Devastation and God

Hurricane Sandy came through this week with an attitude, cutting a path of destruction the likes of which most of us have never seen.

As I look at the images on television, I shudder. The affected areas look as though they’ve been hit by a nuclear bomb. The destruction is total, and breathless in its totality. Fire, floods, sand covering neighborhoods, houses knocked down, facades of buildings blown away, cars put into place by angry flood waters…a crane hanging precariously from a building under construction, and literally millions of people without power.

I keep thinking, “the people. How will they cope? ”

When I visited New Orleans and the area affected by Hurricane Katrina, I felt the same way. To walk through streets that had once been part of vibrant neighborhoods, but now destroyed by a fierce and relentless storm, was eerie. There were things hanging on power lines, cars that had obviously been moved to their locations by moving water, houses with big “X’s” on their doors, indicating whether someone had been found inside dead. The former streets were deathly quiet. Pets, who obviously had lost their families, wandered around, following us, wanting food, and love and attention.

It was eerie.

But this latest storm, this Sandy, seems to have done even more damage than Katrina.

In a time like this, people ought to be able to turn to God, but invariably, some religious type makes a pronouncement about God and about such a devastating event being God’s will, as punishment for the “ungodliness” of the people
Pat Robertson is pretty famous for doing that, but he is not the only one. He  certainly was of the opinion that Hurricane Katrina happened because of the waywardness of the people.

Stephen Prothero, a Boston University writer and scholar who most recently authored The American Bible: How Our Words United, Divide and Define a Nation, wrote a piece this week on the CNN Belief Blog about the whole notion of saying that certain things, like a natural disaster, are God’s will.

Wrote Prothero: “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?”

We are all so imperfect. Paul Tillich talks about how we sin but how grace “more abounds” than does sin. There can be no sin without grace, and grace is given to all. Tillich says it is our challenge to believe that God accepts us in spite of our being basically “unacceptable.” Grace is given “in spite of.”

That notion of God is a far cry from this notion of God who would send a storm like Sandy to punish people for being “ungodly,” and not particularly according to God’s standards of “godliness,” but according to human standards.

I can’t fathom a God like that.

I cannot believe and will not believe that God looked down and said “I’m going to devastate a whole slew of innocent people because they have not “been good.”

We have never been good.

According to the Bible, “all have sinned and fallen short.”  Supposedly, there is no sin that is greater than another.

Therefore, corporate crime is as distasteful to God as is street crime; selfishness and thievery and murder are no greater than any other misstep. We all fall short. If God was that punitive, would not we all have been knocked out of commission a long time ago? Isn’t the fact that God sent Jesus, according to Christian theology, supposed to confirm that we are “justified” and “reconciled” to God, “in spite of” ourselves?

I cannot believe, will not believe, that people who are walking around tonight with no home, who are dazed with the afterglow of this horrendous storm, are being punished by God. And …I wonder where the people are, how they’re coping, who even without a storm, have little or next to nothing.

In order to maintain sanity, I for one have to believe in a good God, a God who does not cause bad things to happen to good people, a God who loves us “in spite of.” Without that notion of God, I don’t know how people would be able to cope with something like this storm.

I know I wouldn’t be able to.

That’s a candid observation …


A Nation in Denial Exceptional?

I keep thinking about the concept of “American exceptionalism” and the reality of the rampant bigotry, hatred and violence in this nation, and how a nation cannot be “exceptional” if such violence is part of the thumbprint of its existence.

Somewhere, in spite of this nation being “the most religious” of all nations ( I read that somewhere), something has been lost – and that is the Christian and indeed, religious concept that believing in God means that people love each other.

It is just amazing that so much violence is carried out by religious people. Pat Robertson made the claim that recent shooting in Wisconsin at the Sikh Temple there happened because “atheists hate God.” He was making an assumption that the accused shooter, Wade Michael Page, was atheist.

There was no evidence of Page being an atheist as of this writing. In fact, it’s been reported that he was part of a white supremacist group and had predicted a racial war. White supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, have a history of being religious, Christian, to be exact. So Robertsons’s claim seems a bit off…

But here we are again, a white male gone mad, using a gun to express his anger and shooting people at random, in spite of God. Page used a 9 mm gun and was able to purchase ammunition, in spite of having been under observation by the Feds since 2000.

While the tragic shooting in Aurora did not seem to be based on hatred or bigotry, the Sikh Temple shooting seemed to be a part of the tradition of American violence based on bigotry. Page apparently did not like people of the Sikh community, so, he aimed to destroy at least some of them.

American exceptionalism, right?

Stephen Prothero, a professor of history and scholar, wrote an engaging piece on about the American propensity for violence based on bigotry. (  The article says it all…

It says it all except my point that a nation cannot be exceptional, if exceptional means that that nation is better than others, if it has such a deep culture of bigotry, and a culture that stubbornly refuses to at least tighten up gun laws so that people who are prone to violence because of their bigotry cannot destroy scores of people at will.

We already imprison more people than any other civilized nation. In an article which appeared in The New Yorker in January of this year, author Adam Gopnik wrote: The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state,” in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.” (

That our high incarceration rate is based largely on the “war on drugs” according to Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow,’ and that many of those incarcerated are African-American men says something about the yet-to-be-healed bigotry against black people in America.

And that these mass murders keep happening, carried out too many times by angry white men, says something about our culture which has seen the problem over and over, but has refused to really deal with it in any meaningful way. We seem more interested in protecting the right of people to own guns than we are interested in finding out why “angry white men” is such a reality in America.

I am afraid that, though I love America, I cannot buy into the “American exceptionalism” mantra. We seem rather to be a culture of denial, and that reality is really eroding at the possibility of us being exceptional at all.

A candid observation …