Even when you are thousands of kilometers away from the Philippines, you are shocked by the scenes of devastation, grief, despair, the unburied dead, the desperate search for food and bottled water, the looting and the sheer immensity of the tragedy. Typhoons like this . . . no, at 360 kms/hour, there have never been apocalyptic typhoons like this. In France some may remember – but we tend to forget even major catastrophes – the winds at 180 kms/hour which destroyed 300 million trees and took 91 lives on December 26, 1999. We cannot even imagine winds twice as fierce. The 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean we do remember, and we will probably be as generous this time as then in trying to help the victims. The movie recalled in the title above evokes an apocalypse in Vietnam of our own making. But in both cases we forget the original meaning of the word, as in the last book of the Bible : Revelation.
The Philippine apocalypse is a revelation of what unchained nature can do, especially when it is aided and abetted by the climate change for which it seems we are largely responsible. But it is a revelation in another sense. Natural catastrophes are indifferent to the choice of sites. The Ring of Fire, also in South-East Asia, is a predictable locale for volcanic eruptions. Tornado Tunnel, which stretches from the Gulf of Mexico through Texas and Oklahoma as far as Kansas, every May and June will continue to be the scene of destruction of life and property. California is in permanent expectation of the Big One. But surely the world’s third largest Catholic population (76 million) should have been spared this titanic typhoon. It should be a revelation to non-atheists that no amount of religious faith will afford immunity from disaster. How could God allow 10 thousand of His faithful followers to perish in such a cataclysm ? (No one, thank God . . ., like certain American televangelists “explaining” other super-storms like Katrina, is likely to attribute it to divine vengeance.) To ask the question is to invite the obvious answer.