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. trxsuspension

    Hello. everyone.
    would like to make new friends with you guys.

    November 28, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  2. Bill Tone

    God never promised us a rose garden; but he never abandons us when we face trials of our own making or natural disasters. God is a God of love, forgiveness and salvation, not a God of retribution. We misconstrue the Word of God when we focus on horrific events and attribute the results to the hand of God. God wants us to turn to him to experience his love and receive his blessings. Don't listen to the nonsense of false profits who miss the point of God message of love, forgiveness, and salvation. God loves us and we should never forget it.

    September 5, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  3. dutch master cigars

    I really relate to that post. Thanks for the info.

    May 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  4. Rajan Menon

    Avoid criticizes. You came to earth and before leave the earth what you can do. Do the good things and that is only your part.we are just soap bubble. Any time we can be taken back and as on today no body could stop. This is a natural Philomena.the day will come you have to merge in god. God has created us and he will take back us.Once creation is there, there one destruction is also there. We make the buildings and one day it has to collapse. One plant has come and it will become a tree and a day will come , it will collapse. again it will be repeated. Mother has created us and one day mother has to go and next is our part , through us next creation and after fulfilling our duty we have to back. same with all creation in the earth. Think about animals. same things repeating. Only one difference , god has given some brain to the human beings... remaing all same... you think in you and then you will come to know who you are and where you are and do your duty.......

    April 23, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  5. jn555

    People explained natural disasters as acts of god, because things weren't explained by science yet. Now they are. This planet had earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, etc. long before animals or humans ever existed on it.

    April 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  6. Opinion

    If you read the Bible, God himself has stated he does bring disasters as a result of extremely bad human behavior. That's not some reporters words. Making judgments on what God choses to do really isn't going to get anyone anywhere. God does bring judgment, his perogative isn't it. Attempting to put labels on happenings really is to sell newspapers, take the responsibility for bad behavior.

    April 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  7. Noemi

    Seriously!! Wow people are ignorant!! God doesn't want to kill everyone he loves us all just the way we are!! He may not like our sins, behavior or beliefs, but he still loves us. Listen the "great flood" that was being talked about in this story is just that, a story in the bible. It did happen and it was a sign of God to the people back then and not for us today. In the bible, I am not sure where exactly, but most likely its in Genesis after the Ark story. Well God said that this was a just ONE TIME thing he did!! He said that the RAINBOW is HIS promise that he will no longer flood the earth like that ever again. This is why after it rains a rainbow appears in the sky.

    April 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  8. Eugene ElGrande

    Here we go again! Glenn Beck is a charlatan. Since when did his stupid opinion about a natural disaster is news? Natural disasters occur because they're natural disaster, and human-made disaster occur because humans make them. Nothing to do with an inexistent god.

    April 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Noemi

      LOL @ charlatan!! Yeah that's true why is everyone always asking where was God when a natural disaster occurs?! Why does someone always have to be the "culprit" why not ask why our earth is coming to shambles because of us and what's in our hearts?! Seriously I am a Christian woman and I never imagine why God ohh why did you let this happen? No I ask God to help us get thorugh it not blame Him... tsk tsk. Even athiest blame God for horrible natural disasters. Let's think about what we have done to this earth and recap our actions towards all this pollution and tree smashing going on.

      April 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  9. goldenangel

    If you believe national weather disasters are God's retribution for sin then WATCH OUT AMERICA, YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ANYTHING YET! America is sitting on a time bomb of many earthquakes, volcano's etc., just waiting to happen. What about other nations? They are not perfect either. A biblical case can be made on how we pay the consequences for our sins. America is no exception. Be ready!

    April 3, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  10. AGuest9

    "God hates me. That's what it is."
    "Hate him back. It works for me."

    April 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Kerryann

      You are very far from the truth, God loves everyone no matter what... He created you and knows us inside and out. He loves us if we love him or not...

      April 9, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Barbie

      You're an idiot...

      April 12, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  11. Carole Clarke

    Man does not need any help from God in messing up things. Natural disasters are just that – natural, part of what makes the Earth a living organism. There are times when I think God is sick and tired of us. We have so many chances to do the right thing, but no, we have to go to great lengths to do the wrong thing because its more fun or a challenge or whatever. I wouldn't blame God a bit if he decided to abandon us and head on off to another part of the universe, to fashion a better human being than he left on this planet.

    April 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • AGuest9

      God is perfect. God created us in his image and likeness. Therefore, we are perfect. The logic isn't flawed. That only leaves God. The paradox exists that either God is flawed, or that because God is perfection by definition, that he doesn't exist.

      April 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Syriac

      God is perfect. He created man in his image.
      Man disobeyes God= man is not perfect.
      Simple ain't it?

      April 7, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  12. Warkojetski

    The headline here caught my eye as possibly being a serious analysis of misguided placing of blame. Then in the second paragraph you quote Glenn Beck – really? As though he were some sort of authority on anything but himself? CNN's credibility was shot right there.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  13. jeff

    It is just this type of rationalization that holds humanity down with a victim mentality. It is a very immature perspective to blame a higher authority for one's ills, yet our media and religious organizations propagate this perspective continually. Helpless victims don't question.

    April 3, 2011 at 6:47 am |
    • DB

      Not to mention as humans we are prone to make a mistake, because of "free will". Judas's story mention above is prime example of someone who made a mistake, dispite following jesus everywhere. But yet every evangelical or religious faithfulls believe they living right, because their brain happens to convince them that their perspective is correct.

      April 21, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  14. MARY H


    April 3, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  15. MARY H

    I do not believe that God is using earthquakes and tsunami's as a punishment. The Bilble tells us that we shpuld not judge that God will judge and if yu want to or feel the need to place blame, then put the blame on satan!!! yu may say "Yes but God could have stopped ut ad you are correct but if there were no disasters, there would be no need for faith and goodness we all need to have faith. the Bible also all the way through from cover to cover teachs LOVE!!!! maybe the world just needs to take a look at what results all the wars have caused and try practing LOVE !!!

    April 3, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  16. mderricotte

    Hocus pocus

    April 2, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  17. enricorosan

    Also, I would like to add that Zeus had the same bad habits of punishing human beings and other animals by causing much havoc to mother nature. You don't believe me !!! Go ahead ask the Greeks.

    April 2, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • hillbilleter

      Zeus had a headache and his wife was a nag – also was his sister. Very dysfunctional family.

      April 2, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  18. Rama

    your stupidity is boundless!!!

    April 2, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  19. Tina

    James 1:13 – When under trial let NO ONE SAY: "I am being tried by God." For with evil things God cannot be tried NOR DOES HE HIMSELF TRY ANYONE.
    Judgement from God always has a warning so ones can survive, it's always selective and it's always deserved. (Like the flood of Noah's day.) Also God said he would never again destroy the world by means of a flood. (Genesis 9:11) These people were all victims of "Time and unforeseen occurrence" not God's wrath! (Ecclesiastes 9:11) They were at the wrong place at the wrong time, but we can be sure God will resurrect both the 'righteous and the unrighteous'. (Acts 24:15)

    April 2, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • You must be my Sister :-)

      Hi Tina,
      I wanted to past that James 1:13, but you did already 😉
      What do you think about the new system?

      April 10, 2011 at 4:20 am |
    • Katie

      The verse actually says "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man." You HAVE to consider the context of a verse before you attempt to apply it to any just situation. These occurences were not temptations, but disasters. The context of the verse you quoted is about enduring temptations, and sin. It goes on to encourage those who are dealing with temptations. That does not apply for the reason for these tragedies.

      April 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  20. Jeff

    I wonder what sins the dinosaurs committed?

    April 2, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Leo

      Gay marriage killed the dinosaurs!

      April 2, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Adelina

      Jeff, mankind's sin brought calamities upon animals on earth. I think God eliminated mega-sized animals because sin-guilty humans can no longer cohabit with them. Too destructive and dangerous for each other. Animals are not morally responsible beings therefore are not said to be accountable for sin.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:34 am |
    • DB

      Nice one!

      April 21, 2011 at 10:35 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.