In case you have not heard, an earthquake and tsunami ravaged the people of Japan a few weeks ago. The death toll is now well over 10,000. Included in the horrors brought on by these is the failure of the nuclear plant in Fukushima Daiichi. The plant suffered severe damage and continues to leak radioactive material into the atmosphere and into water.
In response to this devastating tragedy, this YouTube video, which went viral, was posted:
(note: the subtitles are supposed to be God, as added by host channel of this video.)
While she might be a troll — although this man’s response to me about the possibility of her being a troll seems about right (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ep7rN17yAU0&feature=iv&annotation_id=annotation_814746) — she is supported. By 38% of Americans. 29% of Americans believe natural disasters are divine retribution. An analyst on FOX News hailed this poll as a pragmatic approach by Americans to their theology. Apparently the governor of Tokyo initially agreed as well, until he later apologized. The kind-hearted girl who posted the YouTube video said this was God showing himself to atheists and that by the end of Lent, we would see such natural disasters in Europe and America.
If we follow this girl’s logic, Atheist Soapbox is partially responsible for the natural disasters in Japan. God apparently reads our blog and saw that we have 157 people who viewed our posts in Japan. To warn us, he must have taken out our second largest readership, and now is going to move on to us. Apparently 116,662,489 people might agree with this interpretation here in America. That, frankly, disgusts me.
Okay seriously, what do we do about this?
Up to 100,000,000 people believe God took out Japan for their wickedness. As one viral video claimed, this was the fault of ignorant atheists. Yes, 200,000,000 people know God did not strike down the people of Japan. Still, I will reiterate: 100,000,000 people is A LOT OF PEOPLE. Why are we not having discussions between believers who do not hold this view, non-believers, and believers who do hold this view in order to educate those who think of God in this way? Why are we not talking about how God fits in with this tragedy that left 10,000 people dead and innumerable families scarred?
Some classic responses:
God works in mysterious ways. There is no way to know whether or how God contributed to what happened in Japan. We cannot understand the mind of God, and we can only say that our loving God would not cause such destruction.
I seem to recall a rather vengeful God in the Old Testament. I seem to remember Sodomand Gomorrah getting annihilated for their sinful ways. How about Amalekites? I also recall a flood. Japan might not have very many strict atheists, but they sure have a lot of non-Christians.
Does this all sound familiar? The same sorts of arguments were given by most evangelical preachers about Hurricane Katrina when it ravaged New Orleans. You know, New Orleans? It is known as a party city. So what did God do to that party city? Hello natural disaster.
The devil was in New Orleans. The devil was in Japan.
So how would you respond to this argument? I certainly do not believe God has anything to do with natural disasters. I am confident saying any atheist would agree with that statement. The discrepancy comes among believers. I know many, many, many Catholics, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. do not think God smote either location. I want to know why. Not only do I want to know why, I want to know what you would say to another believer who thinks God just killed 10,000 people.
Enlighten them and enlighten me
Ben Conover is a freshman philosophy major at Boston University. He recently spoke at the Ethical Society of St. Louis on Atheism, the Atheist Youth Movement and Bishop Edward Rice’s comments on atheists.
NOTE: The situation in Japan is tragic and I hope that I did not make light of it in any way in this article. It was not my intention and I hope I made that blatantly clear. If you would like to donate to the relief efforts in Japan, please visit http://www.redcross.org/ or any of the of the many relief effort organizations