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Saturday, September 03, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Forget Prayer: God Ain't Listening


When Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco requested a day of prayer amid Hurricane Katrina's devastation, I wondered, "Why bother?"

Other than as a palliative for the thousands in distress, this exercise struck me as futile. I do not believe anyone heard those prayers, nor answered them if he did.

God, in my opinion, is not living up to his advertising. In a year that has witnessed the aftermath of the south Asian tsunami (approximately 225,000 deaths), Katrina (118 confirmed dead and rising), and Wednesday's Baghdad bridge stampede (some 953 Shiite religious pilgrims dead), it has become impossible to reconcile current events with the notion of an omnipotent, omniscient, magnanimous deity. "The Almighty" appears to be either an unaware, powerless, and/or misanthropic absentee landlord -- or no one whatsoever.

Would an all-powerful God stand by helplessly as Katrina sliced into America's belly like a Florida-sized circular saw?

New Orleans _ an immeasurably beguiling place whose gracious denizens have made me smile non-stop during my 13 visits there _ today resembles a combination of Haiti and Bangladesh. Now that running water, electricity, sanitation, and communications have become memories, and with "looters shooting looters," as a friend near there told me, the Crescent City has devolved into what 17th Century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes called "the state of nature." According to news accounts, bodies have dangled from the city's ancient, stately trees. In Biloxi, Mississippi, caskets littered open lots where structures recently stood. Once re-interred, officials fear they will be joined by thousands of new coffins.

Would an all-knowing God shrug while Katrina crafted something akin to a watery Hieronymus Bosch painting?

A soaked teddy bear sat abandoned amid piles of crushed concrete and splintered lumber that constituted a Biloxi building until last Monday. A shark reportedly trolled the 20-foot-deep waters of New Orleans' streets.

"You can hear the dogs yelping, all of them stranded, all of them hoping someone will come," said CNN's Jeanne Meserve. She added that cameraman Mark Biello saw "dogs wrapped in electrical lines...that were being electrocuted."

Would an all-loving God reply, "Whatever," as Katrina spread destruction inland from the sea, like Sherman's march in reverse?

Hurricane-related tornadoes demolished structures outside Atlanta. Wind and rain cut power to 75,000 Memphis and Nashville residents. Katrina and another storm inundated Kentucky with 11 inches of rain.

One official summarized this calamity for Fox News: "The best way to describe this is a nuclear holocaust without the radiation."

The question "Why would God permit such anguish?" is nothing new, but the predictable reply of believers is as inadequate as ever. God gives us free will to choose between good and evil, they say.

So why not flatten fast and loose Las Vegas rather the Gulf Coast, essentially the Bible Belt with beach blankets? Why not chasten earthlings by giving Bernard Ebbers, Charles Manson, and Kim Jong Il simultaneous coronaries, rather than whacking a retired double amputee not seen since she and her wheelchair vanished as 140 mph winds lashed New Orleans?

And does such a "supreme being" even deserve devotion? One can fear and respect whatever force dislodged a 1,200-ton, 200-foot-tall oil platform and slammed it into the Mobile, Ala., Cochrane/Africatown Bridge. Those behind local protection rackets also elicit fear and respect, but rarely expect to be worshipped.

The good news is that Americans in and out of uniform already are being generous and compassionate to Katrina's victims.

A Mississippi man waded into alligator-filled waters to pry an elderly couple from their sidelined automobile. When one New Orleans hospital's emergency generators lacked fuel, staffers siphoned now-precious gasoline from their own cars' tanks to keep medical equipment running. Harry Connick, Jr., Wynton Marsalis, and other entertainers plan fundraising concerts and telethons. So far, Americans have donated $27 million to such charities as the Red Cross (800-HELP NOW/

Admittedly, many of these decent people are inspired by religious impulses. But they perform their good deeds with human hands, and the love they share appears through concrete human action, not ethereal "divine intervention."

Relying on each other and ourselves, I believe, not depending on a God who either doesn't care about us or simply isn't there, is all we humans have.

In other words, we are on our own.