv). Stalin killed people because he was an evel person who wanted to eliminate political opponents; atheism had nothing to do with that.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • oldusafsarge

      Amen brothers! Can I get a big hallelujah!!!

      Heh heh, just kidding 🙂

      October 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  2. Non supernatural

    Those of you who manage to disagree without disparaging, you might give yourself a pat on the back. Being kind and tolerant is not an optional aspect of religion(s). I happen to agree totally with the author. Well explained. Thank you.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  3. Sam Yaza

    your gods not in the whirl wind mine is any one arrogant enough not to flee Gaia wrath deserves what they get. this s what you Yahist deserves for r@p!ng her; for treating her like an object; and for butchering her children. then when all was said and done you arrogantly deny her power, this is still a warning stop your actions or face greater wrath, or freeze in the coming Ice age,

    global warming is real

    October 29, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Zoroaster hinduism, absurdity.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  4. us_1776

    There's no Sky Fairy.

    Get over it.

    .

    October 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • fools_gold

      Someone's a little bit insecure

      October 29, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • fools_gold

      As in, God, you know..Mad because you wont adore him.

      Youre going to have to answer to him...

      October 29, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Answer

      And also you'll have to answer to Thor, Zeus, Rah and so many others as well. LOL

      October 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  5. Cynthia

    Sure do like reading the opinions of reasonable people. Thank you Mr. Prothero

    October 29, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  6. Hindu

    What a job this m0r0n ATHEIST has – "RELIGION SCHOLAR" – the world must be coming to an end. In all other fields, you have to be in LOVE with that field to be considered an EXPERT SCHOLAR. But this m0r0n gets to be an EXPERT SCHOLAR in RELIGION, something he clearly HATES from his guts.

    CNN, consider appointing a CREATIONIST as EVOLUTION EXPERT and lobby for a harcore COMMUNIST to be head of NYSE ..... M0R0NS ... you dont have any credibility whatsoever.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Cynthia

      You are mistaken. A scholar does not have to be in LOVE with his subject, he/she merely has to be interested enough in the subject to STUDY it. Sounds like you just listen to others and believe with out thinking perhaps?

      October 29, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • MalcomR

      He's stuck on repeat. He just needs a reboot, that's all.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Hindu

      @Cynthia

      Ok then CNN should also consider appointing an EVOLUTION HATER as their EXPERT EVOLUTION SCHOLAR ... just to be fair and balanced ... but NO they WONT

      October 29, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  7. Bloop

    The fact that we even have to discuss this says a lot about America. I do believe we are making progress. In the 80s such comments rarely went unchallenged. Now these loons are finally being called out. It's about time because I am sick and tired of the religious right holding this country hostage with its ignorance, its hatred of science and their hatred of anyone who doesn't submit to them.

    October 29, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  8. David Vilkhovoy

    MalcolmR I am not demeaning anyone's opinion or choice of what they believe. I am simply sharing my personal belief. I do not try to be illogical and ignorant. I am open to what the world teaches and various theologies of man, but I simply see the Word of God as the truth. I respect what you believe and am not trying to bash anyone with my views or the scripture.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • MalcomR

      Well that's just fine. I on the other hand will do everything in my incredibly limited power to ridicule and help eradicate the scourge of religion that has plagued us since we reached that critical mass of gray matter that allowed us to invent such an abomination.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • David Vilkhovoy

      MalcomR you know I agree with you on many counts. MANY THINGS THAT WERE IN THE NAME OF GOD, WERE NOT DONE IN THE NAME OF GOD, but in the name of dead religion and pride. I am not going to preach or speak my belief further, but simply agree with you that much of what "religion" has been known as, has been simply dead religion and not God.

      You know I realized that when religious people get offended a great deal, and argue and defend their point of view, they are not defending God; they are defending their pride. God is not in the outcry or the anger or the clamor. So honestly I will agree with you on much brainwashing has been done in the name of religion, not a true God. I do not deny the existence of God, but I deny the representation of God by many who claim to know God, as false.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  9. Barry's Brother

    "In a world in which God is all powerful and all good, why do bad things happen to good people"

    Wow – the ignorance is astounding. It's because the WORLD is not all good, and that's where most of us live – unlike the author of this article who seems to be living in his own little world.

    As for God – well, He's set His plan in motion to solve all of these issues you seem to be struggling with. It's just that He's not working on your timeline.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • MalcomR

      God doesn't work 8-5 like us poor middle class stiffs?

      October 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  10. Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

    Be a human and
    Expect nothing better but mayhem among humanity by following of hinduism, denial of truth absolute, Allah, and following of hindu pagan Mithra ism, savior ism, neither commanded, nor allowed in Islam as a religion, but Theen Allah, consti tution of truth absolute. Foundation of American consti tution.
    Shiaism
    hindu Mithra ism, savior ism invented little over 100 years after Sydana Mohammad pbh by tribes of Kujar of north Africa and imposition as Fatmid Khalaphit by force by denial of Hidth and Quran, justified by hindu Judaism, pagan secularism to impose hinduism, racism by hindu, fabricated relationship with Family of Syadana Mohammad pbh to justify existence of hindu criminal Kings, a violation of fundamental commandment, human equality under the LA. truth absolute Allah. Cause of conflict among Muslim's and cause of down fall of Muslim's and Islam in Spain.

    Sunisim, invented by Turk's by corruption of Quran and hidth to justify existence of hindu King's as Khalipha, after death of Ruler Mohammad, but later renamed, Mehmmat, wisdom of spirit of truth by siblings from his Armenian wife, follower of hindu pagan Mithra ism, savior ism in 13th century.

    Christianity, invented by hinduism,. corruption of truth absolute by hindu Pharisees, pagan self centered, follower of hindu filthy pig ism by corrupted Torah, known as Greek Torah, translated and commented by Ben Asheer in 250 AD in Yiddish, secularist, self centered language, also known as Old Testament, part of book of Mithra ism labeled as Bible. A way to justify hindu criminal Kings and self proclaimed Prophets, fortune tellers as god's to rule over humanity.

    JUDAISM, Self center ism, pig ism, or Atheism, invented by hindu's pagan's of Egypt by corruption of truth absolute in Torah to Justify hindu pagan Pharaoh's and their hindu pagan Santans, goons as god's to rule over humanity with impunity.

    HAVE hINDUISM, CORRUPTION OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE, RELIGIONS AND LIVE WITH MAYHEM, AS HAS BEEN THE CASE FROM hIND, DARK AGES TILL TODAY. FOLLOW THEEN ALLAH, CONSTI TUTION OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE, ALLAH , GOD AND THE LORD, FOUNDATION OF CONSTI TUTION OF AMERICA TO HAVE PEACE AMONG HUMANITY. To learn more please visit truthisthelimit.com

    October 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • MalcomR

      Now I need some aspirin. Thanks a bunch crazy guy.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  11. Rafael Quinonnes

    Sounds like the author just doesn't know how to explain God. That's a good starting place. Don't worry he doesn't need you to explain or answer for Him. He's quite capable in and of himself.
    Someday He will ask you to explain yourself, and why you did the things you did.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • fools_gold

      You give the Quinones family a bad name

      October 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • lowellthomson

      Unfortunately, no. Neuroscience will by then have rid us of the ridiculous biochemical delusion that we somehow continue to live after death or are judged by an all-powerful and yet apparently completely irrational deity.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  12. fools_gold

    No Hindu, I dont get your point. I dont think anyone does

    October 29, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  13. Billy

    So if God is bringing hurricaines to Wall street, does that mean that he is part of the 99% or the 1%. I'm failing to see the point of this metaphor. Maybe it is best to just stay out of the rain...

    October 29, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  14. Hindu

    You ignorant fool - Krishna is not bound by karma - BG 4.14

    na māḿ karmāṇi limpanti
    na me karma-phale spṛhā
    iti māḿ yo 'bhijānāti
    karmabhir na sa badhyate

    There is no material karma that binds Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, religions corruption of truth absolute by hindu's lairs, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Translate your hinduism, absurdity please.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Barry's Brother

      Do you play for the Kansas City Chiefs?

      October 29, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  15. Hugh Jass

    I blame that dang butterfly that keeps flapping its wings. I'm gonna find that thing and kill it.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • MalcomR

      F***ing butterflies, right?

      October 29, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  16. Socal Reggae

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

    October 29, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  17. jamessavik

    If Jim Robertson blamed gays for Katrina, I'm blaming "Jersey Shore" for Sandy.

    That reality TV garbage has to be a major league abomination.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Romnesia

      Right on.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • MalcomR

      If he wasn't already an angry god...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  18. philippaul

    God allows bad things to happen. He's not the author of them. But I believe He can make good things come from it eventually.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • God

      I'm not responsible . . . until the good things part. Not responsible. Not at all.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • fools_gold

      ^LOL^

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

      Oh come on. Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnibenevolent, Omnivorous(?)...

      October 29, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • ArthurP

      "eventually"

      Well that is a nice way to avoid having to give results in any ones lifetime.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  19. Pat

    Great article, but I'm sure it offends the American Taliban and other religious inbreds.

    October 29, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • philippaul

      If I'm mixed in with the rest of the "Christian" groups then it's an honor but I'm not offended in the least.

      October 29, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  20. ashrimp

    Death should not be seen as a punishment and so is bad living conditions. All these are part of wider game plan by God. Read "The Spirit World" and watch the movie 'Where Dreams come from"

    October 29, 2012 at 6:51 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.