Cyclone Yasi and some thoughts on those ‘religious explanations’

First, on a personal note …

My brother and his family live in Townsville, on the Ross River. They decided not to evacuate ahead of Cyclone Yasi, because their house is made according to new building codes specifically designed to withstand cyclones – and because there were a lot of other people who needed those evacuation shelters. Besides, their home is far enough from the river that it would take a truly horrific storm surge or flood to inundate them – and that wasn’t predicted. So they moved their valuables upstairs, laid in supplies and settled down in the laundry to wait it out.

Cyclone Yasi made landfall around midnight last night, but even before then, they were being lashed by strong winds and nearly horizontal rain. They lost the landline early in the evening. We kept in touch during landfall, and then I managed to get a bit of sleep before hearing from him again at dawn, Townsville time. My poor niece, who’s about the same age as my youngest daughters, was terrified – she kept saying to her Dad that she didn’t want him to go to sleep, because then he couldn’t keep her safe.

All we could do down here in Melbourne was keep sending our love to her.

This morning there’s a lot of damage in terms of trees and power lines down, and debris is everywhere. Part of the ceiling will need to be replaced, and it’ll be a while before they get their landline back, apparently. They’ve been asked to conserve water, since the water treatment plant has lost power and several pipes were damaged.

People slightly north of them didn’t get off so lightly. Early reports say the towns of Cardwell and Tully are devastated. No reported loss of life at this stage, though, which is a huge relief.

All in all, my brother’s family are very fortunate – so far. Winds are still high, and they’re still watching the river nervously, as another storm surge is due soon and the rain is bucketing down. He texted me a little while ago to tell me that the river, which he can see from his front room, was running backwards. Apparently the tidal surge, backed by the high winds, had enough force to push against the natural flow.

Again, we’re back to a waiting game.

At this point, I just want to have a bit of a rant. I know I’m sleep-deprived, and wobbling between relief that my loved ones are safe, apprehension that it’s not over and they may still be flooded out, and sorrow about what I’m learning about the damage in the region.

Nevertheless …

I can understand why people seek some kind of transcendent explanation for disasters, both personal and regional. Certainly the Twitter feed last night was full of messages to the effect of, ‘Jeeeeeeeez, what has Queensland done to deserve this?’ We want to believe there’s some kind of reason that terrible things happen. Part of the healing/grieving process afterwards always involves this kind of questioning.

But frankly, the idea that people can just blithely waltz uninvited into the middle of someone else’s pain with glib explanations about ‘God’s plan’ or ‘God’s punishment’ is offensive. It’s bad enough we get people like Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella and Greens leader Bob Brown duelling climate change theories while Queenslanders are sandbagging their homes or digging bodies out of the mud. We don’t need religion as well.

People might be out there on the internet posting about their situation on Facebook and Twitter. They might be telling perfect strangers standing in front of them in the supermarket queue how worried they are about their relatives in the cyclone zone. In the immediate aftermath, they might laugh distractedly or burst into tears and babble into a microphone for a reporter. If people choose to share that fear and trauma with others, it’s their way of coping, of reaching out. They want to know that someone out there hears them and acknowledges what they’re going through – even if it’s only someone with a weird username like ‘Bobluvsballoons999’ who they don’t know and will never talk to again.

And if they want to seek transcendent explanations, they’ll ask. They’ll go to their churches, ring their clergy, ask friends who share their faith.

They don’t want to be told that the reason their family is in serious danger is because we have an atheist Prime Minister and an ‘openly gay’ Greens leader, so we’d better turf them out and make a good, heterosexual, Christian man the leader of our country. (That one came courtesy of Danny Nalliah and Catch the Fire Ministries; but the disgusting Westboro Baptist Church wasn’t far behind with its howling, gleeful condemnation).

They’re not interested in platitudes about the-Lord-working-in-mysterious-ways-His-wonders-to-perform, or how there’s a Lesson in this for all of us. They don’t want to hear about how all this was predicted in Revelation and by the way, it’s repentance time, step right this way, we have counsellors waiting to pray with you.

They couldn’t care less that their situation is so much less horrible than what’s going on in Egypt or Brazil or wherever, and they should be thankful.

And they’re particularly not interested in how these disasters are the harbingers of the Great New Age Ascension as Gaia births herself into a new Utopian Era and we should all come and ‘midwife’ the changes so that we can go the next level. As if the terror of a little girl hearing her neighbourhood tear apart around her can be assuaged by telling her she can ‘level up’ and go play with the benevolent aliens – assuming she survives.

So all you proselytising, insensitive bastards … take your religion and peddle it elsewhere.

You don’t get the right to capitalise on people’s pain any more than politicians do. You’re not entitled.

You want to help? Pull on some gumboots and fill some sandbags. Get into the disaster areas and help with cleanup. Sit silently beside someone who’s crying their eyes out and hand them tissues and a cup of tea. Wear your uniforms or your badges if you must, so that anyone who wants to find you can do so, but don’t you dare presume that gives you an invitation to spruik your particular philosophy.

You’d be the first to exclaim at how unfeeling it would be if a bunch of particularly militant atheists fronted up to tell disaster victims that there was no God, it was all just blind chance that they got hurt, so sorry.

Have some simple, decent, human compassion. Don’t hand them your carefully marked-up Bible or waft your patchouli-drenched crystals over them. Give them a hug, bring them a blanket and make vaguely comforting noises.

Then leave them alone. Believe me, if they want to find you, they will.


12 Responses to Cyclone Yasi and some thoughts on those ‘religious explanations’

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  3. […] Meanwhile I’m surfing cable news and Twitter, and trying to figure out whether I can get some washing done before it rains again. […]

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    • Fergie says:

      Added to this, didn’t pretty much all of QLD vote Liberal at the last Federal election?

      Kinda pokes a giant hole in the “God’s wrath” theory.

  5. Lizard Overlord says:

    Well you know how I feel – I think it completely deluded and self indulgent to assume that just because someone was ‘homeless (ie left a relationship and had to find accomodation or felt they had to be homeless in order to ‘grow’), that of course they understand what all those people in Qld are feeling.

    Self indulgent, insensitive, arrogant fucktards – Of course, me and my kind will eat them first !

  6. MsPraxis says:

    Thank you. Something needs to be done about Danny Nailliah, whom I think is actually mentally ill. That he gets so much publicity and has influence over quite a lot of people makes him quite dangerous IMO.

    The rest of the god-squad though will always suffer the cognitive dissonance of their beliefs in times of natural disaster. Frustratingly, it’s what they’ve always done.

    Meanwhile,the real world understands that it’s nature and nothing more (helped along a bit by global warming, unfortunately).

    Great post. Thanks.

  7. MarionGroves says:

    Surely if God was in the mood for hellfire & brimstone he’d have unleashed his ire in Sydney on Gay Mardi Gras night, not on the good citizens of FNQ. But there is no arguing the point with the religious fundies; their madness chases itself in a maniacal self-justifying loop. Thanks for your “small still voice” of reason Marian.

  8. Legless says:

    Just imagine for a second that this *was* God’s judgement for having an atheist PM and not stoning all of our gays to death.

    Not much of a punishment was it? So far, not *one* death, not *one* serious injury. So, using the religious crazies logic this must mean that God actively *approves* of Australia and it’s leaders. A category 5 cyclone hits us and nobody dies? Someone is watching over us……

    Use that argument with the religious bigots and watch them spontaneously combust…


  9. 17catherines says:

    I believe the appropriate quote from this occasion comes from 1 Kings (why yes, it is the Old Testament):

    And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:

    12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

    Seems pretty clear to me. God isn’t about natural disasters, nor is he/she in natural disasters, except inasmuch as I believe God (of your choice – I’m lapsed-Anglican agnostic but am fairly sure there is a God of some kind) is with everyone who is in peril or fear and with everyone who is working to alleviate this.

    Sorry to go all vaguely theological on you, but I feel rather strongly about this one myself.

  10. Random says:

    Thank you.

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