Apparently Michele Bachmann thinks that she does, in fact, speak for God. Just hours after what a Chief of the FDNY theorized was a tornado touching down on my block early Sunday morning -- a tornado that felled giant trees and started two fires -- the GOP presidential candidate explained to an audience in Florida why this was happening, and her explanation was a doozy.
"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending."
As a New Yorker whose block was featured on the cover of today's New York Times as the preeminent example of the damage Irene caused, as a religious person and as an American (not mention one who struggles with my weight), those words cut close to home. While I appreciate Bachmann's sincerity, I have to ask myself, "Is she nuts?" The answer is not as simple as one might imagine.
Having gotten through the day safely, despite burning electrical wire near my front door, 50 foot trees fallen across our street and a house fire across the way, many neighbors repeatedly commented, "Thank God nobody was hurt." If there is a God to thank for sparing us, then that same God is to be blamed/credited with the devastation caused as well. I have no quibble with people who accept both sides of that equation, even if I wrestle with it. It's actually the approach of most classical faiths and is entirely coherent, if not acceptable, to all of us.
Whether it's my well-intentioned neighbors or Bachmann, people want a clear source for the otherwise unreasonable chaos which invades all of our lives. I appreciate that and even admit to expressing gratitude to God for having gotten through the storm with little more than a loss of power, limited water and the need to relocate for a day or two -- I hope not more. But that is where the similarity between what my neighbors expressed to each other and what Michelle Bachmann said about the storm ends.
It's one thing to invoke a source for otherwise unexplainable occurrences. We humans seek meaning and purpose in all things, and especially so during times when the otherwise reliable patterns in our lives are interrupted. One could argue that religion is always doing one of two things: comforting us by providing meaning and purpose to those interruptions, or purposely interrupting patterns in order to help us lead more meaningful and ethical lives.
Bachmann, however, takes it one very dangerous step further: She imagines not only that there is meaning and purpose to such events and that they are controlled directly by God, she imagines that she knows the mind of God and can tell America what such events mean. That is called prophecy, especially when done in such an immediate and direct way, and as far as I know, Michelle Bachman doesn't claim to be a prophet. Or does she?
While not making that claim overtly, Bachmann consistently approaches both politics and religion from a position of absolutes -- the kind of absolutes that, if not 100 percent correct, can be pretty dangerous. From defaulting on our national debt to abortion to this weekend's hurricane, there is, according to Michelle Bachmann, only one right answer -- hers. And unless someone speaks with the absolute knowledge that most believers ascribe to God or prophets, that's a pretty dangerous way to speak.
Bachmann's God and her politics are one. They are clearly understood by her, they are 100 percent correct and all those who disagree are worthy of punishment. I get it. That's not my God and those are not my politics. In many ways, the coming presidential election is about the place of absolute answers in this country and how much space is made for those who disagree with whoever wins.
Michele Bachman let it be known this weekend that she believes the price for disagreeing with her is death and destruction.
I can't help but hope that she would speak differently at the funerals of those who died because of the storm, or even standing amid the destruction in front of my family's home. That's my hope. Of course, the real question is not simply what candidate Bachman says, but what her supporters will say, now that she has spoken.