In the 18th century, the genre of “earthquake sermon” was good business. Two small shocks in London, in 1750, sent the preachers to their pulpits and pamphlets. The bishop of London blamed Londoners’ lewd behavior; the bishop of Oxford argued that God had woven into his grand design certain incidents to alarm us and shake us out of our sin. In Bloomsbury, the Rev. Dr. William Stukeley preached that earthquakes are favored by God as the ultimate sign of his wrathful intervention. Five years later, when Lisbon was all but demolished by an enormous earthquake, the unholy refrain was heard again — one preacher even argued that the people of Lisbon had been relatively fortunate, for God had spared more people than he had killed.
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