Religion, science and Hurricane Katrina

Religion, science and Hurricane Katrina

Joseph Kay World Socialist Web Site, September 19th 2005

International Terrorist George Bush ¬†In his address to the nation from New Orleans last Thursday, Bush¬† repeatedly invoked religion and religious organizations. The maudlin¬† appeals to God went beyond even the president’s stock-and-trade¬† sermonizing. ¬† Speaking of those who had welcomed in evacuees, he emphasized the¬† role of “religious congregations.” He spoke of the “armies of¬† compassion,” a term that has been used with increasing frequency by¬† the administration as a pseudonym for Christian fundamentalist¬† organizations. These armies, Bush said, “give our reconstruction¬† effort its humanity.” He asked people to donate “to the Salvation¬† Army, the Red Cross, and other good charities and religious¬† congregations,” deliberately putting an organization associated with¬† religious ideology before the secular Red Cross. ¬† Bush declared that the devastated region would be rebuilt because of¬† “a core of strength that survives all hurt, a faith in God no storm¬† can take away…” He concluded with the declaration that the country¬† would rebuild as it did after earlier natural disasters. “These¬† trials have also reminded us that we are often stronger than we know,¬† with the help of grace and one another,” he said. “They remind us of¬† a hope beyond all pain and death, a God who welcomes the lost to a¬† house not made with hands.” ¬† Bush declared Friday to be a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance.¬† During much of the day, the television airwaves were saturated with¬† coverage of religious services and vigils. This was followed by¬† Bush’s weekly radio address on Saturday, which was punctuated with¬† references to “God’s grace,” “God’s comfort,” and the “strength of¬† the Almighty.”¬† ¬†Significantly, the official day of prayer came on the same day as a¬† new report in the journal Science documenting the correspondence¬† between an increase in the number of severe hurricanes and global¬† warming. ¬† Researchers at Georgia Tech and the National Center for Atmospheric¬† Research found that the number of category four or five hurricanes¬† has nearly doubled over the past three decades. Since 1990, the world¬† has averaged 18 such hurricanes per year, up from 11 a year during¬† the 1970s. When it struck Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama,¬† Hurricane Katrina was a category four storm.¬† ¬†The scientists pointed to rising surface sea temperatures as a factor¬† in the increased incidence of severe hurricanes, with one co-author¬† noting that the study provides “increasing confidence” that there is¬† a connection between global warming and the greater number of intense¬† storms. ¬† Bush’s efforts to chloroform public opinion with superstition and¬† fatalism are meant to distract attention from the actual scientific¬† understanding of events such as Hurricane Katrina. The administration¬† has repeatedly sought to deny, or at least call into question, the¬† existence of global warming, in the face of overwhelming scientific¬† evidence. It has scuttled even the most limited international¬† agreements to reduce CO2 emissions, which cause global warming and¬† are produced mainly through the combustion of fossil fuels. ¬† In doing so, the US government has acted as an agent of the American¬† energy industry and other corporate interests. As with many of the¬† environmental problems the country and the world now face, the¬† findings and warnings of scientists on global warming cut across the¬† profit interests of dominant sections of the American ruling elite. ¬† The denial of environmental problems has disarmed the population in¬† the face of real dangers. A serious attempt to deal with global¬† warming would require not only a major shift in the sources and¬† methods of energy production, but a massive investment in social¬† infrastructure to guard against disasters such as Hurricane Katrina,¬† something the American ruling elite is unwilling to carry out.¬† ¬†There is, of course, a more immediate and sordid aspect of the appeal¬† to religion. It is used to justify the funneling of federal monies to¬† religious groups, in particular to right-wing Christian¬† fundamentalist outfits that are close to the Republican Party and¬† serve as a principal base of the Bush administration. Bush announced¬† in his speech that part of the money that is being raised by former¬† presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton will go to religious¬† organizations. ¬† Increasingly, the Republican Party has sought to use religious¬† organizations to drum up support on the basis of “moral issues” such¬† as abortion and homosexuality. This has not been limited to the¬† traditional churches of the Republican right. In the most recent¬† election, the Bush campaign sought to appeal to clergymen of¬† predominantly black congregations in an effort to increase the¬† Republican vote among African-Americans. ¬† Earlier in the month, it was revealed that the Federal Emergency¬† Management Agency (FEMA) included prominently among its list of¬† recommended charities Operation Blessing, an organization with links¬† to Pat Robertson, the right-wing evangelist who recently called for¬† the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Of the dozens¬† of organizations that FEMA recommended, the vast majority were¬† religious outfits of one form or another.¬† ¬†The administration sees the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as an¬† opportunity to push its efforts to integrate church and state and to¬† promote government financing of “faith-based” groups in place of¬† social programs for those most severely crushed by the workings of¬† the capitalist system. ¬† Aside from these more immediate political calculations, the¬† administration’s relentless promotion of religion serves the¬† long-range goal of undermining science and polluting the public¬† consciousness with superstition and backwardness. To the extent that¬† mystification of both natural and social processes gains the upper¬† hand, the masses of people who are victimized by the policies of the¬† government and the financial elite are ideologically and politically¬† disarmed. ¬† Invocations of God serve to impede a serious examination of the¬† causes of the Katrina disaster-above all, those which arise not from¬† nature, but from the dysfunctional and socially destructive workings¬† of the capitalist system, and the role of the parties, media organs,¬† and government institutions that uphold that system. ¬† Where did this disaster that has befallen the people of Louisiana and¬† Mississippi come from? It was not primarily the product of blind¬† natural forces, an “act of God.” It not only could have been¬† foreseen, it was foreseen. ¬† Engineers, scientists and others had warned for decades that the city¬† of New Orleans, lying below sea level and protected from the¬† surrounding water by an inadequate levee system, was not safeguarded¬† from a category four or five hurricane. With global warming¬† increasing the number of such hurricanes, it was inevitable that the¬† region would eventually be struck, and there have been several close¬† calls over the past decade. ¬† But no preparations were made. None of the measures required to¬† protect the city and the entire region were implemented, even though¬† doing so would have cost a fraction of the outlays required to¬† address, even in the most rudimentary way, the devastation caused by¬† Katrina and the government’s failure to respond. ¬† Nothing was done because over the past several decades the American¬† ruling class, under administrations of both political parties, has¬† sought to systematically cut all social spending, including spending¬† on public infrastructure. Bound up with deregulation, privatization¬† and the dismantling of social programs, this policy was designed to¬† enrich a tiny minority of the population at the expense of the¬† American people as a whole. In this, it has succeeded to the point¬† where the United States is the most socially polarized of all the¬† major industrialized countries. ¬† Hurricane Katrina has laid bare the ugly face of American capitalist¬† society-the enormous social inequality, the impoverishment of broad¬† sections of the population, and the looting of society by a financial¬† oligarchy. These are the realities that the sanctimonious invocations¬† of God and religion are meant to obscure. ¬† In championing religion, Bush is speaking not merely to his own¬† right-wing constituency. To the hundreds of thousands of people who¬† have been affected by the hurricane, and the millions more who have¬† looked on with shock and horror, he is saying: Do not look to society¬† and politics for the cause, or the solution, to your problems. Do not¬† look to me and the interests I represent for an explanation or¬† accounting, let alone restitution. Look to God. ¬† In the guise of providing conciliation to those who are suffering,¬† this shameless purveyor of lies and wars is pointing to the heavens¬† to defend the most earthly and material of social interests.

This article was originally posted to the World Socalist WebSite at

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