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God's Punishment


Jehovah oversees all things, therefore the miss-fortunes of the sinners is through the intercession of Jehovah.  Of course, when it happens to the good guys, it is a test of the good guys’ will; and if they pass they will be amply rewarded in heaven.  When it happens to the bad guys, they deserve it.  The same applies to cities, nations, and the Jews:  they all get what they deserve.  





by Conrad Goeringer 

No sooner had news of the terrible devastation to New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast confronted the nation than Americans began generously contributing to relief efforts in order to ease the pain and suffering of victims. Record sums of money have been raised by both religious and secular chari­ties. Tens of millions, whatever their opinions in respect to religion felt and expressed a genuine sympathy with those who bore the brunt of this natural disaster.

And it's true ... in times of calamity, often "the best" of what renders us human — our ability to sympathize with the plight of others, to muster within ourselves the virtues of generosity, char­ity, empathy and a willingness to help—asserts itself.  In the absence of gods and supernatural beliefs, there is compelling evidence to suggest that such traits provide a distinctive survival or evolutionary advantage, and potentially endow human beings with something that we should agree is good and worth cultivating. Religious people can put aside doctrines and biases, even if they sense that mutual aid to fellow human beings is the will of a deity, or a simple human virtue.

But not all agree on this sort of open-ended, unconditional benevolence.  One story playing out against the background of the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina is the "dark side" of organized religion, especially its image as the vanguard of "Armies of Compassion"—Bush administration terminology for the federal faith-based initiative.   Some Christian groups see a veiled, eschatological message in the havoc that befell New Orleans.   For them, the Big Easy has been a symbol of licentiousness, paganism and Bacchanalian vice. Others, including some Orthodox Jews and Islamists, consider the havoc of Hurricane Katrina a different sort of message, punishment for perceived wrongs by the United States.   In all of these views, what is to most of us a "natural" disaster is camouflage for an event with deeper and more supernatural significance.  Victims are either sacrificial flotsam, or evil-doers receiving their just comeuppance. We might call this view of a vindictive, cranky deity lashing out at those who dis­obey various commandments as "Vengeance Theology."

Vengeance and Meteors

Although he boasts a profile charitable outreach known as Operation Blessing, televangelist Pat Robertson is probably the most well known promoter of Vengeance Theology.   Like many premillenialist Christians, he considers everything from political events to natural catastrophes as "signs and wonders" of a coming apocalypse when Christ will return to Earth to establish a 1,000 year reign.   Not all premillenialists agree on the exact sequence of events in this eschato­logical drama; but many would concur with Robertson's claim that the "last days" are upon us, and divine displeasure with human behavior has grown to significant proportions.

This accounts for Robertson's almost obsessive coverage and commentary on his "700 Club" program about tornados, floods and other apocalyptic weather events as well as political disloca­tions, wars, epidemics and other calamities.  When a hurricane threatened Florida—a frequent occurrence—Robertson warned that it may be indicative of God's displeasure with the City of Orlando and The Walt Disney Company who were sponsoring a gay pride festival.   Divine vengeance, warned Robertson, could occur in any number of ways, from the looming hurricane to "maybe a meteor."

Another promoter of "Vengeance Theology" is a Christian outreach known as Repent America (http://www.repentamerica.com on the internet). The group defines its mission to be "calling a nation in rebellion toward God to repentance."  And like Pastor Robertson, much of the message from Repent America focuses on gay people.   In a statement posted on its web site, the group boasted, "Just days before 'Southern Decadence,' an annual homosexual celebration attracting tens of thousands of people to the French Quarters (sic) section of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina destroys the city."

The posting noted that three New Orleans mayors had issued official proclamations welcoming visitors to the event.

Rev. Michael Marcavage, spokesperson and director for Repent America added, "Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city." Marcavage cited other events as well which presumably justified Divine Wrath including the "Girls Gone Wild" parties, proof that New Orleans "was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin..."  With the death toll rising steadily as evidence that Katrina had taken the lives of children, the elderly, poor people and others, Marcavage warned: "May this act of God cause all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God."

Another entry in the Repent America web site discussed "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Terms like "wicked" pepper the essay, along with dire warnings:   "There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment.   Men's hands cannot be strong when God rises up."  God, we are assured, has "many miserable creatures now tor­mented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath... The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow..."

Like many fundamentalist web sites, Repent America focuses on the worst aspects of tragic events, and in the case of Hurricane Katrina finds evil even outside the city limits of New Orleans. Only one of the hundreds of media wire service reports flowing out of the disaster zone is quoted, an AP dispatch headlined: "New Orleans in Anarchy with Fights, Rapes." There was noth­ing about the enormous rescue and clean-up operation that soon unfolded.  Another part of the site, "A Call to Action" complains about a marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission honoring the legacy of Gay Rights.

More Common Than Thought?

It might be argued by some, including religious "liberals" who have a superficially more enlightened theology, that such mean-spirited beliefs represent a fringe of American Christianity.  This may indeed be the case, but it might also be a thriving "fringe" belief more popular than first thought.   In respect to the New Orleans disaster, there are indications that clergy in the immediate region and elsewhere may well agree with some of the sentiments expressed by Repent America, and have their own variants of "Vengeance Theology." Ford Vox of the Universist Movement — a nonbeliever group with a presence in the disaster region — used its charitable arm, "Hands on Humanity," to bring supplies and other needed relief to those in Alabama who were victimized by Katrina.  Vox and his organization also conducted a survey of ser­mons given by clergy and found "a disturbing trend" including "Dark Ages theology."  "A variety of mainstream Christian voices ranging from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to the Archdiocese of New Orleans are united in the belief that Hurricane Katrina was the will of God," noted Mr. Vox.

Dean Russell Moore of Southern Seminary, for instance, linked Katrina with God's curse in the Old Testament tale of the Garden of Eden along with the apocalyptic prophesies of the Book of Revelation (a favorite source for "Vengeance Theology" devotees and other who see current events as harbingers of the coming "End of Days.")  "Nothing unclean will ever enter (Heaven)," Moore warned. "The hope is for Biloxi, Miss., and all of the created universe to be redeemed and restored in Christ. There will come a day when the curse is reversed, and the Gulf Coast along with the entire cosmos fully reflects the glory of a resurrected Messiah.   I'm convinced that God is going to purify us through this."

Vox also found a sermon by a minister of a Reformed Baptist Church in Michigan.  The preacher told his congregation, "I believe that there is a message from God brought to light in every dark providence."  Hurricane Katrina and its havoc, he said, repre­sented "the blast of God's judgment against sin" and were "birth pangs about the arrival of the final ultimate birth and letting out of the wrath of God."

Rev. Chris Hodges of the Church of the Highland in Birmingham, Alabama was blunter about the eschatological mean­ing of Hurricane Katrina.  "If there's ever been a city that's needed to be swept clean of the sin and the wickedness it's New Orleans," preached Pastor Hodges. "And it's those gambling casinos along the gulf coast. And I'll tell ya', I think there's a shakin' goin' on that God's gonna use to bring us a new day. I'm praying for revival, and I'm encour­aging you the church — lift up your heads, don't be discouraged, this is our final hour. This is what Christians do best.

Other ministers surveyed by Vox referred to God as "ruler of the storm" and portrayed Hurricane Katrina as punishment for not obeying the Lord.  Several used the term "wicked" when referring to New Orleans. And Rev. Tim Bourgeois of the Tree of Life Christian Church in California declared that the storm was not the result of events in the physical world ("high pressure area in the upper atmos­phere and suddenly this wind just randomly, naturally occurs") but is rather "God's word at work" and a form of "judgment."  "Those that are still alive have been spared by God's mercy," said Bourgeois, "and Christians needs to take this opportunity to convert them."

Not Just Gays, Girls & Gamblers "Gone Wild"

A wide spectrum of claims has emerged after Katrina which sees semiotic meaning in what is otherwise a complex natural catastrophe affecting human beings.   Debra Caldwell of the beliefnet.com site noted, "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."

One New Orleans resident, Bridgett Magee, did not focus on "gays, girls, and gamblers" as the reason for the hurricane, but rather saw Katrina in the context of developments in the Middle East "as a direct 'coming back on us' (for) what we did to Israel: a home for a home."

Magee is contributor to the "Jerusalem Newswire" and lives near Lake Pontchartrain.  She told the publication that while she had evacuated her elderly mother and sister from the area as Hurricane Katrina approached, she remained behind and asked God "to pitch His tent of protection over my home."  Magee has visited over 100 churches throughout the New Orleans region hoping to host speak­ers who defend Israel's role in unfolding Bible prophesy.

Another website contributor described the storm as "the fist of God."  Still others consider the storm punishment not so much for sexual excess but rather economic consumption and materialism. Stephen O'Leary of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California noted, "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."

Fundamentalists Abroad Sound Off on Katrina

Christians have not been the only religious fundamentalists venting their apocalyptic beliefs concerning Hurricane Katrina.

A senior rabbi in Israel, Shas Party leader Ovadia Yosef used the occasion of his weekly sermon to declare that the storm was "God's retribution" on America for supporting the latest phase of the Middle East peace process.

Shas is the largest Orthodox Jewish fundamentalist political party in Israel.

Yosef told worshippers that President Bush "perpetrated the expulsion (of Jews from Gaza) and that "Now everyone is mad at him.  This is his punishment for what he did... and everyone else who did as he told them, their time will come, too."

Rabbi Yosef was referring to the forced evacuations carried out the Israeli government of 9,500 residents from the community of Gush Katif, and four other settlements.  A story carried on the WorldNetDaily.com site which blends conservative and religious right politics with apocalyptic fringe teachings, claimed: "Residents were forced from their homes by Israeli troops, some dragged away kicking and screaming and placed on buses that took them from the area.  The majority of former Katif residents are homeless while the Israeli government struggles to find perma­nent housing solutions."

Yosef's bizarre interpretation linking the events in New Orleans with the explosive developments in Gaza drew a quick reaction from others in Israel, including Knesset Member Ronnie Brizon from the progressive Shinui Party.

"What, God is cross-eyed," said Mr. Brizon. "He meets out punishments at the wrong place? We're sick and tired of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's primitive worldview."

Yosef is no stranger to controversy.   He reportedly predicted that God would murder "the evil one" who engineered the Gaza withdrawal, a clear reference to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.   "He also once called on the Israeli army to 'joyfully' annihilate Arabs with rockets, and prompted calls for his resignation in 2000 when he stated the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust died because they were reincarnations of sinners in previous generations."

Bizarre as these statements are, WorldNetDaily.com seemed equally credulous in its 9/8/05 story which attempted to draw "parallels" between the events in New Orleans and the develop­ments in Gaza.  The story saw potential significance in the fact that "Gaza's Jewish communities were located in Israel's southern coastal region; America's southern coastal region now lies in ruins."

Also: "Many residents of Jewish Gaza climbed to their rooftops to escape the threat of expulsion, while residents of the Gulf Coast climbed on their own rooftops to protect themselves from the ris­ing waters.  Jewish Gaza homes described as beautiful and charm­ing were demolished last week by Israel's military.   Once beautiful homes in New Orleans now lie in ruins."

Op-Ed writer Stan Goodenough was fixated by such superfi­cial similarities.   "Is this some sort of bizarre coincidence?" he asked readers.  "Not for those who believe in the God of the Bible and the immutability of His World.  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."

Not to be outdone by other religious fundamentalist, Islamist web sites and publications were quick to blame Katrina as an instrument of Divine Wrath, and echoed much of the rhetoric of Christian/Jewish "Vengeance Theologians."

Agence France Presse (AFP) quoted one Muslim website that declared, "Katrina, a soldier sent by God to fight on our side ... the soldier Katrina joins us to fight against America."

Another praised "Allahu akbar (God is greatest), Soldiers of God, Hurricane Katrina demolishes America!"

In Kuwait, a country "liberated" in the 1990 Gulf War, similar views were espoused in the country's press.   Mohammad Yussef al-Mlaifi, head of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowment's research cen­ter said, "When the satellite channels reported on the scope of the terrifying destruction in America caused by this hurricane, I was reminded of the words of (the Prophet Mohammad):   'The wind sends torment to one group of people, and sends mercy to others.'"

"I do not think—and only Allah knows—that this wind, which completely wiped out American cities in these days, is a wind of mercy and blessing," Mlaifi admonished. "It is almost cer­tain that this is a wind of torment and evil that Allah has sent to this American empire.   But how strange it is that after all of the tremendous American achievements for the sake of humanity, these mighty winds come and evilly rip America's cities to shreds? Have the storms joined the al-Qaeda terrorist organizations."

AFP noted that "Many bloggers drew parallels between the destruction caused by the storm and that brought by U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq..."

Possible Motivations for "Vengeance Theology"

Why, one might ask, would an all-benevolent deity (assuming He, She, It existed) engage in such wholesale and bloodthirsty vengeance against groups and individuals who may stray from the narrow confines of doctrinal religion?  Where is mercy, selectivity, empathy, compassion, even a sense of moral proportion?

Such a question is surely theological.   It may be more prudent, then, to inquire why some human beings embrace this "Vengeance theology," and what the sub-text message of this stern, compassionless view of the world might be.

In the case of New Orleans, much of the rhetoric focuses on homosexuality, a bette noir for the modern religious right in America and other countries where "culture war" issues are playing out. More specifically, though, is the fact that New Orleans is, in a very real sense, a symbol (more so in some respects than say, New York or Los Angeles) of practices and virtues that chafe the sensibil­ities and doctrines of many "fundamentalists." While it is a city rooted in a rich, complex history, it is also modern (post-modern), cosmopolitan in its ethnic composition, tolerant in its acceptance of diverse groups, and Bacchanalian with its many festivals, parades and ritualized celebrations.  There is a hint of modern "paganism" here, wild and sexually charged abandonment (from those "wild" girls to flamboyant gays and everything/everyone in between!), for­malized suspension of common rules of restraint, and latitudinous "rituals of misrule" such as the Mardi Gras.  It is also an urban melting pot of different ethnic strains, languages and cultural practices, a social arrangement anchored on values such as tolerance, creativity and community. When asked by reporters if he thought the city should be saved or abandoned, one resident defended his community and noted its value as "the only place you can go in the United States which seems like it is isn't totally in the United States."

"Vengeance Theology" provides an imposing rationale for those fundamentalists of any stripe discontent with these cosmo­politan values. It looks inward, and back in time for its doctrinal foundation, giving its practitioners a sense that they hold firm to absolute teachings and unquestionable values. By doing so, it also creates an "us versus them" mindset where the "wicked" and sinful offenders must suffer god's wrath.  The damned and depraved stand contrasted with the purified and judgmental believer.

Finally, those who embrace "Vengeance Theology" are relieved of the requirement to exercise virtues such as compassion for oth­ers (who may be different) and tolerance for different opinions, lifestyles and voluntary practices. They may claim to "hate the sin and love the sinner," but that declaration rings hollow against the devastation, suffering and sheer violence inflicted upon those same "sinners"—not to mention innocent victims presumably by the "fist of God," Allah or some other supernatural being.  This is a cold, harshly judgmental and inhumane theology, much in con­flict with enlightened values emphasizing our common humanity, our need to reach out in times of crisis, and the stark fact that in this universe, "all we have is each other." *



Many Christians that I have spoken to delight in adversity—as long it is not them or their family.  The teaching of love and brotherhood of mankind is not practiced by most Christians.  The majority of Christians delight in harm befalling those who are sinful.  What in man’s nature that makes him enjoy the media violence, this dark drive also makes him enjoy watching the misfortunes of others on the news.  Anger, confrontations, cruelty, hatred are all part of human behavior, and these patterns of behavior enter the churches and influence Church policies.  There are more than sufficient passages in the Bible to justify the view that Yahweh deals harshly with those who violate his laws.  The belief that God punished New Orleans has its biblical justifications--jk. 

John Stuart Mill on the evils of religion--one page says it all!