As America drifts away from orthodox religious belief, God becomes less and less personal and more and more political.  The secular world surrounds and absorbs the spiritual.  In the 21st century, the Lord joins political parties, circulates petitions, stumps for candidates.  The Rev. Jesse Jackson, in a Chicago Sun-Times column, tells us that “[a] conservative Christian is a contradiction in terms . . . Jesus was a liberal . . . ”

Small wonder that evangelical Christians—accustomed to seeing God’s hand in the workings of the world—attributed the devastating consequences of Katrina and Rita to God’s anger over a variety of misbehaviors.  You would expect Pat Robertson to blame the winds and flooding on abortion, and he did (though he did not say—as reported by Dateline Hollywood—that Katrina was God’s punishment for allowing New Orleans-reared Ellen Degeneres to host the Emmy Awards).  Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America, went even further: “[W]e must not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long . . . May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God.”

Surprisingly, however, many commentators attributed these disasters to a left-leaning deity, one who punishes both our domestic wrongs and our sins abroad.  Environmentalists claimed that God was chastising America for SUVs and aerosol cans.  Others saw the hurricanes as retribution for social injustice.  Thus, Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote that “this is a classic case of the law of karma, or what the Torah warns of environmental disaster unless we create a just society, or what others call watching the chickens come home to roost, or what goes around comes around.”

Some saw Katrina and Rita as punishment for America’s intervention in the Middle East.  Muslim websites were filled with triumphalist rhetoric: “Allahu akbar.  Soldiers of God, Hurricane Katrina demolishes America.  Don’t think that God doesn’t care about the injustices of tyrants.”

Conversely, supporters of Israel claimed that God sent the devastation to chastise America for her role in forcing Jewish settlers to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.  Rabbi Ovadia Yoself (cited on Al Jazeera’s website) put it this way: “Bush was behind the (expulsion of) Gush Katif.  He encouraged Sharon to expel Gush Katif . . . we had 15,000 people expelled here, and there 150,000 (were expelled).  It was God’s retribution.”

Black political leaders mixed Divine attribution with the usual attacks on white racism.  Lewis E. Logan, a Los Angeles AME pastor, shouted: “[I]t is not a coincidence that it is exactly 50 years from the time of (inaudible) lynching and murder.  That it is not a coincidence that the storm’s name is a sister.  Katrina.  For she represents the collective cries of mothers who have lost their sons (applause) to the brutality (louder applause) and the murderous grip of this racist white supremacist American culture (frenzied applause).”

In far-off California, it was easy to ignore the obvious: that blacks suffered disproportionately from Katrina and Rita.  At ground zero, Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans avoided that mistake.  In a diatribe laced with obscenities and snarling accusations, he warned of future wrath, saying, “I have no idea what [federal officials] are doing.  But I will tell you this: You know, God is looking down on all this, and if they are not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price.”

Apparently, not one of these commentators entertained the idea that his people could be responsible for God’s wrath—or for the chaos that followed.  Only political enemies were to blame.  Thus, while denouncing the President, Nagin excused looters by saying they were merely looking for food and water.  (The TV cameras caught black policewomen in an abandoned Wal-Mart, leisurely filling their shopping carts with clothes.)  Snipers shot at rescue teams with the same moral certitude that the mayor displayed, and the corpses of hundreds of drowned school buses yellowed the water, while the mayor called on Washington to send every available Greyhound to New Orleans.

At this point, God—hearing each faction claim His favor—must have regretted stirring up those hurricanes in the first place.