How ‘Nature’s fury’ replaced God’s fury

Evangelist Pat Robertson’s real mistake was to describe the calamity in Haiti as God’s work rather than Gaia’s work.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

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Pat Robertson, the US Christian evangelist who seeks headlines the way missiles seek heat, has understandably caused outrage with his craven comments on the earthquake in Haiti. That calamity is payback from God, he says, for Haitians who made ‘a pact with the devil’ by allegedly embracing voodoo over Jesus Christ.

Yet the real reason Robertson’s comments are shocking is not because he has misanthropically moralised a natural disaster as punishment for people’s sinful behaviour, but because he has done so in the name of God rather than Gaia. These days it is not acceptable to present terrible acts of nature as manifestations of God’s divine fury, but it is de rigueur to depict them as some kind of climatic payback for our greed and addiction to consumerism.

In keeping with his Good Book – in which ‘The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth’ and so decided to send floods to punish us – Robertson says that Haiti has been ‘cursed’ for its rejection of Christian values, with poverty, political instability and now a calamitous earthquake (1). This follows his even wackier comments on Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, which he said was heavenly punishment for legal abortion in the US.

Many are slating his stupidity and backwardness. Yet his real mistake, it seems, was to deploy religious language, rather than pseudo-scientific language, to make his poisonous point. Because today, moralising natural disasters, personifying them, imbuing them with sentience and purpose and vengeance, is a popular pursuit amongst secularists, commentators and climate-change alarmists, for whom everything from flooding to almighty gusts of wind reveals the ‘connections between our unsustainable lifestyles and climate change’ (2).

In the environmentalist outlook, floods, fire and natural destruction have all been discussed as punishment for our eco-hubris. During flooding in England in June 2007, a leading British green declared: ‘The drumbeat of disaster that heralds global warming quickened its tempo this week.’ He said the floods were payback for our failure to instigate a ‘managed mass withdrawal from fossil fuels’ and our insistence on living unsustainably. He even evoked God, Robertson-style, arguing that ‘behind the gathering clouds the hand of God is busy’ (3). Others have claimed that floods offer us a ‘glimpse of a possible winter world that we’ll inhabit if we don’t sort ourselves out’ (4). In short, flooding is brought about by our stubborn desire to live comfortable lives rather than to eke out meek, eco-respectful existences.

Following those floods, a Guardian columnist declared: ‘The turbulent weather we’ve seen is a warning of what lies ahead for us.’ She said we need to be ‘cajoled, led, provoked into changing [our] ways’ and welcomed the ‘drumming of rain on the skylight’ as a kind of warning from on high (5). Mark Lynas, author of the eco-Bible Six Degrees, which makes the story of Noah’s Ark look like an episode of Balamory, has even evoked the God of the Sea, predicting that ‘Poseidon [will be] angered by arrogant affronts from mere mortals like us. We have woken him from a thousand-year slumber, and this time his wrath will know no bounds.’ (6) There is barely a cigarette paper’s difference between this mad idea that the sea will punish us for living it up and Robertson’s idea that Haitians are being punished for their fascination with voodoo.

Fire is another favourite form of vengeance for both the old Bible brigade and the new climate-alarmist lobby. The Australian bush fires of 2009, which killed 173 people and destroyed 2,000 homes and which were actually a product of both very hot weather and arson, were described by one green as ‘global warming made manifest in the daily lives of ordinary people’ (7). Jonathon Porritt, a green who has advised both the UK government and the royal family, linked the bush fires to Australia’s pursuit of ‘unbridled affluence, California-style’ (8). So Australians burned for their sins, for daring to try to generate wealth.

If anything, the idea of Gaia punishing us is even more backward than the idea of God punishing us. At least Robertson only leaps upon disasters once they have happened in order to spread his codswallop – leading greens, by contrast, call upon Mother Nature to punish us more and more in the future in order to wake us from our consumerism-induced stupour. Porritt says there will have to be more climatic ‘shocks to the system’, and ‘from the perspective of our long-term prospects, they need to come as rapidly as possible. And to be as traumatic as possible. Otherwise, politicians and their electorates will rapidly revert to the current mix of non-specific anxiety and inertia.’ (8)

The problem with the Australian bushfires, he says, is that they clearly weren’t ‘bad enough’, because Aussies straight away went back to pursuing their ‘dreams of unbridled affluence’, which ‘gives us some sense of just how bad future climate shocks are going to have to be to drive any serious transformation’ (9). This amounts to a backward, vindictive rain-dancing for further natural calamity, for more of Gaia’s fire and fury, as a way of shocking the masses from their eco-inertia. It expresses both a medieval-style moralisation of weather events and an utter lack of faith in debate and democracy, so that Porritt hopes flames and floodwaters will change the way we plebs think and live.

The usurping of disaster-embracing religious cranks by disaster-demanding climate change alarmists became clear during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Robertson and other minority Christians were attacked for describing that disaster as payback for abortion or for New Orleans’ sexy, sinful ways – yet greens everywhere interpreted it, not as a consequence of a freak weather event and insufficient flood defences, but as a symbol of what will happen if mankind doesn’t overcome his ‘addiction to fossil fuels’ (10). Robertson crankily says the Haiti earthquake was caused by Haitians’ ‘pact with the devil’ – is it really anymore sensible to describe other natural disasters as springing from mankind’s ‘pact with consumerism’?

Throughout human history mankind has had trouble accepting that there is such a thing as natural disaster, a sometimes unpredictable, sometimes unavoidable event, which causes hardship and horror. In earlier eras we described them as ‘acts of God’; later we believed they were brought about by demonic forces; now we say they are payback for our lust for wealth and affluence. The language changes, but the backward idea – that powerful, faceless forces are trying to correct us – remains strikingly similar. And the consequence, then as now, is that we spend more time pointing the finger of blame at greedy mankind than we do offering solidarity to the victims of natural disasters and devising ways to develop and industrialise societies everywhere so that they are better able to withstand nature’s alleged fury. And for that, these societies will need unbridled affluence.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. His satire on the green movement – Can I Recycle My Granny and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas – is published by Hodder & Stoughton. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

Previously on spiked

Reporting on the earthquakes in the Abruzzo region of Italy, Dominic Standish explained that people were not to blame. Guy Rundle asked questions of the Australian bushfires of 2009. Kirk Leech felt that Western governments used the 2008 floods in Burma as an excuse for moral postruing. Frank Furedi looked at the changing perception of disasters and criticised the response to the 2007 UK floods. Mick Hume attacked the self-congratulatory miserabilism of the commentary on Hurrican Katrina. Josie Appleton talked of unleashing nature’s terror. Or read more at spiked issue Environment.

(1) Pat Robertson calls quake ‘a blessing in disguise’, YouTube, 13 January 2010

(2) Let it rain, Guardian, 16 October 2000

(3) The floods of neglect, Comment Is Free, 27 June 2007

(4) Ethical shopping is just another way of showing how rich you are, Guardian, 24 July 2007

(5) We must face up to the flooding, not flee to the sun, Guardian, 23 July 2007

(6) Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, Mark Lynas, Fourth Estate, 2007

(7) Greenie love of bushfires goes deeper than global warming, Australian, 10 February 2009

(8) Leaders will be shocked into climate action, Jonathon Porritt, 30 October 2009

(9) Leaders will be shocked into climate action, Jonathon Porritt, 30 October 2009

(10) See Stupid, feckless, greedy: that’s you, that is, by Brendan O’Neill

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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