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.
I think most rational people will know that God didn’t put a hole in the ozone layer, pollute rivers and oceans, build nuclear weapons that could obliterate human life, or invent diseases like AIDS or cancer to teach us lessons. These are all things that come from within us or that we have created. The great minds of science attempt to find cures and clean our waters; politicians must find common ground to make peace a reality, and human beings everywhere must do their part to make the world a better place.
While I firmly believe God is there, I also think that his benevolence is constant and all encompassing. He wouldn’t harm us, but because we have free will we are able to murder or create; we can build or tear down, and we can heal or hurt, and that is all part of our gift of life. It is what we choose to do with it that is essential.
All these disasters are just part of the natural way of things. The first and last occurrence that God was directly responsible for was no doubt the event known as “the big bang.” After that I believe that God stepped back and, as the Bible tells us, saw that it was good. As the universe evolved, somehow or other this third rock from a star floating in the magnificent galaxy known as the Milky Way had all the right components for the elixir of life (as we know it). Here we are now living on a beautiful blue marble spinning in the black dark of space, the twinkling distant stars silent partners in a vast universe we may never fully comprehend.
The next time you hear thunder crash overhead and see the flash of lightning in your windows, remember it is nothing more than a dark and stormy night. Yes, it is the thing of gothic novels and scary movies, but nothing more than that. Of course, one day the world will end, and it probably will be as natural as any of the other occurrences we witness is space, our blue marble eventually being devoured by our dying star. That is, of course, if we don’t speed the process with weapons of our own creation. That is not a pathetic fallacy, of course, but simply pathetic.
Photo credits: Russian meteor – discovery.com; pope – nytimes.com; hurricane sandy – yahoo.com; Milky Way – NASA.gov