THE STUDY AUGUST 29, 2011
With Hurricane Irene and the nameless earthquake behind us, most on the East Coast would agree it’s been a busy week. For Michele Bachmann, though, these two plagues portend something more—a divine warning to Washington. At least that’s what she told a rally of supporters in Florida yesterday, asking when politicians would get the message. That message, which sounds suspiciously similar to Bachmann’s own platform, is to reduce government spending. The comment, which a spokesperson now insists was made “in jest,” raised more than a few eyebrows, but ascribing natural disasters to divine intervention is nothing new: Pat Robertson has seemingly made a career out of blaming earthquakes on abortions and pacts with devil, and Rick Perry tried to pray away the Texas drought this spring. Still, I was curious how many Americans might agree with Bachmann.
Most wouldn’t, according to a phone survey conducted last March (in the wake of the Japanese tsunami) by the Public Religion Research Institute. While 56 percent of Americans believe God controls everything in the world, for most people that’s an abstract principle. Asked whether earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters are a divine sign, only 38 percent of respondents agreed. That means more than three-fifths of Americans would disagree with the premise behind Bachmann’s statement that God uses the weather to send us messages. Not surprisingly, her comment would find more support among white evangelicals, 58 percent of whom believe that natural disasters are a sign from God. But even they might have reason to doubt that God would go Sodom and Gomorra over the federal deficit of all things. And Bachmann still hasn’t addressed the most pressing issue: If God wanted to send D.C. politicos a message, why would He strike during summer recess?