The Deepwater Horizon; photo by US Coast Guard
In previous entries, I have recounted—scornfully, I admit—the claims of certain religious persons to recognize the hand of God in natural disasters: Pat Robertson on the earthquake in Haiti (“Pat Robertson, Propagandist for Atheism?” and “Second Thoughts about What Pat Robertson Said”), Rabbi Lazer Brody and Rush Limbaugh on the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, and a Muslim cleric on earthquakes in Iran (“More Insights into the Ways of God”). I take it to be obvious that these buffoons are dressing up their benighted prejudices as insights into the ways of God, and thus in effect pretending to prophecy. I also take it that, whether there is such a thing as prophecy or not, these guys haven’t got it.
Only this evening, as I watched a television news report on the attempted “top kill” on the leaking oil well on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, did it strike me that I have not heard of any similar prophetic pronouncements about a mishap that promises to be one of the worst ecological disasters of all time. Perhaps this is merely because no self-fancied prophet has made any pronouncements sufficiently outrageous to be widely reported in the news, not because none has spoken of it. But I suspect that human-made disasters simply are not as strong a stimulus to such pronouncements as natural ones.
But why should that be? Do we—non-experts—really have a better understanding of why the Deepwater Horizon exploded than we have of why the earth shook in Haiti or the volcano erupted in Iceland? Surely not, though we may expect that an inquiry into the event will eventually bring to light the causes. Is the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico less significant a disaster than the Haitian earthquake or the Icelandic volcano? Well, it has certainly been less destructive of human life than the earthquake; but the effects on commerce and on animal life look to be pretty dire.
Another possible explanation is that the prophetically inclined have no trouble with the idea of God pushing around tectonic plates or lava veins, but they balk at attributing the actions of human beings, even their errors and collective lapses of judgment, to divine intervention. But this is not true of ultra-Orthodox Jews, for instance, many of whom attribute the Holocaust to divine wrath at the abandonment of strict religious observance among Jews.
Well, I don’t know the answer. It is an interesting psychological question.
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