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Monday, September 05, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Some say natural catastrophe was 'divine judgment'

Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Steve Lefemine, an anti-abortion activist in Columbia, S.C., was looking at a full-color satellite map of Hurricane Katrina when something in the swirls jumped out at him: the image of an 8-week-old fetus.

"In my belief, God judged New Orleans for the sin of shedding innocent blood through abortion," said Lefemine, who e-mailed the flesh-toned weather map to fellow activists across the country and put a stark message on the answering machine of his organization, Columbia Christians for Life.

"Providence punishes national sins by national calamities," it said. "Greater divine judgment is coming upon America unless we repent of the national sin of abortion."

Lefemine is far from the only person to see the wrath of God in the awesome damage that Katrina has wreaked on the Gulf Coast. As with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and last year's South Asian tsunami, the hurricane has spawned many competing explanations and apocalyptic visions from across the religious and ideological spectrum.

"It is almost certain that this is a wind of torment and evil that Allah has sent to this American empire," a Kuwaiti official, Muhammad Yousef Mlaifi, wrote Wednesday in the Arabic daily Al-Siyassa under the headline "The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah ... "

In Philadelphia, Michael Marcavage saw no coincidence in the hurricane's arrival just as gay men and lesbians from across the country were set to participate in a New Orleans street festival called "Southern Decadence."

"We take no joy in the death of innocent people," said Marcavage, who was an intern in the Clinton White House in 1999 and now runs Repent America, an evangelistic organization.

"But we believe that God is in control of the weather," he said. "The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the streets. We're calling it an act of God."

The Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson, who were roundly criticized for suggesting that the Sept. 11 attacks were divine retribution for abortion, homosexuality, feminism and the proliferation of liberal groups, have been silent on the meaning of the hurricane. Most of the major Christian political advocacy groups also have been cautious.

Ted Steinberg, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, argues in his 2000 book, Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America , that Americans have often seen divine will in earthquakes, floods and droughts whose consequences have been worsened by improper planning.

In his opinion "as an atheist," he said, Katrina "was an unnatural disaster if ever there was one." By building levees along the Mississippi and draining marshland, he said, local officials hastened the sinking of New Orleans below sea level and destroyed the barrier islands that protected the Gulf Coast.

"Blaming God," he said, "is moral hand-washing."