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. sam

    There is no God people. Get over it.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  2. Tony Provolone

    who is Gadaffi, i did not know he is still around.... I wander who is more intelligent, the rambles or the Gadaffi regime suckers, is the Lebanon society civilized ?

    March 16, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  3. beth

    I think that the point where religion most meaningfully interacts with natural disaster is in how we personally respond. Do we point a finger and look for someone to blame ( god or sinful man, either way) or do we respond with heartfelt compassion, and do what we can to support those in the crisis?

    March 16, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  4. joel

    a desparate attempt by christians to ascribe "some power" to their absent God. Their prayers go unanswered for decades, as they wait, for some event to occur to say "see, we were right..."

    March 16, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  5. Seenthelight

    This wasn't the work of God, rather...it was Satan.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • joel

      it was the pacific ring of fire, two plates colliding and one giving way. Stop ascribing natural pheomenon to your make believe deities.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • pockets

      Sarah Palin said it is all Obama's fault, especially the weather.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  6. Matt Pajor

    God doesn't punish he is merciful. This is called Satan, Nature, or free will. No retribution from God. What may be happening is that God, is protecting us less and less because we are praying less and less. That's not retribution that natural law. The less you offer, the less is offered back.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  7. Fred Magyar

    Wow, who woulda thunk that the RAINBOW-SNAKE god: The Great Creator Serpent, in charge of Fertility, Growth and Refreshing Rain. Would turn out to be such a petty unforgiving vindictive SOB? Then again she probably isn't much better than any of the other 2,800 or so deities that humans have worshiped throughout the ages. Everyone needs to go out and sacrifice a few chickens and goats...

    March 16, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  8. Chris

    CNN is divine retribution for people too lazy to do their own research.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Observer

      Speaking of someone who has done NO RESEARCH:

      "Science is a cemetery of dead ideas."

      March 16, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  9. Tony Provolone


    March 16, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  10. Hank

    Glenn Beck has no clue about natural forces. It is ridiculous that anyone would publish his comments. He finished high school and has no basic understanding of science or theology.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • TVC15

      Unfortunately there are a lot of Americans that are just as stupid as he is. He appeals to the lowest common denominator.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  11. Rosa

    Ohhhh one more thing. How could you blame such thing as the Holocaust on God!!! What are people thinking of, God is everyone's God. That's horrible

    March 16, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  12. Tony Provolone

    Stupidity is also contagious Rambo so watch out i am sure your girlfriend already told you ..you stupid too

    March 16, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  13. hannah

    @ Johnny Goldenrod: At times I wonder the same thing- but if we are following Biblical principles and believing in God, then the fall of man- "original sin" so to speak, is to blame for all of these disasters. Also based on Biblical principles, God is no causing or willing these disasters to happen, he is simply allowing them as an effect of sin.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • generalizationsarebad


      March 17, 2011 at 1:51 am |
  14. Observer

    Notice that NO ONE here from the "anti-abortion" side will mention ALL the babies and pregnant women apparently killed with God's blessing.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • TVC15

      That's because we're discussing natural disasters.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Matt Pajor

      No, we have free will, and will be judged later in life.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  15. Rosa

    If we are going to talk about the Bible those who read the Flood also read that God made a pact with Noah that he will never again do that and the pact was sealed with a raimbow. So how is he gonna send these things or "2012" if he promised that would never happen again. I believe in God but I also know that there are things that are just logic and nature issues.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • joel

      he promised to "never destroy the world" with a flood. He didn't say a flood won't happen here and there... only that the entire world wouldn't be destroyed again by flood.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  16. John Thompson

    Beck is an idiot.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • pockets

      Glenn Beck is mentally ill, like Palin also.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  17. TVC15

    This planet is going to do what it has been doing for the past 4.5 billion years regardless if human beings inhabit it. Humans insist on living in areas where natural disasters occur. Then when a storm or volcano or earthquake happens, people blame it on the sins of others. They refuse to take any kind of respondsibilty for themselves.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Kathleen

      TVC15 – thanks so much for presenting the obvious. History is just repeating itself....again, and again and again. Man needs to take note and live somewhere less dangerous. By the way......who would possibly think that building nuclear power plants in an area that has DAILY earthquakes is a good idea?!

      March 16, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Nothahari

      So just curious here, but where do you live that has no natural disasters?

      March 16, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Matt Pajor

      I take responsibility for my sins, and I think people should to. Whether you believe in God or not. We can all agree that sins are immoral and immoral things make the world worse. I wonder how would a world look without sin......Rhetorical Question.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  18. paul

    God has punished the US by giving us Fox news and Glenn Beck!!!!!!!!!!

    March 16, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • TVC15

      Amen Brother Paul!!

      March 16, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • pockets

      Of course the earthquake has nothing what so ever to do with teutonic plates in the earth's crust.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • pockets

      Grandma Sarah Palin said it was Obama's fault

      March 16, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Rob

      But God created tectonic plates so that he could make earthquakes whenever he wanted

      March 16, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  19. Kevin Dallas

    THankfully the Goddess doesn't punish the masses for the mistakes of a few.. Karma in, Karma out.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  20. shawn

    Faith means not wanting to know what is true. – Friedrich Nietzsche

    March 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Chris

      Science was created by humans to support activities that only recognize earthbound realities that not only refuse to recognize the spiritual nature of man himself, but refuse to recognize even the existence of God-Archangel Michael
      Science is a cemetery of dead ideas.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Observer

      "Science is a cemetery of dead ideas". So IGNOR everything done by science. Stop getting any medical help and get off the Internet for starters. Spend time furthering EDUCATION.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Frederica

      Shawn, that's the guy who brought Germany's downfall. Germany was stupid to allow producing such a thug.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • thack

      Shawn, I agree. The human race has always looked for something or someone else to blame for the problems we create for ourselves. It's our own arrogance, and ignornance that has allowed things like the tremendous oil spills, and nuclear reactor meltdowns around our planet to occur.

      Now, we'll see the religious fanatics worm their way into this discussion by saying it's the will of god, or its punishment for some human trait they don't agree with or are against to gain ground and of course to raise money to fill their coffers. How sad.

      Point blank-Our technology has out paced our capacity to deal with the ramifications of such technology. We will pay, our planet will pay and untold species will pay for this arrogance. On the bright side, the world will heal itself, although we may not be around to witness the rebirth from such healing.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • pockets

      People like Chris are to be feared

      March 16, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Brent Slensker

      @ Frederica
      Nietzsche was one of the world's greatest intellects ever. Hitler used Nietzsche's words for his own ends. Nietzsche as an intellectual would have spat upon the likes of Hitler.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:13 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.