NOTE: This is still Andrew Gumbel sitting in for Marc.
It dawned on me, when I was visiting the hurricane-ravaged Mississippi coast last week, that the scene before me was not unlike the Christian fundamentalist vision of the Rapture -- that moment when all righteous believers are transported to Heaven in an instant, and the rest of us are left to grapple with sin, chaos, satanic tyranny and very, very bad weather. Here, on the side of I-35 in Waveland, deep in the American Bible Belt, was row upon row of abandoned cars, their owners nowhere in sight, with other storm-tossed cars piled awkwardly on top along with the occasional sweater or refrigerator door. Homes and businesses were simply abandoned, in some cases with the screen doors left wide open. Waveland City Hall was simply wiped off the planet.
With Hurricane Rita now barreling in across the Gulf of Mexico, threatening Category 5 winds and yet more damage of historic proportions, the fundamentalists themselves are clearly thinking their own apocalyptic thoughts. "People need to pick up that blessed Book and they will see that all of these things are supposed to come to pass," reads one typical post-Katrina, pre-Rita fundamentalist website entry. "The prophesies in the Bible are being fulfilled every day. People, please repent before it is too late."
According to a Mississippi church called These Last Days Ministries, the hurricanes are a harbinger of the Tribulation, the turbulent period immediately preceding the return of Jesus Christ and the Last Judgement. The best thing to do, in fact, if you find yourself in the path of the storm is not to evacuate or rely on FEMA but rather stick a crucifix on your front door and hope for the best. If you purchase "Heaven's Personal Protection Packet" (yours for $5, plus $3 shipping and handling), you will learn how to do this to maximum effect: "Wooden crucifixes adhere better to the doors when the aluminum strap is removed from the back. Put a light coat of cement on the back of the crucifix and then press it to the outside of the door."
Good to know.
There's plenty more babbling along these lines all over fundamentalist cyberspace. We've already had the theory that Katrina was God's punishment for Louisiana abortion clinics, on the basis that a satellite picture of the storm resembled a six-week-old fetus. Now one site suggests the hurricanes are a conspiracy going all the way back to the Middle Ages aimed specifically at the demolition of American civilization. Gotta love this line: "There is far more to the hurricanes than meets the eye, for the agenda of the Prieure de Sion is global revolution and world domination, not weather research."
Will the politicians take advantage of the fears and dreams of their evangelical constituents? (Already I've seen evidence that government relief on the ground is being outsourced to faith-based organizations, but perhaps that is a separate issue.) Or is this one time when all the political blather about loving Jesus hits the hard brick wall of reality -- a reality in which the rush for federal dollars, and the frantic reaching for exposed rear ends, trumps all the usual insincere pieties?
On the subject of insincere pieties, you could all do worse than to watch Kinky Friedman's hilarious new animated commercial to promote his insurgent campaign for Texas governor. Watch it, and tell me if you think his needling of the Jesus-spouting mainstream pols is a) funny and b) will win or lose him votes, especially at a time when the follies of humankind are being humbled so by the awe-inspiring forces of nature.