God spared New Orleans. Sort of. That means God sent the storm to Mississippi. Maybe.
God is now pouring out his wrath on New Orleans. It just seemed like the city was spared with that final Eastern tweak in the storm path.
It's a global warming thing. Mother Nature is taking her revenge.
God and/or Mother Nature is also mad about America and all its SUVs that drink so much gas. This is going to show America the error of its ways. Somewhere, Al Gore is laughing.
And so forth and so on. It is hard to watch the Katrina coverage without hearing variations on all of those themes in the back of my mind, a kind of nightmare flashback to the questions of last fall (when I was living in West Palm Beach). Once again, the only God language we are hearing in the coverage right now are the prayers of thanksgiving by the survivors. Another predictable layer of faith language will show up -- as it should -- as aid pours into the region.
But veteran religion reporter Deborah Caldwell at Beliefnet has plunged into the theological blame game. This is tricky territory, but she has done a fine job of listening to the muttering voices on both sides of the religious aisle.
Was this storm linked to recent events in Israel?
All along the theological and political spectrum, Katrina has crystallized people's fears into a now-familiar brew of apocalyptic theories similar to what we saw after September 11 and after the Asian tsunami several months ago.
At least one New Orleans-area resident believes God created the storm as punishment because of the recent role the United States played in expelling Jews from Gaza. On Sunday evening, Bridgett Magee of Slidell, La., told the Christian website Jerusalem Newswire that she saw the hurricane "as a direct 'coming back on us' [for] what we did to Israel: a home for a home." Stan Goodenough, a website columnist, described Katrina as "the fist of God" in a Monday column. "What America is about to experience is the lifting of God's hand of protection; the implementation of His judgment on the nation most responsible for endangering the land and people of Israel," Goodenough writes. "The Bible talks about Him shaking His fist over bodies of water, and striking them."
Meanwhile, spiritual and political environmentalists say that massive hurricanes such as Katrina, along with the Asian tsunami, are messages from the earth, letting humanity know of the earth's pain. These hurricanes are caused by global warming, environmentalists say, which are the result of using too much fossil fuel. They see the catastrophic consequences as a kind of comeuppance.
And then there is this excellent summary quotation (although I also want to know how a professor evolves into an expert on apocalyptic media):
Stephen O'Leary, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California and an expert on the media and apocalypticism, says, "God's got a two-fer here. Both sides are eager to see America punished for her sins; on one side it's sexual immorality and porn and Hollywood, and on the other side it's conspicuous consumption and Hummers."
Even The Associated Press has pulled out some of the stops and, Caldwell writes, has started "priming the doomsday pump." Here is one of those leads:
"When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans on Monday, it could turn one of America's most charming cities into a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins released by floodwaters from the city's legendary cemeteries."
I tried to wade into this last year in one of the columns that I wrote amid the wreakage in South Florida. The crucial thing, for me, is that these kinds of questions are being asked right now on the ground in the Gulf Coast region. That means they are fair game for the media. My question is this: Who are the sources? Who are the best sources? Who are the untapped sources? Any ideas?