Sunday, September 11, 2011

Earthquake and Hurricane Clean-up

The communities of the northeast are still cleaning up after the flooding that hit parts north and west of here particularly hard. This afternoon, when I was driving to and from Westfield via I-91 and I-90 on the way to the annual "Pyrapalooza" (more on that later), I still saw lighted highway warnings of detours for travelers attempting to head west to destinations such as Shelburne Falls and Savoy. And I spoke with acquaintances who live in New York just west of the Massachusetts border. Both of them work in the public sector and have been involved in clean-up efforts. They told of devastated small-torn centers, with whole rows of buildings either washed away or flooded so badly as to require virtually complete reconstruction if not demolition. The husband had just come off a string of twelve-hour shifts and was exhausted.

Actually, though, my topic today is more figurative than literal.

When the twin disasters struck within days of each other, I was curious to see how many idiotic statements about divine wrath, just punishment, and the like, would crop up.

The answer seems to be: surprisingly few. After all, the earthquake hit hardest in the Washington, DC, area, and the hurricane was particularly destructive in the Northeast. Could it be so hard to see God's hand in the devastation of the heartland of "big government" and the proverbial liberal (Volvo-driving, quiche-eating, etc.) establishment?

To be sure, Michele Bachmann got some grief for remarks she made about two such natural upheavals in quick succession being a wake-up call about out-of-control government spending, but in fairness, she was making a clumsy attempt at humor. She says enough nutty things (especially about American history: 1, 2), that it would be uncharitable as well as unjustified to go after her for this one. It is a "target-rich environment," as they say in the Army.

By contrast, Pat Robertson did not disappoint:
"Ladies and gentlemen I don't want to get weird on this so please take it for what it's worth," Robertson said.

"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 say this is one nation under God," he continued.

"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," he said.
"It seems to me symbolic," Robinson said. "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."
Now, the comparison with the Crucifixion seems forced and (although I am perhaps not fully qualified to judge) almost blasphemous. Still, at least the DC damage is verified. According to the Gospels, the Crucifixion was accompanied, as well, by an earthquake and an eclipse. The great historian Edward Gibbon raised some questions about all this in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan and philosophic world, to those evidences which were represented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses? During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, daemons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of Tiberius, the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of the Roman empire, was involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history. It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence, of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of Nature, earthquakes, meteors comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe. A distinct chapter of Pliny is designed for eclipses of an extraordinary nature and unusual duration; but he contents himself with describing the singular defect of light which followed the murder of Caesar, when, during the greatest part of a year, the orb of the sun appeared pale and without splendor. The season of obscurity, which cannot surely be compared with the preternatural darkness of the Passion, had been already celebrated by most of the poets and historians of that memorable age. 
Abridged translation into modern idiom:
Dude! So, there were all these great scientists back then, and none of them, like, noticed any of this?! What's up with that? Just sayin'.
The report went on to conclude that it was unclear why Robertson would want God to damage the National Cathedral, as well. Actually, it's perfectly clear. That ecclesiastical edifice belongs to the Episcopal Church: Aside from the fact that he would have no natural sympathy for a mainline church with liberal proclivities, he was outraged in 2006 at at the appointment of a Presiding Bishop who denied that Jesus was the only path to God (and favored ordination of gays and acceptance of same-sex marriage). Pinnacles were bound to fall off, though why it took five years for the wrath of God to build to this stage, and why it was not more ferocious, well, that may be less than evident. As we say, He works in mysterious ways.

From the vaults:
For the record or the hell of it, here are the posts that I wrote in response to superstitious and nasty verdicts on the Haitian earthquake.

On the Earthquake (13 Jan. 2010)
Who's Being Diabolical Here? Pat Robertson Blames Earthquake on Revolutionary Haiti's Pact With the Devil (13 Jan. 2010)
Haiti Update (8 Feb. 2010)
Chilean Earthquake: The Devil's in the Details, or: Kleist vs. Robertson (resist [P]at answers) (2 March 2010)

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