The numbers are in: God smites at least 70 percent fewer people now than He did 40 years ago. According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, lightning deaths have fallen 78.6 percent for men and 70.6 percent for women since 1968. From the report:
During this 43-year period [1968-2010], a total of 3,389 deaths from lightning were recorded, an average of 79 per year. The highest yearly total of deaths from lightning (131) was recorded in 1969, and the lowest total (29) was recorded in 2008 and again in 2010.
These figures exclude mortalities that result when lightning causes a fire or snaps a heavy object off a house or tree—in other words, they describe pure, Old Testament-style celestial smackdowns. Assuming God is just, our good behavior must be paying off! Perhaps Steven Pinker was right to argue, in The Better Angels of Our Nature, that our world has softened over the years, becoming ever more peaceful. (Or perhaps God has simply begun favoring global warming over lightning strikes as his meteorological attack method of choice. He does work in mysterious ways.)
Men incur more divine wrath than women. “During the period, 85.0 percent of lightning deaths were among males,” says the CDC. Are reckless guys more likely to go outside during a thunderstorm, thereby provoking God when He’s already in a bad mood? An alternative explanation for the decrease in lightning deaths is that we all spend more time indoors. In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences released a study demonstrating that participation in “nature-based recreation” had dropped 25 percent since 1981. Relatedly, the average American adult communes with some sort of screen for eight hours each day.
If the inside/outside hypothesis is correct, prestige television and Halo may actually be saving our butts. Talk about shocking.