Within the last 6 years, two devastating natural disasters have shaken the consciences of our generation. On December 26th 2004, an underwater earthquake with a magnitude measuring between 9.0 and 9.3 on the Richter scale occurred a hundred miles off the coast of northern Sumatra, a province of Indonesia. The resulting tsunami, later named “The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami,” devastated the coastline communities of nearly all nearby land masses with tidal waves up to a hundred feet high. The death toll was enormous: nearly a quarter of a million people perished, and based on the many photos taken in the aftermath, many of its victims were small children, whose bodies were found scattered up and down the coasts where the tsunamis hit.
Six years later in January of 2010, another devastating earthquake hit a small town 16 miles away from the heavily populated city of Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti. The quake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, and the death toll according to the Haitian government was 230,000 with 300,000 injured and 1,000,000 left homeless.
No more than a month later, an even more severe earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale hit off the coast of the Maule region of Chili, devastating coastal towns thought the region. Although the death toll was not as high as the Asian tsunami or the Haitian earthquakes, local news services at the time reported that more than 1.5 million people had been displaced.
This was not the first time such visceral evil and suffering had jarred the minds and hearts of people in this decade. From an American perspective, the beginning of this century was marred by a horrifying display of terrorism as the infamous events of 9/11 flashed before our eyes on television and computer screens across the world. People all over the country, unaccustomed to violence so immanent in their lives, sought to find answers and consolation. How could this kind of evil have happened to our country? Some people turned to religion to answer questions. Church attendance grew for a time.
However, the Tsunami of 2004 awoke in men and women of this generation the realization of a different kind of evil – one that could not be blamed on men, but on whimsical natural forces of the earth. No longer could the senseless violence and the deaths of thousands be blamed on moral agents as we had been culturally accustomed to thinking about evil over the last 3 years, but was instead the fault of an “act of God.” A discomfort with religion and its attempts to explain such suffering began to emerge. Both the atheist and the theist could see a common enemy behind the 9/11 attacks, but with the horrors of a natural disaster now in the forefront, the national and international religious communities began to struggle with answers for questions they were not used to addressing.
In some cases, Christians and religious leaders could not digest the events of the Tsunami or other instances of natural evil without readjusting their views of the goodness or power of God. Outspoken atheists seemed to find real proof that the claim of the Christian God being all-powerful and loving was illogical. Outspoken Christians unconcerned with correlating these events with God’s character were quick to see them instead as being a righteous judgment against people who deserved it. Others saw it as an act of God that was in some way beneficial to the human race or more specifically to enlightened Christians. As it turned out, there were a lot of bad explanations for the reasons behind these terrible disasters, but there was an absence of any good ones. Why would God allow such devastation? Many more thoughtful and rational religious thinkers agreed: there was no answer. Read the rest of this entry »