This seemed like something the list would enjoy seeing given the upcoming
vote here in Vermont.
sarah e. turner
assistant director of writing
department of english
university of vermont
Pat Robertson vs. Intelligence
Do Unnatural Acts Cause Natural Disasters?
Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian
Coalition, recently warned Orlando,
Florida, that it was courting natural
disaster by allowing gay pride flags to
be flown along its streets.
"A condition like this will bring about ...
earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor,"
Apparently he was referring to his belief
that the presence of openly gay people incurs
divine wrath and that God acts through geological
and meteorological events to destroy municipalities
that permit gay people the same civil liberties
as others. (Robertson also warned Orlando about
terrorist bombs, suggesting the possibility that
God may also employ terrorists.)
Before Pat and his Christian cronies get
too carried away promulgating the idea
that natural disasters are prompted by
people who displease God, they should
take a hard look at the data.
Take tornadoes. Every state (except Alaska) has them--
some only one or two a year, dozens in others.
Gay people are in every state (even Alaska).
According to Pat's hypothesis, there should be
more gay people in states that have more
tornadoes. But are there? Nope. In fact,
there's no correlation at all between the
number of gay folks (as estimated by the number
of gay political organizations, support groups,
bookstores, radio programs, and circuit parties)
and the annual tornado count parties) = .04, p = .78
for you statisticians).
So much for the "God hates gays" theory.
God seems almost neutral on the subject of
sexual orientation. I say "almost" because
if we look at the density of gay groups relative
to the population as a whole, there is a small
but statistically significant (p .05) correlation
with the occurrence of tornadoes. And it's a
negative correlation a = -.28).
For those of you who haven't used statistics
since 1973, that means that a high concentration
of gay organizations actually protects against
tornadoes. A state with the population of, say,
Alabama could avert two tornadoes a year merely
by doubling the number of gay organizations in
the state. (Tough choice for Alabama's civil
Although God may not care about sexual
orientation, the same cannot be said for
religious affiliation. If the underlying
tenet of Pat's postulate is true--that God
wipes out offensive folks via natural disasters
--then perhaps we can find some evidence of
who's on God's hit list.
Jews are off the hook here: there's no
correlation between numbers of Jews and
frequency of tornadoes. Ditto for Catholics.
But when it comes to Protestants, there's a
highly significant correlation of .71.
This means that fully half the state-to-state
variation in tornado frequency can be accounted
for by the presence of Protestants. And the
chance that this association is merely
coincidental is only one in 10,000.
Protestants, of course, come in many flavors--
we were able to find statistics for Lutherans,
Methodists, Baptists, and Others. Lutherans
don't seem to be a problem--no correlation with
tornadoes. There's a modest correlation
correlation = .52, p = .0001) between Methodists and
But Baptists and Others share the prize:
both groups show a definite correlation
with tornado frequency correlation = .68, p = .0001).
This means that Texas could cut its average
of 139 tornadoes per year in half by sending
a few hundred thousand Baptists elsewhere
What, you are probably asking yourself, about
gay Protestants? An examination of the numbers
of gay religious groups (mostly Protestant)
reveals no significant relationship with
tornadoes. Perhaps even Protestants are less
repugnant to God if they're gay.
And that brings up another point--the futility
of trying to save the world by getting gay people
to accept Jesus. It looks from our numbers as
if the frequency of natural disasters might be
more effectively reduced by encouraging
Protestants to be gay.
Gay people have been falsely blamed for
disasters ever since Sodom was destroyed by
fire and brimstone. (We have been unable to
find any statistics on disasters involving
brimstone). According to a reliable source,
the destruction of Sodom was indeed an act of
God. (see Genesis 19:13) It's destruction was
perpetrated because the citizens thereof were,
according to the same source (see Ezekiel 16:49-50)
"arrogant, overfed and unconcerned [and] did not
help the poor and needy"--not because they were gay.
Now Pat would have us believe that gays are the
cause of tornadoes (as well as earthquakes,
meteors, and even terrorist bombs) in utter
disregard for evidence showing that Baptists
are much more likely to cause them.
I say "Kudos!" to Orlando. Despite Robertson's
warning that Orlando is "right in the way of
some serious hurricanes" (hardly a revelation),
note that it was not struck by the very
destructive Hurricane Andrew a few years ago.
And amid the recent conflagrations (that's fires)
in central Florida, which occurred just after
Pat sounded his alarm, Orlando was spared.
Keep those flags waving!
As any statistician will tell you, of course,
correlation doesn't prove causation.
Protestants causing tornadoes by angering
God isn't the only explanation for these data.
It could be that Baptists and Other Protestants
purposely flock to states that have lots of
tornadoes (no, we haven't checked for a
correlation between IQ and religious affiliation).
But if Pat and his Christian crew insist that
natural disasters are brought on by people who
offend God, let the data show who those people are.
Janis Walworth July 16, 1998 - Sources:
Tornado Occurrence by State, 1962-1991
1990 Churches and Church Membership;
Population by State, 1990 US Census;
Gay & Lesbian Political Organizations,
Support Groups, and Religious Groups
from Gayellow Pages, National Edition, 1987.
Permission is given to all to reprint this article
in its entirety on a not-for-profit basis.
"Ex Ignorantia Ad Sapientium;
E Luce Ad Tenebras."