May 30, 2006

Deities of the Federal Register

by PG

Doubtlessly this wonder has been wondered many times before, but I can't help wondering nonetheless: why are adverse events called "acts of God"? This isn't just a colloquial phrase; it's in insurance policies and government regulations. In these contexts, "act of God" always refers to some result of natural forces, particularly the weather, and is distinguished from human error or misbehavior.

The Commission may not without good cause review a determination made under sections 705 or 735 of the Act, or suspension agreements made under sections 704 or 734 of the Act, less than 24 months after the date of publication of notice of that determination or suspension. Good cause includes:
(1) Fraud or misfeasance in the proceeding for which review is sought;
(2) Acts of God, as exemplified where a severe freeze sharply reduced U.S. producersí shipments of frozen concentrated orange juice; and
(3) A mistake of law or fact in the proceeding for which review is requested that renders that proceeding unfair.
Calling a sharp reduction in the shipment of frozen concentrated orange an "act of God" just seems sacreligious, though this complaint is of a piece of the usual dubious liberal argument that we must keep church and state separated in order to prevent pollution of the church's holiness by the dull mediocrity of the state. (I call it dubious because even though it fits with my ideas about religion, it doesn't seem to be much favored by really religious folks, who I suppose are more certain of religion's ability to withstand government influence than I.) Anyway, I move that the government stop calling bad weather an act of God and call it "Damage Accounted by Man against Nature." It fits better with the common reaction to the approach of hurricanes, earthquakes and such, which unfortunately is not to submit calmly to the will of a supernatural entity but instead to make use of the acronym.

May 30, 2006 05:23 PM | TrackBack
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