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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. Alex

    Wether you guys believe it or not, the judgement of God has already been declared against America for national rejection of His Word...The worst will come when California sinks in the great earthquake...MILLIONS WILL PERISH! If there is any desire in anyone's heart for God, seek Him with all and He will lead you to truth... forget the scoffers and mockers you will always have them..

    March 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Observer

      @Alex,

      Where in the Bible does it say that California will disppear in an earthquake? Is Pike's Peak safe?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Jim

      You want me to worship and embrace your imaginary friend that supposedly created all of us and now wants to murder millions of us? That's what you believe right? That your god created everyone and now wants to murder them and make them suffer? Sounds like a rational thing to do. "Oh, he's killing everyone for not believing in him? Sounds like the kind of imaginary friend I need. Sure, let's do this."

      March 24, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Alex

      Observer
      It's in the sounding of the 7th trumpet in Rev: 11:19.
      I don't know where Pike's Peak is located...but I know the only safe place is in Christ.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • tallulah13

      Whether you accept it or not, the earth is still an active planet. Tectonic plates continue to move, the center of our planet continues to be a core of molten lava. Continents continue to shift and move, inches at a time, to reshape the topography of our planet. Volcanoes continue to to be weak points that allow that molten lava to journey to the surface, to create islands or mountains or explosions that decimate islands or mountains.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      Hey dude, I got news for you, the story of jesus christ isn't real. Read about these stories and how they are similar or the same to the story of jesus. Did you know the story of christ, and stories like it, evolved form stories from civilizatoins that worshiped the sun?

      Here is a list:
      Stories similar/identical to the story of jesus.

      Alexandria: Aion
      Asia Minor: Attis
      Babylonia: Antiochus
      Egypt: Osiris and Horus
      Greece: Dionysus and Asclepius
      Syria: Adonis
      Italy: Bacchus
      Persia: Mithras
      India: Krishna

      Stories similar/identical to the story of jesus.

      Alexandria: Aion
      Asia Minor: Attis
      Babylonia: Antiochus
      Egypt: Osiris and Horus
      Greece: Dionysus and Asclepius
      Syria: Adonis
      Italy: Bacchus
      Persia: Mithras
      India: Krishna

      March 26, 2011 at 3:39 am |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      whoops, double brilliant paste, my bad.

      March 26, 2011 at 3:40 am |
  2. Joachan Veek

    God does not bring desaster to the world. We live in space, and the space we live in has a certain dynamics that we have not fully mastered. This includes predicting future events in the physical world. We are now fairly able to forecast weather, rain, sunshine and draught, but still lag in predicting a lot of events. Having said what I said, there are however three invicible forces at work in the physical world from time immemorial. These forces gave birth to the big bang, and there is no science that can fathorm it. One force is responsible for all negative outcomes, one is responsible for all positive outcomes, one is neutral. The negative force is the prince of the physical Universe, as confirmed by Jesus Christ of Nazareth. You believe what you want to, but at the appointed time there will be judgement. Man has not lived long enough on this planet and Uviverse to know everything inspite of what science has discovered. In the next 4,000 years everything we now know would be akin to the days when the Earth was assumed to be flat and thought to be the center of the Universe. Man does not have a special place in the Universe. The Universe does its own thing regardless of wether humans are in the way or not.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  3. Brandon

    I pray that anybody that does not believe in God, has a change of faith, Because the Lord could return any day, The bible does say to be ready for His return, because he will come like a thief in the dark, and we will not know the time nor place of His return. Are you ready?

    All Christians, inducing me, are persecuted everyday, and must endure it patiently and maintain our faith in Jesus!
    (Read Revelation 14:12)

    March 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Q

      How have you been persecuted?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Jim

      You know what? You can stop praying for me. I find it incredibly insulting that you would try to make people who don't believe in or care about your fairy tales a part of them. And to attempt to guilt us into caring is deplorable. Quit wasting time praying for us. Instead do something with your life that has meaning. Like literally anything that doesn't involve religion.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Maybe

      Brandon,
      "All Christians, inducing me, are persecuted..."

      Interesting slip of the tongue/fingers, there.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Jeffision

      If you have delusions of being persecuted for believing in unprovable stories that you use as a crutch, perhaps you should seek some professional psychological help. Having a delusional belief system and feelings of persecution may be symptoms of a mental dysfunction that can lead to serious problems if left untreated.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • tallulah13

      Please don't pray for me. I find if offensive.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • Ethos with pathos

      You are odd tallulah13. You come on here in an offensive manner and yet you ask others not to do something offending to you. I believe you are something of a hypocrite.

      March 25, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      Jesus didn't exist, its just a story, and it isn’t real.

      Stories similar/identical to the story of jesus.

      Alexandria: Aion
      Asia Minor: Attis
      Babylonia: Antiochus
      Egypt: Osiris and Horus
      Greece: Dionysus and Asclepius
      Syria: Adonis
      Italy: Bacchus
      Persia: Mithras
      India: Krishna

      The reason why all these narratives are so similar, with a godman who are born to virgins, who were born in caves or mangers, who were visited by 3 wise men, who lives were threatened by evil rulers, who had to flee for his life, who was at 12 noon in the house or temple of the "Most High" thereby beginning "his Father's work" at "age" 12, who begins their ministry at the age of 30, who was tempted by a Devil, who has 12 followers or disciples, who later sends out the 72 disciples, who walked on water, who raised the dead, who does miracles, who was crowned with thorns, who was crucified and resurrected after 3 days, who descended into hell for these 3 days, who rose again after 3 days, who ascended into Heaven, is that these stories were based on the movements of the sun through the heavens, an astrotheological development that can be found throughout the planet because the sun and the 12 zodiac signs can be observed around the globe. This same story is repeated down through history over and over again in almost every sun worshipping nation under "the Sun".
      Do your research before you so blindly follow your religious beliefs, whatever they may be.
      Learn about why religion and "god" was created, for all religions around the world, be a smart human being, not a sheep.

      March 26, 2011 at 3:36 am |
  4. ObamaBlackJesus

    Christians are becoming the new gays. Kinda ironic, isn't it?

    March 24, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      Yeah, a group that equals over 1/8 of the world's population is like a group that makes up waaaaay less. Good comparrison.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Jeffision

      Ha! 🙂 Karma is b_itch.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      Religion is dying, embrace knowledge and fact, and thou shalt be saved.

      March 26, 2011 at 3:35 am |
  5. ???

    Not Found
    Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn't here.

    This is the 1st page you come to when going to this article from the main page. Was the 2nd sentence necessary or a CNN jab to believers who are visiting their belief blog?

    March 24, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  6. Horus

    I always found it endlessly fascinating that even the Christians in this country can't agree as to which is the correct interpretation of the bible. You have protestants, baptists, reformed, latter day saints, 7th day Adventist, United Methodist, Roman Catholic, and the list goes on and on and on.

    Point is: in this one mainstream religion they can't even worship as a whole, only divided parts. They all quietly point and laugh at each other, each ones idealism more correct than the guy down the road. They want everyone to believe in Jesus yet they cannot agree exactly how to go about it.

    Us thinking people, the ones who have done our due diligence in studying all religions, are laughing at ALL OF YOU. Only when you've studied and exhausted all avenues of the worlds religions, past and present, should you make a decision as to which one fits your worldview. Do your homework. And when you do, I'll welcome you to this thing we call humanism.

    Only sheep need a shepherd, baby. Viva la evalucion!

    March 24, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Lanfear

      Well said!

      March 24, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      Horus boasted, "Us thinking people, the ones who have done our due diligence in studying all religions, are laughing at ALL OF YOU."

      How intellectual of you. It is a fool's prerogative to utter falsehoods that no one else will speak.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Horus

      @Pathos

      Like I said, only sheep need a shepherd. You can follow the others blindly, going where they go.

      As for us? We left the flock in search of truth, and we've found it. So while you're being told you're a sinner, and you pray your little empty head off in hopes that you can appease some sky god – the rest of us will kick back and enjoy the show.

      We only have one ticket to this event baby, there ain't no encore 😀

      March 25, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Ethos with pathos

      You are too funny. All you did was exchange one shepherd for another. You traded a priest for a scientist and you have no idea if what he says is anymore correct than a priest. You put your faith in a man called a scientist, you are a sheep.

      March 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      Pathos gets really defensive when you make logical, rational, statements regarding the non-existence of any god or religion, just as you would expect a religious person to react.

      March 26, 2011 at 3:34 am |
    • Lycidas

      @AItot- You are an odd little man. I point out that the above has exchanged one shepherd for another and all you can do is make wild accusations instead of showing how I could be wrong. Very typical of you, sticking your nose where it doesn't belong. But, you have a long history of that don't you? Going to various specific non-atheist oriented threads and imposing your faith on others. Rather rude isn't it? You have the makings of a wonderful Westboro Baptist member.

      March 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  7. Yum

    God EXISTS! Anyone who has tried Ben and Jerry's Peanut Brittle Ice Cream will be in concurrence. It's too delicious to have just been created by man...

    March 24, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      I'm pretty sure chunky monkey was created by god, because it's perfect!

      March 26, 2011 at 3:32 am |
  8. Klaark

    Most people aren't morons...this is actually news. Good news.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  9. ObjectiveOpinion

    There is no god. Anyone who believe there is, is too weak to stand alone. They need support. And religions are corrupt mechanisms that take advantage of these weak people. If there was a god, would he allow catholic priests to prey on young children?

    March 24, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • Jim

      Why stop at priests? Why would god require us to murder helpless animals to live? Why are miscarriages happening? Why would he make animals cruel to one another? Why do animals kill humans, god's creation?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  10. Eric

    "God" was creating natural disasters long before there were humans to punish. Does that mean there were animals that deserved to be punished as well? To live with the constant fear of a god punishing you for your mistakes is no way to live.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Dan

      That is precisely why the Epistle of James says, "Those who cotinue to fear [God} are not yet made perfect in love. For perfect love casts out all fear. By this we shall know we have perfect love: that we have confidence for the day of judgement."

      March 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • Eric

      I have no idea what that babbling gibberish means or has to do with anything in the post.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Jim

      Not yet made perfect. So god screwed up? I thought he was perfect. Hmmm...

      March 24, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Chakka

      @Dan

      So, the imperfect ones (that still fear 'God') are supposed to shed this fear–how? If God 'creates' everything, he shakes the earth. What's not to fear in that?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  11. Jack

    Hmmm... Folks who believe God is responsible for natural disasters probably never even got a basic high school education.. maybe because God told them its no use anyways.. that it will all end in May 2012, so don't bother staying in school.. get out there and spread the world..

    March 24, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Dan

      One of the greatest minds of the twentieth century was Martin Heidigger. He is regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of our time, but he is largely unknown, because he thought Hitler was right and joined the Nazi party. Some people are "ever learning, but never coming to the nowledge of the truth." Education doesn't prevent people from acting like fools or doing great evil.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Jim

      It's actually May 22, 2011. Even better. Maybe they'll all give me all their money since they won't need it anymore.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  12. Ben Jordan

    Few Americans? You could also say, "Almost Half of Americans"... that's a lot more than a few... scary stuff...

    March 24, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      It is scary indeed. There are a lot of primitive people in this world that still have a need to believe in the supernatural to answer questions they have regarding life, afterlife, and the complexities of the universe. I'm glad atheism, non theists, and agnostics, are a growing percentage of the world's population. I can't wait for the day when religion is mostly extinct.

      March 26, 2011 at 3:30 am |
  13. Nick

    You know if you don't believe in God, you will live forever and always be right!

    March 24, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      Scientists have stated there are people alive today, who will be injected with nanites, which will help keep people alive for 300, 400, 500 years, repairing our cells, ridding us of disease, preventing cancer, breakdown of tissues, repairing damage, etc.
      I truly and honestly hope to be one of these people, no joke.

      March 26, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  14. Charlotte

    What I'd like to know is why such a high number (30%???) of Americans think it IS a "God's" punishment. How disappointing that 30% of our populsation is so ignorant and uneducated. Even if there is such a thing as a god, why would She do something so irrational and bizarre? It's simply not possible. Those poor, deluded slobs. Hopefully they will grow up, wake up, or move away.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  15. Observer

    @Jeffrey M.,

    No problem. You have answered the question. It's surprising how many Christians won't answer questions about their faith.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  16. friend of jesus

    in the bible GOD says –only FOOLS say there is no GOD-–lots of fools in this world!!!

    March 24, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Vektors

      Only fools believe everything they read in a book.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Jim

      Really? How convenient. In some made-up book I wrote myself, it says that people who DO believe in gods are fools. It's amazing what made-up things can say.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  17. MEtoo

    Why is this on CNN?? When you can prove god exists then come see me and we can make it NEWS!!!

    March 24, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      Because this is the "opinion" section.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  18. Are you kidding me?

    Was it the mention of Sarah Palin along with disappointment that got that moderated? Otherwise it was 38% or God. The rest of the words were incredibly standard.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  19. Are you kidding me?

    Lots of moderation.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  20. Jeffision

    God is a fairy tale. Religiosity and spirituality are a common psychosis. Religion is a multi-billion dollar business that creates and promotes this psychosis for profit and power. Heaven and Hell are the carrot and stick of religion's business strategy. Visualize a post religious era.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Chris

      People who say there is no God are the ones that are attached to the physical world too much. To claim that there is no God is pure arrogance. All you know of is what's in this world. You know nothing outside of it. Your knowledge is limited. You can't prove there is no God.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Jimmy

      I guess you want to Dr.Suess to prove he isn't really a doctor too. Have you always had a problem telling the difference between fairy tail and religion?

      March 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Jim

      It's not our job to prove there is no god. You people are the ones making a positive claim, therefore it is your job to prove that there is a god. Not the other way around. You hold the burden of proof, not us. If a doctor told you that there was cancer inside your body, would you be expected to prove that there isn't cancer, or would you expect the doctor to prove that there is?

      March 24, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Shannon

      You're right...nobody can prove there is no god, just as nobody can prove there is no invisible, alien robot living in your brain controlling your thoughts. But, the likelihood of either is so low that it might as well be zero, which means there's no reason to be influenced by it.

      Logic...get some.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • MissMaggie82

      I couldn't agree more. I got tired of the fleecing and guilt a long time ago....I like to say I am a recovering Catholic. You'll get a kick out of this app on itunes, Afterlife Afterparty. The perfect foil to the money hungry, guilt laden, rule crazy world of supermall-sized mega churches. I laughed, I get the feeling from these posts most of you would too. Felt like I should share...:)

      The Afterlife Afterparty app is available in the Lifestyle category of iPhone apps on the Apple website: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/afterlife-afterparty/id408087121?mt=8&ls=1

      More information about Afterlife Afterparty is available at: http://www.afterlifeafterparty.com

      Like the Afterparty on Facebook at:
      https://www.facebook.com/pages/Afterlife-Afterparty/170886872939143

      March 24, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      @ Chris: where is your proof god exists? do you believe in santa clause too? no? why not?

      March 26, 2011 at 3:24 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.