Last week a cataclysmic natural disaster struck Japan, carved a path of devastation through the Pacific islands and finally smashed itself against the western coast of the United States. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake was precipitated by a sudden shift in the tectonic plates which geologists call the “Japan subduction zone,” and the concussive shock resulted in a tsunami whose full effect has yet to be assessed. Conservative estimates place the financial toll at well over $200 billion, while over 15,000 people remain either dead or missing. But the danger is far from over. Powerful, unpredictable aftershocks continue to shatter structures weakened by the initial quake, and the Fukushima nuclear reactor remains in a state of emergency as it hemorrhages billowing clouds of radioactive smoke over heavily populated urban areas whose shelters were destroyed by the earthquake. Even after the cleanup effort is completed, an expansive swath of territory around the nuclear plant will remain deadly to all forms of life for 300 years while the cesium-137 isotope degrades.
Most people agree that the destruction in Japan is the result of natural forces which have remained in play since the formation of our planet. But some religious leaders, especially in the Armstrongist cults, would have us believe that the recent tide of death and mayhem in Japan is a warning message from a wrathful, all-powerful God—merely a foretaste of His prophesied vengeance against our evil world. Here we examine that claim.
First, we have to review the historical record in the vicinity of the recent devastation to gain some perspective. A cursory Google search reveals that the entire Japanese archipelago has been subject to cataclysmic tectonic and volcanic activity since it first became inhabited. The Great Kanto Earthquake, which was the worst ever recorded in Japan, occurred in September of 1923 and resulted in the deaths of over 142,000 people in Tokyo and the surrounding region. It seems unlikely that God took much of an interest in the politics of Japan in 1923, but perhaps he just left the region on autopilot while he was busy undermining the economy of the Weimar Republic in order to bring Hitler to power. After all, the Beer Hall Putsch was only two months away. In January of 1995 another strong Japanese earthquake, now referred to as the Southern Hyogo Earthquake or Great Hanshin Earthquake, killed 6,000 people and injured 415,000 others. 285,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged. But if God was sending a message with this disaster, it seems it went unheard and unreported. As anyone with an internet connection can deduce, the history of mankind is a history of survival and loss, with humanity pitted against the inexorable, violent natural forces which rule our world. The earth is a hostile enough place, without a genocidal God tossing around the tectonic dinnerware.
Now, before the cultists start shouting about some sort of long-running Divine curse against the Japanese people, we broaden the scope of our search to include other natural disasters which resulted in major loss of life. Here are a few examples, starting with the most destructive: In April of 1816, Mt. Tambora erupted in Indonesia and killed over 92,000 people. Mt. Pelee, in the West Indies, erupted in May of 1902, killing approximately 40,000. Krakatoa erupted in August of 1883 and killed 36,000. Nevado del Ruiz, in Columbia, killed 23,000 in November of 1985. Mt. Unzen, Japan, erupted in 1792 and killed between 12,000 and 15,000 people. Mt. Vesuvius, in Italy, erupted for over 19 hours on April 24 of AD 79 and killed over 10,000—burying the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii under 10 feet of ash, carbonizing organic material instantly and exploding the brains of many residents due to sudden, boiling heat which some scholars say exceeded 750 degrees. Vesuvius erupted more than a dozen times after the initial disaster, and in December of 1631 an explosion of boiling water and lava consumed several small towns and killed another 6,000 villagers. The list of mayhem is almost endless, but it’s not random, or Divinely targeted! It happens whenever humans decide to plant a village on the side of an active volcano, or build a nuclear power plant within a hundred yards of the ocean in an earthquake prone region famous for its constant tectonic melee!
Now, here’s how all of this relates to the cult-busting focus of Armstrong Delusion: The fear mongers in the Armstrongist community, and especially over at the Trumpet, instantly latch onto disasters like the one in Japan as proof of the wrath of God, and as a harbinger of the end of the world. For instance, in an article by Brad McDonald published today (March 17, 2011), he has the mendacity to actually refer to the disaster last week as “God’s Tectonic Mouthpiece.” I shit you not. Here’s an excerpt:
God’s Tectonic Mouthpiece
In Genesis 1 and 2 God recalls for latter generations the moment He recreated planet Earth. In these chapters we see God working with the physical universe, including the sun, moon and stars, as well as Earth’s atmosphere, its weather patterns, its oceans and its land mass, including the tectonic plates beneath the outer crust. Beyond creating this planet as the means of sustaining plant, animal and human life, and ultimately as the vehicle to facilitate His supreme purpose for mankind, the Bible reveals that God intended to use His material creation as an instrument through which He would communicate with mankind. It’s only logical that as the master Creator of this planet and all the physical laws that govern it, God has the power to intervene in its operation!
He continues on this kick, a few paragraphs down:
Then there’s the book of Isaiah, which focuses largely on end-time events. In chapter 29, the Prophet Isaiah describes one of the means by which God corrects: “Thou shalt be visited of the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire” (verse 6). Yet again, the Bible teaches that God uses the natural world to communicate with mankind. God could easily have prevented the earthquake in Japan, and the recent one in New Zealand. But He didn’t. The Bible teaches that these terrible disasters are signs of God’s displeasure with mankind.
Here, Brad postulates that the earthquake bears some kind of cosmic message from God for His wayward creation. He says that God “could easily have prevented [it]” but that he refrained in order to express his “displeasure.” When I’m “displeased” I hit a punching bag for a few minutes, but when Brad’s favorite God is displeased, he kills 15,000 people. I think any rational person could only deduce one thing: Any God who would perpetrate this kind of destruction against millions of innocent people—while allowing genocidal murderers like Muammar Gadaffi to remain alive—is nothing less than a Raging Psychotic Monster. A Raging Psychotic Monster with abysmal communications skills, too: He could make his moral opinions much more clear with targeted fire balls against, say, the Playboy Mansion. But, as we have already noted at length, Brad’s analysis is utter bunk. This earthquake is not an isolated event. It is one of thousands, possibly millions, of tectonic and volcanic events which have occurred every year since the dawn of time! The only noteworthy aspect is the impact due to its geographic proximity to a heavily populated island nation—an island which, by the way, is nothing more than a series of volcanoes which gradually pushed their way out of the ocean due to the very same tectonic activity we just witnessed!
It’s shocking how often these “signs of God’s displeasure with mankind” happen in the Ring of Fire—the one region on earth characterized by the highest historical concentration of volcanic and earthquake activity. Japan and New Zealand are both smack dab in the middle of the Ring. Surprise! Call me when a major earthquake hits Nebraska. Or, better yet, when a flaming meteor inscribed with the initials “J.C.” smashes down onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Up until then the ‘message’ remains a little hazy.
Now, very quickly, let’s consider what happens if we let superstition and fear get the better of us. Let’s look at another natural disaster—perhaps the most devastating natural event in the history of civilization—the Black, or Bubonic, Plague. At the peak of the outbreak it killed over 10,000 people per week! The best estimates place the death toll at 25 million between 1346 and 1360. That’s a death toll over 1,666% above the Japanese quake! But there was no Divine significance to this unparalleled loss of life—it resulted from a mini-ice age which cooled the planet over time, diminishing harvests and leaving people weak, famished and susceptible to the yersinia pestis bacterium transported via fleas on rats from the Chinese silk road to Crimea and then Florence and the rest of Europe.
During the middle ages, though, people didn’t know about bacterium, sanitation and blood-borne pathogens. They did, however, have religion! Just as Brad would have us believe the recent earthquake is a curse from God, so too did the religious leaders of medieval Europe proclaim the Black Death as a sure sign of God’s wrath against the sins of the common man. At first people turned to self-torture and mutilation as penance for their heinous, though unknown, sins. (Think the monks in Monty Python’s Holy Grail) The practice of self-flagellation with leather whips embedded with metal spikes became commonplace as people attempted to appease their vengeful God with offerings of blood. When the plague continued unabated, some turned to Satanism in hopes that the Prince of Darkness would be more merciful than their “loving” God.
Others blamed the Jews. In a bloodthirsty, superstitious frenzy tens of thousands of Jews were rounded up, tortured and burned alive. In Mainz and Frankfurt, Germany, the Jews reportedly set fire to their own homes in an effort to escape the agonies of torture. 6,000 Jews reportedly perished in the flames. In Strasbourg, 2,000 Jews were tied to a wooden scaffold and burned alive in a Jewish cemetery. Here’s a brief excerpt from the Jewish History Sourcebook at Fordham University:
In 1348 there appeared in Europe a devastating plague which is reported to have killed off ultimately twenty-five million people. By the fall of that year the rumor was current that these deaths were due to an international conspiracy of Jewry to poison Christendom. It was reported that the leaders in the Jewish metropolis of Toledo had initiated the plot and that one of the chief conspirators was a Rabbi Peyret who had his headquarters in Chambéry, Savoy, whence he dispatched his poisoners to France, Switzerland, and Italy.
By authority of Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy, a number of the Jews who lived on the shores of Lake Geneva, having been arrested and put to the torture, naturally confessed anything their inquisitors suggested. These Jews, under torture, incriminated others. Records of their confessions were sent from one town to another in Switzerland and down the Rhine River into Germany, and as a result, thousands of Jews, in at least two hundred towns and hamlets, were butchered and burnt. The sheer loss of numbers, the disappearance of their wealth, and the growing hatred of the Christians brought German Jewry to a catastrophic downfall.
This is the bloody result of superstition and fear—the very same fear peddled by the apocalypse-addled Armstrongist prognosticators. Sure, they toss in a message of “hope” that Christ will soon return to save us, and that—for a small, small cash donation—YOU TOO can be protected as civilization circles the drain–but ultimately it’s a scam. While the Jews were blamed in the middle ages, the Armstrongists blame the ‘sinful’ and ‘decadent’ Western culture in which most who read this article are fortunate enough to live. But in the end it wasn’t God or the Devil that caused the Black Plague; it was just a confluence of climate change, superstition, poor sanitation, war, famine, international commerce, a tiny flea and an even tinier bacterium.
It’s easy to be drawn in with these ideas, especially when the catastrophe strikes close to home. It’s easy to hope that God is behind that terrible wall of water, because if that were the case at least there would be the chance of averting disaster by throwing oneself upon His “mercy.” But that approach failed in medieval Europe and ended in genocide, and it will most assuredly fail today. The only solution in our battle for survival with the forces of nature is to prepare: Engineer stronger buildings, safer nuclear reactors, smarter flood barriers and better systems for helping our fellow human beings when our best efforts fall short against the titanic patterns which rule beneath the shallow surface of our planet. And, just as science eventually vanquished the yersinia pestis bacteria of the Black Death, so too will science eventually allow us to predict and combat the whims of “God’s Tectonic Mouthpiece.”