Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Cosmic Significance of the Mid-Atlantic Earthquake

On August 23rd, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake shook the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. The epicenter was believed to have been near Fredericksburg, VA, and the quake could be felt several states away. The earthquake damaged historical structures in Washington D.C., including the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral.

Some Religious Right figures are prone to attributing cosmic significance to natural disasters, even to the point of blaming disasters victims for their misfortune. As if on cue, several Religious Right voices claimed that this particular quake was a sign from God or a warning to America.

First, Pat Robertson claimed that the earthquake damage to the Washington Monument was "symbolic", much like the tear that appeared in the temple curtain when Jesus was crucified. On the August 25th edition of The 700 Club, Robertson had this to say at the 5:23 mark.

"Ladies and gentlemen I don’t want to get weird on this, so please take it for what it’s worth, but it seems to me the Washington Monument is a symbol of America’s power. It has been the symbol of our great nation. We look at that monument and we say this is one nation under God. Now there’s a crack in it, there’s a crack in it and it’s closed up. Is that a sign from the Lord? Is that something that has significance, or is it just result of an earthquake? You judge, but I just want to bring that to your attention. It seems to me symbolic. You know, when Jesus was crucified and when he died the curtain in the Temple was rent from top to bottom ... and there was a tear and it was extremely symbolic. Is this symbolic? You judge."
Second, New Apostolic Reformation preachers Mike and Cindy Jacobs created a video for Generals International on the significance of the earthquake. (Click here if you're having trouble viewing the video.)

08-24-2011 GI News from Generals International on Vimeo.

Mike and Cindy Jacobs talked about prophesy, prayer, and natural disasters as a message about God's will. At the 3:21 mark, Cindy Jacobs claims that God sends earthquakes to warn humanity, and that the damage of quakes can be mitigated through prayer.

"God is shaking, but why is he shaking? He's shaking not--you know, he doesn't want things to be destroyed. In fact, he tells us and he warns us through the prophets so that we can pray. What does prayer do? Prayer stops ... people really being hurt, or damaged. It mitigates against it, sometimes incompletely stop it, but does lessen what can happen."
I find the implications of this statement disturbing. How are people and structures not destroyed in natural disasters? Plenty of people pray during earthquakes, but fatalities still occur. Is this to say that structural damage and fatalities occur because of a lack of prayer?

At the 4:41 mark, Cindy Jacobs frames earthquakes and other natural disasters as punishment for disobeying God's laws.

"It's not really that God is wanting--he doesn't want bad things to happen, just he has set up law. If you do this, this will happen. If you do this, this will happen, because  he's the creator. He owns the earth. He owns everything in the world. He created you, he created me, he created us. He set up laws and the way things have to function. when we break these laws, whether we think we have a right to do whatever we want, we don't have a right, and so what happens is that Biblically, the earth literally--some translations say gets frustrated. It begins to groan, and so what do we do? We have to pray."
This sounds suspiciously like blaming the victims of natural disasters. If disasters supposedly happen as responses to humans breaking God's laws, what room is left for compassion for disaster victims?

Joseph Farah followed a similar line of thought in an August 23rd commentary at the right-wing newspaper World Net Daily. In his commentary, Farah claimed that God occasionally sends such disruptions as a sign to humans of the consequences of our disobedience. If humans continuously disobey God's laws, they pay with their lives, he insists. Again, natural disasters are attributed to God's anger at human disobedience, thus framing death and destruction as just consequences for impiety.

Cosmic speculation about the earthquake is not limited to fundamentalist Christians. NOM ally Rabbi Yehuda Levin recently claimed that recent earthquakes are a manifestation of God's wrath toward homosexuality.(Hat tip to Truth Wins Out and Joe.My.God.) At the 2:28 mark, Levin concludes by warning listeners that there will be "hell to pay" if the country continues to condone same-sex relations.

"We want everyone to understand that if these kinds of activities are continually legislated into the moral fiber of the country and it's forced down the throats of the religious people, it's a revolt against God, and literally, there's hell to pay."
The belief that earthquakes and other natural disasters reflect the wrath of the heavens is a vestige from ancient superstition. It is not a reasonable belief in an era of scientific knowledge. Earthquakes occur due to plate tectonic activity or volcanic activity, and will continue to occur regardless of human behavior. Urging believers to avert catastrophe through prayer, or scapegoating vulnerable groups are not practical responses to disasters. Instead, we should help those who have been harmed, make sensible preparations for future disasters, and support the scientific community as it learns more about disasters.

As I write this, Hurricane Irene is barreling up the Atlantic coast. Will Religious Right voices react to the aftermath with compassion, or claim yet again that it was a sign or a punishment from God?

Vigorous hat tips to Right Wing Watch! For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Raw Story: NOM Speaker Blames East Coast Earthquake on Gays

Huffington Post: Pat Robertson: Crack in Washington Monument a Sign from God

Daily Kos: New Apostolic Reformation Leader Cindy Jacobs Weights In on East Coast Quake

ABC News: Conservatives See Hand of God in Quake, Retribution for DC Politics


  1. Makes. Me. Nuts! This stuff, does.

    If I pray away Irene in Myrtle Beach, but it wreaks havoc and takes lives in New Jersey, and God's all tickled to have identified the real prayer players by testing us with this storm and I then feel "chosen", then God and I are evil.

    Cindy Jacobs is saying God's not really evil, he's just set up these evil laws that he's bound to. He can't help it; he's The Decider. And poor Mother Earth just gets frustrated with this situation and just....groans.


  2. Nance -- You and me both! Her version of the creator is a scary one indeed.

  3. Ahab, I think you're clairvoyant. I was just reading about the hurricane in the paper and asked Mark if he'd heard about any religious leaders claiming it was "God's wrath," then I logged on and you provided the answer.

    I echo Nance. -- Groan.

  4. Donna -- Oh, count on it. I'm sure some fundamentalist leaders will be calling Irene a sign from God.

  5. I grew up in an environment where every natural disaster had "God's hand" in it. Every life spared from some natural disaster or horrible accident was a miracle. Every life not so spared was God's will. What once seemed a simple explanation for things we can't always understand and/or control now seems terribly arrogant and offensive.

    On a related note, Glenn Beck told his listeners (he has LISTENERS!) that Irene is a blessing from God. It's a reminder to the people that they need to stock up on food storage in preparation for the Apocalypse - another Mormon concept I grew up with. My believing parents and siblings all have a stockpile of food in their basements.

  6. Speak about tectonic plates all you like with these folks and they will still see the hidden hand of God back of that. Speak of the inconsistency of their God of love being in some sense the author of evil and they will speak of divine mysteries and the insufficiency of the human perspective. I think most people don't test their worldviews vigorously enough. Just my take on it.

  7. Cognitive Dissenter -- I've encountered similar thinking among evangelicals. I've never understood how people dying is God's will, but people not dying is a miracle. It's like they want to put a positive spin on whatever happens.

    Right now, I'm working on a post about Beck's Restoring Courage rally. I wasn't aware that he said that about Irene, so thanks for the tip.

    Doug -- I think many fundamentalists are reluctant to examine their worldview too closely for fear of damnation, or fear that their comforting belief system might crumble.

  8. P.S. When I first read the title to this post I thought it said "The Comic Significance ..."

    I think that works too.


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