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)

Still searching for perspectives on the suffering in Haiti

I noted yesterday that several New Orleans Saints were crediting God with their Super Bowl victory — while no Indianapolis Colts (that I’m aware of) said a peep about God favoring the opposition.

The phenomenon of people crediting God when things go right but not mentioning God when things go poorly got me thinking — again — of the religious responses we’ve heard to the suffering in Haiti.

As I’ve written over the past few weeks, numerous religious leaders have contended that God is present with the survivors and the rescue workers and that God expects all of us to help rebuild Haiti with our donations and prayers.

But few religious leaders address the dark and tenuous question (yes, the subject of my book) of where God was when the earthquake struck and thousands of people, young and old, good and bad, got crushed.

I can’t help it. I’m drawn to theodicy — attempts to reconcile God’s presence with the presence of evil.

So I went back and re-read a homily by a Catholic priest that came to my attention. Father Rees Doughty, pastor of St. Ann’s Church in Nyack, addresses the questions at hand quite directly.

I was going to quote a few sections of his homily, but I’ve decided to reprint the whole thing.

In short, he blames Original Sin for humankind’s fractured relationship with Creation. He says that until the created world finds peace in the fulfillment of “Jesus’ Kingdom,” God has rendered himself “helpless.” And he compares this state of helplessness to God’s position when Jesus Christ died on the cross.

Obviously, this is a Christian explanation that may not soothe those of other faiths. But it is an explanation that is worth reading, particularly if you, like me, admire religious leaders who don’t duck the tough ones:

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Our helpless God

When the human race suffers any natural disaster as catastrophic as the recent earthquake in Haiti, believers almost by nature turn to God not only in prayer but in bewilderment.  (Even non-believers appear to wonder.  The saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes” comes to mind.)  What was God thinking?  How could He have allowed something like this to happen? Where was He? Continue reading