To dive into the wide-ranging and rarely coherent collection of theories that ascribe motive — be it satanic, godly, Gaian or otherwise — to the movements of Hurricane Irma is to risk being immediately overwhelmed by them. They are endless and everywhere, from the mouth of Kirk Cameron to a mass prayer on Periscope, in which thousands commanded demons to vacate the eye of the storm.
We may as well start on the secular end of this thought spectrum — specifically with that thing Jennifer Lawrence said.
“You know,” she said, “you’re watching these hurricanes now, and it’s really hard, especially while promoting this movie, not to feel Mother Nature’s rage.”
Lawrence was referring to a movie she’d just starred in, which she was talking up in an otherwise innocuous interview with Channel 4 last week when the host asked her about the election of President Trump, and the enduring skepticism about climate change. The actress lamented both — then brought up from nowhere the consequential rage of the sentient planet.
She took a drubbing. For “blaming powerful hurricanes on Trump,” as one critic put it. Or for blaming them on climate change, as the antiabortion activist Randall Terry interpreted her remark, before suggesting another mover of storms:
“These hurricanes are not the result of global warming; they are the Judgment of God because of the innocent blood crying to Him for vengeance,” Terry wrote on Christian Newswire.
Hurricanes for abortions, then. And from this point on in our exploration, God will be dragged into nearly every wild explanation of Hurricane Irma, or Hurricane Harvey before it, or the solar eclipse before that — or the coincidence of all of them, as the more apocalyptic theories elaborate upon.
Re: Harvey, the televangelist Jim Bakker quickly blamed the deadly flood it caused upon God, as Dana Milbank noted for The Washington Post.
On Bakker’s YouTube show Friday, a room full of co-hosts added to the list of divine charges: Irma in Florida, wildfires on the West Coast, the eclipse and an especially ominous spate of tremors around the Yellowstone volcano.
“Our East Coast is being engulfed in water, and our West Coast is on fire,” Ricky Bakker noted, and asked: “Why is the earth being so shaken?”
He answered himself a few minutes later: “Judgment is coming to America.”
He meant a biblical judgment that precedes the Bible’s final, gloomy prophecies — and then the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The younger Bakker was hardly the only one to link Irma to the Rapture.
Before the moon crossed the sun across the continental United States last month, an evangelical blogger named Gary Ray told The Post of his great anticipation. “The Bible says a number of times that there’s going to be signs in the heavens before Jesus Christ returns,” he said.
The eclipse was one of them. The next, Ray believed, would be on Sept. 23, when a pattern of stars in the sky resembled a woman clothed in the sun written of in the Book of Revelation.
But Ray didn’t have to wait until Sept. 23 for his next sign. “Events are now speeding up,” he wrote last week in a blog post, which featured treatises on the spiritual, numerological and cosmic import of Harvey and Irma.
“The world’s house of cards is being shaken,” Ray wrote. “It won’t take much for it to come crashing down.”
And so on, across the country, online and off. On Twitter, Julee Dao (64 followers) attained virality by discovering that, well, we’ll just let her explain:
yALL. eclipse was on the 21st, harvey began on the 25th, floods started on 26th. if you google "21 25 26", this comes up pic.twitter.com/cw460ifz3X
— Julee Dao (@juleedao_) September 5, 2017
And in Harlem, the New York Times observed, a street preacher ranted about hurricanes and Kim Jong Un alike. “You could be forgiven for thinking apocalyptic thoughts” in such circumstances, the Times wrote. And even a meteorology professor told The Post he could sort of understand the end-of-times vibe.
It all feels a little familiar to Jamie Aten, an evangelical Christian and psychologist at Wheaton College, who specializes in the effects of disasters on the religious mind.
Aten remembered going to church in Mississippi one day in 2005, when another monstrous hurricane was looming over a frightened country.
“The pastor informed us Hurricane Katrina was headed toward our community,” he said. “He actually said if the hurricane hit and people evacuated, they had a lack of faith in God.”
As a Christian, Aten believes in the power of God and prayer. But as a psychologist, he said, he’s observed a tendency in people to blame natural disasters on the supernatural — “because there’s no one else you can point to.”
He rattled off examples: “God sent the earthquake to Haiti because of voodoo; or God sent Katrina to New Orleans because of casinos; or God sent the terrorists on 9/11 because of lifestyle issues in New York.”
Extreme theories always capture the popular imagination, Aten said — even if most Christians don’t believe them, himself included.
“You’ve got those saying this is inevitable; it’s the end times; the apocalypse is happening now,” he said. “Then on the other extreme, you’ve got those saying you can pray away the hurricane.”
About the latter (and now we can finally leave the apocalypse behind):
“Spare our city of serious injury and death. Please, God, help us,” said the pastor Garry Clark, clutching a chain and anchor on YouTube as Irma barreled toward his church in South Florida.
Clark didn’t say how God would save Florida from the hurricane or suggest that God directly controlled the storm. But other men of the cloth have expounded on the subject in great detail.
“God is sovereign over the weather and natural causes,” wrote Mark Creech, director of the Christian Action League in North Carolina. “My wife, Kim, and I have been earnestly praying and asking God to send this terrible tempest out to sea, sparing life, injury, and property.”
So, too, were Lance Wallnau and some of the 5,000 viewers who joined him on Periscope late last week — to pray that Irma divert from its path toward Miami, and go back out to sea.
“We pray in these storms that you will send the hosts of heaven to shred the demonic fury that is driving the coming together of these winds,” Wallnau said, his arms occasionally waving about the room as if caught themselves in those satanic winds.
He paused from talk of demons to explain what he knew about the science atmospheric pressure — that the more millibars of it the storm had, the weaker it became.
“We command the millibars to rise!” Wallnau yelled. “We command the millibars to rise, rise, rise rise, and we command that storm, in the name of Jesus, you will — poosh! — off to the ocean … off to the ocean it goes.”
His viewers joined in — a flood of written prayers and little hearts to sway God to sway a storm.
But Irma drifted in the opposite direction. It entered the Gulf on Saturday night and took direct aim at Florida’s west coast.
Wallnau released another video the same night.
It was called: “The Hurricane of God?”