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Why did the South Asian Tsunami happen?

Reasons given by some
religious skeptics, secularists, etc.

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tsunami Responses, by religious skeptics:

bullet

A suggestion that the human race boycott God: Heather MacDonald, author of the book "Are Cops Racist?" suggests that God has gone too far this time. She writes:

"It is time to boycott God. Centuries of uncritical worship have clearly produced a monster. God knows that he can sit passively by while human life is wantonly mowed down, and the next day, churches, synagogues, and mosques will be filled with believers thanking him for allowing the survivors to survive. The faithful will ask him to heal the wounded, while ignoring his failure to prevent the disaster in the first place. They will excuse his unwillingness to stave off destruction with alibis ('God wasn't there when the tsunami hit'—Suketu Mehta) and relativising ('for each victim tens of thousands yet live'—Russell Seitz), even if those excuses contradict God's other attributes, such as omnipresence or love for each individual life."

She recommends that if God decides to not intervene and prevent the next tsunami-class disaster, that believers should boycott churches, mosques, synagogues, etc. God might get the message that believers expect him to behave as any ethical human would: by preventing the disaster before it starts. She suggests:

"It might not work. But the 'I'm rotten-You're divine' syndrome isn't too functional, either. It's worth a try; there is nothing to lose." 1

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bullet Voltaire's thoughts on the occasion of the Lisbon, Portugal, tsunami of 1755: The Lisbon earthquake had a estimated magnitude of 8.7 and generated a 15 meter (foot) high tsunami which destroyed much of the city. It happened on the morning of All Saint's Day, on 1755-NOV-01, when much of the public was at church. Lisbon was a major political, cultural and commercial center at the time. Estimates of the dead vary from about 10,000 to 90,000 out of the city's population of 270,000. Thirty-five of the forty churches in the city were destroyed. Although everyone involved in the tragedy has been dead for centuries, their comments would equally apply to the South Asian tsunami and other natural disasters.

Responses to the tragedy varied:
bullet The Society of Jesuits: The Jesuits and some other religious orders believed that it was an indication of God's wrath for the sins committed by the people of Lisbon.

bullet

The dictator of Portugal: The Marques de Pombal, attributed the disaster to natural causes. He suggested that people "bury the dead and feed the living" rather than dissipate energy repenting for their sins. He used the tragedy as a catalyst to effect change in Portugal. He expelled the Jesuits, secularized their universities, and made drastic changes:

"...to end the influence of the church on the operations of the secular government. ... Portugal [became]...the first European country to undermine the role of religion in government. This, in turn, set a precedent for other nations to follow."

Pombal's actions apparently were one of many factors which led to the creation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and its concept of separation of church and state.

bullet

The French philosopher, Voltaire: He was one of the leading thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment. He was one of many intellectual leaders who questioned why God would allow such a tragedy as the Lisbon earthquake and tsunami. He appears to have been deeply shaken by the disaster. Prior to the Lisbon earthquake and tsunami:

"...his philosophy, and the philosophy of others in the time period was that 'all was good'." 2

He stopped being an optimist; he no longer believed that everything happens for the best.

Voltaire wrote "Poeme sur le desastre de Lisbonne" (Poem on the Lisbon Disaster). It was subtitled: "An Examination of that Axiom 'All is Well'." It said in part:

Oh, miserable mortals! Oh wretched earth!
Oh, dreadful assembly of all mankind!
Eternal sermon of useless sufferings!
Deluded philosophers who cry, "All is well,"
Hasten, contemplate these frightful ruins,
This wreck, these shreds, these wretched ashes of the dead;
These women and children heaped on one another,
These scattered members under broken marble;
One-hundred thousand unfortunates devoured by the earth
Who, bleeding, lacerated, and still alive,
Buried under their roofs without aid in their anguish,
End their sad days!
In answer to the half-formed cries of their dying voices,
At the frightful sight of their smoking ashes,
Will you say: "This is result of eternal laws
Directing the acts of a free and good God!"
Will you say, in seeing this mass of victims:
"God is revenged, their death is the price for their crimes?"
What crime, what error did these children,
Crushed and bloody on their mothers' breasts, commit?
Did Lisbon, which is no more, have more vices
Than London and Paris immersed in their pleasures?
Lisbon is destroyed, and they dance in Paris!2

bullet

The French philosopher: Rousseau: He disagreed with Voltaire and maintained his faith in the "All is well" concept. On 1756-AUG-18, he wrote a letter to Voltaire which criticized his pessimism. He wrote, in part:

"This optimism which you find so cruel consoles me still in the same woes that you force on me as unbearable. Pope's poem alleviates my difficulties and inclines me to patience; yours makes my afflictions worse, prompts me to grumble, and, leading me beyond a shattered hope, reduces me to despair.... Now what does your poem tell me? "Suffer forever unfortunate one. If a God created you, He is doubtlessly all powerful and could have prevented all your woes. Don't ever hope that your woes will end, because you would never know why you exist, if it is not to suffer and die...." 2

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References used:

  1. Heather Mac Donald, "Send a Message to God. He has gone too far this time," MSN Slate, 2005-JAN-10, at: http://slate.msn.com/.
  2. Allison Leidner, "The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755," at: http://water.stanford.edu/ You may need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:

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Site navigation:

Home page > Christianity > Christian personalities > God > Disasters > here

or Home page > Religious information > God > Disasters > here

or Home page > Spirituality > Disasters > here

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Copyright © 2005 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JAN-01
Latest update: 2014-MAR-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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