Divine Violence and Natural Disasters

There are a wide variety of interpretations of Natural Disasters among members of religious communities. Among religious groups with a theistic model of God, Natural Disasters require a theological explanation. Most work on the theology of Natural Disasters begins from the assumption that the disaster is an event which is either morally problematic, or at best neutral with effects that are morally problematic. This leads to conclusions that reconcile human moral intuitions about the situation with pre-existing doctrines of the moral character of the divine. Thus natural disasters may be seen as random events in which God comes alongside human beings, or that they are allowed by God to develop human beings toward a greater good, or that they indicate a judgement by God on other moral failings of the victims of the event, or their wider culture.

There is a thread in popular discourse among groups of believers which takes this third explanation and intensifies it, effectively rejecting any consideration of the moral effects on victims. In this rhetoric, God is called upon to inflict violence by means of natural disaster as an indication of God’s moral disapproval on a group. This is a natural, if logically fallacious, extension: if natural disasters are violent retribution in judgement over moral failings, then we would look to God to engage in violence when we perceive moral failings.

This is, unsurprisingly, rather a common theme on the right wing Christian forums and blogs today. Those who feel they have been dealt a moral defeat over Same Sex Marriage are warning (in terms that hardly contain their glee at the prospect), or calling on God to send devastating natural disasters, in violent retribution for the supreme court’s decision.

There are several dimensions to this that are interesting. A more comprehensive study would be fascinating and could go in several directions, including comparisons of this ideology with those that directly engage in violence.

The direction I’m particularly interested in is the interaction between this phenomena and the rhetoric (as opposed to the practice) of human-mediated violence in such groups.

In particular, I’ve been clipping conversations that highlight a link between calls for divine-mediated violence through natural disaster on internal enemies, but state-mediated violence through war on external enemies. There seems a further link (but it is harder to get the evidence) for those who call for individual violence on individual criminals as the primary means of moral judgement. So, under the judgement of God, criminals neeed to be shot (rather than tried or imprisoned), gay rights activists need to suffer tornadoes or earthquakes, while Iranians need to be carpet bombed or ‘nuked’. Natural disasters as divine violence thus forms an interesting exception in the way they understand God to intervene violently to restore righteousness.

It is an interesting and curious enough phenomenon that potentially I think it could make a good paper. But not soon. Too much other stuff to do. Any thoughts on the topic, or how it could be constructively understood?

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