Thursday, May 29, 2008

What do these people have in common?

Answer: They both believe that there is a mystical magical power that uses the forces of nature to punish wrongdoing in the here and now.

On the left is John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. He is on record as claiming that Hurricane Katrina was sent by God to punish New Orleans for being too friendly to Teh Gays. On the right is actress Sharon Stone, who speculated that the recent Chinese earthquake was due to "karma" because of Chinese mistreatment of Tibet and its people. Now, I do have some sympathy with Stone's concern for Tibet, whereas I think Hagee is just a vile stupid bigot. Moreover, Stone has apologized and perhaps somewhat retracted the remark, while as far as I know, Hagee still has it in for gays and The Big Easy. However, that doesn't change the fact that they have something else in common: they're both wrong. As in: you have to be a bit stupid and superstitious to have thought that way in the first place (but then, charismatic preachers and actors are not, in general, classes of people known for their intellectual prowess).

Something else Hagee and Stone (actually, their respective Cosmic Avengers) have in common: they've got lousy aim and produce lots of collateral damage. The earthquake didn't hit Beijing, and take out just the Chinese leadership (ie, the people actually responsible for Chinese policy on Tibet). Instead, it hit a few thousand kilometers away in Sichuan, and killed about 70000 (and still counting) mostly ordinary folk. In New Orleans, the worst-hit areas were not the "gay village", but regular middle and working class neighbourhoods. Which is another reason why it's stupid to believe that natural disasters are divine/karmic retribution.

Actually, it's worse than just silly to believe that: it's potentially very dangerous. Consider the following hypothetical: Suppose that we live next door to each other. Further suppose that, according to my religion, my god disapproves of you in some way -- your sex life, your rival religious opinions, your dietary practices, whatever.

Now, if I believe that you'll have to answer to my god in the afterlife, I may try to warn you of your posthumous peril, but not do much more than that. At worst, I'm likely to become an obnoxious boor, and a pain to have as a neighbour. However, suppose that I think my god is so pissed off at your behaviour that he's likely to take direct action to abate it sooner than that AND that he's got the aforementioned tendency to overdo things -- well, now I'm afraid of becoming collateral damage. So I'm likely to take some preemptive action of my own. And if there's enough people who also think like me, things could get very ugly for you.

I'll grant that there are some significant differences between Stone and Hagee. For one thing, Sharon Stone is a lot thinner and better-looking. Another is that Stone's Western-celeb Buddhism probably renders her not much of a threat to those she disapproves of (and besides, her concept of "karma" seems rather vague). But Hagee specifically believes in a God who punishes whole cities for tolerating the activities of some individuals. He even encourages other people to believe the same. And that is beyond stupid, beyond even dangerous: it is evil.

Photo credits: John Hagee from; Sharon Stone from

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