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One of the earliest sources of humanity's religious impulse was severe weather, which ancient peoples attributed to the wrath of storm gods. Enlightenment thinkers derided such beliefs as superstition and predicted they would pass away as humans became more scientifically and theologically sophisticated. But in America, scientific and theological hubris came face-to-face w One of the earliest sources of humanity's religious impulse was severe weather, which ancient peoples attributed to the wrath of storm gods. Enlightenment thinkers derided such beliefs as superstition and predicted they would pass away as humans became more scientifically and theologically sophisticated. But in America, scientific and theological hubris came face-to-face with the tornado, nature's most violent windstorm. Striking the United States more than any other nation, tornadoes have consistently defied scientists' efforts to unlock their secrets. Meteorologists now acknowledge that even the most powerful computers will likely never be able to predict a tornado's precise path. Similarly, tornadoes have repeatedly brought Americans to the outer limits of theology, drawing them into the vortex of such mysteries as how to reconcile suffering with a loving God and whether there is underlying purpose or randomness in the universe. In this groundbreaking history, Peter Thuesen captures the harrowing drama of tornadoes, as clergy, theologians, meteorologists, and ordinary citizens struggle to make sense of these death-dealing tempests. He argues that, in the tornado, Americans experience something that is at once culturally peculiar (the indigenous storm of the national imagination) and religiously primal (the sense of awe before an unpredictable and mysterious power). He also shows that, in an era of climate change, the weather raises the issue of society's complicity in natural disasters. In the whirlwind, Americans confront the question of their own destiny-how much is self-determined and how much is beyond human understanding or control.


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One of the earliest sources of humanity's religious impulse was severe weather, which ancient peoples attributed to the wrath of storm gods. Enlightenment thinkers derided such beliefs as superstition and predicted they would pass away as humans became more scientifically and theologically sophisticated. But in America, scientific and theological hubris came face-to-face w One of the earliest sources of humanity's religious impulse was severe weather, which ancient peoples attributed to the wrath of storm gods. Enlightenment thinkers derided such beliefs as superstition and predicted they would pass away as humans became more scientifically and theologically sophisticated. But in America, scientific and theological hubris came face-to-face with the tornado, nature's most violent windstorm. Striking the United States more than any other nation, tornadoes have consistently defied scientists' efforts to unlock their secrets. Meteorologists now acknowledge that even the most powerful computers will likely never be able to predict a tornado's precise path. Similarly, tornadoes have repeatedly brought Americans to the outer limits of theology, drawing them into the vortex of such mysteries as how to reconcile suffering with a loving God and whether there is underlying purpose or randomness in the universe. In this groundbreaking history, Peter Thuesen captures the harrowing drama of tornadoes, as clergy, theologians, meteorologists, and ordinary citizens struggle to make sense of these death-dealing tempests. He argues that, in the tornado, Americans experience something that is at once culturally peculiar (the indigenous storm of the national imagination) and religiously primal (the sense of awe before an unpredictable and mysterious power). He also shows that, in an era of climate change, the weather raises the issue of society's complicity in natural disasters. In the whirlwind, Americans confront the question of their own destiny-how much is self-determined and how much is beyond human understanding or control.

2 review for Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    Having written a book on “Meteorotheology” myself, I was anxious to read Peter J. Thuesen’s Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather. There has been, as Thuesen clearly shows, a very long connection between bad weather and Christianity. The fascination with violent weather, particularly for those who live in the Midwest of the United States, often takes on a religious cast. In fact, I wrote Weathering the Psalms while living in Wisconsin. Tornado God is roughly chronological in origin, Having written a book on “Meteorotheology” myself, I was anxious to read Peter J. Thuesen’s Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather. There has been, as Thuesen clearly shows, a very long connection between bad weather and Christianity. The fascination with violent weather, particularly for those who live in the Midwest of the United States, often takes on a religious cast. In fact, I wrote Weathering the Psalms while living in Wisconsin. Tornado God is roughly chronological in origin, beginning with the colonial period and how the divines of that time understood weather and other prodigies. Be warned in advance that there is some theology in this book. The idea of providence is explained and connected to the weather. The chapters move successively closer in time and the issues of how God can allow tragedy (theodicy) and how various religious groups explained the often random nature of tornado deaths are very much part of the larger discussion. Combining the weather and religion may seem strange, but Thuesen is aware of how religions tend to look upward to find God. Severe weather comes down from the skies, in a kind of meeting of human and divine. Some parts of the book are not easy to read, given the very real and human tragedy involved. Nevertheless, this is an important and extremely informative book. Of course, I have an author’s interest in it, but I still recommend it for anyone else who wonders what God has to do with the weather. I wrote more about it on my blog: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hank Pharis

    (NOTE: I'm stingy with stars. For me 2 stars means a good book or a B. 3 stars means a very good book or a B+. 4 stars means an outstanding book or an A {only about 5% of the books I read merit 4 stars}. 5 stars means an all time favorite or an A+ {Only one of 400 or 500 books rates this!).This was a very interesting book historically tracing the response of American theologians to tornados. Some quotes:Calvin’s belief that “nothing takes place by chance” extended naturally to his view of the we (NOTE: I'm stingy with stars. For me 2 stars means a good book or a B. 3 stars means a very good book or a B+. 4 stars means an outstanding book or an A {only about 5% of the books I read merit 4 stars}. 5 stars means an all time favorite or an A+ {Only one of 400 or 500 books rates this!).This was a very interesting book historically tracing the response of American theologians to tornados. Some quotes:Calvin’s belief that “nothing takes place by chance” extended naturally to his view of the weather. It is certain, he declared, “that not one drop of rain falls without God’s sure command”; likewise, “no wind ever arises or increases except by God’s express command.” Once again he found proofs in scripture, including Psalm 104:3 … and Amos 4:9 … (28)Calvin concluded that Basil the Great was correct when he insisted that “fortune” and “chance” are pagan terms. (28)By the time Calvinists in England formulated the Westminster Confession (1647), it was a truism of Reformed scholasticism that God normally works mediately (not immediately), through second causes. (45)God “has all second causes in his hands,” Edwards warned. “Let it be considered what God says; . . . ‘I make peace, I create evil.’ ” (47)Edwards: “Thunder and lightning can never do them any hurt that love Christ, for if they are taken out of the world by it, yet it only carries them from this world to heaven, into the glorious presence of Christ.” (62)Gilbert Tennent - Even if he had been killed by the lightning, he added, it would have been for him “the best Day” ever because it would have brought him into the presence of the Savior. (63)While Cotton Mather had courageously advocated inoculation, Franklin, as a 16-year-old printer’s apprentice, had contributed anonymous satires of Mather to the New-England Courant, the leading voice of the anti-inoculation faction. (Mather even survived an assassination attempt when someone lobbed a primitive grenade into his house with a note attached: “Cotton Mather, You Dog, Dam you; I’l inoculate you with this.”) Franklin later lost his four-year-old son Francis to smallpox, noting in his autobiography how bitterly he regretted not having the boy inoculated. Lightning rods therefore seemed to Franklin a providential way to inoculate people against needless harm from the heavens. (63)Jonathan Israel argues that by 1750, there were three irreconcilable positions regarding natural disasters: (1) that they were always directed by providence, (2) that they were sometimes natural and sometimes divinely directed, and (3) that they were always due to natural causes. He adds that (2), which he terms the moderate mainstream, “certainly had to work the hardest to sound coherent.” (205)Many Christians assumed that all events—even destructive storms—must be attributed to divine involvement; otherwise the world would appear frighteningly chaotic. But for Chace the world was more terrifying if everything, even bad things, could be attributed directly to God. It would “annihilate the distinction between good and evil, and render the Divine character a sphinx-like enigma, dark and difficult, beyond all hope of solution.” The obvious solution was that only good things were directly attributable to divine providence. … Chace felt that Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:30 (“the very hairs of your head are all numbered”) could not be taken literally. (83)Chace concluded his treatise on a radical note that anticipated a theological movement that only emerged 150 years later: Open Theism, which posits that there are self-imposed limits on divine omnipotence. “The truth is,” he wrote, “we are utterly unable to say a priori, what is, and what is not possible—what God can do, and what He cannot do.” (83)Charles Hodge’s all-encompassing providence was in many ways a throwback to Calvin’s contention that “not one drop of rain falls without God’s sure command.” (Calvin too had appealed to the sparrow and hairs of Matthew 10:29–30.)68 The difference was Hodge’s more modern, scientific idiom, which stemmed in part from his amateur interest in the physical sciences, especially meteorology. … “the Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science. It is his store-house of facts.” (86)Yet in rejecting intuition in favor of an infallible Bible, Hodge was increasingly at odds with an ascendant theological liberalism that embraced more flexible views of both experience and scripture. (87)J. Frank Norris (later known as the “Texas Tornado” for his fiery, fundamentalist oratory) told a packed house that “God uses the things of nature” to “execute his divine judgment.” He cited as evidence not only the Omaha tornado but also the Dayton flood … “If it is predestined that I am not going to be killed by a cyclone,” he said, “it is also predestined that I shall get in a storm cellar.” … “I would rather a thousand times swallow the biggest whale that ever floated on the water than swallow [the liberals’] theology,” he added. (112)In September 1930, the Christian Century, flagship magazine of liberal Protestantism, enlisted nine prominent churchmen to contribute to a forum, “Does Prayer Change the Weather?” … Only two of the nine—James M. Gray, president of Moody Bible Institute, and Mark A. Matthews, pastor of First Presbyterian, Seattle—upheld the traditional view of God’s absolute sovereignty over the weather. The other opinions ranged from mild skepticism to outright disdain. “Of course prayer does not affect the weather,” wrote Harry Emerson Fosdick, (124)In 2009, the popular evangelical Calvinist author John Piper caused a stir when he commented on a tornado that damaged the Minneapolis Convention Center during the assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that voted to permit the ordination of LGBT clergy in committed relationships. Piper called the storm, which also damaged the Central Lutheran Church across the street, a “gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: turn from the approval of sin.” Conservative Lutherans echoed Piper’s sentiments. (147)Barack Obama: “The question that weighs on us at a time like this is: Why? Why our town? Why our home? Why my son, or husband, or wife, or sister, or friend? Why? We do not have the capacity to answer.” Evidence suggests that most evangelicals would agree that Christians cannot know why one person dies and another lives, but they assume that God is involved nonetheless. And because they believe in divine involvement, evangelicals seek to relate stories of both death and survival in a way that edifies, as in classic conversion narratives. The tales of survival are easier to explain providentially. (147-148) Steve Earp adds that that God merely “allows” bad things to happen is to risk losing sight of divine sovereignty. “It may not feel ‘right’ or even holy to suggest God is responsible in the face of disaster, but the Bible does not shrink away from the fact that God is sovereignly responsible,” he explained. “We don’t know the reason He didn’t prevent this particular tragedy, but He is still God, He is still good, and we can still trust Him.” Earp cited Oklahoma City pastor Sam Storms, who in a blog post after the Moore tornado insisted that “God is absolutely sovereign over all of nature.” Storms, a onetime president of the Evangelical Theological Society, is a leading voice of evangelical Calvinism, which has produced some of the strongest contemporary affirmations of providence. Another leading Calvinist, the late R. C. Sproul, memorably declared that if any part of creation lies outside of divine control, then God is not sovereign. “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled,” (150)Erwin Lutzer: “The secondary causes of a tornado are unstable atmospheric conditions combined with warm, moist air,” he wrote. “Yet we can be sure that the ultimate cause of these events is God.” (150)My own conclusion after working on this book for nearly a decade is that neither theology nor science can fully explain life’s death-dealing storms. (182) flag Like  · see review Nov 21, 2020 Ryan Shelton added it Thuesen provides a compelling narrative of what could be called “applied providentialism” in American religion. The tornado has captured the American imagination because of its seemingly godlike caprice and devastating power to destroy. The unique geological makeup of the Midwest’s infamous tornado belt, coupled with the westward expanse of providentialist varieties of Protestant theology, together make the “perfect storm” for studying the myriad of ways Christians try to interpret the acts of G Thuesen provides a compelling narrative of what could be called “applied providentialism” in American religion. The tornado has captured the American imagination because of its seemingly godlike caprice and devastating power to destroy. The unique geological makeup of the Midwest’s infamous tornado belt, coupled with the westward expanse of providentialist varieties of Protestant theology, together make the “perfect storm” for studying the myriad of ways Christians try to interpret the acts of God in the wake of natural destruction. In this well researched and sometimes heartbreaking study, Thuesen encourages a little less overreaching apocalyptic interpreting and a little more numinous mystery. One feels, however, that some of his subjects are little too flat—foils for the parable. It’s almost as though we only really get to see in 3D the characters that mostly speak for our narrator. Overall it’s a fascinating, and sobering, history of how faith has responded in the aftermath of tragedy. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Sep 10, 2020 Ellie Syverud rated it really liked it very interesting. postulates the idea that the connection between weather & religion is driven by people's endless need to explain/understand. there is an ongoing debate between those who see weather as "part of God's plan" and "all things happen for a reason" and those who see it as part of nature. very interesting. postulates the idea that the connection between weather & religion is driven by people's endless need to explain/understand. there is an ongoing debate between those who see weather as "part of God's plan" and "all things happen for a reason" and those who see it as part of nature. flag Like  · see review Bill rated it really liked it Jul 26, 2020 Isaac Thuesen rated it it was amazing Jul 03, 2020 Mark rated it liked it Jul 18, 2020 Emma rated it it was ok Nov 18, 2020 Alley rated it really liked it Sep 17, 2020 Mia rated it really liked it Sep 03, 2020 Paul Marxhausen rated it really liked it Feb 09, 2021 Alan Davis rated it it was amazing Jan 03, 2021 Bill rated it really liked it Jun 05, 2020 Charles Loflin rated it liked it Jan 08, 2021 Taylor rated it it was amazing Aug 15, 2020 Steve Walker marked it as to-read Nov 08, 2019 Alec Wallace marked it as to-read Nov 15, 2019 Josh Doty marked it as to-read Nov 18, 2019 Stephanie McGarrah marked it as to-read Jan 10, 2020 Rachel marked it as to-read Feb 13, 2020 Laurie marked it as to-read Apr 10, 2020 Jacob Kurtz marked it as to-read May 08, 2020 Lilli Ferry marked it as to-read May 09, 2020 Heather Duncan marked it as to-read May 09, 2020 Dave Lester marked it as to-read May 11, 2020 Atul marked it as to-read May 13, 2020 Aimee Fritz marked it as to-read May 19, 2020 Josh marked it as to-read May 24, 2020 Jenn Swift marked it as to-read May 24, 2020 Scott marked it as to-read May 24, 2020 Jim Myers marked it as to-read May 31, 2020 Jessica Gruber marked it as to-read May 31, 2020 Joe Strouth marked it as to-read May 31, 2020 Matt marked it as to-read May 31, 2020 Jww5du85 marked it as to-read Jun 01, 2020 Michael Miller marked it as to-read Jun 01, 2020 Navi marked it as to-read Jun 02, 2020 LK marked it as to-read Jun 06, 2020 Jenboo marked it as to-read Jun 07, 2020 J. 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