Monday, August 29, 2005

No creature on this earth is more prone to the search for signs and portents than the Christian strayed into agnostic doubt. A childhood's training to the search of the natural world for the traces of the divine and a lifetime's frustrated failure only hones the desire for evidence of the hand of God in nature's affair. This is why Intelligent Design often has friends in strange quarters, and why monstrous events breed wishful thinking as an application of poorly stored manure breeds flies - that is, like the plagues of Egypt.

New Orleans has a history of wickedness. She was a great slaver's entrepot, and a haven for pirates, and a home for famous whores. She was Babylon, and Sodom, and Gomorrah. Her centuries-long survival on the hurricane coast, increasingly exposed and vulnerable with each new grain of silt dropped by the heavy-laden and unnatural Mississippi, preserved in its precarious bed solely for the benefit of the wicked old port, has been a sort of secular miracle. Her continued existence is an argument for a God that loves mankind, even a fallen and savage mankind like that of the city of New Orleans. It is also a strong argument against the sort of vengeful, bitter god of justice and wrath who destroys evil cities and brutally enforces a communal law of shared guilt.

But just as every city is both Gomorrah and Jerusalem, New Orleans is also a city of believers, full of the faithful and innocents. Many of them, poor beyond escape, patiently lined up beside the Superdome, home of the Saints, their last sanctuary, a citadel, the highest ground the city has to offer. What does the sins of history have to do with a woman trying to save her family? She could get out, herself, but she stays with members of her family who could not. She says she has put her life in God's hand, and states for the record that if she should die, it is God's will. Ten honest men such as she, and how could God drown even such a city as New Orleans? On Bourbon Street, the fools party on as the stormclouds appear.

Joe Bastardi wailed all yesterday long, Centre County's own Jeremiah, crying Israel! O Israel! I could not see how the city could survive the storm, which would roll over her walls, smash in her levees, and sweep the hungry sea through her streets.

The morning has brought a thick fog through which I cannot see. The natural expectation is a disaster of biblical proportions. There are a hundred thousands trapped in an exposed city, and it is hard to see how the winds will not smash in the windows of their towers, how the waters will not rush over their walls and wash their elevated dead in a choleratic soup of past pestilences returned.

But the hurricane has weakened, inexplicably. She has shifted, eastwards - attracted, perhaps, by the new-born sins of the Mississippi casino coast? Will it be enough to spare the walls of the city? They say she could have withstood a Cat 3. It's now going to be a Cat 4. If New Orleans survives this, I cannot but say that it would shake my faith in doubt.

I sit in the fog, waiting for miracles.

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