Thursday, September 01, 2005


As if things weren't bad enough for the many people killed, injured or made destitute by Hurricane Katrina in and around New Orleans, Louisiana, they also have to endure aggressive religious conservatives claiming it as a divine handiwork. The religious right in the US and elsewhere does irreparable damage to Christianity by fostering the idea in the public imagination that the capricious deity they bow to is somehow connected with the God of Jesus Christ - who, far from employing crucifying vengeance, actually absorbs, negates and transforms it.

The spin that people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and 'Repent America' put on public tragedy is therefore not spiritual but ideological, and in any meaningful sense (bound up with the struggle of life against death) is profoundly anti-theological. For while it often adopts a correspondingly trenchant anti-Muslim rhetoric, its central convictions are just as brutal and hate-filled as the distortions of extreme Islamism.

In its own way, it is also bound up with the murderous myth of redemptive violence, which subsumes biblical categories into an active belief in annihilation as cleansing ritual. Of course it can find plenty of textual legitimation for this, but only by eschewing the hermeneutical counter-story and lived reality of Jesus -- a redeeming narrative about humanity released from the ideological power of death in face of a God who is quite unlike our dominant ideas of 'godness'. (See 'Does Christianity kill or cure?')

Meanwhile, some are describing these events as 'America's tsunami'. This is inappropriate for a host of reasons. Awful though it is, there was warning, and an immeasurably wealthier society has the capacity to recover much more effectively in the long-run. That said, it is predictable and notable that those worst effected in both cases are the poorest.

And in both instances, the deeper question arises for many people of faith: is God a disaster area?

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