First, let me start with this radio segment on NPR's Morning Edition
. This is a report about how different religions are viewing the recent Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, and how religious figures are attempting to reconcile or explain this event in a religious context.
I'll summarize each representative's comments, and then give my own opinions about their comments.
First, a Roman Catholic bishop. His understanding seems to be that the reasoning God would "do" something like this is a mystery. He does state, however, that whenever evil people are killed by God, "some innocent people also perish".
I interpret this comment to mean that god chose this course of action, thus inflicting it on the earth; but with no explanation that is understandable to mere humans. This, to me, is another ridiculous personification of god. God "chooses"? God "Does"? God creates a tidal wave to destroy a lot of evil people, but writes off the "innocent bystanders"? God sounds a lot like a war general who "regrets the unfortunate, but inevitable loss of innocent bystanders", or better yet, believes in some unavoidable collateral damage. Sorry, it just sounds plain dumb to me. Yet another reason why I am no longer catholic. This kind of drivel reminds me of the "shut up and listen to what we say" garbage that was given to me as a youth in catholic church and catechism.
To me, this understanding of God, even in this modern, advanced, enlightened society that we live in and love, is no different from the purported reaction of ancient man to the great mystery of lightning and thunder. Not understanding that lightning is a big static spark, ancient man thinks there must be a big man in the sky hurling bolts down.. Perhaps he's hunting! The essence is: I have no freaking clue why this disaster happened, but let me try to cram it into my religious framework that I'm told must be true at pain of eternal suffering.
Okay, next up with have a buddhist monk from Washington DC. He said some buddhists may believe that these people deserved to die because their kamma made them culpable. He also qualified that statement by saying that he personally thought that idea ludicrous. He clarified his position by stating that a mass group of people like that cannot possibly act in the same regard, therefore a massive "kammic comeuppance" would not be possible. His last sentence was, "this was a totally natural cause".
I pretty much agree dead on with this guy (surprise).. It is insanity to think that any buddhist could possibly place kammic responsibility on 150,000 people that just so happened to all live on the coast of the Indian Ocean. That course of thinking is as dangerous as it is stupid. Sadly though, I am sure there are a lot of buddhists out there that believe just this very thing.
Next up we have a reformed Jewish Rabbi. He makes a bold claim (bold for most Jews that I know, anyway) that "god does not micromanage the universe" and had no control over this particular event. He claims that perhaps this was a punishment and that God may have known about the tsunami ahead of time, but god "could not intervene"..
What in the hell is this clown talking about? For any person who believes in God to claim to understand God or to even dare attempt explanations of God's actions is (I love this word) ridiculous. Yet another "I have no idea, but I sure have to sound like I do" bunch of hogwash. He did say one brilliant thing, though: "We are, at our core, retroactive meaning-makers". So true. After something happens that affects us on so many levels, we just feel this need to ascribe meaning to it. Why?
Next is a muslim Imam. He claims that 'of course' god created this tragedy, because god controls absolutely everything. He also says that while everything happens for a reason, people will not know the reason until they meet god.
You know, I'm down with islam. If I was theistic, I would probably choose islam. Every true muslim that I've ever met or read about (and obviously I'm not counting the tiny minority of idiot extremists - although the media would have us believe that all muslims are like them), is the most "faithful" and the most true to their religion of any theistic group I've come across. They DO have an explanation for everything. They at least admit "Who the hell are we to know? We'll just have to wait and see, huh?" If you believe in god, you must admit that this guy appears to make the most sense of the theists interviewed for this piece.
Now comes the baptist pastor. This guy says that everyone is stained by sin and deserves punishment. He thinks that whenever god creates a tragedy like this, he is calling HIM to repent (himself)... Now, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he means that god is calling everyone NOT killed in the tragedy to account, not just him. So, I take this to mean that he kills a few people as a sort of spiritual wake-up call.
I have a low opinion of this man's comments. It is selfish and anglo-centric. I actually heard of a born-again christian on talk radio claiming that god punished the areas of the world that are the least christian. Yes, good job god, you killed a lot of brown people with one tidal wave. I'm gonna get on the phone and give money to the white preacher. praise god!
Last we have a hindu spiritual counselor from San Francisco. She takes a different approach on this and claims that nature is god, and people have been abusing nature, and so this is a natural result of this abuse. She also claims that the people who died were punished as a result of their bad karma.
I really hope most hindus don't feel this way, but knowing what I know about hinduism, I think they probably do. Hindu is pretty cut and dry on this kind of thing. I disagree with this line of thinking. I think it's a dangerous way to think, because personal accountability for the way you treat others seems to be lessened. You end up feeling that if something befalls a person (a child gets sexually abused or something), they somehow deserved it from their actions in a previous life. I really feel strongly that this is not the case.
As a closing statement, the reporter ties it all together by saying that a common thread amongst theologies is that the answers to these questions are not to be found in this life.
I guess one thing I'd like to bring up is the idea that I am seeing a sort of trend with all of these commentators. They seem to regard death as a punishment. "god punished this person" "god punished them", etc.
The only ones who are suffering are the ones left alive! That wasn't even mentioned! Look, I'll be perfectly honest. My attachment to my family is such that it would cause me great suffering if I were to lose any, or especially all, of them. I would not want to live.
Of course you know that I feel that this was just a random, chance event. Truly it was a horrible tragedy, but we can see all the truths that buddha gave us coming to the forefront right now. The people who are suffering are the ones who have lost things or people that they were attached to. This is just simply the plain observable truth. These things happen. They have happened, they will continue to happen. Nothing is permenant, even the very earth that we live on. Even the very ocean.
Now, let's get this site revived with some big discussions about this. The tsunami tragedy has not been brought up yet, and I have been trying to come up with something to kick off the discussion, so here it is. Thanks to NPR for the inspiration