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God’s Will Hunting

I’m an agnostic about two big things in life.

The first is God.  On the one hand the existence of a higher power just feels true to me. I see evidence in my life and the lives of others and a lot of people, people I respect greatly, sure do seem pretty darn convinced. But at the same time on a gut level I’m not totally sure I buy the whole thing hook line and sinker. Like I think maybe there’s something to this, but I’m not quite sure the people who are telling me all about it totally have their facts straight.

This is pretty much identical to the way I feel about global warming. It feels…if not true, at least plausible. I see evidence (it was 110 degrees here for 2 weeks straight last year, ffs) and I know a lot of people, people who I totally respect, are really super convinced but eeeehhh. I’m just not quite sure the acolytes got the details worked out yet.

So, hurricanes. Had kind of a lot of em lately. I recall a few years back when a hurricane would come along and these obnoxious jerks would crawl out from some rock and be all like “Hurricanes are totally God’s will, divine judgment, y’all” and then mention homosexuals or blasphemers or fornicators or whoever and aagggh didn’t ya just want to punch them in the face? I did. Nazi punchers got nothing on me when people invoke God’s name over random natural disasters. Seriously, that’s absolute BS, it’s gross and wrong, it turns my stomach when people do that.

Imagine my dismay the last few months when I read things written by people, good people, people I respect, claiming that the latest round of hurricanes were in fact basically divine judgement dispensed by Mother Earth only instead of punishing heathens and reprobates it was punishing rednecks because they voted Trump or didn’t drive Priuses and or had historically allowed the Exxon Corporation to set up shop in Texas and forcibly extract black gold from our planet’s sacred crust. Some folks – again, decent people, all – were out and out saying that Texans deserved a hurricane because they didn’t believe in global warming, because they’d made money from oil or were Republicans. Gross and wrong.

I’m sure they found great satisfaction in spreading their faith to the masses. I’m sure they felt justified because these sinners deserved to be punished for their wicked wicked ways. I’m sure they believe they’re not operating under the precepts of religion, calling it science instead since they think they have facts to back it up. Maybe they do; maybe at the end of the day it will be proven to me but for now I’m still an agnostic in the global warming department (oh wait I forgot I’m supposed to call it climate change now). But even if the facts are on your side, it is no less gross, no less wrong to get your schadenfreude on when people who don’t happen share your personal code of ethics are having their lives destroyed or even dying from a random natural disaster. It doesn’t matter if your sense of morality involves the kind of hole you stick ur peepee into or the way you choose to cast your vote, it’s still an act of priggish self righteousness that we’d probably all be better off if we tried not to indulge.

I wish we as modern-minded folk could get to a point at which we stop to consider, gee whiz, maybe some of the “bad” qualities and personal failings that so many like to point a finger at Christians for, are not necessarily Christian foibles per se, but human foibles that can be exhibited by certain members of any group of people at any given time. We happen to associate them with Christians because they happened to be a socially and culturally dominant group of people for the past couple of millennia and it was kinda hard to ignore them but the qualities are not limited to Christianity, not at all. You see them on full display in fantasy football leagues and workplaces and in the PTA. You see them on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Being a non-Christian does not somehow inoculate you against self-righteousness, it simply makes you a clueless hypocrite when you partake.

It is concerning to me to watch so many people casting judgement and calling out sinners simply because it isn’t a God Thing. It’s STILL a God Thing even if you call your God by a different name and swear on a stack of copies of The Selfish Gene that you are a card-carrying atheist. If you believe that some incredible hypernatural Spaghetti Monster is going around singling out groups of people who deserve to be smited and smiting them for they have sinned against the mighty forces of goodness that you believe in, that IS a God Thing. And taking pleasure in another person suffering at the hands of a higher power is how Church Ladies are born, my friends.

And I know, science. It’s all science. It’s all justified in the name of science. Because the science is settled, idiots. It is known that science is a thing that can be settled. Because, science rules! Bill Nye told me so.

Now, I may just be a simple country woman but one thing we know in the country is that some years have bad weather, and some years have good. Some years you have a lot of snow, other years it’s a green Christmas. Sometimes there are droughts, other times floods. I’ve gone trick or treating one October in a tank top and the next in a parka. Weather varies from year to year, always. Weather follows patterns and trends and it comes in streaks and dry spells both literal and figurative. That’s why it is different than “climate” and why it requires some pretty intense upper-level math skills to study it (Remember that whole thing, guys? How insistent you’ve been that weather is NOT CLIMATE? It isn’t.)

Because it isn’t obvious based on one storm or two or 7 or even 7 years’ worth of storms, what the overall pattern really is. Meteorologists can predict, not perfectly, but well, that some years may have heavy rains, heavy snows, while others may be dry. These patterns can go on for years. So a layman cannot completely ignore the actual science of meteorology and say “lookit, peeps, this year has had like a butt-ton of hurricanes and this totes ma goats proves Mother Earth is going all Kill Bill on Republicans!! Suck it, Texas!” and call that science. It isn’t science, it’s a God Thing. It is exactly as convincing to my agnostic ass as some spittle-spewing Bible thumper showing me quotes from Revelations and telling me this proves that a hurricane in Miami was stalking gay people.

We had a lot of hurricanes this year because it was a hurricane-y year. Some other years lately have been un-hurricane-y. You can’t just count up the number of hurricanes that occurred in a single given year (even if it seems unusual) and use that to prove anything. Other years have had more than one big hurricane, like 2005, which brought us Katrina, Rita, and Wilma among lots of other alphabet letters. And you can’t use death tolls or financial damage to prove climate change either, since more people live in these coastal regions than ever and there are more structures to destroy, causing billions more in damage. So when I see people try to use these unscientific datapoints whilst lecturing everyone within hearing distance about precious science, again, it feels to me like the kind of people who try to explain why the Bible is true by using pseudoscientific explanations about how Noah’s Ark worked via genetic engineering, the geological mechanisms by which the Red Sea parted, how architecture explains how Samson was able to push down a temple, and how harmonics explain how Joshua could blow a horn and destroy a city.

God did it, ok? God did the magical stuff. That’s the answer.

That answer works for religion. It doesn’t work so good when it’s coming from people who claim they’re being eminently rational and informed. And it super doesn’t work when it’s coupled with the God Thing – this sense of perverse delight that those cowboy-booted, ten-gallon-hatted effers are finally getting theirs, that Mother Nature has come blazing in with a vengeance to give them Pai Mei’s Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique only in the form of a hurricane to get rid of their backwards asses and make way for whatever Brave New World that these type of people want, which I assume must be a race of atheistic sea otters that worship Richard Dawkins.

We are all subject to the fickle whims of Mother Nature. Regardless of where you live, fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, frigid cold and blistering heat – somethin’ gonna getchu if you don’t watch out. And many times even if you DO watch out.  There is not a single one of us on the planet who is immune to the fickle finger of Fate when she points your way. Are we really supposed to believe, as rational, enlightened, modern-minded people, that everyone who has ever perished in a natural disaster deserved it, and those of us who haven’t are in some way morally better because we haven’t?

Of course not. The idea is ridiculous and primitive and beneath us. It’s the kind of thing espoused by fanatics who believe that people who don’t think the way that they do deserve to die. Which we aren’t, right? Us intelligent intellectual science-types? We don’t think like that, no, nu-uh, not ever. We aren’t those kinds of small-minded people so let’s not act like them; let’s have compassion and use our giant capable science-y brains to rise above our worst tendencies and never, ever say that a natural disaster is punishing anyone for their beliefs again.

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Staff Writer
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Kristin is huge geek, a libertarian, and a mother of 4 sons and a daughter. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor.

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25 thoughts on “God’s Will Hunting

  1. I’m a member of the choir you’re preaching to, so of course, I agree with most of this post. I also share your two starting agnosticisms.

    However, I do think you’ll get some pushback for bad reasons and good reasons. The bad reasons will have something to do with the culture conflict of which this issue is a part–and there’s not much anybody can do about that. Some people like what they call science and just want to slam down anyone who questions it.

    But there are “good reasons,” too. The “good” reasons will have to do with what I see as some overbroad generalizations in the OP. For example:

    Imagine my dismay the last few months when I read things written by people, good people, people I respect, claiming that the latest round of hurricanes were in fact basically divine judgement dispensed by Mother Earth only instead of punishing heathens and reprobates it was punishing rednecks because they voted Trump or didn’t drive Priuses and or had historically allowed the Exxon Corporation to set up shop in Texas and forcibly extract black gold from our planet’s sacred crust. Some folks – again, decent people, all – were out and out saying that Texans deserved a hurricane because they didn’t believe in global warming, because they’d made money from oil or were Republicans. Gross and wrong.

    I know exactly the type of attitude you’re referring to and even have some examples to demonstrate it. I do fear, though, that the bolded parts represent an overgeneralization. You do say “some” folks, and not all, but it still seems a bit too overgeneralized. I also find that when people use these tropes–saying or more often implying that the hurricanes are punishments for rednecks, etc.–they are doing so more to dig at those people than in an effort to demonstrate the reality of AGW. That’s your point, and it’s made even more clearly and strongly later on in your OP. But it seems to me that sometimes you’re conflating legitimate concerns with the concerns of the anti-redneck trolls when those concerns are in principle distinguishable.

    I see a potential, though less likely pushback here from another direction. While I admit there is a religious-like, jeremiad-like way of speaking about AGW (more than “admit”….it’s something I find preachy and grating, as you do), I think to discount concerns about AGW because it is like a religion is similar to discounting anything once it’s shown to be like a religion. I don’t think religion is that bad. That’s not what you’re doing in the OP. In fact, I’m seeing you as pointing out an inconsistency in those who are quick to criticize Christian-inspired jeremiads but who also engage in AGW-inspired jeremiads. But I do think it’s possible to extract an anti-religion-qua-religion argument from your critique, even if that’s not your intention.

    I’d like to reiterate I agree mostly with your OP. I’m coming from a very similar position to yours, with similar assumptions. And I certainly can sign on to your parting sentence: ” let’s have compassion and use our giant capable science-y brains to rise above our worst tendencies and never, ever say that a natural disaster is punishing anyone for their beliefs again.”

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    • Thanks for the input, very helpful.

      I had citations and tweets – none of which were calm and rational scientific discussions – to support the point (which was, just as you say, that some people were using “climate change” as a brickbat). But upon reading I felt that they did not add, and indeed detracted from, the flow of the piece so I cut them. I figured that most people had probably read much the same things that I had and so let that go.

      Yes, exactly, I was attempting to point out that there is something ironic and terrifying about people who out of one side of their mouths point out every hypocrisy and shortcoming of Christians while indulging in the same behavior just under a different name. Not at all lambasting religion; if I went hard against religion it was because I felt that possibly illustrated the disconnect between people who purport to “hate Christians” even as they act like all the things they claim to hate about “Christians”.

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      • Thanks for engaging my comment. For the record, I didn’t think you were lambasting religion. In fact, I was more riffing off something I do: I sometimes point out secular “theologies” (for lack of a better word) and say, at least to myself, “hey, they’re just like a religion they claim to be free of themselves.” (I also personally need to be a bit chary myself before accusing others of hypocrisy, since I’ve been one of the “we shouldn’t focus as much on hypocrisy” people when it comes to engaging Sam Wilkinson’s posts.)

        I agree with your decision not to include the examples of what you’re talking about from tweets, etc.

        Finally, I want to reiterate that I really liked the post and thank you for writing it. I like the perspective you bring here.

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  2. I will never claim that Gaia is out to getchu, but I don’t always have a lot of sympathy for people who build stupid.

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  3. It’s a “people thing” alright. People are going to behave badly. People are racist, tribal, self absorbed, self centered, herd like, afraid of the unknown, the different, and rooted in behaviors that haven’t changed in millennia.

    The good side of religion is that it can mold that raw human clay so people can commit compelling acts of charity, goodness, and nobility. Sadly, it has also contributed to the evils of our nature in the various pogroms, slaughter, torture, and murder of so many–all for “the cause”. In that way, climate change is similar to religion-the “righteous”, assured of their holiness, brook no doubt.

    As a species, we’ve created wonders of art, architecture, etc. while managing to slaughter hundreds of millions of our own. If we survive as a species, perhaps we’ll grow out it, but frankly, I wonder if these traits will always be with us.

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      • This is why nutpicking (i.e. characterizing either political party based upon a comment on the internet/tweet from some random citizen/college students/etc) is such a bad way to engage in political debate.

        There is no shortage of crazy in this world, and it infects people who vote for both parties. That’s why we should focus on the actual politicians/leadership to see what a party thinks.

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  4. Good post and, of course, the preaching isn’t actually science at all. Science can tell us something about why hurricane frequency and severity is up so much. Science can tell us something about how water moves in storms and how it drains after them. Science can’t tell us about what people deserve, what people earned through actions/inactions or what is just NOR does science claim to be able to! Science cannot identify a single atom of justice, or a molecule of mercy any waveform of desert because those things do not exist in the realm of science. They’re constructs of morality and the closest science can come is by going and sitting on the knee of its’ father philosophy (and even it’s a mighty dry conversation).

    That being said, I do think you may be applying the idiotic behavior of a handful of AGW trolls to the ASW believers in general with a potentially overbroad brush.

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    • This exactly.

      An individual hurricane isn’t caused because someone pissed off god. Nor is it caused because global warming crossed a specific threshhold. But more severe weather events are certainly an expected symptom of global warming.

      That’s a nuanced point, and I’m sure it is frequently butchered by those that don’t understand it/are over-zealous culture warriors/etc. It also certainly does not lead to the conclusion that Texas/Florida/PR are being “punished” by anyone for anything. But it does mean we should be thinking about this stuff as more than just “some years have hurricanes, some don’t, nothing ever changes”

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      • If we’re interested in actually doing something about this sort of thing, then it’s easier, cheaper, and more effective to put in place sane zoning/insurance regulations than it is to lower the oceans and reduce the temperature.

        A century ago a nasty hurricane could plow inland without automatically hitting lots of things we care about. If people are going to insist on building where mother nature is going to zap us occasionally, then we should insist that it’s built to withstand it and that it’s appropriately insured.

        For example Puerto Rico really should have been upgrading (i.e. hardening) its infrastructure while the lights were on.

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      • Global warming should cause less severe weather events because it lowers the temperature gradient from the tropics to the polar regions. The tropics stay about the same temperature but the heat is pumped further toward the poles, so there is less of a temperature difference per degree latitude. You have few cases of cold air masses slamming into warm, moist air masses.

        A recent geological study of Florida and the tropics found they were being pounded by frequent and severe hurricanes during the Younger Dryas about 12,000 years ago, an extremely cold period. They were also pounded during the Little Ice Age, with some of the deadliest and most severe hurricanes ever recorded occurring during the late 1700’s.

        As it turns out, the hurricane model we’ve been using isn’t correct. Under that model a significant number of hurricanes exceed the maximum theoretical efficiency of a heat engine. Russian scientists in St Petersburg developed a new theory in which a hurricane is in part an avalanche effect that dumps all the pre-existing atmospheric moisture in the hurricane’s path, getting fed by the latent heat of fusion of all that water vapor as it dumps that vapor as rain.

        Of course the idea that global warming produces less severe weather is in conflict with the idea that mankind’s sinful CO2 production must be punished with wrath and destruction, so the idea has trouble gaining a foothold among the climate science community that’s convinced they’re saving the planet.

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  5. I don’t think you’re arguing against a strawman, but I think people could think you’re arguing against a strawman because this piece doesn’t point to a specific person or group of persons making the argument you’re arguing against.

    I feel I’ve come across plenty of people making the ‘weather is not climate’ error these past few months, but not very many ‘this is karma for all your climate sins’ folks – other than from folks that are already “out there” in one form or another already. There was definitely at least two editorial cartoons that mocked the people getting hit by hurricanes, but that was from the point of view of “oh, *now* you want federal government and in any case government help, you rugged individualist you” (which of course was also wrong for many reasons).

    But I don’t think I’ve come across anyone as prominent as say, Joyce Carol Oates, pushing the Revenge of Gaia line of thinking.

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    • “Imagine my dismay the last few months when I read things written by people, good people, people I respect, claiming that the latest round of hurricanes were in fact basically divine judgement dispensed by Mother Earth only instead of punishing heathens and reprobates it was punishing rednecks because they voted Trump or didn’t drive Priuses and or had historically allowed the Exxon Corporation to set up shop in Texas and forcibly extract black gold from our planet’s sacred crust. ”

      Isn’t this the textbook definition of building a strawman

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  6. There is a set of things that have truth values that exist independently of people.

    There is another, different, set of things that have truth values that exist because people do/don’t believe them.

    And while we’re pretty good (better than chance, anyway) at figuring out which set any given thing that might be true would belong in, we’re nowhere near 100%.

    Which sucks.

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  7. The human brain is a pattern matching device.

    When you see patterns/objects/things in clouds, it says much about you and little about the clouds. The same works for natural disasters, it’s just the stakes are higher because “death” is on the table… and yes, this is easily twisted into “power” or “appeal to authority” arguments.. Somehow “god” is always in favor of whatever the speaker wants to do.

    If someone sees climate change behind every hurricane, then that’s mostly a description of where their head is at. Presumably they didn’t blame climate change for the lack of hurricanes the last decade or so.

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  8. Our fine friends up at Penn State have a lot to say about Global Warming. They’re not all climatologists, most of them are meteorologists.

    Yes, weather follows both climate and meteorological change. Have the same ten storms in the Northeast, just tweak the temperature up 2 degrees in wintertime (the latter being a climate change)? Holy Hell, you’ve got Snow!

    Which fills up the springs and ponds, which is why anyone doing agricultural science had better get the climatological stuff right.

    We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it.

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  9. And, here’s the thing about global warming.
    Every time we revise the models, predictions get more dire.

    So, um, NO, we don’t know what’s going to happen yet.

    But it’s gonna be bad.

    (Note: limited predictions are available. You can thank them for the evacuation plans for Miami).

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