I’ll talk ‘disasters’ the day after Election Day

I should mention that I’ll be talking about my book — Can God Intervene? How Religion Explains Natural Disasters — on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at Wainwright House in Rye. At 7 p.m.

galleryphoto01.jpgYes, that’s the day after Election Day.

You won’t be that tired from staying up to watch the returns…

Wainwright House, if you haven’t been there, is a “learning center” that offers all sorts of programs dedicated to greater understanding “through mind, body, spirit and community.”

I appreciate that they invited me. All the relevant info is HERE.

Lots of questions, no answers

Just got back from visiting with the Rye Brook Seniors, talking about my book.

As I told them, it is a good time to talk about my book — which is never a good thing.

There are 78,000 dead in Myanmar and 56,000 missing.

Another 51, 000 are dead in China.

And, yes, we did lose 20 people recently to tornadoes in this country.

3f4f4a2d056f48e0bd59f256690339811.jpgPut the totals together, counting the missing, and you’re starting to approach tsunami-level tragedy.

I started my talk, as I often do, by saying that I will have no answer. Can God intervene? Where was God in the tsunami, in the earthquake, in the cyclone? No answers.

But after I summarized what I found, explaining how religion after religion understands “acts of God,” one person said to me: “You may not have answers. But you helped us ask better questions. And those questions can lead to understanding.”

I’ll take that.

The photo, of a boy displaced by the cyclone in Myanmar, is by the AP’s Stan Honda.

Tornadoes, earthquakes, cyclones, but few answers

Normally, the deaths of at least 22 people who got in the way of tornadoes in Missouri, Oklahoma and Georgia would make for the major news story of the day.

But today is not that day.

132695c208c241c9a7ced1afd4ba14f5.jpgClose to 8,000 people were killed by a major earthquake in central China (photo). We all woke up to reports that some 900 children were buried under the rubble of their former school.

And the death toll in Myanmar has hit 32,000, while another 30,000 are missing.

At these times, friends, neighbors, and colleagues ask me about my book. Why do these “acts of God” happen? What answers do religious authorities have?

I generally have little to say (which sometimes surprises people). There are no easy answers. Each religious tradition has its own way of looking at these things. And it’s complicated.

Yes, Buddhists in Myanmar and China will blame karma. Protestants in Missouri may blame Original Sin. Many people around the world, from many faith traditions, will wonder who is being punished for what.

But on a day like today, when children are buried and thousands of people (bodies?) are missing, what explanation can possibly be satisfying?

As one Catholic priest who advises the U.S. Bishops Conference, Father Thomas Weinandy, told me for my book:

What gets preached from the pulpit and by the bishops is “Let’s support these people, take up a collection and do what we can to help them get back on their feet,” — rather than addressing the theological issues that may be raised. Part of the problem is that there is no simply answer. You can’t get up on a pulpit and say this is why this happened, other than to say that God has his purposes and ways and hopefully it will all become clear in heaven. What is there to say other than that we have to know that God loves us, that we have to trust in him, that he’s on our side in the end? Other than that, what can you say?

Other than that, what can you say?

And we complain about the cost of gas.

Did karma or other forces cause such suffering in Myanmar?

The death count in Myanmar is now 22,000. It will certainly go much higher. 1 million are homeless. There’s little food and drinking water.

Anyone who was paying attention when the military government cracked down on Buddhist monks last fall knows that Myanmar is a largely Buddhist country.

And Buddhists, of course, believe in karma. When I was writing my book about the divine role in natural disasters, Buddhists had much less trouble explaining “acts of God” than most others because they believe that karma – a universal system of cause and effect — is responsible for the good and the bad.

cyclone.jpgThe devastating cyclone that hit Myanmar, then, was the result of lots of bad karma built up, perhaps, by individuals, communities, other forces.

Many Burmese probably believe that their country was hit because of the military government’s despotic rule. But the cyclone hit a region of the country where ordinary people live — not the region where the rulers live.

But what other forces might have been at play other than karma? Indian officials say their weather forecasters warned of the approaching cyclone, but that the Burmese government did not prepare the people for what was coming. Additionally, Western officials say they are now having trouble getting aid to the stricken areas. The government wants to control foreign dollars.

One of the main conclusions I reached when working on my book is that when it comes to “Acts of God,” it’s often difficult to separate where divine responsibility ends and human responsibility begins.

Oh yeah, I’m talking tonight

I’ll be speaking tonight at Beth El Synagogue in New Rochelle about my book, Can God Intervene? How Religion Explains Natural Disasters.

I should probably have mentioned this before now, but I’m not too good at self promotion.

51vjm0buq8l_aa240_.jpgThe Interreligious Council of New Rochelle invited me, which I greatly appreciate. I had a chance to speak at their annual Thanksgiving morning interfaith service a few years ago.

The program is at 7:30, free and open to the public. Beth El is at North Avenue and Northfield Road.

Of course, natural disasters have not stopped taking lives since I finished the book last year. This month, tornadoes killed 58 people in the southern states. Religion News Service did a story about what religious leaders in Tennessee had to say about the tornadoes.

“Sometimes you just have these weather events,” the Rev. Ron Lowery, a United Methodist district superintendent in central Tennessee, told RNS. “And nobody would wish that upon you, and God would himself not have that come upon us.”

Then why did God let it happen? Could God have stopped it? Didn’t God have to be part of it, in some way?

These are the kinds of questions I address in my book.

After I talk for a few minutes, we’ll hear from three clergy: Rabbi Melvin Sirner of Beth El, the Rev. DeQuincy Hentz, Pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in New Rochelle, and the Rev. Carol Fryer, a new chaplain at the Wartburg.