A New Twist on ‘Intelligent Design’

According to most accounts of the last days of the Jewish settlements in Gaza, there were a considerable number among those waiting to be tossed out of their homes who thought some form of divine intervention would save them.

That makes sense, since there is no other way to explain why so many of them really thought that the disengagement would be halted at the last minute and made no preparations for their departure. Given that on the eve of the withdrawal there were no rational reasons to believe that events would not proceed as Israel's premier had planned, who but the Almighty could have stopped it?

Like every previous generation who vainly expected divine deliverance, they were ultimately forced to go wait for the Messiah someplace else.

But the successful completion of the withdrawal has not caused any crisis in faith for some of the most extreme critics of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Though no miraculous event prevented the destruction of the settlements, some are now circulating the notion that Hurricane Katrina is a form of divine retribution visited on the United States for having promoted the plan.

Shameless Hubris
One Israeli writer, Ariel Natan Pasko – an analyst long associated with the Arutz Sheva news site – wrote this week that, "America's support for the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif in Gaza ran counter to G-d's plan, and it's clear that His 'payback time' came swift and furious, as Hurricane Katrina uprooted whole communities along America's Gulf Coast. Just as Jews were made refugees, so were Americans. Just as Jews lost home and property, so did Americans."

Citing rabbinical support for this thesis, including one source described as a "Jerusalem Kabbalist," Pasko took the trouble to point out that "water is a symbol of 'Chesed – kindness' according to the Torah, and the Torah itself is likened to water, according to Jewish tradition. Since America had no compassion for the Jews of Gaza, water was used to punish America just as the flood in Noah's time."

Pasko was far from the only member of the Israeli far-right to tastelessly invoke a natural disaster as proof of American perfidy, but his ugly piece was troubling specifically because he is not someone whose writing would normally be considered off the wall. But that did not prevent him from shamelessly implying that the Lord drowned the poor of New Orleans in order to demonstrate displeasure with the destruction of Jewish settlements in Gaza.

If you think this sort of "analysis" isn't ridiculous enough, Pasko helpfully pointed out that Jews weren't the only ones seeking to find a political meaning to the hurricane.

He cited one of the area's own self-styled experts on Heaven's purpose, Michael Marcavage, a fundamentalist Christian who was last seen here while getting himself arrested disrupting the Outfest gay pride event this past fall in Philadelphia.

According to Marcavage, the hurricane really wasn't about Gaza. Instead, the real purpose of the wind and water that caused so much destruction and loss of life was an event called "Southern Decadence," in which gays annually gathered to party in New Orleans.

Of course, as Pasko himself wrote, the annual Mardi Gras party would probably have been reason enough to provoke the outrage of heaven, as it's well known to be the cause of licentious behavior.

But as loony as the convoluted attempts to identify Katrina with Gush Katif (as Tamar Yonah who wrote in support of the divine retribution idea on the IsraelInsider.com Webzine, both have a "K" in their names) may seem to us, such hubris is not limited to the religious.

Witness the similar propensity of some environmental extremists to cite the hurricane as proof of the advance of global warming. In this view, Katrina was Mother Nature punishing America for the Bush administration's repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Though there's certainly a case to be made for concern over global warming, the connection between it and the hurricane is about as compelling as analogies between Gaza and New Orleans.

If anything, there seems to be a connection between the epistemology of both the Israeli far-right and environmental extremists.

This was demonstrated in last year's environmental blockbuster, "The Day After Tomorrow," which showed the United States being punished for its indifference to global warming with ice-cold temperatures and a blizzard that destroys virtually everything north of the Rio Grande. As added punishment, Americans in the film are then forced to become refugees at the mercy of our Third World neighbors in Latin America.

We can scoff at this as just another bad disaster movie, but the thinking behind this silliness shows that it has a lot in common with those who seek to use bad weather to vilify American foreign policy. Even those who claim to worship reason alone sometimes revert to the melodrama of divine retribution.

Can it be that in some cases, one faith has merely been displaced by another?

Reading God's Mind
The truth is that most of those of us who believe in God will admit that our Creator can theoretically intervene in history and perform miracles. Its just that our religious teachings inform us that the Almighty does not do so frivolously or to make a point about politics.

The wisest of us look to the ordinary miracles of everyday life, the purity and beauty of a flower or the sound of a child's laughter for proof of God's existence – not in the cataclysms caused by the natural world that we believe God set in motion.

Even those who embrace the evidence that backs up the the theory of evolution prefer to see an "intelligent design" of God in this world.

But danger lurks when politics is seen as indistinguishable from faith, be it a religion or a secular worldview that's merely a theology in disguise, such as communism. Because when that happens, all restraints are gone. If a hurricane that kills thousands is rationalized, even justified as God's will, so, too, can be the murder of thousands, as long as the murderers can claim they are acting in the name of whatever God they worship.

The notion that any of us – even those who are well-versed in Torah – can read God's mind is obviously a snare for the foolish. If we believe in a deity that is truly ineffable, why pretend you can interpret the judgment of heaven in the manner of a palm reader at a carnival?

Worse still, those who use faith to rationalize destruction and death not only misunderstand the purpose of religion, they denigrate it by doing so. Those who are angry about the expulsion from Gaza have the right to argue that it is contrary to a divine plan for the Jewish state. But their effort to portray Katrina as punishment for this deed is itself a hillul Hashem – "a desecration of God's name."

The proper reaction to political ideas you oppose is to seek to convince your opponents with reason. The proper reaction to hurricanes is to seek to aid the afflicted, not to use them as justifications for political arguments.

Jonathan S. Tobin is reachable via e-mail at: [email protected]



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