This editorial appeared Friday in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
From some, crisis elicits bravery, generosity and endurance. From others, alas, it elicits nonsense. In Katrina’s heart-rending aftermath, here are three examples of foul hot air blowing at hurricane force:
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who you’d think would have a little more sense of how to behave in the face of tragedy, wrote an essay suggesting, half-seriously, that the hurricane’s landfall in Mississippi was God’s punishment to the state’s governor, Haley Barbour. It seems Barbour, former national chair of the Republican Party, did a turn as an oil lobbyist during President Bush’s first term and wrote some memos opposing sound global warming policy. Some climatologists see a link between global warming and increased hurricane activity, but it’s not proven. The main point is this: For God’s sake, RFK Jr., Barbour right now is struggling to help his bleeding state. Now is the time to send the poor man aid and support, not op-eds looking to kneecap him on a policy point.
You knew this next one was coming, and you can hardly be surprised who provided the inevitable idiocy: Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, speaking in Philadelphia on Wednesday, described the winds, floods and devastation along the Gulf Coast as God’s first punishment for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. However you feel about the invasion, how can you watch on CNN the deprivation, shock and anguish of the poor people of New Orleans, Gulfport and Biloxi and say with satisfaction, “Yep, just deserts.” Heartless, horrible and beneath contempt.
Not to be outdone by Farrakhan, Michael Marcavage, locally based leader of a group called Repent America, also cast Katrina as an act of divine vengeance, not on Donald Rumsfeld, but on the sinful Big Easy itself. You see, Katrina’s arrival came on the eve of a large gay festival in New Orleans. Words fail to express how obnoxious Marcavage’s suggestion is.
The problem of theodicy, how to explain why God lets bad things happen to good people, is as old as human awareness. But the noisome way these three comments resolve the conundrum is not only insensitive; it is, to use an old-fashioned word, blasphemy.