Divine judgment?

circles of hellAlan Cooperman's article in Sunday's Washington Post on the how some see God at work in the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina disappoints. In taking on such a heady issue, Cooperman fails to go outside the usual sources and seems to trip up over the fact that the typical heavyweights in Christian circles failed to issue harsh condemnations from heaven on the sinners of New Orleans. Cooperman is successful in digging up pro-lifers who saw to-be-born babies on weather maps and Muslims who saw this as the "wind of torment and evil that Allah has sent to this American empire." Others include a person who saw the juxtaposition of the Israeli pullout of the Gaza Strip and the citizens of New Orleans as no coincidence.

My personal favorite in Cooperman's article was Michael Marcavage of Philadelphia:

In Philadelphia, Michael Marcavage saw no coincidence, either, in the hurricane's arrival just as gay men and lesbians from across the country were set to participate in a New Orleans street festival called "Southern Decadence."

"We take no joy in the death of innocent people," said Marcavage, who was an intern in the Clinton White House in 1999 and now runs Repent America, an evangelistic organization calling for "a nation in rebellion toward God" to reclaim its senses.

"But we believe that God is in control of the weather," he said in a telephone interview. "The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the streets. . . . We're calling it an act of God."

Fortunately for the country, it looks like Falwell and Robertson learned their lessons from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:

The Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson, who were roundly criticized for suggesting that the Sept. 11 attacks were divine retribution for abortion, homosexuality, feminism and the proliferation of liberal groups, have been silent on the meaning of the hurricane. Most of the major Christian political advocacy groups also have been cautious.

"It's a very risky business ascribing divine intent to natural disasters. Nobody but God really knows why these things occur," said Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America's Culture and Family Institute.

Well, no kidding. Last time I checked it is risky business attempting to speak for The Almighty.

Cooperman gets himself into trouble as he wades into the deep theological waters of speculating on the way the hand of God works in the world. Unfortunately, he relies solely on the opinions of the Rev. Alex McFarland, who works as Focus on the Family's director of teen apologetics, and Ted Steinberg, a history professor at Case Western Reserve University. Nothing against McFarland and Steinberg and what they have to say, but couldn't Cooperman track down someone with a bit more theological weight?

The two viewpoints expounded in the article attempt to pigeonhole the vast breadth of viewpoints from both atheists and Christians, and while I do not expect a relatively short news story to cover the expanse, I would expect it to acknowledge the broad range of views and quote people of greater theological gravitas and significance.

Jeffrey Weiss' article in Friday's Dallas Morning News deals with the similar issue of prayer much more thoroughly.

Here is a selection of some of the questions Weiss attempts to tackle:

But many Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who now turn to their deity in prayer must also turn past age-old questions:

If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and if he cares about humanity's fate, what's the point of prayer? Doesn't he (or she) already know everything that we want and everything that we need?

And didn't he allow -- if not direct -- the very hurricane that caused the suffering we're now asking him to alleviate? Yes, the evil in the disaster area increasingly has a human face -- looters, snipers, roaming bands of criminals. But the trigger for the suffering was Katrina, an "act of God."

Didn't he already ordain what has happened and what will happen, no matter what we do?

Why do we pray?

These are all excellent questions that take more than a news story to answer, but the effort was certainly a valiant one.

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