‘God should not be used as an excuse’

REUTERS Wilbert Williams of Bootheville, La., sits and waits at the Belle Chase Auditorium shelter as Hurricane Isaac bears down … Continued


Wilbert Williams of Bootheville, La., sits and waits at the Belle Chase Auditorium shelter as Hurricane Isaac bears down on the Louisiana coast in Belle Chasse, La., Aug. 28, 2012.

Is God angry at either the GOP or New Orleans and the rest of the northern Gulf coast?

How about liberal-leaning pundits who suggest that the weather in Tampa is a sign from God? Why don’t they make similar jokes about New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf coast?

Typically, interpreting the hand of God in meteorological events has been the domain of self-identified political and religious conservatives including Pat Robertson, Michele Bachman and a host of others. But if weather is a sign from God when its fury is felt by others, as has been suggested by these Republican-identified leaders, shouldn’t they be applying that analysis to their own convention? If so, what should the take away message be?

But such weather-related theological speculation is not limited to conservatives alone these days. With Hurricane Isaac bearing down on Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, and causing the restructuring of the Republican National Convention, plenty of liberals are playing the same game. They raise the question that an angry God is messing with Republicans as some kind of punishment for the positions they take.

The fact that such speculators rely on the “it’s a joke” defense, is no defense at all. Would they make such a joke in the presence of someone who has lost a job, a business, or worse, a loved one because of the storm? The defensibility of such utterances is measured by the willingness to make them in the presence of those who are suffering and don’t share the speaker’s theology or philosophy.

Frankly, the whole thing strikes me as foolish at best and grotesque at worst when done by either side. Both sides should knock it off, especially because each is guilty of invoking what they clearly intend as the ultimate and infinite authority in what can only be described as a pathetically small and almost idolatrous fashion.

All language describing God is for human consumption and, by definition, a pale image of a reality beyond our comprehension. That is why I so dislike all this speculation about the hand of God. It assumes that the finite (we humans) can fully appreciate the infinite (God) being invoked by believers. It really does border on the idolatrous for believers, and grossly insensitive for non-believers, to do so.

Each side invokes God as the one who always sides with them — the One whose hand in history confirms what they already believed and who never teaches them anything new. Sounds like a pretty small God to me. In fact, such people, from whatever side of the political spectrum they hail, are actually invoking themselves and using God for cover.

The challenge for people who take God’s presence in global events seriously, is maintaining the kind of humility which accepts that while God may be making it all happen, we can never fully know or comprehend the mind of God. In other words, be very careful before interpreting world events, especially when doing so replaces faith with certainty. And at the very least, people should have the decency to apply a message of divine wrath to themselves before applying it to others instead of the other way around!

The challenge for those who don’t share that belief in God, lies is resisting mockery of those who do. It is easy to see the arrogance of some people’s faith, but the challenge of arrogance and the presumption of moral superiority is no stranger to the secular either, as tasteless jokes about God punishing the GOP clearly indicate.

Whatever one believes or disbelieves one of the wisest responses to this whole business came from a reader who commented on this week’s live Q and A who wrote that “God should not be used as an excuse.”

I love that line because it leaves room for those who understand God as the cause of all things, but refuses to let them off the hook in terms of their own ethical and spiritual obligations to others. I would only add that just as the presence of God should not be used as an excuse for one form of insensitivity; neither should the absence of faith be used as to excuse another kind of insensitivity.

Whatever one believes or doesn’t believe, the real challenge is to see events as opportunities for us to express greater concern and compassion – if not for parties or cities, then for the real individuals who comprise them. Leave the rest to God, no God, or whoever.

View Photo Gallery: Tropical Storm Isaac was declared a hurricane Tuesday as it swirled through the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, pointed toward the fragile lowlands of south Louisiana and the ever-vulnerable city of New Orleans.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.

    Secularization of church and state sure ain’t makin God happy and it’scosting us all dearly, socially and financially-turn on the news!

  • mammyyel

    The point (of the joke, if you will) was that the earlier, original God’s wrath statements emanated from spokesmen involved with GOP rah rah blah blah. That’s why it wouldn’t make sense to mock New Orleans, etc. Bad when you have to explain a joke. Hmmmmm.

  • mammyyel

    It is a stupid joke, ane there is likely a time and place for stupid jokes especially in the face of the asinity of the provoking insult. Whence satire and so much that’s human. I personally observed the respectful caution, but I don’t see the issue a cause for a preaching. More that the asinine response is a celebration of being human in the face of idiotic assault of the human quality.

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