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. ruemorgue

    Yup, absolutely true! In 2008 we went through the worst economic crises in almost 80 years because of Wall Street greed! Wow! Gee! Naturall disasters must carry over to un-natural disasters! Gosh. Darn. Pat Robertson *must* actually talk to God!

    March 16, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  2. JJ

    There's always some moron attributing things like these go imaginary beings. But they never attribute things like Falwell finally kicking the bucket and rotting 6 ft underground to their "god". The good thing? Their "god" also created Darwin, and the gene pool toilet gets flushed on a regular basis. 🙂

    March 16, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • jacob

      fanned you-terrific

      March 18, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  3. Bokonon

    At the end of the Cretaceous Period, about 65 million years ago, there was a natural disaster resulting (most likely) from a meteorite impact. More than 80 percent of species died. What did they do wrong to deserve this Divine destruction, or was He just practicing? Disasters happened when we had not yet arrived and will happen when are all long gone.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  4. tony

    The one that Huckabee seems to have missed is that when an Israeli IAF flyer, who help kill the French Technician in Iraq, was invited to fly in the Shuttle, it promptly crashed and burned over Palestine, Texas. A clearer message (Genesis 1:14 – let the stars be for signs) is hard to imagine.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  5. PraiseTheLard

    Never have so many been led astray by so little... substance...

    March 16, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Colin

      Agreed, they are called "Christians"

      March 16, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  6. TarHeelMoe

    The words" divine retribution" spew only from a fools mouth. Let's just have empathy and charity for these people.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  7. JoeShmoe

    So what? It's ridiculous how so many atheist and agnostics think it "ok" to criticize, blame and mock anyone who follows a religion. You all need to get off your high horses and show some form of humanity... I mean, even animals show more emotion and care than some of these idiot humans. If you are an atheist, I respect your views... and if you are a hindu, or buddhist, or christian, I resect you too. This, a respect for our fellow humans, is what makes us unique... even if our beliefs are "modern and scientific" or rooted in our past. LET THERE BE SOME FORM OF PEACE ON EARTH FROM RELIGIOUS AND NON ALIKE... AND MOVE ON WITH LIFE!

    March 16, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Sybaris

      That's all well and good but if we atheists didn't challenge the faithful then they would have free reign to weave their ideology into the laws of this country (U.S.)............... which is ironic because freedom from state sponsored religion is one of the main reasons Europeans came to this country in the first place.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  8. Sybaris

    More people have killed people than natural disasters.

    Ban religion

    March 16, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  9. Danny

    People believing these events are the work of God is the biggest disaster of all.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  10. Vista

    Why is the flood in here? There is no evidence to support the biblical flood whatsoever, including both the "Entire World" belief nor the "Region Only". Maybe we should stick to factual disasters rather than someone trying to explain why they found impressions of seashells miles from the ocean.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  11. cgoregon

    Indeed, a total croc of S%%$. This is really news? Thee are an unlimited number of nutters who see Jesus in a fried egg, this nonsense is no different.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  12. Muneef

    The quake will remain to come bringing tsunami now and then so maybe they can live covering their cities under a glass bobble and go underground housing rather than tall buildings?? So if they believe not in God they should move immigrating to a safer lands....or otherwise have to believe in God and do needful while remaining on their land may then God have some mercy on them and guard them from such calamities....

    March 16, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • settino

      poor fool!

      March 16, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • EuphoriCrest

      Muneef, If your god can cause an earthquake, I don't think a glass "bobble" will be much of a problem for him to crack.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • Muneef


      Well then if can not be as safe on this land since changes taking place by nature,they have no other choice but to find other alternative higher lands. Not to concentrate saving all their eggs in One Risky Basket....?? Not sure if that would be as easy as it was with Jews being granted Arabic land ?

      March 17, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  13. Teddy

    I thank God for creating smoke so don't kill people!

    March 16, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  14. Mark

    The question is not whither something more powerful than us is punishing us, the question is not why either. The question is how do we make it better for those who are affected by it.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • losamigo

      Mark: You sound like someone who understands the essence of religion; Muslim, Christian, Jewish, etc. What matters is our response. thank you for your knowing statement.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  15. standingwave

    Pagans believed in divine retribution.If you made a mistake performing a ceremony your crops would fail.Christianity,however,is supposed to be based on a personal relationship with Jesus.Why would he punish you for something you didn't do?That's not too loving.Even today few Christians seem to understand this and seem to have a tendency to revert to their pagan ways.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  16. Collin

    what a croc of s#$&. anyone who believes this crap needs to go straight to the asylum.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Perry

      Agree, an absurd attempt at rationalization that events, either natural or man-made, are a part of a divine plan..........

      March 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  17. ???

    Perhaps every disaster is blamed on divine intervention. We don't like admitting that people die as a result of things that are not understood and have no greater meaning.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Marcel

      I agree that that's likely a reason to view things that way. Kind of weird though to consider it better to be singled out by God to be punished for wide-spread transgressions by others.Wouldn't make me feel better...

      March 16, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  18. ballarat99

    religion is the odds of probability showing a sense of humor.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  19. Kristin

    Interesting how many ecological events are interpreted by people as being "punishment for our ways by [Divine Being]", but at the same time there's no way that they're a 'punishment' for pollution and other destruction.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  20. Joe Fattal

    The only disaster that I can see was a divine intervention was the forest fire in Israel. Luckily for them the fire didn't reach the cities.

    March 16, 2011 at 9:56 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.