Something seems to be absent. The blazing rhetoric of televangelists and others proclaiming the wrath of God on New Orleans when Katrina blew ashore are strangely silent as a massive outbreak of tornadoes has ripped through the Bible Belt. Hundreds have unfortunately died as nature’s most severe weather-weapon has raked the south. In an apoplectic frenzy rivaling the 1974 Super Outbreak, tornadoes are well ahead of seasonal schedules this year as one wholesome Christian location after another vanishes in a whirlwind the envy of Elijah himself. I do not make light of this disaster. Having lived for many years in “Tornado Alley,” I very much feel for those victimized by these severe storms. They are a great tragedy and the loss of life, for Americans, is mind-boggling.
There is, however, a lack of continuity. Katrina, we were repeatedly informed, was the judgment of the Almighty on the sinful city of New Orleans. The tornado, surely the most divine of windstorms, remains a tragic natural phenomenon. “He makes the sun to rise on the just and unjust,” I recall someone once saying. Human tragedy is never easy to explain in any religious system. Even the self-righteous must acknowledge that – on some level – their pristine, exemplary lives deserve a thunderbolt or two. They speak loudest, however, when lifestyles of which they do not approve are decimated. How does the Bible-believing, rural farmer offend God? Were there no Christians in New Orleans?
The problem is forcing all members of one location into a category fit for reaping. It is sowing the wind. Human compassion demands that we not stand in judgment of the unfortunate, we simply help in what ways we can. One of the greatest dangers of any religion is that it validates one group above all others. Either we are all favored or none of us are. Waiting for a divine answer may take centuries, or even millennia. Lifting a hand to help a fellow human being is the only ethical response. Tornadoes are not the finger of God. Katrina was not the Almighty losing his masculine temper. We are all victims of the world into which we are born, and the sooner we refuse religion’s diabolical temptation to claim our special place, the sooner we will find our own way to a just society.