(The following article appeared in the Baylor Universtiy Lariat on September 13. The article reflects perspectives on Hurricane Katrina as possible divine retribution. Islam, Jewish, and Christian views are represented. With one or two exceptions, those quoted are local religious leaders. I have highlighted my comments within the article.)
Sept. 13, 2005
by JIM RAY, reporter
Some religious leaders say God is responsible for Hurricane Katrina while others in Waco dispute the certainty of divine retribution.
Claims that people deserve such disastrous events are not new.
Reverend Jerry Falwell said the Sept. 11 attacks can be partly attributed to God choosing to stop protecting America. The South Asian tsunami was also said by some to be god-sent.
Hurricane Katrina perspectives posted on the Internet can be found espousing similar views. According to the online newspaper WorldNetDaily, there are several connections being made by a variety of religious leaders, as well as some readers, between developments in Israel and the events in New Orleans.
"It is the wrath of God," one letter sent to the newspaper said.
The same story includes a compilation of "eerie similarities" between events in Israel and Louisiana.
Steve Lefemine, an anti-abortion activist in Columbia, S.C., saw the similarity between hurricane cloud patterns and an 8-week-old fetus, the Houston Chronicle reported. He credits the hurricane to "the national sin of abortion," an accusation which can be heard on the answering machine of his organization, Columbia Christians for Life.
Dr. Jim Martin, pastor of Crestview Church of Christ in Waco, doesn’t find these perspectives to be credible.
"There are those who genuinely believe that God orchestrated every single moment," Martin said. "It’s hard for us to live in mystery, but this [mystery] is part of faith."
Dr. Randall O’Brien, interim provost and former religion chair, has a complementary perspective.
"We should understand this is a dangerously beautiful world," O’Brien said.
"We dare not blame those people for the hurricane hitting."
Several books that begin the Old Testament align with "you get what you deserve" theology, O’Brian said.
"But along comes Job, which tells us this theology is not incorrect, but it’s incomplete," O’Brien said.
O’Brien pointed out a Bible story taken from a chapter in Luke. Jesus said those who had died under a falling tower did not deserve their deaths more than others, but every one should be prepared spiritually, O’Brien said.
In defense of the people of New Orleans, Al Siddiq, president of the Islamic Center of Waco, pointed out that people in India, though innocent, endure monsoon after monsoon. Siddiq said the location of New Orleans below sea level was principally responsible for the disastrous effects.
"If I am surrounded by tigers, I know I will be eaten," Siddiq said.
Some see the disaster as an opportunity for compassion and spiritual growth.
"Our belief is that there is both good and evil in the world that God created," Rabbi Gordon Fuller of the Congregation Agudath Jacob said. "The real evidence of the godliness in the world is how we respond to the evil we are confronted with."
Martin’s views were similar. "I would hope that in any situation God would want us to learn, to move toward him in some way," Martin said.
As for interpretations labeling the hurricane as an end-times sign, Martin believes them to be only speculations.
"Who’s to know what’s on the mind of God?" Martin said.
O’brien personalized this end-of-the-world issue.
"The end of the world would be if I got in an auto accident on the way home," O’Brien said. "The end of the world is a plane crash."