Can Human Moral Failings Cause Natural Disasters?


In the Book of Genesis, God punishes wicked humans by creating a flood to destroy the earth, leaving Noah to salvage biodiversity on his fabled ark. This narrative paradigm – men and women misbehave, God causes a natural disaster – may sound like the stuff of biblical legend. But ask some religious extremists and they’ll tell you that people – women in particular – are causing catastrophic events.

In 2005, a group called Columbia Christians for Life said that women caused Hurricane Katrina by having abortions, evidenced by the fact that satellite images of the storm resembled (if you squint a bit) a six-week-old fetus in utero. Earlier this year, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson claimed that Haitians brought the devastating January earthquake upon themselves when their ancestors signed a (historically dubious) pact with the devil to liberate themselves from the French.

And now, a senior Iranian cleric named Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi says that Iranian women cause earthquakes when they wear immodest clothing. “Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” he said during a prayer sermon. “What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes.”

Inane and bigoted assertions like those above deserve to be reckoned with. But they shouldn’t be reckoned with with even more inanity, which is exactly what happened earlier this week when Jennifer McCreight of Blag Hag staged her much-hyped Boobquake by urging women the world over to harness the tectonic power of their ta-tas by wearing low-cut tops. With nearly 70,000 members participating, according to Boobquake’s Facebook page, the Monday event went off as planned – women bared their breasts, the earth remained still (save for a coincidental quake off the coast of Taiwan), and – as if there were any doubt – the cleric’s theory proved false.

So what’s the problem here? It’s not that McCreight and friends were wrong to confront the sexist statement. And for the record, there’s nothing suspect about women baring their souls or their bodies for a cause. The issue is that Boobquake devolved into a Girls Gone Wild-esque spectacle for the male gaze. According to Salon writer Beth Mann, who reviewed hundreds of comments on the Facebook page, “it seemed to be turning into something else, with many men chiming in, with their ‘show us your tits’ camera-ready attitude. Women on parade again… sigh.”

What’s more, Boobquake, while well-intentioned, didn’t do much to help out the cleric’s target audience – Iranian women. “By Iranian cleric standards, every day in America is boobquake.  And according to the original story, the cleric was chastising not women around the world for flashing a little boob or wearing tight jeans, but going after Iranian women who show a little hair or wear clothes that indicate that a shape might be visible underneath,” notes Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon. Instead of using this as an opportunity to learn about the lives of Iranian women, or to comment on the fact that blaming earthquakes on female immodesty is akin to blaming rape on female immodesty, Boobquake became a diversion.

Next time someone blames a natural disaster on human moral behavior, let’s think our response through a little more. And while we’re at it, how about a little information on the way that humans do contribute to natural disasters – not through moral or immoral activity but through pollution.

Image: Lawrence OP