Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"God is Mad at America"

So said Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans.

Okay, here we go.

The idea that some invisible parental figure up in the sky is responsible for the deaths and property damage associated with two hurricanes is actually quite an indictment of said invisible parental figure. Think about it: God destroys things and snuffs out lives - for what purpose?

To punish sin? Sorry; I'm sure that a lot of good, morally upright and God-fearing people died in those two storms. To illustrate the sublimity of the deity? I don't buy that; any deity that destroys in order to show how nice he could be is to call God an ogre of the worst stripe.

Philosophically (to refer to Susan Neiman's Evil in Modern Thought), medieval thinkers believed that natural evil (storms, floods, etc.) were a direct result of moral evil (debauchery, theft, war, etc.). The break came with the Lisbon Earthquake of November 1, 1755. A lot of churches were destroyed that day in the earthquake and accompanying tsunami and fires, while many of the brothels were left standing. That dichotomy between the moral and natural led many thinkers to dissociate natural events from moral failures.

Of course, we see the same medieval mentality show up again and again: Falwell and Robertson said that the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were a direct result of America 'sinning.' And Mayor Nagin's comments are also of the same tenor.

Storms and earthquakes are natural phenomena, explainable by natural processes. That doesn't make them any less devastating, but it helps block a lot of the superstitious silliness that crops up.


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