September 3, 2019

Hurricane Prayers and a Lack of Empathy for Victims

tornado destroying house
You live in a coastal community, and there's a massive Category 5 hurricane heading right for you. Fortunately, you are an evangelical fundamentalist Christian, and that gives you magic powers. Okay, maybe it isn't fair to refer to them as "magic," but it seems accurate to me. When you pray in Jesus' name as your "holy" book instructs, your prayers are always granted. Through Jesus' name, anything is possible.

With this awful storm bearing down on you, it is hard to imagine anybody blaming you for praying it away. You do so, and it works just like it always does. The hurricane changes course, and your community is spared from its impact. Sadly, its new course results in it destroying another community. Do you feel the slightest twinge of guilt?

I would guess not. You defended yourself and your neighbors by praying away the hurricane. Anybody in your position would have done the same thing. Sure, it is too bad that those in the destroyed community had to face the wrath of your god. You may be able to experience feelings of sadness and compassion for them. At the same time, you can't help but wonder why they didn't pray away the hurricane like you did. Are they not believing Christians like you are? Maybe they deserved the wrath of your god. And really, who are you to question whatever your god brought about. The fact that you are safe must mean that it favors you over them.

There's more than enough to criticize about the thought process I've described above, and most of it is going to strike most atheists as obvious. Still, I can't help highlighting what I find most objectionable here. This line of thinking inevitably leads to the conclusion that people who experience natural disasters and other bad outcomes probably deserved them. If my home is fine but yours was destroyed by a tornado, our "god" must have favored me and been unhappy with you. And because our "god" is good, you must have done something to deserve its wrath.

When evangelical fundamentalist Christians step forward to offer explanations for why their "god" brings hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, mass shootings, and whatever other traumas people must endure, it is almost always a deserved response for whatever they regard as sinful. It is the fornicators, the secular progressives, those who dare to teach "evilution" in schools, those afflicted with "teh gay," and so on. But what really matters here is that the victims deserved it. That seems to be the common thread that ties all of this together. Is it any wonder that many evangelical fundamentalist Christians seem to lack basic empathy for others?