From the archives (2001):
Oh New Orleans, shed ye the darkness or face disaster
by Michael H. Brown
There are few cities with so many good as New Orleans and also few cities where there is such a stark coexistence with the bad. It is this city, the Big Easy, that is home to kind and generous and Christian people (nowhere is more Catholic) and yet also this city that has allowed evil to flourish in a way that has become truly dangerous.
I have to be blunt: New Orleans, you are in peril. You are a fine people but you have let fester an evil that is unmatched outside of Hollywood and Berkeley and Times Square. The devil is invoked in your city (there is even a swamp named for him just to the north in Baton Rouge) and there is nothing more hazardous. Voodoo priests are openly at work. There are occult temples. There are tours to "haunted" cemeteries. There is the proud tomb of voodoo queen Marie Leveau. "This mystical religion is as big a part of New Orleans as jazz, Cajun food and Mardi Gras," notes one writer. "Before you start thinking that voodoo is something of the past, the reader should be aware that the religion is as alive today as it was in the days of Marie Laveau. On a recent trip to New Orleans, I visited no less than 4 voodoo shops and a voodoo museum, plus visited with three different voodoo priestesses!"
It's that kind of stuff -- not God -- that brings disaster. When you invoke dark spirits, you get a storm. The very word hurricane comes from the Indian hurukan for evil spirit and when we look at the Bible we note that black magic -- the very definition of voodoo -- was quickest to bring the Lord's judgment.
Then there's the Mardi Gras. While this started as "Fat Tuesday" before the fasting of Lent, there is no longer fasting -- just the extravaganza with huge bizarre faces on floats surrounded by the pomp of barely-clad dancers. With their costume feathers and sexual flourish they would have been at home in the gardens of a Roman emperor or on a barge in the Nile or in a Venusian temple -- if not Babylon itself. This is serious business. Throughout the Bible God destroyed cities for exactly this kind of innuendo. And He has not changed. He is still in a time of mercy but it would do well for us to recall that in 1900 on the other side of the bay Galveston was destroyed by a category-four hurricane that came after a Mardi Gras which had as its costume theme "Beelzebub and the Devils."
God allows this to purge us when we don't purge ourselves. It doesn't have to happen but unless evil is expelled -- especially hardcore occultism like voodoo, which is the darkest form of evil -- it's inevitable. When I visited the National Hurricane Center, they told me there was no place that gave them the meteorological willies like your city. Miami is likelier to be hit by the mega-storm, but all it would take is a category-three or four to put the entire city under water.
There are parts of New Orleans that are 12 feet below sea level -- which means that a hurricane with a 17-foot surge, not all that much in a good storm -- would put parts of the city under twenty or even thirty feet of water. The area is like a bowl surrounded by levees that would trap water from the gulf and overflow from Lake Pontchartrain.
On Bourbon Street -- which has turned into a stretch of porn shops, strip joints, and hooter bars -- there would be water to the second story.
Officials told me that in the best of circumstances 100,000 would be stranded.
Hundreds of thousands coming from the lower parishes would likewise find themselves trapped.
And the cycles may be coming due. The return rate for a category-three is 31 years, a category-four 65 years, and a category-five 170 years. Recall please that in 1969 Hurricane Camille missed by thirty miles and you also squeaked by Andrew. If a category-five made landfall between your city and Baton Rouge, according to an emergency manager named Walter Maestri, it would be "the most catastrophic hurricane in the history of the United States."
This doesn't have to happen. God can intervene. I believe He will. He has in your past. He miraculously stopped a battle from destroying you in 1815 and fire from ravaging the entire city in 1812. You know this; you're Christians. You are among the finest, so easy to love; you outnumber the bad. But like Christians in every part of this country you have grown indifferent and devil-may-care and that's all it takes for the devil to triumph.
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