“Natural” Disasters

The Jet d'Eau in Geneva

This past week in Europe has been overwhelmingly stressful for people. With the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, (and my subsequent reading on the causes of the eruption), I’ve been reminded of the religious bent to look at each natural disaster as a sign of the times. After all, that is what the scriptures teach us to do.

Job was an extremely pious man. He was also very prosperous. He had seven sons and three daughters. It was proposed by Satan that Job was ONLY pious BECAUSE he was prosperous. Thus, to prove a point (because God needs to prove his points), God allowed Job to be tried and tested—with almost every possession and family member taken away. Then he got boils and whatnot.

When Job’s wife had felt that Job had suffered more than enough she said, “Do you still hold to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9-10). Job responded to her, “You speak as one of the foolish ones speak. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Apparently, Job accepted the idea that the “natural” disasters that killed his family  and took away his possessions were all apart of God’s plan for him. This idea is reiterated throughout the scriptures. In Matthew 5:45, “For He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Recently in the news, the Iranian cleric blamed the regions earthquakes on promiscuous women. It was the immoral behavior of the women that caused 25,000 people to die in Bam. Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi told worshippers in Tehran that, “they had to stick to strict codes of modesty to protect themselves. ‘Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes. What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes,’ he said.”

Similarly, the Rabbinical Alliance of American issued the following statement about the profound effects of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military:

“When Americans are suffering economically and millions need jobs, it’s shocking that the Administration is focused on its ultra-liberal militantly homosexualist agenda forcing the highlighting of homosexuals and homosexuality on an unwilling military. This is the equivalent of the spiritual rape of our military to satisfy the most extreme and selfish cadre of President Obama’s kooky coalition….

“Thirteen months before 9/11, on the day New York City passed homosexual domestic partnership regulations, I joined a group of Rabbis at a City Hall prayer service, pleading with God not to visit disaster on the city of N.Y. We have seen the underground earthquake, tsunami, Katrina, and now Haiti. All this is in sync with a two thousand year old teaching in the Talmud that the practice of homosexuality is a spiritual cause of earthquakes.”

In reading various articles this week, you can find the belief that God has been behind every major “natural” disaster that has occurred in the world. And why it may seem ridiculous to many of us today—most Christians, in some way or other, subscribe to these ideas—as they are constantly illustrated in the Bible and The Book of Mormon. From The Great Flood, Sodom & Gomorra, The Tower of Babel, to the destruction of the Nephites time and time again. All of these things, I was taught as a child, were signs of the times—signs of the ending of the world…and that ultimately, it would be the sinning nature of humanity that would bring about these natural disasters. It makes sense, in the context of orthodox religion, to blame 9/11 on gays wanting to join the military and women letting their hair down. Doesn’t it?

Um, not really. That’s the thing. Don’t these ideas, when based on fundamental logic—tend to illustrate just plain ridiculousness? Doesn’t it seem weird to believe in a God that would flood the earth because women wanted the right to be in control of their bodies, or a God that casts fires on the state of California right after it approved same-sex marriage, or a God that would wipe out New Orleans because of the rampant gambling and drug usage? What about a God that preordained a system of ruling that has a man at the head and several wives that adhere to his priesthood power? What about a God that promises to burn the world at his coming? What about a God that based the Plan of Salvation around the violent murder of one of his children?

That’s the problem with me lately–I can’t seem to take that God seriously anymore.


I'm an artist, writer, photographer, feminist, listener, lover, and a fighter. I believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, that skies are meant to be blue, and that the world is full of endless possibilities.

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14 Responses

  1. Alisa says:

    Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

    I suppose it’s in the mind of the believer what these calamities are. I tend to think that the consequences of our actions stay in the same realm (social consequences for social vices, etc.).

  2. Alisa says:

    Sorry – that quote is from “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

  3. CatherineWO says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful post, Stella. I have struggled with the same issues. This idea of a vindictive God didn’t make sense to me as a child and it doesn’t make make sense to me now. Yet I think it does make sense to many people, as you say. I think it is their way of explaining (and making sense of) seemingly random events that cause great suffering. There always has to be a scapegoat, right?
    One thing I was taught as a child that I do believe is that it is up to each of us to develop a personal relationship with God. As I have pursued this religious goal I have formulated my own understanding of the character of God (an ongoing journey, for sure). The God I have come to know and love is not a vengeful, jealous God. And natural disasters are just that–natural. It is much easier for me to accept the concept of random over vengeful.

  4. Stella says:

    Alisa, Thank you so much for the quote. Sometimes I think I justified so much of what I was taught in church because I thought it came from the ancient scriptures–but the Proclamation is about as modern as you get in religious terms.

    Catherine, thank you–your path seems similar to mine. It’s my survival method in a religion that teaches so much that I do not agree with–and yet, paradoxically, teaches so much that I love, admire, cherish, and do not want to give up.

  5. Craig says:

    This might interest you : http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/04/19/why_have_there_been_so_many_geological_catastrophes_lately

    And yes, I agree, attributing natural disasters to god is, I think, a symptom of the same kind of thinking that gave us the concept of gods in the first place – can’t explain something, well it must have a supernatural cause. Thor makes lightning. Mars creates wars. Allah punishes women with earthquakes. Jesus creates hurricanes to wipe out sinful gays. It’s superstitious nonsense and science-denialism repackaged as Christian theology.

  6. TopHat says:

    Did you hear about Boobquake? http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=116336578385346

    It’s a test to see if cleavage really does cause earthquakes. I think it’s hilarious.

  7. Steve says:

    It is amazing how many folks say things like: “Look at how many earthquakes, hurricanes, and so forth are occurring. There are so many more than in the past. It must be a sign of the last days.”

    Now, there are a couple ways of looking at this.

    1) In the last days, the absolute quantity of disasters will dramatically increase.

    2) Because of global media, more people will be aware of more disasters than in the past.

    If the first is the reality, than pretty much everything today is pretty minor. The recent Icelandic volcano is pretty small compared to past volcanic eruptions. In the past earthquakes have killed far more people than any recent event (with the exception of the Indian Ocean tsunami).

    If the second, than an argument can be made that the number of percieved events has increased.

  8. Caroline says:

    “What about a God that based the Plan of Salvation around the violent murder of one of his children?”

    I happily call myself Christian. I love Jesus’ example of an expansive and inclusive love. I also like the themes of redemption and renewal that we can see in Christ’s atonement. But the violence of the atonement is one of the things that I struggle most with as a Christian. I don’t like the idea that God required such torture. My hope, I suppose, lies in the idea of a limited God – one who hated that moment more than anyone, but who did not have the power to stop it or to require something less violent.

    That idea of a limited God is also how I look at all these natural disasters. I can’t envision a God that deliberately causes such things to happen to his children.

  9. Stella says:

    That’s such an interesting idea Caroline. I haven’t thought of that before. I remember last year I went to a talk at Sunstone called “The Violent Language of the Atonement” and the presenter discussed that many Christians like the stories that pain Christ as suffering in the intense extremes. It wasn’t just enough that he had to give his life–he had to give it in the most drawn out and painful of ways (bleeding from every pore, etc.)

  10. corktree says:

    I tend to think that even if something is accurately predicted to occur in the last days, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was caused by God or that He willed it. I like Steve’s perspective that in reality, what we are seeing evidence of currently is quite minor to what may actually be referred to in the scriptures and the proclamation (though I agree that the proclamation mentions more of a natural consequence scenario). It seems like it’s one thing to view something as a sign of the times, and another to extrapolate your own narrow meaning out of what it shows about us or others.

    Great post, by the way.

  11. Stella says:

    Corktree–thank you for your comment. I was actually reading a book discussing the idea that natural disasters have not gone up in number, they just get more attention paid to each one now with the media. It’s is each person’s own interpretation that guides their decisions and feelings (of fear or joy).

  12. kaylanamars says:

    My whole concept of God is changing. I really want to believe in Christ, but I have a hard time reconciling that he’s male…what does that mean for me as a woman? Could he have chosen to come down as a woman but didn’t due to cultural constraints, such as if he were a woman people wouldn’t have listened to him. Christianity has a hard time admitting women and thus my struggle with Christ…Lost my faith in Mormonism and now figuring out my belief in Christ. Great post, thanks!

  13. Stella says:

    Thank you Kaylanamars! I can relate to you perfectly. I, too, have been redefining my belief in Christ–seeing him more as an enlightened man than a Savior of worlds upon worlds (see my last post for that discussion). I hope you are able to find what you are looking for. I know, for me, it is a long journey–and at this point, I’m not sure what to search for anymore….but the not knowing is ok too–as long as I have peace in my life for living it the way I see fit and not the way a set community tells me to see it (which, I think, is what God would want anyway…no matter the community).

  14. Kelly Ann says:

    What I find odd is the occasional jokes my non-religious coworkers make about the end of the world. I think people just have the inherent desire to explain when there is no real explanation present.

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