Hurricane Sandy revives debate over God’s plan

It seems that with every natural disaster comes the pronouncements that God is punishing someone for something.

And it’s not limited to the fringe preachers either.

Who can forget televangelist Pat Robertson claiming that God was punishing America for allowing abortion via Hurricane Katrina, and that the January 2010 earthquake was Haiti’s punishment for its “pact with the devil.”

A man attempts to cross a flooded street in Atlantic City. (Associated Press)

This time, Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “Between Heaven and Mirth” and “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” didn’t wait for the controversial comment to be made.

Sunday night, he tweeted: “If any religious leaders say tomorrow that the hurricane is God’s punishment against some group they’re idiots. God’s ways are not our ways.”

Alas, that did not stop the typical publicity seeking announcements from coming. Actually, it was very predictable with Hurricane Sandy coming so close to the presidential election.

John McTernan took to his website, Defend and Proclaim the Faith, saying that the the storm is simply God’s judgement for gays as well as for Obama’s backing of same-sex marriage

Yawn. With all due respect, Mr. McTernan, this ground has been tilled already. At least Robertson had some showmanship and flair for the dramatics.

As Stephen Prothero explains on his CNN blog, “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.”

Prothero makes a good point in regards to science overtaking these beliefs in the supernatural. When the Great Colonial Hurricane devastated the east coast with its 130 mph winds and 21-foot storm surge in August 1635, it was universally blamed on some supernatural response to human misdeeds.

Today, we don’t do that. We look to the experts on the Weather Channel to explain how the storm formed, why it came together with such force and what the science tells us it will do.

Still, it doesn’t always stop the sideshow.

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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