What do homosexuality,
health care reform, and British advertising standards all have in common? They’re
all things that have ticked God off, some religious leaders say, and he’s
venting his frustration with the angry fires of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull
Moscow’s Interfax newswire
reported that the Association of (Russian) Orthodox Experts blamed the April 14
eruption — whose gigantic cloud of ash grounded transatlantic flights for more
than a week — on gay rights in Europe and Iceland’s tolerance of “neo-paganism.”
Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, said God was angry over health care reform. San
Antonio megachurch pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for
Israel, said God was unleashing his wrath on Britain for deciding that Israeli
tourism ads actually featured parts of the disputed Palestinian territories,
The eruption is the latest
in a long line of natural events to which some religious leaders attribute
divine judgment. In short, God is using nature to channel his displeasure with
human behavior — both the sinners and those who tolerate them — and that we had
better shape up.
It’s an impulse that goes
back thousands of years and still thrives in religious quarters that are
generally skeptical of science and seek divine explanations for natural
- Iranian cleric
Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi recently told his Shiite Muslim followers that
immodestly dressed and promiscuous women are to blame for earthquakes.
- In February, Rabbi Yehuda
Levin of the Rabbinical Alliance of America warned allowing gays in the
military could cause natural disasters to strike America. “The practice of
homosexuality is a spiritual cause of earthquakes,” he said.
- Religious broadcaster Pat
Robertson blamed the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti on a pact between
the devil and Haitians rebelling against French rule in the 18th century.
- Both Robertson and Hagee
blamed Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’debauchery and immorality.
- Malaysian Muslim cleric
Azizan Abdul Razak said the 2004 South Asian tsunami was God’s message that “he
created the world and can destroy the world,” while Israel’s Sephardic Chief
Rabbi Shlomo Amar said it was “an expression of God’s great ire with the world.”
So what is it about nature’s
fury that attracts theological interpretation? For many religious leaders,
scholars say, it’s an opportunity to win new believers.
“Natural disasters are
disruptive. When there’s a disruption, people’s worldviews are shaken, and need
to be repaired,” said Steven Friesen, a biblical studies professor at the
University of Texas at Austin.
“Natural disasters are a prime
time to repair people’s worldviews… It’s a long-running theme in American
culture that God works to bring people into changing their worldview.”
Who accepts these
proclamations and who doesn’t often depends on how a believer views God:
benevolent, wrathful, active, passive, or maybe something less defined, like a
“This stuff attracts people
with a strong authoritarian image of God, and who believe that he — it’s almost
always a he — does in fact punish people who do not follow his rules,” said
Wade Clark Roof, professor of American religion at the University of California
at Santa Barbara.
Another common thread among
people who link disaster to divine judgment is that they tend to consider
disasters as confirmation of already-held beliefs.
“They already think God is
working in certain ways, and disasters become an example of that,” said
Friesen, pointing to Hagee as an example. “There’s no logical connection
(between Britain’s ad policy and the volcano), but because he is already convinced
that God works to protect Israel, he believes that God made the volcano erupt
to punish Britain.”
People who make such
pronouncements are also claiming special power or authority, experts said. “They
are claiming special knowledge of how God works in the world, and why he does
what he’s doing,” said Friesen.
But many religious leaders
reject linking disaster to divine judgment.
“It’s faulty theology.
People take the personal consequences of sin, which are real, and project them
onto natural disaster. That’s where things break down,” said Joel Hunter, a
board member of the National Association of Evangelicals and a megachurch
pastor in suburban Orlando, Fla.
“Speculating that disaster
happens because sin has reached a certain level puts God in a really bad light.”
Rabbi Michael Lerner,
president of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, agreed. “You start blaming
the victims for a process that is a result of something that they had nothing
to do with,” he said.