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Old North Church Blames America

By Tyler S. Clark (Contact)

Published May 30, 2008

Old North Church in Canfield is blaming New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. Not for the reasons you might expect, like for building a city below sea level, but for wickedness—a la Sodom and Gomorrah.

You typically read and hear that liberals "blame America first," but this is just an ad hominem attack to divert the discussion from an honest look at American foreign policy. Here, with echoes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell after 9/11 and, more recently, John Hagee's comments on Hurricane Katrina during a Fresh Air interview, we can see who's really blaming America.

On its Web site, the Old North Church features three dozen articles by Dr. Charles McGowen, who balances out an impressive bio as an internist as an authority in the theology of Intelligent Design. His essay on "God and Katrina" blames the city of New Orleans and American culture for Hurricane Katrina, which he says was undoubtedly divine retribution for wickedness, if not for a gay-rights parade he heard might have been scheduled for about that time.

He begins, "If Katrina had not pleased our Almighty God and His eternal purpose, He would have stopped it's [sic] insidious progress in a nanosecond; he is that powerful." He continues, "Whatever God's reasons for causing, or allowing, the recent hurricane, we who know God are convinced that He either caused it, or merely allowed it, for the right reasons." Dr. McGowen proceeds to list the Religious Right's typical bogeymen: abortion, secularism, tolerance, evolution, and homosexuality.

These alleged reasons for America's punishment, of course, are nothing more than the rights, liberties, and enlightened realizations of a liberal (small "l") democratic republic that—at least by design—ensures the freedoms of its minorities are not encumbered by the powerful religious bloc that controls its government. Take, for instance, last week's ruling by the California Supreme Court overturning a ban on same-sex weddings.

Focus on the Family's James Dobson called it a "judicial tyranny" against the "will of the people." The same nonsense is heard every time the majority gangs up to codify into law its distaste for the minority and the law is exposed as the unconstitutional legislated intolerance everyone else knew it to be. Legislatures that enact laws preventing the union of two people because of their gender are wrongfully discriminatory and in violation of the constitution. The courts are the natural and rightful place for the laws to be struck down.

This week, in New York, Governor David Paterson instructed state agencies to review regulations so that same-sex unions officiated out-of-state could be recognized by the state. Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Brian Raum predictably complained, "He's trampling on the democratic process… overstepping his authority and violating the separation of powers." Yet, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in New York has set clear precedent that the state must recognize out-of-state marriages, and the justice writing the opinion for the court stated, "[S]ame-sex marriages solemnized abroad…are entitled to recognition in New York."

In both cases, the democratic process is working. Elected and appointed officials are doing their jobs to protect the constitutional rights of all, to the consternation of a powerful, intolerant, vocal faction. In retaliation, the Religious Right continues to wage a decades-long crusade against minority rights, reproductive freedom, scientific literacy, public television, public education, sensible energy policy, and the separation of church and state.

It's a nice racket they have going for them. Blame their political opponents for everything in the culture going down the drain: activist judges flout the rule of law, and hedonistic liberals pervert society's morals. Meanwhile, under the guise of holy writ, they can claim any natural disaster that serves their purpose is the Final Word from On High. To quote again from Dr. McGowen, "God has everything to do with everything in the universe and within heaven itself. He either directly causes or otherwise allows everything to occur that ever has happened or ever will happen in the whole earth, inside all of heaven and throughout the entire universe."

But this goes too far. After all, if God "directly causes or otherwise allows everything to occur" and, as the theme of the paper is stated succinctly on its last page, "America is deserving of judgement for those reasons alluded to above"—taking that argument to its logical extension—America is to blame for (and this is just to review the present decade) 9/11; the 2002 crash of an Air China Boeing 767 and death of its 128 passengers; a lightning strike that same year which set of a blaze consuming nearly 500,000 acres in Oregon and California; the 2004 earthquake and resulting tsunami in Thailand and surrounding areas, killing over 185,000 with tens of thousands still unaccounted for; and let's not forget the 150,000 men and women of our armed forces who, after returning from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have filed for disability and the more than 4,000 who have died there.

Dr. McGowen states that "God need not apologize for any of His acts." If he truly believes there is a God who would cause or permit these atrocities and who needn't make amends for them and that they are a direct response to America's liberties, he either has a warped sense of God, America, or both. Old North Church should see this naked intolerance for what it is and reject it and his writings. If not, I hope we will not see any "Remember 9/11" or "Support the Troops" bumper stickers in their parking lot while they sit inside praising the God that is, he implies, inviting terror and killing troops.

Whether dishonestly or out of ignorance, on page 5, Dr. McGowen mischaracterizes evolution as based on chance as opposed to a dynamic, natural process stemming from the interaction of heredity, variation, and natural selection. Science always has more to discover; this is part of the scientific process. A method based on observation and evidence can be tested and retested, and its theories and conclusions are refined as new discoveries are made. This does not mean that it is somehow flawed; rather it is the only means of understanding a topic as complex and ancient as human origin. Instead of blaming America for tragedies in its backyard and the world over, Dr. McGowen should recognize his own small-mindedness and, like Dr. Seuss's Grinch, find a way to enlarge his heart a few sizes. By accepting the truth of human evolution, he might be more willing to embrace the interconnectedness, universality, and equality of humanity, regardless of creed or sexual preference, from Canfield to New Orleans to California to New York. Can I get an "amen?"

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