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6 other calamities blamed on divine retribution
Destroyed vehicles and rubble in Minamisanriku, Japan
March 16th, 2011
04:55 PM ET

6 other calamities blamed on divine retribution

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Age-old questions about divine punishment are back. Again.

On Tuesday, the governor of Tokyo apologized for saying the earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of Japanese were divine retribution for national egoism.

Television and media personality Glenn Beck, meanwhile, has sent mixed messages about whether he thinks God is behind Japan's natural disaster. “I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes,” he said Monday, adding he's “not not saying that, either.”

“Whether you call it Gaia, or whether you call it Jesus, there’s a message being sent and that is, ‘Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well,’” Beck said. “Maybe we should stop doing some of it.”

Blaming human sinfulness for natural and man-made disasters is nothing new. “This kind of thinking is actually typical rather than atypical in world history,” says Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion professor and CNN Belief Blog contributor.

Here’s a list of natural and man-made calamities that have been attributed to divine retribution for human transgression. Let us know what others should make the cut.

1. The Haiti earthquake

A day after Haiti’s devastating 2009 earthquake, U.S. Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said the disaster was provoked by the Haitians' "pact to the devil."

The “700 Club” host said Haitians had entered that pact to gain independence from French rule in the early 1800s. “They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story,” Robertson said. “And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' "

“Ever since,” Robertson continued, "they have been cursed by one thing after the other." The magnitude 7.0 earthquake claimed more than 200,000 lives.

2. Hurricane Katrina

A handful of politically conservative Christians blamed 2005’s Hurricane Katrina - which struck New Orleans, Louisiana, and left more than 1,800 dead - on the Crescent City’s embrace of gay pride events.

“All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens,” John Hagee, a Texas-based evangelical pastor who leads the Christian Zionist movement in the United States, said after Katrina. “I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are - were recipients of the judgment of God for that."

3. The September 11 attacks

Two days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the Rev. Jerry Falwell said the attacks were, at least in part, God’s judgment on those who would secularize American public life.

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen,'” Falwell said on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club" program.

"God will not be mocked,” said Falwell, who was made famous by leading the Moral Majority in the 1980s.

In a phone call to CNN later the same day, Falwell stepped back a bit, saying that only the hijackers and terrorists were responsible for the attacks.

But Falwell reiterated that forces trying to secularize the U.S. “created an environment which possibly has caused God to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil since 1812."

4. The Civil War

Abraham Lincoln entered the White House conceiving of God as a distant creator. But the presidency transformed that view into one of a God who acts in the universe. The turnaround was triggered largely by watching the Civil War’s casualty numbers rise into the hundreds of thousands.

In 1862, Lincoln scribbled down his thoughts about God and war. “I am almost ready to say this is probably true - that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet," he wrote. “He could give the final victory to either side any day - Yet the contest proceeds.”

Lincoln elaborated in his second inaugural address in 1865, framing the Civil War as divine punishment for slavery, which he considered a sin. It was his last speech to the American people before his assassination.

5. The Holocaust

During and after World War II, some Orthodox Jews attributed the murder of 6 million fellow believers to Jewish transgression. Many in that camp pointed a finger at Zionists, who they accused of trying to establish Israel too soon, before the Messiah’s return.

“There were groups that claimed this was divine punishment because there were no other theological options,” says Bernard M. Levinson, a Jewish studies professor at the University of Minnesota. “Their own piety made things difficult.”

More recently, one of Israel’s leading rabbis generated controversy for claiming that last year's devastating fire in the Jewish state - the worst in the country’s history - was divine retribution for Jews failing to observe the Sabbath.

6. The biblical flood

The God of the Hebrew Bible is frequently portrayed as a ruler who doles out major rewards - and some very harsh punishments. One of the most famous is the flood in Genesis, which God orchestrates in response to human wickedness. He allows the righteous Noah to build an ark to ride out 40 days' worth of rain.

Widely cited as the archetypal act of divine retribution, some biblical scholars say the story was intended less to warn of a vengeful God than to establish the role of human agency in world events. Levinson says the story is a counter-narrative to The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian tale that involves a massive flood but that depicts humans as powerless in the face of capricious gods.

“The author of the flood story is saying that God doesn’t act randomly, that God responds to human action,” Levinson says. He notes that the Noah story is set in prehistoric times, which he says shows the narrative is meant to be taken as metaphor, not as a practical explanation of natural disasters.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Asia • God • Holocaust • Japan

soundoff (939 Responses)
  1. OFIRONIT

    Noone knows why the world we live in is upsidown .
    At this time it feels very confusing and unsure of what will be in the near future.
    But we as society should try to do the best for eachother and send good energy around us and mean wel for others
    coz that bring blessing and success to everyone and remember that we are only visitors in this life
    we don't own anything it all belongs to the nature and it can take it all when it struck at us.
    OurLiVES is prescious and i do bleive in carma .More then that it is beyond our imagination ,capacity and to understand
    such deepest world's secrets of the universe that we can't judge.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  2. Oldie in TampaBay

    Dear Lord .. protect me from your followers ...

    March 16, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • TVC15

      One of my favorite sayings! I also like "ignorance is curable, stupidity is forever".

      March 16, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  3. btian

    Maybe the assumption that this life us all that exists blinds us. If eternity is real, death is only temporary. That takes the sting out of death. And the horror too. What lies beyond death is what should be our real concern.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  4. Tony Provolone

    "What an asinine article"
    referring to my article ha
    "what a vacuous comment "

    March 16, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  5. HarshReality

    I do realize my spelling is not up to par. . . .

    March 16, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  6. harvey

    when adam fell all creation fell with him....mmmm..the big question is "Did Jesus rise from the dead?" on that , all else hangs.
    If Jesus' words are anything to go by then we would be stupid not to take heed.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  7. DP

    It is amazing to see how a natural disaster is turned into a religious event over and over again. Lets see how much money the TV/Cable/Radio Preachers make on this terrible event! Bottom-line, people help people to get through these events – this is what makes a difference.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  8. Da Bear

    I don't agree with this article, because the Holocaust and 9/11 were man made catastrophes. And I don't believe God was/is fulfilling Hitler's or Osama's agenda.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  9. Austin

    Really...Hurricane Katrina in the same category as THE HOLOCAUST????????????????????????/

    March 16, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  10. alan

    I hate it that every time something good happens people credit God, but when something bad happens they blame Mother Nature. They are both the same thing.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  11. Tony Provolone

    the "end of days" is near, some of these signs include earthquakes, natural disasters, civil problems, wars, to cope with all the above we may turn to religion.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Keri

      Religion works for some people. Is that so surprising or wrong for that matter? It's ok to agree to disagree, but to the point of being so disrespectful towards others will never change anyone to believe the way you see the world. Ever.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  12. Brian

    "What an asinine article. "..........

    Maybe God is punishing us by giving us theologians who give us palavering sermons about irrelevant things.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  13. JohnJacobGingleheimer

    Hey "Critic", were you around about 6000 years when the flood "occurred". How can you say it didn't happen when you really have NO idea. I suppose you believe in all those myths that talk about evolution that took place over the last 100 million years. Explain to me real quick how a floppy membrane type thing turned into an Elephant.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Colin

      That cannot be explained "quickly". It requires a high scool education, a willingness to lites and a base level of intelligence. I suspect you lack at least two of these three.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • nchune

      how the heck could the flood have happened 6000 years, when the BIBLE ( the B I B L E ) sets the age of the world at 4000 years and change

      you all need to understand the beauty of a metaphor and a myth.

      it doesnt take away from these stories ....it helps anchor them

      March 16, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • David

      Alright, I'll explain it again. For Noah to have saved 146,000 species, as well as 3,000,000 species of insects, Noah would have needed a fleet of Arks the size of the Spanish Armada. He would have been a little pressed for time, gathering Polar bears from the North Pole, Penguins from the South Pole, Iguanas from the Galapagos, and Marsupials from Australia, all before the inundation. Then there is the matter of food; refrigerated meat for the carnivores, so they don't eat the gazelles, and fresh water for all. Then the pair of flies multiply exponentially in the cubic yards of dung and there is no Vet aboard to treat the maggot infested animals. I would go on, except you can't wrap your 3 brain cells around it. Classic creationist answer is, "well ,God makes exceptions in this case." Well ,God created microbes, typhus, typhoid fever and polio as well, so you just have think rather than believe.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • TVC15

      Nature doesn't care if you believe in evolution or not, but to put it terms that someone of your caliber will understand. Your God is respondsible for evolution, he put it all into motion and everytime you say evolution is a myth you are slapping your God right in the face, you insult your creator. People that can't wrap their pointed little heads around the complicated process of evolution are afraid of it. I'm not afraid of God so why are you afraid of his power and unlimited ability to "create". God is much, much more than what the Bible says. Don't you see that you are placing limits on what God can do? You've contained him to a book. If it's not in the bible then it didn't happen is your belief. How sad. He has created this fantasticly beautiful universe and you don't have enough faith or sense to appreciate it.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  14. bRyAn

    Everything happens for a reason, God works in mysterious ways. This is how he shows his infinite love to the world.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Colin

      So, how was the Kool-Aid?

      March 16, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • David Young

      Who says God is a he? Perhaps IT's an it.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • sugarpeke

      There is a song that says "....And the circle remains unbroken..." so we will go through the circle of precession, because in 26,000 years we have learned nothing.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  15. IsraelRocksBaby

    check your facts carefully, people. these are all warning signs from The Almighty God that we need to repent of our wicked ways and turn to him. Prophesied in THE Bible over 2,000 years ago and beyond. It's all the beginning He promised us. Don't believe? Stick around. Oh, many disasters, such as Katrina, map direcly to when Nations encourage Isreael's land to be divided up with the Palestines. Want more disaster? Try forcing that on them.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Colin

      Oh, how I wish i could see you in 5, 10 , 15 and 20 years, when your apocolyptic claptrap has not transpired.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Keri

      Collin is frustrated with people of faith because he demands evidence of something that only requires faith to believe. Not science. You can respect it for what it is or you can try to refute it and look disrespectful towards other people's beliefs. If you don't respect other people, how can you ever have respect for yourselves in return from anyone?

      March 16, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  16. JohnJacobGingleheimer

    Please people use a spelling dictionary. It is hard to take anyone serious when it sounds like it's coming from a 5 year old.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • IsraelRocksBaby

      4-1/2.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • auruin

      so dyslexic people sound like children? its more childish for someone to judge something on its face value only and not on the content. just because someone spells something wrong does not mean what they say has no merit. your limiting yourself.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  17. David Young

    Not to intentionally make this political but how many of you remember Stuart Shepard of Focus on the Family asking all Christians to pray for "torrential rain of biblical proportions" to fall on then Senator Barack Obama as he accepted the Democratic nomination, which was held outdoors? Funny thing; it didn't rain one drop. Now how many remember what happened during the Republican Convention just two weeks later and having a major impact on scheduled events? If you guessed Hurican Katrina, you are correct.

    But did you hear anyone claim that the devastation and tragedy was God's will aimed at disrupting the Republican Convention? Nope, not a single mention of God's will. The moral of this story is that religious zealots tend to shape "truth" to suite their closely held beliefs.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Andrew

      100% fact.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • auruin

      yep. people should realize "truth" is subjective. if you change your perception, than you change your reality. existentialism.....

      March 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • bill

      hurricane Katrina happened in 2005. Obama accepted the namination in 2008. Therefore, the Republican convention two weeks later could not have been rained out by hurricane Katrina. Therefore it is not 100% fact. There is a major disconnect in your timeline.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • David Young

      Oh, yes, you are correct. My bad. It was Hurricane Gustav bearing down on the Gulf coast. Sorry for the misidentified storm, but the rest of the story rings true. The Republican Convention was disrupted and no one blamed God.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  18. Jesus of Nazareth

    Religious leaders are pariahs. They use horrible tragic events like this to further their own agendas. While a handful of true heroes drop what they are doing and lend assistance, these idiots try to use it an example of proof that their rambling nonsensical teachings are true. I'd rather praise the real heroes in this and give them some press coverage.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • DP

      Awesome – well stated!

      March 16, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • JJ

      Absolutely – Thank you Jeebus!

      March 16, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  19. Critic

    What an asinine article. The Biblical Flood wasn't a calamity. It is a story, a myth. It never happened. You insult the people who suffered and/or died in these other events. Their deaths were real. Their suffering was real. For shame, CNN, for shame. Yet again.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Keri

      They have found the ark in the Iranian mountains on the border with Russia.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • Da Bear

      Please, share with us how you know these things to be false?

      March 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • jazzman

      The story doesn't state that the flood was real. It states the flood in genesis and leaves it up to the reader to decide if it is real. It obviously is a myth but there are morons who believe it is real.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Mao

      CNN did an article back in December 10, 2010 by Randy Boswell regarding new evidence that could have caused a global flood.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Actually

      Actually, the Flood has proven to be quite real in several parts of the world. They have found similar stories in multiple cultures and found in the geological excavations around the world, that there was a flood that occurred very close to the same time period in most of the places they looked.
      I can't cite specific sources, but it came from either a History channel or Discovery channel special.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Ed

      Actually, multiple ancient civilizations record a great deluge a few thousand years ago. While I would dispute the biblical account as to its cause and magnitude, there's solid evidence that it occurred. Just recently 1/3 of Pakistan was under water. Extensive flooding occurs in the region regularly, albeit in very long intervals, and the known world was much smaller back then.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • adrifter

      Really, CNN? You've included the biblical flood in a list of 'manmade and natural" disasters. Are you completely losing your minds? The biblical flood is a myth, pure and simple. I find it ridiculous that I even have to point that out to anyone. As for the posters who claim there is physical proof of a biblical flood, please point out that evidence so someone can go take a picture or something. There is no proof. Geez, what is wrong with you people? Are you so gullible that you would believe absolutely anything? Sadly, it appears the answer is yes.

      March 17, 2011 at 1:57 am |
    • Sybaris

      There is a pristine meteor impact crater in Arizona that is over 10,000 years old.

      There are other man made and natural structures that predate the alleged flood that show no signs of the presence of water, ever.

      If Noahs flood happened there should be kangaroos, pandas and platypusses in Turkey, there is not and never were.

      Think people!

      It didn't happen!

      March 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  20. profbam

    Whenever I hear "God works in strange and mysterious ways." or "We cannot know God's plan." in response to a calamity, be it small or large, I think these are euphemisms for "God is random." Or, better that Mother Nature is random. For those who think that God punishes those who sin, try reading ALL of Job. You are one of Job's inquisitors.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Colin

      Was totally with you until the last two sentences. Dude, what's with that?

      March 16, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Keri

      Did he say read it Collin? Derp!

      March 16, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.