Poll asks: Was Japanese disaster a sign from God?

According to a new poll, 56 percent of Americans completely or mostly agree with the idea that God is in control of everything that happens in the world.

But only 38 percent completely or mostly agree that natural disasters are a sign from God.

I guess the 18 percent in between might say that God is in control of natural disasters — but doesn’t intend them as a sign.

Maybe? I don’t know.

The new poll, from the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service, of course addresses the meaning, or lack thereof, of the tragic earthquake/tsunami in Japan and our other recent disasters.

Overall, 70 percent said they believe God is “a person with whom people can have a relationship,” a very Christian way of looking at the world.

Only 8 percent said they did not believe in God.

A few interesting findings (to me):

Only 18 percent said the suffering of innocent people sometimes causes them to have doubts about God. 48% completely disagreed with the idea.

40 percent agreed with the idea that natural disasters are “God’s way of testing our faith.”

On the question of whether recent natural disasters are evidence that we are in “end times,” 21% completely agreed and 23% mostly agreed. 20% mostly disagreed and 32% completely disagreed.

83% agreed that the U.S. should provide “significant financial assistance” to Japan and other countries that suffer.

My friend and former colleague Nicole Neroulias wrote up the results for Religion News Service and was kind enough to interview me because of my book on the subject.

I hope I didn’t summarize things too…tightly. It’s hard to talk in sound-bites. How many times have I heard that from people I have interviewed?

(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

‘Testifying’ about the BP oil mess

A coalition of 13 religious leaders has traveled to New Orleans to “bear witness” to the BP oil disaster and “testify” about what they have seen.

The outing appears to have been organized by the Sierra Club, which sent out a press release. I don’t see anything about it on their website (which is tracking the amount of oil leaked in real time).

A group called Interfaith Power & Light, which calls itself “a religious response to global warming,” is also involved.

According to the release:

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Leaders of different faiths will join together to reflect, restore, and renew. They will highlight the moral dimension of our costly dependence on oil, call for restoration of the Gulf communities and ecosystems, and begin to envision a future based on clean energy, to help us all renew and protect creation.

Leaders will take a boat tour of the affected region, hear from local residents, and will then join a press teleconference to share their experiences with the media.

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Here’s a list of the participants:

The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham – Founder, Interfaith Power and Light
The Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, Pastor, Providence Missionary Baptist Church
Fr. Dan Krutz, Episcopal Priest and Director, Louisiana Interchurch Conference
The Rev. Jim Wallis, Editor in Chief, Sojourners Magazine
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
The Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Progressive National Baptist Convention
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed – Islamic Society of North America
Lynne Hybels – cofounder of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (of White Plains/that’s her) – Rabbinical Assembly
Pastor Chris Seay – Senior Pastor Ecclesia Church in Houston, TX
Susan Stephenson – Executive Director, Interfaith Power and Light
Tom Costanzas, Director of the Office of Peace and Justice, Catholic Charities
Rev. Gilbert R. Washington, Louisiana Home and Foreign Mission Baptist State Convention

Speaking of religious perspectives on the oil leak, the New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten muses about the meaning of “acts of God” and whether there is some sort of divine role in a man-made disaster like the oil spill.

He quotes Edward Hugh Henderson, professor of philosophy at Louisiana State University, as saying: “God does not smash in from outside to overthrow creatures, to put out of gear the order of nature that God has over eons of evolution brought to its present state. What the oil is doing to the Gulf and its denizens is what oil, being oil, would do.”