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Aug 27 2012

Why won’t God make hurricanes disappear?

I’m a bit of a weather enthusiast, and moving to Florida has given me the opportunity to experience something we don’t have in Illinois: hurricanes, and their less intense cousin, tropical storms. Not very many have threatened the United States this season, but that’s recently changed with the development of tropical storm Isaac. We’re far enough inland that we won’t get much more than some wind and rain, but others won’t be so lucky. While Isaac was initially predicted to hit the west coast of Florida, it’s now headed directly for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Reverend Jesten Peters of Keys of Authority Ministries thinks she had something to do with this. As part of the Pray Tampa Bay initiative, which works for “the Cleansing, Protection and Revival of Tampa Bay”, Peters has organized prayers for tropical storm Isaac to move away from Tampa and the Republican National Convention. Peters told the Christian Broadcasting Network:

We have had lots and lots of people praying around the clock that it would move, and after you watch from the very beginning where they were saying it was coming, and now where they say it is going, then it has really moved out of the way for us, and we appreciate God doing that and moving it for us.

Indeed, Isaac did move. Instead of striking Florida as a tropical storm and rapidly dissipating over land, it’s now charging across the Gulf of Mexico and intensifying into a hurricane that will almost certainly hit New Orleans.

While I doubt anyone was hoping that Louisiana would be damaged by a hurricane, the limitations of prayer and those who use it are especially obvious in a case like this. Is there any reason that Peters and her team haven’t been praying for every tropical storm to veer out to sea instead of making landfall? Are Tampa and the RNC her only concern, and not the 19 people who were killed by Isaac in Haiti? Or, if they didn’t get their bright idea until the storm was already here, why not just pray for it to disappear or go back the way it came? If God can nudge a hurricane away from Republicans, why can’t he destroy it, or make it go backwards?

But Peters and her group did not pray for any of this, because they knew it wouldn’t happen. A storm shifting from its predicted track is nothing special – it happens all the time whether you pray to your gods or not. But a complete absence of tropical storms threatening the United States is highly unlikely; even in the least active season on record, 22 people in Texas were killed by a hurricane. And the sudden dissipation or reversal of a rapidly intensifying tropical cyclone is practically impossible. Does Peters believe there’s any real risk that New Orleans might pray hard enough to send the hurricane back to Tampa? Obviously not.

These are things that might actually require some supernatural intervention, yet this is exactly what Pray Tampa Bay did not ask for. Instead, they only asked God for something that would be fully explainable in terms of natural phenomena. I think they know exactly what’s going on here: they don’t honestly expect that the laws of nature will be suspended in an obvious and visible fashion, even if they do ask God for it. They’re just looking for any sign that could possibly indicate that their prayers actually did anything.

But in trying to make God responsible for a storm having shifted, they’ve put themselves in an awkward situation: they now have to deal with the ugly implications of the unavoidable fact that it still has to go somewhere. Really, was no one in New Orleans also praying for the storm to miss them, or was the RNC just more important? How many people are going to die so a convention can go ahead? If you’re going to take responsibility for moving an entire hurricane, you’re also responsible for where you move it to.

But perhaps some believers still prefer this disturbing conclusion to the alternative: admitting that God has nothing to do with it. After all, if your god can only operate in ways that are already accounted for by the mindless workings of natural laws, who needs him?

12 comments

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  1. 1
    Daniel

    God was just testing the republicans faith. The only reason he didn’t make the hurricane disappear is because he really hates New Orleans (apparently).

  2. 2
    asdf

    You know what the fundies would say. “It’s God punishing X because of X allows Y to happen”. If the fundies were the Westboro Baptist Church, X would be America, with Y been “fags”.

  3. 3
    Ned Champlain

    I would think all would know that god is powerless against the forces of nature.

  4. 4
    MichaelD

    Plausible deniability? Extreme loathing of all things new orleans? Letting satan take the wheel ah la job? your guess is as good as mine.

  5. 5
    Mork

    The operating premise seems to be that “god” has to punish somebody with bad weather, but the lord of the universe is open to last-minute changes in plan based on special pleading. I am just not sure how any sane human can manage to find this arrangement more congenial than a random string of natural causes and effects. What a cosmic joke.

  6. 6
    blf

    Hurricanes (and typhoons) result from Teh Great Sky Faerie defusing really nasty catastrophes.

  7. 7
    Tambino

    “Why won’t God make hurricanes disappear?”

    Same reason He won’t make celebrity limbs regrow.

    http://www.voriank.net/challenge.html

  8. 8
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I was in Cuba during the 2004 hurricane Ivan. I was in the Matanzas province in the west, where Varadero is. We were directly in the area most likely to be fully hit by the storm. There were several models with different probabilities. In the end, the storm took the least likely route. If you look at the image in wikipedia you can see that it completely missed godless Cuba, and I doubt that many people there prayed a lot. They seemed mostly busy with preparations.
    Yeah, fucking high or low probabilities don’t say that something will or won’t happen.

  9. 9
    Victor

    I grew up in Florida, hurricanes and all. There are two seasons in Florida, hurricane and tourist. If you pay attention to the storm fronts rolling off Africa and weather patterns in general, you will be able to tell which ones will be tropical storms and which will become hurricanes, and as they move you will be able to predict with growing certainty what their path will be. Believe it or not, it is NOT rocket science, just brain power and understanding.

  10. 10
    gworroll

    They could also be shortsighted here.

    Up in Missouri, we kind of needed rain. Badly. We’ve had some, but not enough. Don’t get rain, and the farms are screwed. Lost crops and extreme expense in keeping those losses to a minimum. Don’t get rain, and fires start easier and are harder to put out. Don’t get rain, and boats slam into rocks on the lake and people drown.

    A hurricane drops a lot of rain on an area in a hurry. If this was God diverting the storm, who did they deprive of water? This can be kind of a big deal. Hurricanes are more than just engines of destruction, they move water around, and we kind of need that water moved around.

  11. 11
    XinXin

    Zinnia,

    I used to live on the East Coast of the US too and I LOVED, no, ADORED, hurricanes and severe thunderstorms. I envy you!

    Have fun in the weather!

  12. 12
    Cathern

    Your method of explaining the whole thing in this piece of writing is actually fastidious, all be able to easily understand it, Thanks
    a lot.

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