God Images Following Hurricane Katrina in South Mississippi: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt

God image appears to affect an individual's ability to cope, either positively or negatively, following stressful life events. This qualitative investigation explored God images of Hurricane Katrina survivors two months after the storm along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. A multifaceted, and sometimes paradoxical view of God emerged from participants' narratives following Hurricane Katrina. The following conceptualizations of God were reported by participants: (a) Omnipresent God, (b) Omnipotent God, (c) Distant God, (d) Personal God, (e) God in Others, (f) God as Judge, (g) God of Lessons, and (h) God as Loving Father Figure. God images reported by participants appeared to serve as a coping mechanism that allowed participants to make meaning and adjust to their Hurricane Katrina experiences.

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On the morning of August 29th, 2005 Hurricane Katrina violently descended onto the Gulf Coast of the United States. Hurricane Katrina was the third strongest recorded hurricane to make landfall in the United States, as well as one of the most costly and deadliest hurricanes in United States history. The massive storm surge produced by Hurricane Katrina measured between 24-28 feet, spanning a distance of 20 miles along the western coast of Mississippi. Officials in the state of Mississippi estimate that 90% of the structures that were located half a mile inland from the coastline were destroyed. Additionally, reports indicate that the storm surge traveled approximately six miles inland in certain areas of the Mississippi coast (The Weather Channel, 2006). Individuals living on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and other areas affected by Hurricane Katrina have suffered financial loss, physical problems, and emotional trauma; the effects of which are still felt by many today (Kessler, Galea, Jones, & Parker, 2006).

INTRODUCTION

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, much of the attention from the popular media typically focuses on the physical and financial losses caused by such disasters. However, effects of a disaster may also permeate many areas of an individual's life, such as religious and/or spiritual beliefs. Some disaster survivors' spiritual beliefs may be affected negatively through the traumatic experience resulting in a questioning of the existence of God, feelings of abandonment by God, or more severely in a complete loss of faith (Koenig, 2006). Conversely, other disaster survivors may have their spiritual beliefs strengthened. For instance, individuals surveyed following the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center reported an increase in spirituality (Peterson & Seligman, 2003).

God Image

God image, or the way an individual views God (e.g., caring, stern, wrathful), has begun to receive greater attention in the psychological literature (e.g., Wiegand & Weiss, 2006). An estimated 95% of surveyed Americans acknowledged having a belief in God or some form of a higher power (Gallup & Lindsay, 1999). Several suggestions have been given as to the origins of God image. For instance, Dickie, Eshleman, Merasco, Shepard, VanderWilt, and Johnson (1997) found that children's images of God appeared to be linked to the way in which those children perceived their parents. Similarly, various psychodynamic theorists have suggested that there may be a link between God image and an individual's biological father, wherein individuals project the characteristics of their earthly father onto their image of God (Hood, Spilka, Hunsberger, & Gorsuch, 1996). In contrast, Hoge, Johnson, and Luidens (1993) found that in adults, current life events and self-concept were better predictors of God image. Researchers have also postulated that God image may be better understood through developmental explanations. For example, Nye and Carlson (1984) found that children's concepts of God appear to parallel the stages of cognitive development as outlined by Piaget. …