A meteor from outer space explodes near Chelyabinsk, Russia, right after Pope Benedict XVI announces he will resign from the papacy. Immediately people start saying, “God is angry.” The same was said about Hurricane Sandy devastating the New York tri-state area. We deserved it, of course, our city being the modern equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah. And when a huge blizzard hits New York, a similar sentiment is echoed. We are being punished; we are being reminded who is in charge.
As (what I believe I am) a modern day Catholic, I am amazed at people still thinking this way. In literature it is known as “pathetic fallacy” when characters attribute natural events to the gods reacting to human affairs. It is rife throughout fiction and drama and poetry for characters to claim “the gods must be angry.” Consider in the great Shakespearean play Julius Caesar how the night before the conspirators are to assassinate Caesar in the Senate, a powerful thunderstorm rocks Rome. Immediately some of them think twice about their mission; maybe the gods are trying to tell them something.
More than 2,000 years later it is incongruous that people keep saying the same thing. To listen to some callers on talk radio shows here in New York City, you would think they have never taken a science class in their lives. They are convinced that the meteor was a sign sent from God. He is angry about Benedict leaving. There were predictions that this would happen, and that would signal the “end of days.”
Only a few months ago people were citing the Mayan calendar and were predicting the end of the world. These theorists make all kinds of arguments that their viewpoint is correct. We keep passing their “deadlines” (as we did with the millenium), and then they are left to recalibrate and find a new date that the world will end.
The Russian meteorite has really stoked the fires of this fanaticism to the point of lunacy. Unfortunately, as the world awaited the flyby of Asteroid 2012 DA14 on February 15, 2013, there were tensions that this rock (the diameter of which was about the length of an American football field) could hit us, even though scientists said it would not. Then along comes the meteor in Russia, and people start thinking the events are connected. This must mean the end is nigh.
This is all part of pathetic fallacy. The “gods” are not any angrier with us than they were 2,000 years ago. Each one of these events is a natural occurrence, one fully and completely explainable by science as part of the solar system, galaxy, and universe in which we live. One need only look at the turbulence in space, the violence of exploding stars, and know this kind of thing is happening everywhere. So the universe, for all its beauty, can indeed be a dangerous place. Welcome to reality.
Here on earth we have seen all sorts of natural disasters: hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, blizzards, and floods. People who read the Bible and take everything on its pages literally want to connect what is happening today to things that happened long ago. Since God brought plagues upon Egypt, can we not imagine it could happen again?
The truth is relative for each person, and everyone is entitled to his or her beliefs. It just doesn’t seem rational to link a human event like the pope’s resignation as something that needs a corresponding reaction in nature to show us God is watching. While, as a Catholic, I do believe God is watching, I also believe that it is not in any malevolent manner. On the contrary, I believe God loves us so much and would never send any disaster to hurt us; however, I don’t think God will put down a hand to stop a flood or put out a forest fire. These are events in the mortal world that are our responsibility to deal with accordingly.