When Pat Robertson says Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ selection of Ellen Degeneres, a New Orleans native, to host the Emmy Awards, he is called a crackpot. When Ray Nagin, Mayor of New Orleans, says God sent the storm because He is angry at America for going to war in Iraq and at black America “for not taking care of ourselves,” he is made the butt of jokes. Yet both men are well within the theological mainstream of American religion.
Both the Bible and the Koran make it clear that God uses nature to reward and punish us humans. It is clear that God has no compunction regarding the destruction of a city, a country, or the whole planet. While it may be the norm among liberal believers to imagine that such acts only happened in the past, there is no logical reason for thinking this. I have yet to attend a mainstream liberal or conservative church or synagogue service that does not promote the same vindictive God beloved by Pat and Ray. I have never heard a rabbi denounce God for doing to Sodom what Pat says He did to New Orleans, and, as Pat would have it, for the same reason.
If we laugh at Pat, why take the Bible seriously? If we think Ray has lost his mind, why subject our minds to the same drivel?
What we need is a bold and unequivocal rejection of the biblical God of vengeance (Ps. 94:1). It isn’t enough that liberal theologians snicker at Rev. Robertson’s position; they must denounce it and offer an alternative. I find it idiotic that we liberals can decry such statements when made by contemporary leaders and then kowtow to the same statements when read as Holy Scripture.
We need a new theology, a new understanding of God that respects what we know to be true about the world and ourselves. We need to free God from politics, from piety, from the pettiness that passes for holiness. We need a God who is not at odds with science or reason. We need Spinoza’s God, the source and substance of all reality who doesn’t write books, choose favorites, wage war, or condemn those whom we don’t like, but who reveals the universal ethical principles of justice, compassion, and humility grasped by so few throughout history.
Spinoza was exiled and shunned for speaking the truth. Maybe that’s why we still have to make due with the infantile theology of Pat and Ray.