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. George

    God has been used as justification for a lot of pain. I don't think God cares.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  2. Johnny Goldenrod

    If God causes these natural disasters in order to punish why would anyone want to worship such a cruel being?

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

    If there were a god, he/she/it and/or spirit would not tolerate the stupidity of Beck thereby proving there is no god. Ditto for all others who consider natural disasters as being the work of some god.

    Think infinity and recycling with the Big Bang expansion followed by the shrinking reversal called the Gib Gnab and recycling back to the Big Bang repeating the process on and on forever. Human life and Earth are simply a minute part of this cha-otic, sto-cha-stic, expanding, shrinking process disappearing in five billion years with the burn out of the Sun and maybe returning in another five billion years with different life forms but still subject to the va-ga-ries of its local star.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  4. Cruzader

    Just stories to scare people and controlling more their minds.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  5. Truth!!!!

    I love this moron who wrote this article. Although I am not religious, I know the danger of religion. Islam is the most dangerous religion on the face of the earth. To try and soften the dangerous message of Islam by putting christianity on the slab is truly taqiyyah.. You Mr Author are a devious Muslim or Muslim sympathizer. Did you know that Hitler was inspired by Islam???? Why not mention which religion caused 9/11 and inspired the Holocaust instead of blaiming some "one off" moronic christians for their stupidity.... Pathetic.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Observer

      You might do some research. Hitler was raised as a Catholic and believed in God. Oops.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  6. john

    This thing of blaming God, or blaming people for making God mad so he is doing this, is completely retarded. I can't believe anyone can even think this.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  7. Louie

    Ron why are you speaking about other peoples religions just because you do not like a certain religion or way of thinking does not mean you can judge a person because you and i are no better than eveeryone else.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  8. Observer

    Maybe God is tired of people like Beck who have big problems telling the truth. At the hypocritically named "Restore Honor" rally, Beck told his gullible sheep that he had held a speech by George Washington. When confronted with truth, Beck claimed he did it because it was easier to not be honest.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  9. FoxholeAtheist

    These types of articles make CNN look no better than the local church newsletter. It's shameful to try and associate the death, suffering and destruction of the real events mentioned and then throw in the legend of the biblical flood.

    Utter nonsense.

    I expect better from CNN.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  10. dr.obvious

    more like ~

    1. Tectonics
    2. Low pressure system
    3. Murders with flight training.
    4. Landgrab
    5. Lunatic
    6. Fiction

    Seems to me that if any of these were any act of a god, they'd either still be happening or would have succeed in their devastation. Unless this god is bad at his job.

    Raise anyone to believe anything and they will.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  11. michael

    Man made gods and eligion make people say absurd things. Thank God Falwell is down...Now we just need Robertson and Beck and the world will be MUCH better off!

    March 16, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  12. LEB

    Blaming human behavior for natural disasters is absolutely ridiculous. Earthquakes happen all the time, and often with little to no damage to human civilization. Is "God" creating these harmless earthquakes, too? But if they're intended to punish human behavior, then why would he bother with earthquakes, lava flows, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc that harm no one?

    Besides, 9/11, the Holocaust, and the Civil War where created at the hands of humans who were filled with hate. Humans then stopped the Holocaust, the Civil War, and have prevented several 9/11-type incidents. Humanity can solve its own problems, thank you very much - no god required.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  13. hannah

    Luke 13:2-3 "And he (Jesus) answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." – Natural disasters and tragedies such as these should remind us that life on Earth is only temporary, when the end comes we will be judged based on whether or not we believed in Christ.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  14. The Dude

    Religion is poison. The fast food of spirituality, a tool to control the sheep.

    I wish it was all true then the rapture would spare me from listening to anymore Christian nonsense.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Jack

      You could have chosen to read a different article so you wouldn't have had to "listen" to any of this nonsense but you didn't. Interesting. You also chose to state your disgust of the Christian faith but not Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism or even Islam. Also interesting. I sense daddy issues.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  15. NPhxAz

    H1N1 was a pandemic retribution to America, for letting the swine culture disease our people. It killed my dad last April 13th.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  16. Adam

    Glen Beck is such a tool. Hey America, why do you his mess of a television program? Also, if countries are punished based on the extent to which their citizens "sin," then we should be on the lookout for a meteor headed for America.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  17. Rich

    It was Because the jews did not have their homeland, their state yet, that the holocaust happened. There will be no holocaust as long as the jews live in their home, Israel, with Jerusalem as their spiritual capitol forever, Amen.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  18. stevie68a

    People believe in religious nonsense because most were brainwashed as children. The Buy Bull is a fraud.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  19. Mike

    Primitive and ignorant peoples have always used a god or gods to explain what they don't understand.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • HZD

      Meanwhile atheists seemingly always use CNN's religion blog to make disrespectful comments about things that they don't understand.

      Strange world, eh?

      March 16, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Observer

      "Things they don't understand"? A recent test/poll showed that the average atheist and average agnostic know more about the Bible than the average Christian.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  20. Arnie

    If I remember my Catechism classes correctly, the God of the Old Testament was a vengeful god. Then Jesus came along in the New Testament in the form of a loving and forgiving God and saved us from the vengeful and punishing god.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
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About this blog

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.