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. joe

    2400 men died on dec 7, 1941.. that bill has yet to be paid..

    March 17, 2011 at 1:12 am |
    • Africaneesha

      Agreed. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were pretty good deposits though.

      March 17, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  2. Victoria

    god is not very nice.....he's always doing really mean things like this....

    March 17, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  3. Glenn

    One should be careful when talking about fairy tales or absurdities. If you think religion is absurd but in turn believe that all existence came from nothing then you might want to reconsider your original premise about what is absurd.
    Remember that we all have faith. Some simply choose to call it assumption.

    March 17, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  4. evensteven

    The rain falls on the good and bad alike . . .

    March 17, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  5. Desmond Sylskar


    1. The Haiti earthquake – provable that this event happened as a result of nature.
    2. Hurricane Katrina – provable that this event happened as a result of nature.
    3. The September 11 attacks – provable that this event happened as a purported act of terrorism.
    4. The Civil War – provable that this event happened as a result of war.
    5. The Holocaust- provable that this event happened as a result of war.
    6. The biblical flood – SERIOUSLY. How can this even be proven as 100% fact, unless you are a bible thumper?

    March 17, 2011 at 12:58 am |
    • Josh


      March 17, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Small problem with your number 5... The holocaust did not come about "as a result of war" – unless you mean that there was a war on Jews emanating from Germany... (and happily joined by forces in other countries – with a large contribution from Stalin...)

      March 17, 2011 at 1:24 am |
  6. RobNSas

    I feel for the non believers. What a lonely life. And in the end for nothing but to fade away.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Actually, many of us don't agree with your premise about this "fading away"... We're content to state that WE DON'T KNOW. There are many things we don't know, but are always trying to discover answers.

      The problem is with those who profess to know, and have all the answers – based on, exactly what? A bunch of old books of dubious authorship that have a history of being used to suppress and oppress anyone who dares question their dogma.

      March 17, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  7. Mike H

    To even begin to attempt comprehension of God's ultimate plan is beyond ridiculous. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados...even burned bacon in the microwave...are events that can be twisted by self-appointed "men of God" (be they ministers of one religion or another or talk show hosts or politicians) to serve their own purposes.

    As for those who assert that faith should be allowed to perish...I know better. And I hope that someday you will open your eyes to God and see that there things in store far greater than what is here.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • SeanNJ

      @Mike H: "As for those who assert that faith should be allowed to perish...I know better."

      No, you don't know better, you arrogant a.s.s.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  8. MoreChoices

    @Robert... Is your post in jest, or do you actually believe that stuff you typed? Pretty sure you're just joking, but I wanted to be sure.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  9. me

    God merely sets the clock and waits. . he lets nature do as it will. – Voltaire

    March 17, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  10. Emma

    Hurricanes were responsible for destroying my wedding back in 2005. I can't remember which one it was now, but it hit South Florida one week prior to my wedding. Did I blame God or claim that he did it to punish me? No. Natural disasters involving the weather are part of the experince of living on earth. Anyone who claims that a natural disaster is God's way of punishing certain people is either an idiot or an opportunist. An opportunist who is deeply involved in Christianity and has a vested interest in making people believe such claims in order to strengthen their faith in Christ. Believing in Christ is the key to the future of Christianity. If people stop believing that Christ exists and stop going to church, etc., the collection plate will be empty and the church will die off. People should focus on the people who are making such ridiculous claims about God and ask themselves "what does this person, such as Pat Robertson, have to gain either financially or politically by making a claim about Haiti having a pact with the Devil. Even if Mr. Robertson did not gain financially or politially from his nasty, outlandish statement people should then wonder if Mr. Robertson is just a mean spirited person who only claims to be a Christian.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  11. Thomas

    As far as Christianity is concerned we live in the age of grace. God would rather give man the oppertunity to turn thier hearts toward him. However sooner or later all will stand before him to give an account of his or her life.

    In the Bible Jesus and his desciples entered a village for the evening and were turned away. Two of his desciples asked jesus if they should call fire down from heaven and destroy the village. But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

    March 17, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  12. Robert

    God wills everything, but he wills the good directly and evil indirectly. God gave human beings and angels freedom of choice. Hence, even though the angel Satan was created by God, Satan spawned evil by turning from God. In human beings, Satan's temptation in the Garden gave humans "knowledge of good and evil" so we are now "like God". That is to say, we changed from an animalistic existence whereby we had child-like knowledge to one where we had adult knowledge (evolution). I think we can agree its better to be a human animal than any other because of our greater ability to reason. Therefore, good came from evil. God allows the evil so good can come from it.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • biggeorge

      How can you look at all the evil in the world and say it's part of God's plan? If this is his plan he/she needs a new strategy.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Nice fairy tale you have there... does it have any basis other than fantasy that may or may not have been promoted by religious groups that have been exploiting mankind for millenia?

      March 17, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  13. hjknight

    once again the liberal mainstream media ginning up contempt for Christians only. they don't have the onions or integrity to publish the fact that muslims hold to the same truths. no, they can bully Christians because its always open season on Jesus in this Godless society. america's day is coming. there are no atheists in hell. but you libs needn't worry – you'll have lots of company.
    as for cnn – try making this kind of statement towards islam – you know, the religion of peace. if they are so peaceful, why are you so afraid of them?

    March 17, 2011 at 12:34 am |
    • SeanNJ

      You're all f'ing crazy.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Uhh, you may notice that it's right wing Christians who are making public proclamations about God's intent, as though they know. If you re going to announce that God had decided to speak through you, be prepared for God to move others to tell you you are nuts.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • biggeorge

      Why do ignorant people like this always blame Liberals and resort to name calling? if you want to be a sheep thats fine but don't call people names for there beliefs. God, if there is one, is a woman. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it...

      March 17, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Jack Chambers

      hjknight, as a muslim I find it hilarious that you could make a statement about CNN not saying anything bad about Muslims, since 9/11 it's been open season on us, when some crazy guy in Arizona shot and killed a bunch of people, noone talked about the fact that he was Christian, but when a muslim does something, his religion is the first thing that is mentioned. NOONE HAS BEEN SUFFERED AS MUCH AS MUSLIMS IN THIS POST 9/11 ERA.

      But I do agree with you that Muslims also belive in the same thing, the same stories in the Bible are in the Quran.

      March 17, 2011 at 1:02 am |
    • rj

      Seems like you r the only one with ur head screwrd on strait in this discussion. Hear this if Christians r right that leaves a lot. Of ppl here going to hell bc God hid Eternity in mans Heart not his brain

      March 17, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  14. NolaChris

    I'm from New Orleans...the gay areas of town were the only areas spared. The catholic and protestant parts of town AND Mississippi took the brunt of Katrina. So, now what do you crazy christians think of that???

    March 17, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  15. mexicanHater

    religion is the last bastion of the stupid! the tv series "V" shows how the religious will worship aliens is they have more power then humans... wake up crack pots and at least learn the bible, i'm really sick of arguing with people who know less about their religion then i do....

    March 17, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  16. seeker

    Next up is the global markets. Perhaps, the destruction of the global markets (that's coming) is to wrest control from the bad oligarchs, banks, dictators, and corporate groups. Money obsession and games are the work of the evil in us. How's that for a simplistic conclusion. And I'm from the best schools. But, I do believe it. The best schools are the most secular, and godless. I am trying to unlearn all the junk they tried to humiliate me to believe. Maybe, I'm stupid, but I think the day of reckonings are coming. The Tokyo governor's statement was a humbling admission. I am a believer. You cannot just ignore the doomsday events happening one after the other.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • ArtfulSkeptic

      Incoherent much?

      March 17, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  17. Smush

    God is a narcissistic being. He demands that we worship him in order to get to paradise. Narcissism is a sin. God is a sinner.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  18. Chris

    I think they missed my ex. She was calamities 7 through 10 AND proof that something that evil never dies....

    March 17, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • J


      March 17, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  19. Al

    It's 2011. I can't believe that any intelligent person is alive today and believes any of this craziness. It's time to leave all religions to antiquity.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • mexicanHater


      March 17, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • biggeorge

      Amen... hehe

      March 17, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • generalizationsarebad

      The need to worship and recognize the grandeur of the universe's creator seems to me universal. Some, because of religions fouler effects, have chosen to flee from "organized religions".(I still don't see any clarity in the distinction as if a disorganized religion was somehow better). But that doesn't equal no god. We're living in a world where man has clearly chosen his own right and wrong without enough wisdom to foresee the consequences. I believe we will see the demise of false religion and a healthy reality based faith will still be left standing until the hope of peace is realized by God. Truly, the only one capable of bringing that kind of justice to fruit.

      March 17, 2011 at 1:31 am |
  20. Marie

    There have been two earthquakes in a short period of time in Christchurch, New Zealand. Christians simply ignore what's convenient. Nature does not punish or reward. People have to accept that.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:12 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.