Listening to this latest example of a prominent American evangelical Christian leader declaring a natural disaster a punishment from on high for America’s sins, I reflect on how selectively political red lines are applied post-9/11.

As I wrote elsewhere a while back in connection with the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, I don’t find this genre of dime-store theodicy credible – indeed, I have to admit that atheists often have a point when they complain about how religionists seem to only detect God’s hand in events that happen to conveniently reinforce their own worldview; is God not equally in charge when the “wicked” prosper on the other side of the globe, or even right next door? – but on the other hand I don’t find such sermonizing, simplistic though it may be, inherently threatening, provided it doesn’t cross the line into demonizing those with whose moral choices one disagrees with. For people who subscribe to traditional religious values, believe that God has expressed his preferences for our lives in no uncertain terms, and prefer their homilies to be tame and intellectually bite-sized, viewing history through such a black & white prism is near self-evident and perhaps even inevitable. I don’t think respectfully admitting to harboring such beliefs is–or should be viewed as – a political matter (not that this is all that Robertson has done historically).

What I do find disturbing and what I do think should be the stuff of spirited debate is how such beliefs are treated by an entirely different standard in the case of Muslims today. We all know that an imam who went on TV and attributed a natural disaster to, say, the prevalence of alcohol consumption or premarital sex in American society would receive a lot of attention from Uncle Sam (and probably the NYPD).

In contrast, Christian religious conservatives need not fear getting themselves a free ticket to Guantanamo or targeted by COINTELPRO-style infiltration for expressing uncharitable theories about those outside the fold. Their penalty is merely social and – in extreme cases perhaps also professional – but the police, much less the intelligence community, never enters into the picture. When Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Jerry Falwell or others blame 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on millions of fellow Americans guilty of nothing more than disagreeing with their politics, these gentlemen may sleep easy, knowing that the charge of politically-threatening theological extremism is in practice generally reserved for Muslims these days.


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