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What’s God trying to tell us with volcano?
Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service
April 29, 2010

What’s God trying to tell us with volcano?

What’s God trying to tell us with volcano?
Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service
April 29, 2010

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

volcano.

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.”

Conservative commentator

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,

not Israel.

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

calamities:

  • 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

cosmic force.

“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.