It is hardly a surprise that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita turned the minds of many to God. Even before the water receded, fire and brimstone types like Repent America eagerly claimed that Katrina was God’s vengeance on a wicked New Orleans about to host an annual gay celebration. Others concluded that God sent Katrina to destroy the Gulf Coast gambling industry. Never mind that New Orleans was also hosting a Paramedic conference when Katrina struck, and along the coast, Katrina was an equal opportunity destroyer, smashing churches and homes of the godly along with casinos and hotels.
Others also see confirmation of settled beliefs in the hurricane Rorschach: Islamic firebrand Louis Farrakhan (as reported in the Philadelphia Enquirer) is quite certain that God sent Katrina to punish America for the invasion of Iraq. A subtler view espoused in the spiritual progressive magazine, Tikkun, sees the wheel of karma in the spiral of the hurricane — a natural event was turned into a disaster by human folly.
It seems that these hurricanes merely reinforced the beliefs of the faithful, and perhaps also turned some strays back into believers. Anecdotal reports suggest church attendance is up, but I doubt anyone is switching beliefs because of the disaster. Katrina hit America in the bible belt’s solar plexus, and the response is merely to take things in a notch and believe more deeply than ever.
But the religious outcomes of disasters are not always so certain. The Great Lisbon Quake of the 18th century helped erode Catholic belief, and the jury is still out on the consequences of January’s Sumatran tsunami — for more, see my essay, The best of all possible worlds in the “Essay” section of my site.