As many of you are already aware, the state of Georgia is facing a record drought that has caused significant declines in the levels of reservoirs that supply metropolitan Atlanta. The worst-case estimates of the remaining available water describe a scenario wherein Atlanta would run out of water in 80 days if the reservoirs are not replenished with sizeable amounts of rain.
Can you imagine a major U.S. metropolitan area actually running out of water? Can you imagine the civil unrest, the health and safety dilemmas? Clearly, this is a time for government to take serious action.
Enter Georgia’s Governor, Sonny Perdue. Today he is taking action to combat the water crisis. What is he doing, you ask? Is he instituting mandatory restrictions or implementing sweeping conservation measures? Yes, there are some significant restrictions now in place in the Atlanta area – most outdoor watering is banned (except for various commercial uses, including car washes, construction sites, and other activities essential to daily business. But now Perdue really means business, as described in this Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, Perdue “has asked Georgians to pray for rain today, and at lunchtime will convene with various religious and political leaders on the steps of the state Capitol to seek divine intervention in the state's months-long drought.”
That’s right, Georgia has skipped right over the 20th and 19th Centuries, and has leapfrogged all the way back to the era of the Old Testament prophets (see, e.g., Elijah). So what’s wrong with this, you might ask? Why not invoke a little civic religion in an effort to rally the community together (it should be noted that, to Perdue’s credit, leaders of many religious traditions have been invited to join in today’s Capitol rain dance)?
Where do I start? There’s the bad theology, invoking a divine being’s mercy when you haven’t been doing a damn thing to take care of said divine being’s created works, otherwise known as environmental stewardship. How can you go to your god in prayer when you’ve spent the last decades passing legislation that allowed massive sprawl and reckless development throughout the metropolitan Atlanta area with complete disregard for its natural resources and the capacity of the creation to support the ever-expanding suburbs and exurbs? If you want to pray for something, pray for some wisdom to create smart growth policies. Pray for better mass transit to take some of those automobiles off of Atlanta’s roadways and thus reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they’re emitting, which just might help stem the tide of climate change and thus restore some equilibrium to the region’s weather patterns. Oh, and please pray to shut down the Southern Company’s hideous coal-fired power plants in the state, which are some of the worst sources of greenhouse gas pollution imaginable.
OK, let’s say that even if you disagree with the theology and you assume they’ll be repenting of their appalling lack of environmental stewardship and creation care, you might consider this to be harmless nonsense, albeit nonsense. But then, of course, there’s the whole church-state issue. Are you seriously telling me that you’re spending my state tax dollars to hold a rain dance on the state Capitol grounds? Because that’s what this is, a good old-fashioned rain dance, and I won’t be any happier about it if Governor Perdue dons a feather headdress and paints his face. It’s too bad Perdue isn’t eligible for re-election, because I could design a great campaign commercial for his opponents – something along the lines of Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and Perdue did a rain dance while Atlanta dried up. Just imagine the visuals.
This reminds me of the old joke about the guy whose house is in the path of oncoming floods. A rescue team comes along in a jeep, but he says, “No, I’m staying here, God will save me.” Later the waters rise, and as his first floor is flooded a boat comes along to rescue him, but again he protests, “No, I’m staying here, God will save me.” Finally as he’s stuck on his roof, the waters raging around him, a helicopter flies overhead and drops a ladder, but he stands firm in his faith, “No, I’m staying here, God will save me.” Naturally, the guy dies in the floodwaters, and when he enters heaven and meets God, he asks him, “Lord, I was faithful to you, I trusted you, why didn’t you save me?” God replies, “Save you? I sent you a jeep, I sent you a boat, I sent you a helicopter? What else did you want me to do?”
So that’s God’s message to Georgia – you could have repaired your water infrastructure, you could have controlled your urban sprawl, you could have taken better care of the creation and your natural resources. What else did you want me to do?