Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Prophets Are Silent

Self-fancied prophets, such as the Reverend Pat Robertson, have told us why God brought us the earthquake in Haiti, the volcanic eruption in Iceland, and other disasters; why have none been giving us the theological skinny on the big oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?

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 Eyjafjallaj√∂kull, 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.

Previous entry: The Natural versus the Supernatural

Next entry: Tom Tomorrow on the BP Oil Disaster


  1. Oil just is not the same as some good Old Testament fire and brimstone. You have to admit if God wanted to make a show he'd probably use a volcano (Sinai?) or an earthquake a lot more impressive and "wrathful" than a puny oil spill. (also a lotta fundies believe that the environment can go to hell anyway so who cares about a little oil)

  2. Good points, Shilton, especially the point about lack of concern about merely ecological disasters, which I think may be far more important than whether the disaster originates in human actions or not. In writing this entry I forgot about an obvious instance of a fundamentalist attributing a human-made disaster, or rather atrocity, to divine intervention (or lifting of divine protection) that I myself mentioned in my second entry on Robertson, namely Jerry Falwell's attribution of the 9/11 attacks to secularists in the US: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the A.C.L.U., People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen’.”