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Why did the South Asian Tsunami happen?

Reasons given by some religious conservatives

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tsunami Responses, mainly by religious conservatives:

Speaking generally, most religious conservatives, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or others, link God or deities directly to the devastation by tsunamis and other natural disasters. This is a logical outcome from their belief that God micromanages the world; i.e. that God is involved in every significant event on the planet. Some of their reasons:

bullet

God intended the tsunami as a warning: Shakur R. Sheffield of Miami, FL is reported as having posted a message to the Miami Herald's feedback bulletin board called: "Perspectives on the power of nature, relief funds, and God." He wrote:

"Make no mistake about it, this was no accident or freak of nature. This was a warning, a reminder or, shall I say, a 'word' from God. The first thing most of us say is, 'Those things happen in third-world countries.' Well that's just another way of saying that we have been blessed -- so far. These tsunamis should make us realize that we are one world, one people, living under the mercy of one God. Don't think that because we are living in the high-tech, modern world that our technology makes us special or will protect us from all evil. Believe it or not, God still rules." 1

If Sheffield's interpretation is correct, then it is not clear exactly what God's warning is. One might speculate that the victims of the tsunami who were overwhelmingly Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims should abandon their faith and adopt the true faith that worships the "true" god. Unfortunately, it is not clear whether this is Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, Sikhism, or some other religion. One might also speculate that God's message might be that wars are to cease, or the destruction of the environment is to be reduced, exploitation of the poor is to stop, etc.

bullet

God carefully routed the tsunami to prevent Christian deaths: A Salvation Army officer in Sri Lanka, identified only by the initials "L.S.B." commented in a letter:

"All of our officers (clergy) survived. We had officers all along the coast. Most lost everything, but God spared their lives." 2

Saying that God spared all of the Salvation Officers' lives while causing the death of tens of thousands of Sri Lankans may:

bullet Be just a figure of speech on the part of L.S.B.

bullet Imply that God created the earthquake, allowed the tsunami to be triggered, and then steered the tsunami to avoid hitting the Salvation Army officers while annihilating tens of thousands of Sri Lankans, about 75% of whom were probably Buddhist or Hindu.

bullet Imply that the earthquake and tsunami were caused by natural forces, but that God directed the tsunami to save the lives of the officers while wiping out tens of thousands of Sri Lankans.

bullet The tsunami was caused by God's wrath:
bullet Buddhism: In Sri Lanka, Buddhists recalled the story of a tsunami which hit the island circa 200 BCE after a king had killed a Buddhist monk in a fit of anger. They wonder which of their political leaders angered the sea gods this time. 13

bullet Christianity:
bullet

Tina M. of Holy Love Ministries in Elyria, OH widely distributed an article on the Internet, implying that God caused the tsunami as a response to the high abortion rate. She writes:

"The world has suffered a great tragedy in loss of life and property in the recent earthquake and tsunami. But while everyone can agree on this event as tragic, most fail to see the greater tragedy--the greater loss of life through the sin of abortion. In the natural disaster the world sees the visible loss of life. In the sin of abortion the truth of the far greater loss of life lays hidden and concealed behind the curtain of lies and compromise. In truth the world should not be surprised by God's Justice, but should expect it in any form as retribution for the grievous loss of life by abortion. Understand how fragile and vulnerable all life is and learn from the recent tragedy the world now focuses upon." 10

bullet Other Christians on the Internet attributed the tsunami to God's wrath at the persecution of Christians in predominately Muslim countries which were hit by the ocean surge. 13
bullet Still others agreed with Tina M that God was angry at the large number of abortions. 13
bullet

Hinduism: Navya Shastra, is a global Hindu group composed of scholars, activists, priests and lay people dedicated to fostering the spiritual equality of all Hindus. Their office in Michigan condemned an unnamed religious organizations in India which had described the South Asian tsunami tragedy as a "vengeful act of God" -- as "divine retribution" for the 2004-NOV arrest of Kanchi Shankracharya on murder and other charges. Rajarathina Bhattar, a Navya Shastra advisor and a Houston priest said:

"Hindus should not ascribe the disaster to divine retribution. At times like these, sane voices must prevail." 3

bullet Islam:
bullet

Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, a leading British Muslim cleric from Leicester said:

"We believe that God has ultimate controlling power over his entire creation. We have a responsibility to try and attract god's kindness and mercy and not do anything that would attract his anger." 4

bullet Imams in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the country which suffered the greatest loss of life, blamed the tsunami on lay Muslims who were not meeting their obligation to pray five times a day and were following a materialistic lifestyle. 13


bullet Other imams in Indonesia said that Allah was angry that Muslims were killing each other in ongoing civil strife. 13

bullet

Judaism: In Israel, Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar said that the tragedy was:

"... an expression of God's wrath with the world. The world is being punished for wrongdoing -- be it people's needless hatred of each other, lack of charity, moral turpitude." 13

bullet

The tsunami is a test from God: Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, head of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California explained that God has not engaged in collective punishment -- taking action against a large groups for the sins of a few people -- since the time of Prophet Muhammad. He said:

"We have no right to say that these people were destroyed because of their sins. We should take it as a test from God to see how human beings respond." 5

bullet

God sent the tsunami to punish people because of tourists' sexual activity: During an interview on Saudi television, Sheik Fawzan Al-Fawzan said that the tsunami was sent by God to punish South Asian countries because they allowed tourists to engage in immoral sexual activity. Al-Fawzan is a member of the Senior Council of Clerics, Saudi Arabia's highest religious body, and a professor at the Al-Imam University. He is reported as saying:

"These great tragedies and collective punishments that are wiping out villages, towns, cities and even entire countries, are Allah's punishments of the people of these countries, even if they are Muslims. We know that at these resorts, which unfortunately exist in Islamic and other countries in South Asia, and especially at Christmas, fornication and sexual perversion of all kinds are rampant. The fact that it happened at this particular time is a sign from Allah. It happened at Christmas, when fornicators and corrupt people from all over the world come to commit fornication and sexual perversion. That's when this tragedy took place, striking them all and destroyed everything. It turned the land into wasteland, where only the cries of the ravens are heard. I say this is a great sign and punishment on which Muslims should reflect. All that's left for us to do is to ask for forgiveness We must atone for our sins, and for the acts of the stupid people among us and improve our condition. We must fight fornication, homosexuality, usury, fight the corruption on the face of the earth, and the disregard of the lives of protected people."

Although he criticized both fornication -- heterosexual sex outside of marriage -- and same-sex sexual behavior, subsequent news reports which quoted Al-Fawzan mainly emphasized his condemnation of gay and lesbian sex.

"David" of Dulwich Hill in Australia commented on the above news item: 

"You could have predicted it from a mile off. Every time a natural disaster strikes there's someone who'll blame the gays. Well, funny how God left the gays in Sydney, San Francisco and New York alone but decided to kill young children in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. He surely must be moving in mysterious ways." 11

On a similar theme, Saudi cleric Muhammad Al-Munajiid declared that the tsunami was God's punishment arising from:

"... the Christian holidays [that] are accompanied by forbidden things, by immorality, abomination, adultery, alcohol, drunken dancing and revelry....they spend the entire night defying Allah. ... At the height of immorality, Allah took revenge on these criminals. ... Allah struck them with an earthquake. He finished off the Richter scale. All nine levels gone." 12

Actually, the Richter scale is open-ended. An earthquake of level 10 is possible, although extremely unlikely.

bullet

The tsunami was part of God's plan: Peter Graff of Reuters news agency wrote:

"Traditionalists of diverse faiths described the destruction as part of god's plan, proof of his power and punishment for human sins:"

He quoted a number of religious sources:

bullet

Israeli chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, from the Orthodox tradition, said:

"This is an expression of God's great ire with the world. The world is being punished for wrongdoing -- be it people's needless hatred of each other, lack of charity, moral turpitude."

bullet

Pandit Harikrishna Shastri, a Hindu priest of New Delhi's Birla Temple attributed the disaster to a:

"huge amount of pent-up man-made evil on earth."

He suggested that the exact timing was determined by the positions of the planets.

bullet

Azizan Abdul Razak, a Muslim cleric and vice president of Malaysia's Islamic opposition party, Parti Islam se-Malaysia, said the disaster was a reminder from God that:

"... he created the world and can destroy the world."

bullet

Maria, a 32-year-old Jehovah's Witness in Cyprus said:

"It is a sign of the last days."

She believes that the War of Armageddon is coming as predicted in the Bible's book of Revelation. She commented that some people who once slammed the door in her face were now stopping to listen. 4

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bullet

"Thank God for the tsunami." Many Swedes died as punishment for country's hate crime laws: According to the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS:

"It is now widely reported that at least 5,000 Swedes are dead as a result of the tsunamis which ravaged Thailand and the other lush resorts of that region, and thousands more are unaccounted for. ... Scarcely a family in Sweden has been untouched by the devastation. Bible preachers say, THANK GOD for it all! We pray for all 20,000 Swedes in the tsunami's wake to be declared dead." 6

"These filthy, faggot Swedes have a satanic, draconian law criminalizing Gospel preaching , under which they prosecuted, convicted and sentenced Pastor Åke Green to jail -- thereby incurring God's irreversible wrath. ... Sweden [is] diseased, blind, perverted, irreversibly cursed of God and damned. We propose to hold these images in the faces of Swedes, as they will be in Hell for all eternity." 7

In a sermon, Fred Phelps, the Westboro church's pastor, drew an analogy between the tsunami's death toll and a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The Bible describes how God ordered the ancient Hebrew King Saul to commit genocide against a neighboring tribe by killing all of their men, women, youths, children, infants, newborns, and animals.

Pastor Phelps is apparently referring to a Swedish constitutional amendment passed during 2002 which includes sexual orientation among a list of groups protected from being targeted by "unfavorable speech." The law protects persons of all sexual orientations equally: heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals. in 2003, Pastor Åke Green delivered a sermon at his Pentecostal church in Borgholm, Sweden. He allegedly described homosexuality as "abnormal, a horrible cancerous tumor in the body of society." He described homosexuals as "perverts, whose sexual drive the Devil has used as his strongest weapon against God." He was charged with inciting hatred against a group of people on the basis of their sexual orientation. Green was found guilty and sentenced to one month in prison. The sentence was later overturned on appeal. Unlike similar legislation in place in Canada, the Swedish law covers all speech, including religious talks and sermons.  More details on the Swedish law.

Pastor Green disowned the Baptist Church's web site, saying that he was appalled by statements that blames Sweden's tolerance towards gays and lesbians as the reasons why hundreds of Swedes are missing after the tsunami hit. In an interview with the Swedish paper "The Local", he said:

"I think it is appalling that people say things like that...it is extremely unpleasant....This harms Christianity."

Apparently unaware of the near-absolute freedom of speech in the U.S., he expressed surprise that the U.S. government has not censored the church's hate speech. 8 An anonymous reader of the article said that:

"...the Bible does indeed say that God kills people because of sin, and that he is going to send even more disasters to this planet, and kill most of the people on it, because of sin. So instead of ignoring the Bible and trying to be popular, Phelps is quite refreshing and genuine. The old-time preachers and prophets probably sounded just as shocking and unorthodox to their audiences. I won't say anything bad about Fred - maybe God sent him to warn the world of comming [sic] doom at a time when most of the other preachers didn't give it straight."

Most readers who responded to the article condemned Pastor Phelps' comments.

The Westboro church has a number of well known web sites online, including http://www.godhatesfags.com, and http://www.godhatesamerica.com. A documentary film about Fred Phelps is at http://www.hatemongers.com.

bullet

There is nothing immoral about God engaging in mass murder: In a footnote to an article on the South Asian tsunami, Carl Wieland of Answers in Genesis wrote:

"A skeptic at one of my talks said publicly that the Flood would make God 'the biggest mass murderer in history.' But murder is defined as the unlawful killing of innocent human life. First, from God’s perspective post-Fall, there is no such thing as an 'innocent human'. And second, the concept of murder presupposes a universal law that such things are wrong, which can only be so if there is a Lawgiver, which the skeptic was trying to deny. As Creator, God has decreed that it is unlawful for a human being to take another human’s life, but the Judge of all the earth does not Himself do wrong when He takes a life, which in a very real sense happens whenever any of us die, regardless of what is called the 'proximate' cause (whether tsunami, heart attack or even suicide)." 9

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Shakur R. Sheffield,  Posting to "Perspectives on the power of nature, relief funds, and God," Miami Herald, 2005-JAN-01, at: http://www.miami.com/
  2. L.S.B., "From the tsunami: 'God is good'," Donald Sensing, 2004-DEC-31, at: http://www.donaldsensing.com/
  3. "Hindu group condemns labelling [sic] tsunami God's vengeance," New Karala, 2004-DEC-28, at: http://www.newkerala.com/
  4. Peter Graff, "Faiths Ask of Quake: 'Why Did You Do This, God?'," Reuters, 2004-DEC-30, at: http://www.reuters.com/
  5. Teresa Watanabe and Larry B. Stammer, "Deadly Tsunami Resurrects the Old Question of Why. Leaders of various faith traditions have different interpretations of how such human suffering can occur under a benevolent God." Los Angeles Times, 2005-JAN-08, at: http://www.latimes.com/
  6. "Warning!!! To God's elect: Leave Sweden NOW!!!," Westboro Baptist Church, at: http://www.godhatesswedem.com
  7. "Thank God for the tsunamis - & we hope for 20,000 dead Swedes!!!," Westboro Baptist Church, at: http://www.godhatesfags.com/
  8. "Swedish pastor disowns US hate site," The Local, Sweden, 2005-JAN-07, at: http://www.thelocal.se/
  9. Carl Wieland, "Waves of sadness: The temblor-triggered tsunami terror raises the same age-old questions," Answers in Genesis, 2004-DEC-30, at: http://aig.gospelcom.net/
  10. Holy Love Ministries at 37137 Butternut Ridge Rd., Elyria, OH has a web site at: http://www.holylove.org.
  11. Myles Wearring, "Tsunamis blamed on homosexuality," SSonet, 2005-JAN-07, at: http://www.ssonet.com.au/
  12. Arnaud de Borchgrave, "Allah off the Richter scale," The Washington Times, 2005-JAN-09, at: http://www.washtimes.com/
  13. Bill Broadway, "Divining a Reason for Devastation. Followers of Various Faiths Differ on Natural, Supernatural Explanations for Tsunami," Washington Post," at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

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Copyright © 2005 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JAN-01
Latest update: 2014-MAR-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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