There's been a bit of weather this week, you may have noticed. But while all those images of famous New York streets and landmarks, dark and awash with river water grabbed everyone's attention, it's worth pointing out that Hurricane Sandy is actually only one of three mega storms currently ravaging the planet.
Typhoon Son-Tinh is flooding large parts of southern China after ripping through the Philippines and Vietnam, killing 40, leveling 10,000 homes and prompting the evacuation of 260,000 people; and Cyclone Nilam has blown more than 100,000 people from their homes in India and Sri Lanka. Co-incidence, global warming or is this God's wrath in action and a sign that the end really is nigh?
I've been slightly obsessed with 'Biblical' weather for the past three years because it features heavily in the 'end of days' series of thrillers I'm writing. What I have learned from this is that man's connection to nature, and his supernatural fear of it when it goes wrong, is as old and instinctive as breathing. If you look back to the earliest religions, before they got organized and started building churches and amassing wealth, they all sprang from the same place - they were inspired by nature.
Man was a simpler beast then, he was far too busy just staying alive to bother with abstract notions of deities. He saw the sun rise, felt its heat, saw things grow because of it and worshipped it as a result. Even when later religions gussied it up they still held onto the part about God living in the sky and giving life: they also kept the golden, shining orb with light streaming out of it, but stuck a human face in front of it (usually with a beard so you knew it was a MAN) and called it a halo.
But then, as now, man was also aware of God's vengeful side. If we did something to upset him/them then he/they would show their anger by sending floods, or plague, or earthquakes, or lava flows, or any number of other 'natural' calamities that were then described as 'supernatural'. And in the same way we think we can influence the outcome of a football match by sitting in a special chair, man thought (still does) that what we do here on Earth has a direct consequence in how the gods treat us. Do good, live well and the sun shines; misbehave and the skies will darken. And nothing has really changed in thousands of years, because the human animal hasn't changed much either.
Now we can argue ourselves into ironic extinction on the causes of these 'supernatural' disasters, and the right God to pray to in order to avert them and the apocalypse they herald, but the stats indicate that storms like Sandy, Son-Tinh and Nilam are becoming more and more common. The earth is changing, it's getting warmer. Glaciers are melting, water (incidentally another favourite god of the ancients) is rising and slamming into cities in teetering waves, and falling as rain so hard that it destroys the crops that sustain us. So here's a thought - might it be an idea to cut out the middle man and start directing our respect directly back to nature again? Giving tribute to an abstract God in the form of prayer may soothe the individual soul, but it doesn't seem to work very well on a practical level: churches get leveled by hurricanes and earthquakes just as easily as brothels do - or not, as it turned out when Katrina left the red light district of New Orleans largely untouched.
And unlike sitting in our favourite chair, we can actually do something to influence the outcome of all this. We can make a concerted effort to stop poisoning the planet: that would be a good way of appeasing the gods. Weaning ourselves off our destructive addiction to oil would be another. It's interesting to note that when something like a virus tries to poison us the first thing our bodies do is heat up. We burn away the infection. Maybe that's what Earth is doing to us.
There's a scene in that well-known spiritual work The Man with Two Brains, where Steve Martin asks a painting of his dead wife if it's okay to marry the scheming siren that is Kathleen Turner. The painting starts to spin and a crack appears in the wall as a booming voice shouts 'No, No, NO.' Then, the painting settles, the voice fades away and Steve Martin says - 'just any kind of sign...'
Well the painting is turning, my friends, and so are the hurricanes.