The initial shock of Katrina’s devastation inspired talk of its “biblical” proportions. But as recovery efforts continue in the weeks and months ahead, religion, faith and ethics will play bigger roles in the stories of how lives and cities are rebuilt. ReligionLink offers a roundup of ideas, with links to background and sources.
Evil And Suffering
Philanthropy And Charity
The Power Of Prayer
Race and class
Funerals And Burials
A teen’s eye view
Katrina has inspired talk of why such destruction occurs. Where is God? Why would God allow such suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is Katrina a sign of the end times? With New Orleans, a city known for drinking, debauchery and licentiousness, there is an added factor. Some suggest that the city’s sins caused the storm to ravage it. These questions will play out in the conversations of storm victims, relief workers, donors to relief efforts, clergy and political leaders in the days to come, revealing much about the foundations of people’s beliefs.
• Read “Did God Send the Hurricane? This natural disaster is bringing together a perfect storm of environmentalist and religious doomsday sayers” on Beliefnet.com.
• Read “Angels and Demons in a city of sin” from GetReligion.org.
• Read “Why does God allow disaster?” by Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
• These stories explore theological questions raised by the January 2005 South Asian tsunami: A Jan. 3, 2005, Newsweek story about how Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists understand the tragedy in relation to their beliefs; a Jan. 2, 2005, Dallas Morning News story on how Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims address suffering; a a Dec. 31, 2004, Washington Post article on looking for God in disasters.
• See ReligionLink: Tsunami disaster engages questions of faith (Jan. 5, 2005) for resources.
• See ReligionLink: Apocalypse now? (Dec. 13, 2004) for sources on end-times theologies.
• See ReligionLink: A hierarchy of heinousness: New views on evil (July 11, 2005) for sources who study evil among us.
• Read information and links about Katrina relief efforts by a wide variety of faith groups, posted by the Pluralism Project at Harvard University.
• Along the Gulf Coast, Katrina has smashed houses of worship as well as everything else. Will congregations remain intact and in contact with members when buildings are destroyed? Will local congregations connect with each other in new ways as they attempt to rebuild and recover? How do congregations struck by disaster continue with the rhythms of worship and prayer and caring for those most in need?
• Churches and other houses of worship are mobilizing throughout the nation to help storm victims by offering money, food, supplies and shelter. How do these missions mobilize and transform a congregation over time? Tell the human side of the stories of churches and other religious groups in your area that joined other aid efforts – for past hurricanes, for example – and how that changed them.
• For decades, denominational ties have been weakening among Americans, who switch faith traditions with increasing frequency. Nondenominational churches are one of the faster-growing traditions in the country. The storm offers a lens through which to explore the strength of denominational ties. With buildings damaged or destroyed, how will churches that are part of a denomination fare, as opposed to those that are independent? Where will each receive help from?
• The storm also offers a window into how other faith traditions connect nationally. How do Jewish organizations reach out to synagogues and Muslims reach out to mosques in the area? Mormons are known for stockpiling emergency supplies as part of their faith; how does this help Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregations and congregants? How do Buddhist and Hindu organizations help each other?
• What do church architects say about rebuilding religious spaces? Should churches re-create old structures or start anew? What were the most significant religious structures, and how did they fare?
• New Orleans had some of the oldest congregations – Jewish, Catholic and other Christian denominations – in the nation. What kind of heritage is underwater? What treasures – such as Torah scrolls – have been lost? Religious ceremonies are laden with symbolism. See ReligionLink’s Historic places of worship face extinction (June 30, 2003).
• Many rural congregations struggle with shrinking budgets and a lack of clergy willing to work in rural areas with low pay. Will efforts to rebuild in Louisiana and Mississippi communities revitalize congregations or cause them to close?
Thousands have been left homeless after the storm, and the struggles of those people and families will be the focus of dozens of stories in the months to come. Several trends can help shape these stories:
• Homelessness and poverty are increasing in the United States, and most state budgets have experienced deep cuts in social services. Will this new homeless population stretch scarce resources even further? How will governments respond? Will the homeless relocate to other cities and states? Will they be able to find housing, or will they join the homeless populations in other cities?
• More cities and states are enacting laws that target homeless people. Read “Illegal to be Homeless: the criminalization of homelessness in the United States,” a November 2004 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless.
• Religious organizations are critical in providing shelter and food for the homeless in most cities. How will they respond to increased needs? Will they reach out to the homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama?
• The mission of the National Coalition for the Homeless is to end homelessness. It posts facts about homelessness in America and a page of links to other organizations dealing with homelessness.
• Read an August 2005 report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, which describes recent studies that found significant increases in requests for shelter and food assistance in states across the country.
• The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the U.S. poverty level rose to 12.7 percent in 2004 and the percentage of the U.S. population without health insurance stayed steady at 15.7 percent. Read the Aug. 30, 2005, news release.
• See ReligionLink’s Uninsured pose moral as well as economic challenge (July 12, 2004).
• See ReligionLink: Federal budget item No. 1: Values (March 14, 2005).
OTHER SOURCES OF RELIEF AID
Three ReligionLink issues offer interview sources who can offer perspective on organizations that are helping storm victims:
• Black megachurches’ mega-outreach (Sept. 8, 2004)
• Community organizing: a quiet revolution (May 18, 2004)
• Urban-Suburban congregations’ new teamwork (July 18, 2003)
WORKPLACE ISSUES: As people struggle with questions, the Bible studies, prayer groups and chaplaincy services that have become popular in many workplaces can bring comfort and, sometimes, conflict if some feel excluded. If companies and organizations offer employees a way to give money to Katrina victims through a religious charity, that can also spark debate. For resources on religion and workplace conflicts, see ReligionLink’s See Religion in the workplace: Asset or debit? (May 16, 2005)
DIFFICULTIES OF DOING GOOD: Reaching people in remote areas and working with governments unprepared for such a large-scale relief effort involves frustrations. In addition, the outpouring of aid after the 9/11 attacks reminded Americans that money does not always get to the places they think they’re helping. After the tsunami, information circulated quickly and widely on how people could make sure they were giving to reputable charities with effective plans for action. As aid efforts unfold, reporters can examine what is going well and why, and what new challenges relief agencies are facing. Many of these can be told locally, as local groups and organizations gather supplies and money.
EXPERTS: For a good list of experts on charitable giving, see ReligionLink’s Charity 2004: A gulf between giving and need (Dec. 8, 2003)
• Read about online donations for Katrina victims and about general donations in two Sept. 1, 2005, articles from the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
• Charity Navigator offers a guide to giving for Katrina victims.
• The American Institute of Philanthropy offers advice for giving to Katrina victims.
• GuideStar.org helps potential donors decide where to give.
• Forbes magazine publishes an annual list of the most and least effective charities.
Across the country, thousands of Americans are giving time and energy to help Katrina’s victims. There are important trend stories to watch as journalists cover the outpouring of assistance:
• Volunteer service was limited after Sept. 11 by the locations of the attacks. Because Katrina affected a wider area and victims were evacuated to other states, more volunteerism may occur.
• Studies show volunteerism is a value that is best instilled when people are young. Katrina’s recovery efforts have the potential to inspire a new generation to volunteer service, and, perhaps, shape their attitudes toward others.
• More businesses are encouraging volunteerism and philanthropy as good for workers and good for business. How might that benefit relief efforts?
• Older adults are a significant pool of volunteer energy that is growing as Baby Boomers age. How are they assisting Katrina’s victims?
• Studies often link religious and civic involvement. People who are members of religious organizations are more likely to be involved in volunteer efforts in their community. Does that trend hold true for volunteers after this storm?
• “America Gives: A Survey of Americans’ Generosity after Sept. 11,” a 2002 survey from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, found that of the 65.6 percent who said they gave money to help victims of the attack, the average gift was about $134 and half gave small donations of $50 or less. Also, 8.3 percent said they donated time – an average of 17 hours.
TEENS AND YOUTH
• “Attitudes, Politics and Public Service: A Survey of American College Students,” published in May 2004 by the Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, interviewed 800 college students about their attitudes toward public and volunteer service, politics and more. Fifty-three percent of college students said they had volunteered in their communities, a drop from 2001, when 68 percent said they did. Volunteering in community or public service, on average, ranked at the bottom of the list of students’ personal goals. Students who did volunteer said it made them feel better about themselves, enhanced their understanding of public issues, and increased their tolerance or changed their views on people of different racial, ethnic or religious backgrounds.
• “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era” – a 2004 survey of almost 1,400 youth ages 18 to 25 that included Christian, Muslim, Jewish youth and a mix of races and ethnicities – explored attitudes about faith, politics and volunteer service. It found a “strong and intimate” connection between religious faith and volunteerism. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed volunteered in their community in the last year, but only 14 percent did so regularly. The 2004 survey was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.
• Seventy percent of teens who volunteer began doing so before age 12, according to a 2003 poll for Youth Service America. More would volunteer if opportunities were presented to them, the survey found. See press release.
A 2002 Kennedy School of Government survey found that the “habit” of volunteerism is often instilled in high school.
• Eighty-seven percent of those 45 and older had volunteered to help their community or a person in need in the last 12 months, according to “Time and Money: An In-depth Look at 45+ Volunteers and Donors,” a 2003 study by AARP.
• Read “Companies That Care,” a Forbes magazine article about companies that encourage volunteerism and philanthropy among their employees.
• A 2005 Deloitte & Touche poll found that 86 percent of Americans say that volunteering in their community can help them get ahead at work. Seventy-three percent of those who serve on a non-profit’s board of directors say that work can enhance leadership skills. Read a June 1, 2005, press release.
GENERAL VOLUNTEERISM STUDIES
• See volunteer statistics by gender, race and age in a September 2004 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study.
• Read “Giving and Volunteering in the United States 2001,” a portrait of volunteering habits determined by a survey of 4,000 Americans. It was done by the Independent Sector.
VOLUNTEERISM BY STATE
• A 2004 study looks at volunteering rates in each state using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey raw data. The study was done by the Points of Light Foundation in partnership with Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis’s Center on Urban and Environmental Policy.
• The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement issued a report analyzing youth volunteering rates by state for 2002 and 2003.
In religious, political and social settings, millions of people are praying for Katrina’s victims. Here are some resources for adding context to stories on prayer:
SCIENTIFIC STUDIES: In the face of tragedy, people pray, sometimes despite uncertainty about whether anyone is listening. In recent years, prayer has become the subject of scientific studies that have attempted to prove whether or not it is effective. Results have been mixed. Read an Aug. 15, 2005, Raleigh News & Observer story about scientific studies on prayer. Read a June 27, 2005, Los Angeles Times story about the studies, posted by PittsburghLive.com.
POPULARITY: Statistics on religious membership, worship attendance and giving often show declines these days, depending on which group of people and which institutions are being studied. Belief in God and participation in prayer, however, remain very high. An Aug. 29, 2005, Newsweek/Beliefnet poll found that 64 percent said they pray every day and 91 percent said an important or very important reason for practicing religion was “to forge a personal relationship with God”; the desire for community ranked lower (72 percent).
LAMENTS: Worship often focuses on praise and thanksgiving to God, but Christianity, Judaism and other faiths also have rich heritages of expressing anguish and lament. After the Sept. 11 attacks, certain psalms and prayers took on special meaning for victims and relief workers. What psalms and prayers are people turning to now? Religious leaders of different faiths can talk about arguing with God and expressing anguish in their tradition. Seminary professors and professors of religious studies and comparative religion are good resources.
GOD TALK: See ReligionLink’s The promise and perils of talking about God in public (Nov. 15, 2004).
While a storm does not discriminate by race and class, television footage and news photographs have shown the seemingly disproportionate effects of Katrina’s aftermath on blacks and the poor, especially in New Orleans. People with the means to evacuate before the storm often did, but at least some of those who stayed behind did so because they lacked cars or money to leave.
• Read the U.S. Census Bureau’s state facts, including age and race, and compare them to national averages. Search by state.
• The Economic Research Service offers state profiles that include income and poverty rates for rural and urban dwellers. See the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama fact sheets.
Electricity may be wiped out in much of the storm zone, but technology is having a significant impact on the way information and money are exchanged in Katrina’s wake. That is particularly true in matters of faith, where sermons are downloaded onto iPods (see Aug. 29, 2005, New York Times story), prayers are sent as text messages, blogs run ruminations about faith, and online prayer circles and worship services seek God’s help for the victims.
• Read Faith Online, an April 2004 Pew Internet & American Life survey that found that 64 percent of wired Americans have used the Internet for spiritual purposes.
People are faced with handling and honoring the dead when bodies are missing or are in horrific shape after floating for days or lying in the heat. And then there are the dead who were buried long ago in Louisiana, though above ground because of the sea level, who may have resurfaced. How are various religious groups handling the traditions of preparing, burying and grieving in these circumstances?
• Read ReligionLink’s The transformation of American funerals (July 25, 2005) for background and interview sources.
• The National Funeral Directors Association is collecting donations of services to help people seeking funerals for victims of Katrina. The association also has a Katrina blog for members.
The New Testament speaks of “faith, hope and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). The greatest of these may be love in the Christian tradition, but hope was in short supply after Katrina hit. “Most needed supply in New Orleans? Hope” read one MSNBC headline. Without hope, people were looting, stealing, “acting like animals,” according to one news report, and giving up on surviving the terrible conditions after the hurricane. Hope is a pivotal concept in the Christian and Jewish traditions, which both anticipate future comings of a messiah. How do people of faith hold onto hope when they seemingly have lost everything? How do faith communities nurture hope in the face of hopelessness?
New Orleans is the turf of novelist Anne Rice, and its traditions of voodoo and other exotic religions made the city a tourist destination. Now they have ghoulish overtones. What is voodoo about, and what would the high priestesses of the dark side say about all this grimness?
• Nola.com has a page listing the city’s ghost stories, links with voodoo (including an anti-hurricane ritual), information on Rue Morgue and vampire sightings.
• New Orleans Voodoo Crossroads is about the practice of voodoo in New Orleans.
In the last five years, children and teens have seen their country scramble to deal with the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, devastating hurricanes and war overseas. They have seen bitter political debates and polarizing protests. How are these events shaping their political views as they come of age? How do their religious views play into their political opinions and outlook on life? An ongoing national survey – the National Study on Youth and Religion, the most comprehensive survey ever of adolescents and religion – released a major set of its findings this year in a new book. It found that four in five of the teenagers questioned said religion was important in their lives.
Corporate scandals have shocked Americans in the last couple of years, and there is plenty of room after Katrina for unethical business practices. Already the government is watching for price-gouging at gas pumps. As homes and businesses are rebuilt, many people stand to make lots of money. Much of that business know-how will be executed with good will; some will be aimed at making as much money as possible at any cost. Many businesses and business schools have been putting new ethics training and standards in place since Enron. Will those lessons be of use after Katrina?
• See ReligionLink’s Ethics training intensifies (Aug. 9, 2004) for sources.