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Teo Bishop

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Isaac Was a Hurricane, Not the Manifest Judgement of an Angry Deity

Posted: 08/30/2012 2:24 pm

Even as a religious person who, himself, makes offerings on occasion to deities associated with the sea, I favor a scientific explanation for weather phenomenon. Most Pagans are thoroughly modern in this way. As well, I find this desire to pin responsibility for Hurricane Isaac onto a god, most popularly the Christian god, to be an affirmation of a theological concept that most Pagans reject outright; mainly, that deity is fundamentally at odds with humanity.

To say there is a supernatural being that wishes to do you harm if you do not behave correctly, a kind of broad-stroke, indiscriminate vengeance for your sinfulness that can as easily tear down your house as uproot an ancient oak tree in the city park, is to project a very human behavior, and a human example of judgement onto the divine; it is to make our gods into abusive parents, or unapproachable, unappeasable authority figures.

This is an adolescent theology, and one which many -- including myself -- are working to leave behind.

That being said, I'm also not of the mindset that the gods, nature or this increasingly popular conception of a sentient, wish-granting "universe" are completely benevolent, either. Benevolence and punishment seem to be two sides of the same man-made coin; any way you turn it you see yourself as the object of divine attention. We are either the benefactors of unconditional love, or the recipients of unavoidable judgement.

But nature tells a different, more complicated, more nuanced story. There is chaos, there is calm, and there are forces that uproot, that tear down and that often do so for no discernible reason. Say it was the god of the sky, or the god of the sea, or the god of a book, but that really doesn't change the fact that the basement is flooded.

Our response to a weather event like Isaac, or the impending hardships that will befall many of our neighbors in the south, can be one of finger-pointing or one of faith. And not a faith in a god so much as a faith in our own resilience, and our own capacity for compassion for one another.

This is the faithful response I choose.

There are many conversations to be had about how our actions lead to dramatic changes in the weather, but those conversations are not theological in nature; they are scientific. We should be consulting our climatologists about storm behavior, not our priests. And, these dialogues should not happen solely as a response to disaster; they should be ongoing.

Our actions do affect the weather. Our buying habits, our driving habits, our overall addictive consumption -- these are the choices we make that have an impact on the earth, and in turn the earth responds. But it's not useful to say that the earth responds in anger. It simply responds in kind.

Many Pagans make offerings to affirm our relationship with the land. Some make offerings to hold back the storm. I maintain that making offerings is an opportunity to affirm what little of this world is within my control, as well as to remember the vast, sometimes terrifying greatness that is not. I make offerings to remind myself that I am not a god in the same way that I am not the ocean, but that I still have the ability to affect change in a small way. I can respond to a tragedy with compassion and kindness over bitterness and blame, and in that way be the kind of human I would like others to be.

But what about you?

Do you seek to find the reason behind the weather, or do you not believe those ideas to be useful? What kind of response to the storm seems most appropriate to you, and how do you think that response can be best acted upon by people who do not live nearby?

If you are religious, do you respond religiously? If you are secular, do you respond secularly?

 

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