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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. Kevin

    Did you ever notice God’s obsession with water? God the 'Father' is alleged to cause a great flood that punishes mankind (and everything else that gets in the way – innocent animals) and God the ‘Son’ is alleged to walk on water just to show everyone that He can still handle H2O. Wonder why the Holy Spirit hasn’t been involved. Can’t swim?

    March 17, 2011 at 5:57 am |
  2. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    Apostle Eric says; It is difficult for the logic of sinners to comprehend the judgments of God and we can see the repeat of this will happen again in the book of Revelation, Rev 9:21 ” NEITHER REPENTED they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
    When sinners use the values of their own aspirations to define righteousness, then they are compelled to defend that perspective to protect themselves. Sinners use social standards and laws for their conscience and so will free themselves to act in that manner. But God’s holiness has not changed and every soul is measured on His scales not the scales of society or religions. http://apostlestoday.net/

    March 17, 2011 at 5:00 am |
    • PRISM1234

      Yes, that is the way it is. The Truth never changes, and all truth belongs to GOD. He has set the standard, and He defines what the truth is according to those standards. The reason why so many are hostile and turn away, and do not come to God is described in the words of Jesus Christ in John 3:18-21

      " And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
      I don't think it can be spelled out much clearer!

      March 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  3. Gaunt

    Peter, I hope you are aware that almost everything you said is completely factually wrong.

    Hitler was not a devoted Catholic, he was a half-hearted protestant who rarely attended church, and almost never did once he left home.

    Hitler never considered becoming a priest, you are confusing him with Stalin who spent time studying to join a seminary. Hitler had no ambitions, interest or faith to join the clergy.

    He didnt 'often' reference God or the Bible, he occasionally referenced God in an offhand manner, usually by referring to himself as guided by providence.

    Mein kampf has no bearing or relation to the Bible at all, it is in fact an incredibly obtuse stream of conciousness text detailing his vision for the future of the German peoples.

    The Bible was CERTAINLY not the cause of WW2, of all your made up bits of fantasy, that is the worst. World war two was most directly caused by a racial/national world vision reminiscent of the Racialist movements of the 19th century (such as pan-slavism), and an attempt to redress the percieved injustices of the treaty of Versailles. It had nothing at all to do with the Bible or religion: even Hitler's assault on the Jews was done in explicitly racial rather than religious terms.

    March 17, 2011 at 4:40 am |
  4. SMT

    maybe we should try and satisfy the gods by tossing glenn beck into a volcano, or something?

    March 17, 2011 at 4:39 am |
  5. Calvin Hobbes

    I agree with the Bilblical flood, I don't think the others come close though. How about, the Black Plague (100 Million). The Chinese Famine of 1959 (40 Million). The American genocide by Europeans (100 Million). and even though WWII (72 Million) and WWI (65 Million) sources were economical-political, there was plenty of praying going on. Finally, the Clintons and Obama (the 21st century world Apocalypse).

    March 17, 2011 at 4:35 am |
    • Gaunt

      Calvin, almost everything you said there was factually wrong. (Seems to be a trend in this thread...)

      Firstly, the Chinese famine was a direct result of Human agency and Mao's Great leap forward.

      The 'American genocide' by Europeans I assume you nean the conquest of the new world, in which case the vast majority of those deaths are due to disease, which depopulated entire regions before they had ever even seen a white man.

      WW1 killed about 15 million people, not 65 million.

      Lastly Clinton and Obama have been responsible for a heck of a lot fewer deaths than Bush Jr and Bush Sr, if anyone is bloodsoaked and steeped in human tragedy, it would be them.

      March 17, 2011 at 4:47 am |
  6. kathy

    I don't mind if a unicorn makes my omelete I just want one!!!

    March 17, 2011 at 4:09 am |
    • Mark

      hahaha that's great

      March 17, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  7. Overmann

    I really do not know why so many people are eager to believe that simply because they exist, a god exists. Where's the logical connection?

    March 17, 2011 at 3:50 am |
    • Mark

      you must replace "logical" with "mythological".

      March 17, 2011 at 4:11 am |
  8. JDS

    While I don't believe that my God is a vengeful God who goes around murdering millions of innocents to put an end to the ways of the wicked few, I have to say that if there were any factual reality or proof in this "devine retribution", the United States, California in particular, should have been wiped off the planet by now..... especially since the presidential election in 2008.

    March 17, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Obama isn't Christian enough for you? One of the reasons I didn't vote for him was his religious viewpoint... (don't worry, I didn't vote for McCain, either...)

      March 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  9. Tony in phoenix

    It is easy to claim divine intervention or retribution when it suits one's point of view. So what do you say when whole swaths of land along the Mississippi River are flooded? How about when that same area is hit with tornadoes. A lot of people who follow fundamentalist televangelists lived there. Were they not donating enough?

    I remember over 20 years ago the radio tower of a televangelist (I think it was Oral Roberts) was damaged by a lightning strike. I think that is called an "act of God" by insurance companies. The televangelist asked his followers to donate money to repair it. I think this was the same incident in which he said that he needed $1 million right away or else he would be called up to heaven by God. Do you think that the lightning strike was a message from God to shut up?

    Natural disasters and the misery that is inflicted are completely independent from anything religious.

    March 17, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  10. Tom Cruise

    The funny thing is that he is probably right.

    March 17, 2011 at 3:32 am |
  11. Peter

    It's disappointing how Christianity has turned into fanatism in the USA with too many leaning towards imaginary things rather than factual knowledge. Sadly this trend is long-term undermining the leadership of USA as a world-power in science and technology.

    Some facts:
    Hitler was devoted Catholic and even had the ambition of becoming a priest when he was young. He was heavily inspired by the Bible (e.g. read his book: Mein Kampf) in his crusade against the Jews causing a sad and meaningless mass murdering of millions of innocent people. Hitler often referenced God and the Bible in public.
    Noah's Ark is a great children's story that all educated intelligent experts in geology and biology perfectly know have no link to any real evidence and is not even possible. It's is a pure man-made myth possibly originating from a local flood in the middle east (that we know happened).

    And earth quakes are understood...they occur most frequently in fault zones of countries – no matter what God people believe in around the fault zones. You can be devoted Christian living in California having your imaginary relationship with some Jesus and still be hit by a earthquake some day.

    The Bible was cause of the worst ever war...WW2...something no Christian like to realize...but it absolutely was!
    And the Quran was cause of 9/11...not better.

    Both books were written by humans at a time where myths ruled over knowledge.

    March 17, 2011 at 3:27 am |
    • Me

      1. Christianity, despite it's faults, is far less fanatical than modern-day Islam. It's funny how these new-wave atheists like to ignore that.
      2. Hitler was a politician that used religion when it suited him. Later on in his rule, he and his top Nazis started making anti-Christian remarks, and even got into the occult to a degree. Modern-day Neo-Nazis are either atheists, or Norse Pagans (seeing the alleged Norse gods as symbols of Nordic power and supremacy more than actual deities).
      3. Your claim that the Bible started WW2 makes me think that you're a grade school kid that hasn't studied history yet.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:31 am |
    • bobbyjoemcdonalds

      God was created in Man's image.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:33 am |
    • Me

      bobbyjoemcdonalds, God created the Universe, and the Universe created man. God has no image, and organized releigion's images of God are imaginary.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • Mark

      The Universe created man, and man created all the silly gods and silly religions that more primitive man still believes. More evolved man has a better understanding of the fallacies of all gods and all religions, in the scientific advances man has made, and is thus not religiions (atheist).

      Also, my theory of the Universe is cyclical: The Universe expands, then contracts, then goes boom, then expands again, and so on and so forth, nothing was created from nothing, everything has always existed, and always will, just in various forms of energy that transforms. Of course, it's just a theory.

      March 17, 2011 at 4:09 am |
  12. Me

    God does NOT cause natural disasters. God set up the variables and the parameters of the universe so that life can exist. This does not mean that God either causes natural disasters, or wills them into happen. Acts of nature are not acts of God, and they happen all on their own due to the laws of physics.

    March 17, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • Q

      I honestly don't have any issue with this description so long as you add that the God you describe is not omniscient (to avoid downstream culpability as the first cause) and has never capriciously intervened while demanding faith-based salvation (to avoid maltheism in response to the problem of evil).

      March 17, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • Me

      Q, God is not omniscient – God knows only that which can be known. It isn't all-powerful either. For example, It cannot create another version of Itself, and cannot create a rock so big that It can't lift it. Naturally, It's limited to that which is logically possible. It seems like a lot of atheists see only two alternatives:
      1. Religious fanaticism
      2. Atheism

      There's lots of stuff inbetween.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:34 am |
    • Q

      @Me – Based on the limitations you describe, no argument here. With respect, it would appear that the "God" you describe amounts to a simple moniker for an alleged first cause.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Mark

      So, because you do not know who setup the "...variables and the parameters of the universe so that life can exist.", you attribute it to "god" ? Where is your proof that "god" setup these "variables"? Because you do not know the answer, you automatically associate a supernatural being to this act. That is quite convenient, and ignorant.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:59 am |
  13. proud infidel

    Well, if anyone belives in God, I'm happy for them. Just keep your ignorance to yourself.

    March 17, 2011 at 3:10 am |
  14. Ravi

    Jerry Falwell is a moron. The last attack on American soil before 9/11 wasn't the war of 1812. It was the attack on Pearl Harbor as any 5th grader can tell you.

    March 17, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • proud infidel

      Last attack by who? You are wrong pal.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:12 am |
  15. FEARLESSLY FAITHFUL

    Who ever denies that here exists a Supreme Power denies their own existance. The POWER above and way beyond all powers and principalities is the very origin of every thing that exist and ceases to exist,including the monumental cosmos and all that the eye have not yet seen and brain of mere man quite unable to fathom.

    March 17, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  16. FEARLESSLY FAITHFUL

    Who ever denies that here exists a Supreme Power denies their own existance. The POWER above and way beyond all powers and principalities is the very origin of every thing that exist and ceases to exist,including the monumental cosmos and all that the eye have not yet seen and brain o3 mere man quite unable to fathom.

    March 17, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • andy

      I guess if you can't fathom it, that means you can't imagine your own existence. if god doesen't forgive these people, what makes you think your hermaphrodite god will forgive you?

      March 17, 2011 at 3:33 am |
    • EuphoriCrest

      Think about changing your name to FoolishlyFaithful.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:41 am |
  17. Jeff

    Science bless all of you and yours.

    March 17, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • Mark

      Amen.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:53 am |
  18. Jess29

    As an example, let's just say your child refuses to clean up his or her room. You've told them and told them, and now your starting to get mad because they just refuse to listen to you. You give them a warning that if they don't do as you say, there will be punishment. God works in the same way. We have all the oppertunity in the world to do right but refuse to do so. So what's left for us that won't listen? Being punished in one way or another. In the bible, God has distroyed many places because of their refusal to listen and do right. This wouldn't be the first time it ever happened.

    March 17, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • Q

      @Jess29 – I find the father figure analogies particularly disturbing in that your inferring killing your children is a morally justifiable punishment for disobedience. Add to this a theology dependent on "free will" (an impossibility with an omniscient deity) and one is left with only the worst rationalizations for the God of the Bible demanding the slaughter of Amalekite children and infants after having previously commanded not to commit murder. If one chooses to accept on faith that these atrocities were defensible given some knowledge unavailable to us, how would one respond to a modern day mass murderer who claimed divine revelation and an attempt to prevent some future evil as their motivation? Given we cannot know the mind of God anymore than we can know the mind of another human, what beyond the promise of immortality distinguishes one atrocity as morally justifiable and the other as abhorrent?

      March 17, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • bobbyjoemcdonalds

      @ Q, Its in the bible to stone your disobedient children, what do you expect?

      March 17, 2011 at 3:30 am |
    • Q

      @bobbyjoemcdonalds – Admittedly...too much 🙂

      March 17, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • Gaunt

      Quote:
      "As an example, let's just say your child refuses to clean up his or her room. You've told them and told them, and now your starting to get mad because they just refuse to listen to you."

      So you fly to a foreign country that has nothing to do with your child, and execute a few thousand innocent civilian women and children. That will teach your kid a lesson...

      Gotta love God. Always ready to slaughter by the cartload people to get them to obey his uncertain, ill-explained whims.

      To even TRY and make that argument essentially means you accept that God is evil, arrogant and self-important, willing to visit unimaginable death and suffering on people on a whim. Your god is a modern hitler, who 'decided' that the good people needed to be protected from the bad people, and so started slaughtering them by the millions in order to make his point.

      Except that in terms of body count, Hitler was a crass amateur compared to the global ruthlesness and sociopathic bloodlust of your 'god'.

      March 17, 2011 at 4:33 am |
  19. IronRider

    First, Pat Robertson is an idot and no credit to the Christain Faith. Second, Glen Beck is off his rocker and a few cards short of a full deck!. Third – I believe in God and what I have with God is between him and myself. I can't tell you if God is behind the quake, tsunami or even nulear issue becuase quite frankly I haven't asked him. To tell you the truth I really don't care nor worry about it becuase there is nothing I can do about it. If these are the events refered to in the book of revalations then so be it. Things will start getting a lot worse for the world if it is. All you can do is seek the truth. Anything less is not the truth.

    March 17, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • EuphoriCrest

      IronRider: There IS something you can do about it. You can donate to the Red Cross, OxFam, Doctors w/out Borders, to name a few. What really sets me off about some people of faith is, when faced with tragedy, they just sit back and refuse to interfere with "god's will."

      March 17, 2011 at 3:39 am |
    • 4mercy

      There is something else you can do in addition to donating...you can offer up prayers daily for the reparation of your sins and the sins of the whole world. You can pray for the victims of these catastrophes and the ones that will come.

      March 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  20. Mr Spockk

    Fellow atheists, it warms my heart to read all of your comments as it gives me FAITH (a different kind) that reason and science can prevail.

    March 17, 2011 at 2:41 am |
    • almxx

      What exactly is science, and how did you develop the ability to reason?

      March 17, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • bobbyjoemcdonalds

      There are more of us out here, Mr Spock, you are not alone.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:29 am |
    • Q

      I don't presume to answer for Mr Spockk, but science is the process of ascertaining facts about the natural world by examining physical evidence, developing inductive hypotheses to account for the observations, testing these hypotheses and then confirming or rejecting these hypotheses based on the outcome. Validation of this process and its conclusions is found in the ability to make accurate predictions and apply the deduced underlying mechanisms. While there are many definitions of reason, I believe it generally refers to the process by which humans arrive at conclusions of true vs false, good vs bad, etc.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • Sentient

      Why was I not surprised by the comments of the so-called devoutely "religious" people here? I supposed it's because these same people are less-than-intelligent ('cuz why would they dare ask a question such as "What's science?"), delusional (acts of nature becomes "acts of God" to them), and capricious...Oh, wait, I think it's supposed to be self-righteous and complete hipocrites ('cuz why would they believe in the message "God loves all" when these same people are BUSY hating everyone and everything that doesn't conform to their belief system). My favorite "religious fanatics' idea, such as from Jess29's comment: God requires to be adored, followed, praised, etc. Talk about an extreme case of narcissism. Oh, yeah, I forgot, narcissism, second only to idiocy, is a must to become a member of religious fanatics.

      March 17, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • Daniel

      More and more proof each and every day that the sooner the human population ends its psychotic obsession with God, the better the entire planet will be. Then again, hypocritical, hate-filled, self-loathing, power hungry madmen like Beck, Falwell, Robertson... oh hell pretty much ANY Right Wing Nut Job Bible Thumper... will always find some twisted moral justification for their hate and vitriol. These people are about as "Christian" as Fox News is "fair and balanced".

      March 17, 2011 at 4:33 am |
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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.