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Poll: Few Americans believe natural disasters are signs from God
March 24th, 2011
02:00 PM ET

Poll: Few Americans believe natural disasters are signs from God

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

A new survey conducted on the heels of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami finds that few Americans think natural disasters are signs from God and that even fewer believe God punishes nations for the sins of its citizens, as some suggested after the Japanese disaster.

At the same time, most Americans believe God is responsible for everything that happens in the world, according to the survey, which was released Thursday.

The survey was conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service.

Fewer than 4 in 10 Americans (38%) believe that earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters are a sign from God, while roughly 3 in 10 believe that God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some citizens, according to the survey.

Shortly after the Japanese quake and tsunami, the governor of Tokyo said publicly that the disaster was divine punishment for Japanese egoism, though he apologized for the remarks a day later.

A majority of people who self-identified as white evangelical Christians bucked the consensus against God punishing nations for the sins of its citizens, with 53% saying they believed that to be true.

Even more white evangelicals, 59%, believe that natural disasters are a sign from God, while only about one-third of Catholics and white mainline Protestants share that view.

Two thirds of white evangelicals also believe that natural disasters are evidence of the "end times," according to the survey.

The survey was conducted by telephone with 1,008 adults in the continental United States between March 17-20 as news was pouring in from the hardest-hit areas in Japan.

The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Read how prominent voices with different views on religion make sense of the suffering in Japan

Fifty-six percent of all respondents said they believe God is in control of everything that happens in the world, according to the poll.

And 7 in 10 Americans believe God is a person with whom a person can have a relationship, according to the poll.

But most Americans, 58%, said they attributed the increased severity of natural disasters to global warming, while 44% said they attribute it to what the Bible sometimes refers to as the “end times.”

The respondents tended to split along party lines - 52% of Republicans said the increased severity could be attributed to "end times” prophesies, while 75% of Democrats said it was the result of global warming.

“These kind of questions about God being in control and there simultaneously being suffering are the kind of things that keep seminarians up at night. They’re thorny theological issues. We wanted to see if we could get at it with polling to see what Americans think,” pollster Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, told CNN.

“We asked people how many were following what was going on in Japan, and nine out of 10 said they had heard a lot. This is something very clearly on the minds of Americans as they answered this poll.”

Jones said that where respondents worship played a big role in how they answered the questions.

“One thing that may be underlying this is how one approaches the Bible. Evangelical white Protestants are much more likely to take a literal approach to the Bible. In the Bible, natural disasters are used as a sign or as a punishment from God. Mainline Protestants and Catholics have a much less literal view of the bible,” Jones said.

Regardless of which pew American Christians find themselves in during the weekend, their beliefs about God’s role in matters like this are something Jones says brings a lot of debate.

Ryan Coyne, a philosopher of religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School, said, “What’s interesting is the disparity ... [between] the belief that God or the divine controls actions in the world and the reluctance on the part of some to attribute some acts in the world as punishing acts.

“There’s a reluctance to think of God as a punishing god. One must look for other explanations for evil in general if one is reluctant to attribute natural disasters to the divine,” Coyne said.

“Just by virtue of calling it a ‘natural disaster’ we’re asking is this ... outside of the reach of the divine,” Coyne said. “Five hundred to 600 years ago, there wouldn’t be the assumption necessarily ... [that] something like this was not directed by divine will.”

Regardless of the cause of natural disasters, the survey found that an overwhelming number of respondents - 83% - said it was very important or somewhat important to give financial assistance to Japan despite economic troubles in the United States.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Culture & Science • Protestant • United States

soundoff (976 Responses)
  1. Write any message on my huge natural boobs

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    April 18, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  2. Lereshein

    Yes, natural disasters comes from God. Even the winds, the hurricanes, and the seas obeys God, as Jesus commanded the storms to be still. There is someone who controls the weather and all of that therein is only the Almighty. There is one God that he is real. Natural disasters comes from God. Natural disasters are only signs of God that he hates shedding blood of innocent.

    November 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  3. James Black

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=390]

    June 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  4. LUL!

    I will stop debating it when it ceases to affect my daily life, ya dig? When my gay friends can get married and not have the Mormon church donate millions of dollars to allow legislature to pass that bans a certain portion of the population from having civil rights. Religion is a like a penis, you can play with it all you want, just don't whip it out in public or shove it in my kids face :D

    May 29, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • Debunking the REAL Myths

      People will find a reason to hate, whether is race belief, gender, preference. This wont stop till humans embrace we are all different and get over it.

      May 29, 2011 at 3:08 am |
  5. Alex B-P

    Quit lying to yourselves. There is no god, only Humanity. There is no god to help, judge, or create us, but as humans, we can help ourselves to build a better future.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  6. Alex B-P

    They are caused by the rouge weather, duh! Religion is primitive, and barbaric. No wonder why it's dying out.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Debunking the REAL Myths

      So is hope, since it by definition is the same thing, believing something to happen without evidence it will.

      May 29, 2011 at 3:13 am |
  7. Muneef

    [6:36] The only ones to respond are those who listen. GOD resurrects the dead; they ultimately return to Him.

    [6:37] They said, "If only a certain sign could come down to him from his Lord!" Say, "GOD is able to send down a sign, but most of them do not know."

    Animals and Birds: Submitting Creatures*
    [6:38] All the creatures on earth, and all the birds that fly with wings, are communities like you. We did not leave anything out of this book**. To their Lord, all these creatures will be summoned.

    Overwhelming Miracle of the Quran
    [6:39] Those who reject our proofs are deaf and dumb, in total darkness. Whomever GOD wills, He sends astray, and whomever He wills, He leads in a straight path.

    [6:40] Say, "What if GOD's retribution came to you, or the Hour came to you: would you implore other than GOD, if you are truthful?"

    [6:41] The fact is: only Him you implore, and He answers your prayer, if He so wills, and you forget your idols.

    [6:42] We have sent (messengers) to communities before you, and we put them to the test through adversity and hardship, that they may implore.

    [6:43] If only they implored when our test afflicted them! Instead, their hearts were hardened, and the devil adorned their works in their eyes.

    The System*
    [6:44] When they thus disregard the message given to them, we open for them the gates of everything. Then, just as they rejoice in what was given to them, we punish them suddenly; they become utterly stunned.

    [6:45] The wicked are thus annihilated. Praise be to GOD, Lord of the universe.

    God Alone Worthy of Worship
    [6:46] Say, "What if GOD took away your hearing and your eyesight, and sealed your minds; which god, other than GOD, can restore these for you?" Note how we explain the revelations, and note how they still deviate!

    [6:47] Say, "What if GOD's retribution came to you suddenly, or after an announcement, is it not the wicked who incur annihilation?"

    Role of the Messengers
    [6:48] We do not send the messengers except as deliverers of good news, as well as warners. Those who believe and reform have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.

    [6:49] As for those who reject our revelations, they incur the retribution for their wickedness.

    [6:50] Say, "I do not say to you that I possess the treasures of GOD. Nor do I know the future. Nor do I say to you that I am an angel. I simply follow what is revealed to me." Say, "Is the blind the same as the seer? Do you not reflect?"

    [6:51] And preach with this (Quran) to those who reverence the summoning before their Lord – they have none beside Him as a Lord and Master, nor an intercessor – that they may attain salvation.

    [6:52] And do not dismiss those who implore their Lord day and night, devoting themselves to Him alone. You are not responsible for their reckoning, nor are they responsible for your reckoning. If you dismiss them, you will be a transgressor.

    [6:53] We thus test the people by each other, to let them say (mockingly), "Are these the people among us who are blessed by GOD?" Is GOD not aware of the appreciative ones?

    [6:54] When those who believe in our revelations come to you, you shall say, "Salmun `Alaykum (Peace be upon you). Your Lord has decreed that mercy is His attribute. Thus, anyone among you who commits a transgression out of ignorance, and repents thereafter and reforms, then He is Forgiving, Most Merciful."

    [6:55] We thus explain the revelations, and point out the ways of the wicked.

    [6:56] Say, "I am forbidden from worshipping what you worship besides GOD." Say, "I will not follow your opinions. Otherwise, I will go astray, and not be guided."

    [6:57] Say, "I have solid proof from my Lord, and you have rejected it. I do not control the retribution you challenge me to bring. Judgment belongs with GOD alone. He narrates the truth, and He is the best judge."

    [6:58] Say, "If I controlled the retribution you challenge me to bring, the whole matter would have been terminated long ago. GOD knows best who the wicked are."

    Almighty God
    [6:59] With Him are the keys to all secrets; none knows them except He. He knows everything on land and in the sea. Not a leaf falls without His knowledge. Nor is there a grain in the depths of the soil. Nor is there anything wet or dry, that is not recorded in a profound record.

    Death and Resurrection: Every Day*
    [6:60] He is the One who puts you to death during the night, and knows even the smallest of your actions during the day. He resurrects you every morning, until your life span is fulfilled, then to Him is your ultimate return. He will then inform you of everything you had done.

    [6:61] He is Supreme over His creatures, and He appoints guards to protect you. When the appointed time of death comes to any of you, our messengers put him to death without delay.

    [6:62] Then everyone is returned to GOD, their rightful Lord and Master. Absolutely, He is the ultimate judge; He is the most accurate Reckoner.

    [6:63] Say, "Who can save you from the darkness of the land or the sea?" You implore Him loudly and secretly: "If He saves us this time, we will be eternally appreciative."

    [6:64] Say, "GOD does save you this time, and other times as well, then you still set up idols besides Him."

    [6:65] Say, "He is certainly able to pour upon you retribution from above you, or from beneath your feet. Or He can divide you into factions and have you taste each others' tyranny. Note how we explain the revelations, that they may understand."

    [6:66] Your people have rejected this, even though it is the truth. Say, "I am not a guardian over you."

    [6:67] Every prophecy herein will come to pass, and you will surely find out.

    Respect for the Word of God
    [6:68] If you see those who mock our revelations, you shall avoid them until they delve into another subject. If the devil causes you to forget, then, as soon as you remember, do not sit with such evil people.

    [6:69] The righteous are not responsible for the utterances of those people, but it may help to remind them; perhaps they may be saved.

    [6:70] You shall disregard those who take their religion in vain, as if it is a social function, and are totally absorbed in this worldly life. Remind with this (Quran), lest a soul may suffer the consequences of its evil earnings. It has none beside GOD as a Lord and Master, nor an intercessor. If it could offer any kind of ransom, it would not be accepted. They suffer the consequences of the evil works they earn; they have incurred hellish drinks, and a painful retribution because of their disbelief.

    [6:71] Say, "Shall we implore, beside GOD, what possesses no power to benefit us or hurt us, and turn back on our heels after GOD has guided us? In that case, we would join those possessed by the devils, and rendered utterly confused, while their friends try to save them: `Stay with us on the right path.' " Say, "GOD's guidance is the right guidance. We are commanded to submit to the Lord of the universe.

    [6:72] "And to observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), and to reverence Him – He is the One before whom you will be summoned (for the reckoning)."

    [6:73] He is the One who created the heavens and the earth, truthfully. Whenever He says, "Be," it is. His word is the absolute truth. All sovereignty belongs to Him the day the horn is blown. Knower of all secrets and declarations, He is the Most Wise, the Cognizant. 

    Abraham Debates With Idol Worshipers
    [6:74] Recall that Abraham said to his father Azar, "How could you worship statues as gods? I see that you and your people have gone far astray."

    May 2, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  8. Muneef

    It is often asked that “If there is a God, why does He let natural disaster like the Tsunami happen or is this Divine Punishment?” 
    http://www.free-islamic course.org/NaturalDisasterorDivinePunishment.html

    April 30, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  9. Pilar

    For those of you who need so much proof from God....God does NOT have to prove anything more to you than he already has. Creation itself is enough to know that there is a God. Him coming from the sky and saying "HI, I'm God. I'm real you should believe in me and here's why" will NOT make you follow him any more than you do now and it definitely won't make you acceptable in His eyes. You'll still be just as hateful and disobedient.

    Ugh...get a life and stop wasting your time debating on something you don't believe exists.

    April 7, 2011 at 10:02 am |
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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.