Letters to the Editor,
The Daily Yomiuri,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8055
Martin Kettle's article, "How can religious people explain something like this?" (December 29, 2004), reprinted from the British Guardian newspaper, was a daft piece of journalism. It was part of the avalanche of news and commentary generated by the recent underwater earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the accompanying devastating tsunami that washed over the entire Indian Ocean basin.
Kettle writes, "There is...only one big question to ask about an event of such destructive power as the one that has taken place this week: Why did it happen?" I think that is not really the one big question. The only true one big question is not so much why this earthquake and tsunami happened as why people choose to live in dangerous places? Also important is why people feel motivated to look to God for explanation when disaster happens and people suffer rather than to examine their own willful, human choices and actions?
So, how do religious people explain something like this disaster in the Indian ocean? Simple. We live on a tectonically active planet (Praise the Lord!) and bad things happen to people who ignore or under-estimate that. Bad things especially happen to people who are stupid (read "immoral") enough to put themselves in danger by living in an earthquake zone (like me), or on the flood plain of a major river, or on the slopes of an active volcano.
I take it as a symptom of the anathema in which personal responsibility is held by most people today. The truth is that people do not like to be responsible for themselves. We do stupid (read "immoral") things and then try to pass the blame to other people and, ultimately, to God. Then in fits of anger we reject God if we feel unsatisfied.
When tectonic activity takes place (Praise the Lord!), even though people suffer, it is more an occasion to praise God for the wonder of His planet's geology than it is to question and challenge Him about why so many people suffered. We know why they suffered - they chose to live in an earthquake zone, or on a river flood plain, or on the slopes of an active volcano!
I understand the point that Martin Kettle is getting at. Some would describe two main types of evil in the world: 1) moral evil, perpetrated by fallen human beings, and 2) natural evil, the kind we saw in the Indian Ocean, or in Niigatain October, or Mt.St. Helens in America twenty years ago, etc. But it seems to me that Kettle's approach relies on an audience believing there is some rift between Science as an atheistic worldview, and Religion as an opposing worldview. Frankly, there is no such opposing rift between worldviews, and the best education for a religious person is synonymous with the best education, period.
It is a waste of time to pose questions such as, What God sanctions an earthquake? What God protects against it? What kind of God permits this kind of suffering? These are misplaced questions that reflect profoundly childish ideas of divinity and humanity, morality and religious faith. I am disappointed that there are educated people who have not progressed beyond such a low level of discussion.