Is Oklahoma OK?
My older brother lives in Norman Oklahoma (because he’s a professor at the University of Oklahoma, that’s why), and so I take a bit more interest in the Sooner state than the average person, especially when it comes to their weather. And lately, the weather hasn’t been too good. Yes, it is indeed tornado season in the Midwest, and Oklahoma is pretty much ground zero. Oklahoma sits at the heart of “Tornado Alley”, which stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, and while Texas technically experiences more total tornadoes, Kansas and Oklahoma rank at the top for tornadoes per square mile. But tornadoes are not the only natural disaster plaguing Oklahoma these days. It now has earthquakes to deal with as well, although it never used to. Last year the state experienced almost 900 3+ magnitude earthquakes; in 2007 it recorded just 1. In fact, according to the Federal government, parts of Oklahoma are now as seismic as parts of California and Alaska, long the nation’s leaders in earthquakes. It’s debatable whether all these earthquakes fit under the “natural disaster” category, as many scientists (including my brother, who is a geologist) blame the increased seismic activity on the process of hydraulic fracking, but no one is absolutely sure, and, at any rate, earthquakes are historically thought of as fitting into the “natural disaster” category.
In early human times (from the “Dark Ages” on back) societies frequently associated natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes with the wrath of God(s). Somebody was doing something wrong, and so to demonstrate his displeasure God unleashed a tornado or two. But advances in science allowed us to understand the real reasons behind such phenomena and so mankind left these superstitions behind. If only that were completely true. Because certain segments of our population (i.e. religious fundamentalists) still believe such nonsense despite what science has taught us over the past millennium or so. Just a few examples: After Hurricane Katrina Pastor John Hagee said he believed that God caused the largest natural disaster in U.S. history to stop a scheduled gay pride parade in New Orleans. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti Pat Robertson said that Haiti had been targeted by the almighty because it had “made a pact with the devil”. Preacher Cindy Jacobs of the Generals International Ministry linked the 2011 Japanese tsunami to the United States’ “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” gays in the military policy, although why God would punish Japan for American military policy is unclear.
Now, curiously enough, it is the state of Oklahoma, which is one of the most pious states in the Union, that is being hit with these disasters. The Pew Research Center rates Oklahoma as the 8th most religious state in the country. If, as obviously many fundamentalist religious types believe, natural disasters are an expression of God’s wrath against the wayward, why are the pious people of Oklahoma being hit by so many of them? And more interestingly still, where are the fundamentalist voices asking if perhaps Oklahoma is doing something wrong? Personally, I don’t believe this fundamentalist claptrap, but I question whether fundamentalists really do either, or whether the whole God’s wrath dogma is just ultra-religious types using the almighty as a kind of Boogie Man to scare people into following their hard-right political beliefs. Otherwise, they really would be questioning what Oklahomans are doing wrong that has subjected them to God’s righteous anger. If there is a God, he must be awfully tired of being used this way. Maybe that’s the real reason why he keeps throwing lightning bolts (and tornadoes and hurricanes) at the Sooner state (just kidding). So is Oklahoma ok? Doesn’t look that way to me, but the reasons have nothing to do with gods or the supernatural and everything to do with phenomena for which there are scientific explanations, if only people’s minds are open enough to hear them.