facts on faith | August 30, 2011

Taming the Storm: Stephen Prothero on Religion and Natural Disasters

How many Americans think Hurricane Irene—or any natural disaster—is God’s doing? This is the question Stephen Prothero, a religious expert and repeat Colbert guest, tackles in his latest post for CNN’s Belief Blog. Riding out the storm in Cape Cod, Prothero writes, “American society as a whole no longer interprets natural disasters as signs of some coming apocalypse or evidence of some past misdeeds. And those that do ([Pat] Robertson, for example), we generally regard as cranks and outliers—relics of a bygone age. ” Prothero, the bestselling author of Religious Literacy, concludes: “the overwhelming majority of American Christians believe that when God has something to say, He speaks in less dramatic ways, including the still small voices in our hearts and the slightly louder voices of the preachers in our pulpits.”

Stephen Prothero, who once conducted a world religions course via Twitter, is a lively modern voice on religious matters. His Irene post is exemplary of the way he talks about faith-based America: he treats all sides with respect and avoids the pitfalls of us vs. them; religion vs. science; secularism vs. belief. An intelligent, and, it must be said, quite funny, speaker, Prothero helps us understand the powerful effect religion has on every aspect of modern life, from foreign wars to the 2012 Presidential election, a heated contest whose various players all have differing religious beliefs that inform their decision-making. Prothero reminds us that, if we don’t possess even a basic understanding of religions (which, sadly, most Americans don’t), we are also blind to what drives many of today’s most pressing issues.

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