Why does the sun rise in the morning?
If you asked a caveman in 5000 BCE, he might say “ugh” and point at the horizon and his eye. That’s Caveman for “My ancestors died and now live in the sky, and they push the orange ball up every morning so we can see to hunt woolly mammoths.” He’d then hop on a brontosaurus and continue his work in a quarry.
Fast forward a bit, and you’d get answers like “the Good Lord’s divine providence shines upon us,” or other supernatural answers. They’d likely be burning someone at the stake, but they’d pause to kindly answer your question. Puritans were notoriously hospitable, always stopping whatever they were toiling at to greet a stranger. Then they’d get right back to toiling, lest the Lord smite them for sloth.
But if you asked anyone of average intelligence in 2017, they’d tell you that the sun is the center around which the earth orbits. Our stationary position on a sphere—as the sphere rotates—makes far away objects appear as if they are moving.
Side note: “As The Sphere Rotates” would be a good name for a melodramatic daily TV show aimed primarily at retirees, homemakers, and those who have been injured by the negligence of an 18-wheeler. Someone should make that happen.
In the absence of real answers to “why” questions, humans invented stories to put their own minds at ease. Over time, trial, error, cause, and effect all added up to manifest themselves in the scientific method.
Both logical and illogical hypotheses were picked off until only the most provable, replicable ones were left. Theories wove their way into myths until the passed-down storybook details became silly in contrast. What was once heresy became scientific law, and eventually common knowledge.
For years, humans threw virgins into volcanoes to appease “the gods” and protect the villages below. And if the volcano blows anyway? Besides not knowing where I’m-a gonna go, the girl we threw in must have not been pure. Let’s kill her family just to be safe.
But through scientific research, we know now that volcanoes and earthquakes happen primarily due to movement of tectonic plates. Not, it turns out, due to a lack of virgin sacrifices. Crazy! I know, I was as surprised as anyone.
For generations, we sacrificed goats and calves in any number of specific, religious-elder-approved ways to try to influence the weather. And if the rain doesn’t cooperate? I’ll bet it was because that wasn’t really the best goat or calf in the lot. Either that or you sliced it up wrong, you nincompoop. You can’t fool the immortal God of all creation, who apparently wants dead goat and calf carcasses as presents.
But through scientific research, we understand now that hurricanes develop as a natural consequence of specific atmospheric pressures and temperatures over water. Among the most thankful for this advance were goats and calves.
The list goes on, but you get it. Namely because you’re not a serf from the Dark Ages.
If, however, you are a serf from the Dark Ages, you might be attracted to the writings of people who, like religious elders of yore, ignore logic and instead blame every natural or manmade disaster on the wrath of God. Conveniently, that wrath is always wrought due to the wrongdoing of some scapegoat other than the direct audience of the asshole misinformed leader making the assertion.
Hurricane wiping out New Orleans? Surely it has nothing to do with the Big Easy’s location six feet below sea level, wedged neatly between the Gulf of Mexico and enormous Lake Pontchartrain. Nah. It was probably “the gays.”
“The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the streets. We’re calling it an act of God.” – Michael Marcavage, President of Repent America.
Hurricane trounces my hometown, Houston? Well, duh, it’s clearly due to the fact that Houston used to have a mayor who was a lesbian. Sure, she hasn’t been the mayor now for over a year and a half, but that’s exactly the kind of “taking it out of context” we’ve come to expect from naysayers. It’s like the old adage says, “A hurricane as retribution for the existence of homosexuality is a dish best served cold.”
“Here’s a city that has boasted of its LGBT devotion, its affinity for the sexual perversion movement in America. They’re underwater.” – Fundamentalist Christian radio host Rick Wiles.
Sure, those wacky gays absolutely brought on Katrina and Harvey. Everyone knows that. Write this shit down: Gay people attract hurricanes. Ever wonder why San Francisco is so hurricane-prone? Now you know.
But not all religious leaders are so narrow-minded. Some, in fact, think gays had little or nothing to do with hurricanes. That’s because their personal hotline to their God tells them that it’s actually women getting abortions that causes the massive storms.
“In my belief, God judged New Orleans for the sin of shedding innocent blood through abortion,” – Steve Lefemine, anti-abortion activist who claimed to see the shape of an 8-week human fetus in the radar image of Hurricane Katrina.
I can relate to Steve. If I squint just right, I can see the image of Christ in a mole on my right butt cheek. I should probably get it checked out, as Christ is growing and changing shape and color rapidly.
Some of the leveragers-of-sorrow-and-misery know better than to attach a specific group to their blame. You get more long-term traction out of blaming “everyone who doesn’t do what you think they should,” and you get the wiggle room in case someone wants to paint you as a bigoted idiot.
“…we know that weather is sent to cause us to respond to God in humility, awe and repentance.” – Former child star and current wingnut Kirk Cameron.
“I have felt―and I was afraid to share it with anybody―that this flood is from God. It’s a judgment on America somehow.” – Televangelist, prepper/huckster, and convicted felon Jim Bakker.
Pro tip: if you find yourself on the same side of an argument as Kirk Cameron or Jim Bakker, you’re probably an unmitigated ass clown. If you find yourself on the same side of an argument as both Kirk Cameron AND Jim Bakker, you’re probably the dean of Ass Clown University.
People generally understand why things happen from a mechanical standpoint. So why do people assign mystical malevolence toward [gays, abortion, the ACLU] to events beyond their control? Why do some people reason—in 2017—in the same way virgin-volcano-tossers and goat-and-calf-sacrificers did in olden days?
Because blaming victims makes people feel morally superior while it gives them a sense of control over random chance.
Blaming victims relieves us of possible fault in creating the atmosphere that allowed the disaster. And a leader telling us the disaster was someone else’s fault plays right into our tendency toward confirmation bias.
To be fair, the fact that human life is finite is scary. Thankfully, it’s a reality we generally keep tucked far away. But flash round-the-clock live feeds of water and wind destroying our neighbors’ homes, and our evolutionary fear of death (be it ours or our loved ones’) creeps back into our consciousness.
Our brains are “difference engines,” of sorts. It’s the reason the game “20 Questions” works. We quickly distinguish the differences between individual bits of information, and we do it over and over so fast that we don’t realize it’s happening.
It’s understandable, then, that our brains would seek to quash any signs of fear of death or loss via differences.
I wouldn’t have driven off into that ravine like that guy did because I’m not an idiot. I know my way around these roads like the back of my hand. What the hell was he doing out and about in such bad weather?! Probably out looking for some trouble to get into. Anyone driving in that flood was taking their life into their own hands, they should have known better.
My kids wouldn’t have gotten abducted in that situation because I am a not a terrible parent, like those kids’ parents must be. First off, we don’t hang out in those bad neighborhoods. And I’m a good parent who watches my children’s every move, every second of every day.
The cops would have never shot me during a traffic stop because I don’t break the law, and I would have been polite and respectful during the entire ordeal. What the hell do you expect, driving around at 2 am. Anyone who gets gunned down by the cops ultimately brought it on themselves by the way they acted.
We blame the victim for their predicament to distance ourselves from the actuarial certainty that bad stuff happens, and the luck of the draw that it didn’t happen to us. It’s much more comforting to think we avoided bad outcomes because we’re smarter or better or different than someone else. If we were to stop and process, it’s just too scary to think it all just came down to luck.
Blaming “sinners” when you consider yourself a saint is no different. It allows you to sleep easy in the security that you pray to the right being and read the right sacred text. Whatever happened to those folks happened because they, at least in part, either directly or indirectly, deserved it.
Maybe they voted for Democrats who were pro-choice and kept the doors of Planned Parenthood open. Or they supported a lesbian politician. Or they were in favor of marriage equality. Or they were against prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments in courthouses.
They clearly think and act differently than I do. I’m sitting high and dry, and God smacked them mightily for turning their back on Him. The wages of sin is death. That’ll teach those fuckers non-believers.
Of course, that’s all completely illogical, and it falls apart as soon as something bad happens to “good Christian folks.” But it was also illogical to chuck virgins into liquid hot magma. That didn’t stop the elders from ordering it on a regular basis. And when it didn’t work, it didn’t stop the elders from blaming the virgin and her family.
Hurricanes strike the Gulf Coast because it’s in the path where hurricanes tend to spawn. When hurricanes hit, it floods in Houston because it’s at sea level and they developed every square foot of wetlands into subdivisions. It’s not magic, it’s logic.
Unfortunately, the folks who blame gays and abortion and sin for hurricanes have an agenda, and they don’t have to hurdle even a tiny bit of logic to work their hoodoo.
And that’s because the people to whom they are preaching never use logic for much of anything.