Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More "biblical" floods

...I thought he said he wasn't going to do that anymore.

The Sunday Times Online (UK) chose to lede an article about the floods in Mexico with: "'Biblical' flood leaves Mexico battling to cope."

Sure it gives the horror of the Tabasco state an extra kick, but how helpful is it to relate a natural disaster to the Bible? If the writers were going for rhetorical flair, there is no short supply of flood stories; the Bible is a calculated choice and not an innocuous one.

The flood in Tabasco is not the only flood to be proclaimed "biblical" (e.g. Katrina, the 2004 Tsunami, and the Midwest floods of 1996) nor is it the only disaster to align itself with biblical themes (famines in Sudan or the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth in the UK). It lends a reassuring "tale-as-old-as-time" feel to an otherwise horrifying story, it relieves the rest of us mere mortals of blame and it leaves room for redemption; after all, the flood story ended happily for at least one family who went on to populate the earth.

But how cruel is it to compare a modern day disaster with a story about God wiping out all the wicked from the face of the earth? Chalking it all up to divine providence is one way we can fall asleep without feeling obliged to buy the first available plane ticket to Mexico and head out with a box full of canned goods, some rope, and waist-high Wellies. But at a time when fundamentalists are plotting our course along the road to Rapture, do journalists really need be handing anyone push pins?

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