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. PAUL

    In old testament times 98% of people was un-schooled ,uneducated people, the prophets used symbols and illistrations to instill in early humans a sense of dignity and responsibility, that a god which created the heavens , earth and universe was a supreme power, god has thankfully reserved all power unto himself, what is man ? flesh and blood that grows old and passes away, what is the universe? a distant star many times larger than the earth can explode and throw the molten debri for twenty light years as quick as man can snap his fingers, let's look at what jesus said , the time or hour knoweth no man , not even the son, but the father only knows when that hour will be, when asked by other religious groups that he was certain that could not be persuaded of the truth of god, he was basically telling them if you are so smart you figure it out , you know everything else when he told them there would be wars, rumors of wars and earthquakes in divers places, people should be concerned of earthquakes, volcanoes, natural disasters as the public safety concern , but they should be more concerned about thier eternal well being , being right with god, we now live in the new testament times where people are educated and have better understanding of life and nature and science , god leaves us to our own ability,s of understanding,

    March 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  2. Arran Webb

    Count me in – I believe it is God.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  3. hiyousuckers

    "The wisdom of the wise is foolishness to God". "That which is highly esteemed among men (like worldly wisdom), is an abomination to God." "God has chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the wise." Take heart all of you who think you are so intelligent against the Word of God, all of us who believe in Him and his Holy Bible, will be out of here soon, and you can have this whole crumbling world to yourselves!

    March 24, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • steve

      Woops! I'm putting things in the wrong place today...I missed my prayer hour with Glen and gang. Forgive me corn and sun god.

      Rewrite! It isn't his bible know it all! That would be a copyright violation in about 120 countries.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • steve

      Woops! I'm putting things in the wrong place today...I missed my prayer hour with Glen and gang. Forgive me corn and sun god.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  4. aint_skeered

    This article says "3 in 10 believe that God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some citizens, according to the survey.". I knew we had a lot of ignorant people still living in the dark ages but who would have thought we had this many? If God is like that then he is a real bastud.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • steve

      Rewrite! It isn't his bible know it all! That would be a copyright violation in about 120 countries.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  5. mantaec

    Glen Beck is taking prayer request and a check for $10.00. Send the money to POB I69-2, Mytown, USA 10106

    March 24, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • pegger

      @mantaec. Some of them will send the money, I'm almost positive they will cause they believe!

      March 24, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  6. Lorelord

    So why would CNN make this news? Why would someone actually even poll on this subject? What is the motive behind this? You dont just wake up and say, "Hey! I wonder if people think that these are signs from God....let me find out." There is a political motive behind this. Besides, even if a non-majority of people dont think it is a sign from God, that doesnt make it true or not true. Its simply opinion. Also, it is also written int he Bible that there will be signs and people will be blind to them and will not accept them as such, so in that aspect, it makes the Bible correct.

    So once again, why even poll on this? There has to be a political agenda involve din this somehow.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • slipheart

      Pray your god puts a spell checker on your computer idiot.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • D Balt

      CNN didn't do the study. Some religious wing nut group did, as the article noted. A key point is that the survey is far from representative...which I am sure is intentional by the Christianist group that conducted the study...the sample only included only one religion, Christians. It would be more interesting and meaningful if they included members of the world's largest religion, Islam, as well as Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.

      March 24, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  7. kosh

    I just cannot beleive in the deity of such an intolerant, hypocritical religeon as christianity has become. Do as the bible says, not as I do, God punishes the unfaithful and on and on. Enough with your nonsense already, wake up and join the 21st century, free your mind from your cult and you might see a refreshing new look to the world. I stopped beleiving when I was a child and have faired quite well by using my own free will. I don't need mytjhology to get me through life, I'm strong enough to make it on my own and I like it that way. God is not punishing anyone, the Earth is just evolving and growing more mature, stop preaching about divine punishments, ignorance is not needed.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • babylonwillfall


      March 24, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  8. Veritas

    The moral of the story is that the majority of white evangelicals are a bunch of loones. But we already knew that without having to have a poll to tell us.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • D Balt

      The Christianists are our religious radicals..."god loves everyone....well as long as you believe what we do."

      March 24, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  9. aint_skeered

    Start praying hard. Pray 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Only stop praying long enough to sleep. Even pray while you eat or any other time. PRAY! PRAY! PRAY! Evidently none of us are praying near enough!!! For the love of God people please beg God to help us all!!!

    March 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Veritas

      It must really suck to be as paranoid as you are.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      It must really suck that no one cares what you think. Or, it really really sucks that you comment only for your own jollies and ego.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • aint_skeered

      "It must really suck that no one cares what you think. Or, it really really sucks that you comment only for your own jollies and ego."

      That is exactly what you did so that makes you a hypocrite.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      @aint- Not really, I am just having fun bothering the pompous non-religious on here. Is there something wrong with that?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Jeanine

      Don't worry, this Pathos joker just got pwned by me, one of the most pompous non-believers you'll ever meet. 😉

      March 25, 2011 at 2:33 am |
    • Ethos with pathos

      @Jeanine- Did I? Check the post you are referring to. It's so much fun seeing children try and play with the adults on here. Don't worry hun, you'll grow up one day.

      March 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Jeanine

      PwE – Peewee – don't flatter yourself. I just pwned you again. go look.

      March 25, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • Ethos with pathos

      I love when the ignorant declare victory where there is none.

      March 25, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Jeanine

      Peewee – finally something we can agree on! LOL

      March 25, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Ethos with pathos

      HAHA, Glad you like being pwned since the only person that declared a victory is you. Thank you for confirming your ignorance 🙂

      March 25, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      if god existed, he/she/it would answer prayers, but that doesn't happen. god isn't real.

      March 26, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • Lycidas

      The man who lives by faith is he who...even if scholars the world over should proclaim, if all mankind by an overwhelming majority of votes should endorse and if experiments..should corroborate that there is no God...would rather suffer at the hands of reason than accept his own reason as an idol; who would grieve, but neither totter not betray the dignity of his sense of inadequacy in the presence of the ineffable.

      For faith is an earnest we hold till the hour of passing away, not to be redeemed by a doctrine or even exchanged for insights.

      What God means is expressed in the words: For Thy kindness is better than life."

      March 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  10. Penny

    For those who believe that God did this, and all other horrible things, James 1:13 says “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.” Additionally, we need to keep in mind who is actually ruling the world right now: "The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one." And the Bible identifies him, saying: "The one called Devil and Satan . . . is misleading the entire inhabited earth."—1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9. Clearly is says the "wicked one," and most would agree that is Satan, has power of the "whole world" right now, and that he is "misleading" the ENTIRE inhabited Earth.
    When Satan defied God, God ousted him from Heaven to...where? To Earth.
    To blame God for death, disasters, pain, illness and crime must really hurt Him.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      How did you do in Creative Writing courses? Nothing you stated has any basis in reality...

      March 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Rob

      I see. So Satan has more power than God in these matters.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Jason

      Well rob If you didn't have such as stick up your ass yourself and actually had any remote understanding of the tihng you so baselessly hate you would know that yes, according to the bible, Satan is manipulating the earth and that God doesn't intervene when we come crying, according to the bible we will be saved, you don't have to believe it but you don't have to be suck a dick to everyone who does.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  11. Me Man

    bad poll make sun god mad. sun god make many people die.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • babylonwillfall


      March 24, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • D Balt

      Sun god forgive bad man...just bring big wampum (cash preferred) each Sunday to big house. Or check out automated payment plan. Earn credits to heaven*. By way, sun god think your little boy hot.

      *Some restrictions apply. Offer expires may 12, 2012...lol

      March 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth


      March 26, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  12. Keith

    Fools. The dirt is moving. Why would it take a god for that?

    March 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  13. Trevor

    This poll shows the brilliance of the religiously insane, "no we don't think god is punishing countries for the sins of it citizens. But we do believe that god is causing these earthquakes, oil spills, 3 wars etc. The earth quakes are god simply giving the earth a hug"
    I find it disturbing we have full grown people with an imaginary friend.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • PAUL

      god don,t have to do any of those thing's , they happen by themselves

      March 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  14. Christian

    All I have to say is "The fool hath said in his heart 'there is no God'". It's in there and I believe He means it. You can go through this life not believing and find out when you die you were wrong. Or you can go through this life believing and if you die and find out you were wrong, so be it. But you could also find out you were right. What a pleasant surprise. Not here to argue or stir up the pot. And though I believe, that doesn't mean my life is a bowl of cherries. It's not. In fact, it's been extremely difficult for me. I won't stop believing though, just cause He hasn't made me rich. Cause I am not a fool. Last time I checked my IQ was around 180. So yeah, not a fool.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Q

      You'd think one with a "180" IQ (cough...BS) would know better than to offer Pascal's Wager as a legitimate argument for their belief in a specific mythology....

      March 24, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Ken

      I've heard that argument many times: what does it hurt to believe? To that I ask: is God OK that you "believe" only if you're doing so because you're afraid of the consequences of not believing? And if someone told you that only people who believe chickens are our overloads will go to heaven, would you believe that too? I mean, what's the harm?

      March 24, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Charlie2101

      Christian for a man with a supposed 180 IQ you sure spout a lot of nonsense. What you are chirping is Pascal's Wager which is frought with holes. You use circular logic to support the truth of Christianity by quoting the bible which cannot be proven to be true. I suggest you use your IQ to move forward from mythology and base your life on a more scientific and proven worldview.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Observer

      You might check the score again. There's one delusional clown on the Internet who pretends he's one of the world's top 100 brains based an an unrecognized online GAME. Hopefully, you can do much better than that.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Ken

      Wow - how did I miss that part about a 180 IQ? I believe the IQ scale has a normal distribution with a standard deviation of 15 points, so given you're 80 points from the mean that's a 5-sigma event. At 5 sigmas, that's a 1 in 1.74 million probability - of course, we can double that since we only care about the high end of the distribution, so it's a 1 in 3.5 million event. Given approx 365 million people in the US, that means you're likely one of the 100 smartest people in the country!! Of course you already know this, but I wanted to be sure other posters knew we are in such esteemed company.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • steve

      You 180 IQ doesn't mean much if it is based on the knowledge of a fairy tale. And also, if you had a 180 IQ you would have a job and not even have a desire to post BS here! My IQ is hovering, you good christians are making me smarter by telling me you believe in Santa and the pretty Bunny!

      So if my IQ is increasing with the knowledge gained from these stupid post, then yours' is actually getting smaller. Get it it it it it??

      March 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Jason

      180? lol lemme guess you're Stephen Hawking, or perhaps you're Galelio......BULL S**T!

      March 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      Wow, so many rational hate posts on here. Yes, rational and hate don't go together, but for all the non-religious ppl on here it must be what they have.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Spencer

      ""Wow, so many rational hate posts on here. Yes, rational and hate don't go together, but for all the non-religious ppl on here it must be what they have."

      You have shown you don't know the definition of rational, but now you have shown you are here only to show why Christianity is so wrong for this world. They can't practice what they preach.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      @Spencer- I know what rational means dear boy, but don't get mad that I am not using the term in the manner you wish I would.

      Odd, what have I preached that I have not practiced?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      For christianity to be real, the story of jesus would have to be real, unfortunately the story of jesus isn't real, therefore the "god" people believe in, also is not real. In much more primitive times, human beings worshipped the sun, that's where the story actually originated from. There is no proof jesus was real, and there is no proof god is real either.

      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 2:33 am |
    • Lycidas

      "For christianity to be real, the story of jesus would have to be real, unfortunately the story of jesus isn't real,"

      That's a bold theory. How about you prove it? And no, you can't go hiding off into the proving the negative argument. I am not asking you to prove the negative. I want you to prove that the "story" of Jesus was created. Should be easy, just provide us with the original author, first copy featuring Jesus, motive...etc. You can do this right? Or is your theory just held together by faith in coincidence?

      March 27, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  15. Kris

    Time is the cause of the natural disasters. It is just the earth doing what it is suppose to do. Maybe humans play apart in this with global warming, but I rather believe in science than a myth.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  16. Rex D

    What I find maddening is that of all the highly educated individuals in the world today...and they still hang on to 'what the bible says' and believe in the invisible man/woman in the sky. If you need it to keep you sane and grounded...fair enough. I'll take the Gandalf, Aragorn & Galadriel fairy tale myself.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Jason

      Most of these people who believe in god punishing nations who tout themselves as devoted Christians clearly havn't read the bible past genesis they just listen to whatever out of context part a religious figure barks at them and suck up the what they are told is the meaning faster than a hoover sucks up dirt. As an educated (Masters) person who believes in both god and his word, but also believes highly in science, it is sickening to know that my fellow Christians can be so easily manipulated into believein whatever Vatican tosses their way. Science and knowledge and free will (i.e. NOT predestination) are gifts that we need to embrace, we where given the tools to shape our own lives and to affect others. God isn't sitting up in Heaven using us like we're some super version of The SIms. As for god punishing nations....2/3s? (just threw up a little bit). Jesus died so that our sins would be forgiven, god does not and will not judge us until the end. Read the scriptures. As far as belief systems go...it's' a belief it can be anymore proven than it can be disproven, and there are plenty of theorys and hypothesis that havn't or can't be proved but many "educated" and non religious people still believe in them. perhaps both sides need to stop carring on like children and learn to respect each other's opinions.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      Or the smart people in the world can simply realize that it's the stupid people that believe in supernatural beings

      March 26, 2011 at 2:29 am |
  17. Jim C

    Every one should read Matthew 24, and just ponder the words of Jesus.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • patrick

      nah, Ill just believe everything Glenn Beck tells me.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Read some books other than translated versions of the bible

      ...and then everyone should read Deuteronomy 22:28-29:

      "If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her."

      WHAT?!...this book is the source of your faith and morality? Or does your common sense tell you to ignore this passage as an immoral one.? If so, that's REASON poking through the religious shroud. Mass murdering sky god pimp or treat each other with kindness and respect. Your choice.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  18. BTB

    Any of the disasters we've witnessed over the past decade can be attributed to human activity and Mother Nature. God just sits back and slaps his knee, chuckling. You see, God feeds from the milk of our tears.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      Well, that's one angry point of view that isn't backed up by any religion represented here.

      March 24, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • BTB

      -Well, that's one angry point of view that isn't backed up by any religion represented here.-

      Neither are your posts.

      March 25, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Ethos with pathos

      @BTB- Did I say they were? Duh.

      March 25, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Atheism is the only truth

      god would never let disasters such as that happen
      religious people can always come up with an excuse, even an irrational one, to explain something, no matter what it is. That's the convenience of religion and a non-existent supernatural being, you can make it do whatever you want for whatever reason, with no proof it it's existence, no one can ever question or refute what you are saying, but simply know that you are crazy.

      March 26, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • Lycidas

      "god would never let disasters such as that happen"

      Don't know to whom your are referring, but if you mean God I have to ask why not?

      Irreligion is not opiate but poison. Our energies are too abundant for living indifferently. We are in need of an endless purpose to absorb our immense power, if our souls are not run amok. We are either the ministers of the sacred or the slaves of evil.

      March 27, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  19. You

    Dinosaurs could tell us many more actual true stories about signs and reasons for natural disasters, than the wisest human or ancient scripture. They were around for 165 MILLION years.

    People believe in whatever makes them feel alive and significant at the moment, especially when they are scared. Manipulators know this also.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  20. Teddy

    I am 100% sure that 75% of the people don't care about 100% of the other people and that 25% of the people don't care about 75% of the other 25% of the 50%. So I am certain that 100% of the people are sick and tired of the views of the other 100%. That's all I have to say about that.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Bob Anders

      And I'm 100% certain that 75% of the people are 60% sick and 40% tired of your view Teddy, give or take 25%. That's all I have to say about that.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:31 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.