An act of God?
Source Patricia Ohmans
Date 05/01/04/02:52

The sweeping devastation and intense horror wrought by the south Asia tsunami will shake the faith of many "believers". How could a God, or some other force for good, have orchestrated a natural disaster with such dreadful consequences?

Here, believers from the Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist faiths, and an atheist, explain how they have come to terms with the events in south Asia.


The tsunami brings into question both personal and collective destinies for Hindus. In terms of the latter, we are born in an age of destruction, known as Kali Yuga, an age that lasts for perhaps 1,000 years. This says that we must go through a series of set-backs, obstacles, suffering, eg Aids, and a propensity for natural disasters as nature shows its malevolent side. Mankind goes through this to be renewed.

As for my personal destiny, there is no central text in Hinduism as there is in other religions so it's up to each of us to formulate our own understanding, based on the Brahman - the divine - and the belief that all of us will one day escape the endless cycle of birth and death and be returned to our maker. My belief is that I am connected to all humans and so while I grieve for those that have died in the tsunami, I don't feel sorry for them because they are part of me and part of the divine. Their deaths are a manifestation of karma, the debits and credits you amass through your series of lives.


In this litigious age we are always looking for someone to blame and in the absence of anyone else we look to blame God because it is a "natural" event. It's quite clear the world is riddled with inequality but I don't accept the idea that God is sitting up there mischievously tweaking the strings. In the case of the tsunami, we as Christians are challenged to live out our response. We know that Jesus is among us, living through this reality because he said whatever you do to your brothers and sisters, you do to me. By the same token, what you fail to do to them, you fail to do to Jesus. Until now at least, we have not been found wanting in our response. Christian churches have been among those at the forefront of the relief effort.


We all die, sooner or later. Some have conditions for living long lives and some for short lives. That is your karma - the total effect of one's actions and conduct. What might have precipitated the tsunami was a lot of people coming together who had the karma for a short life and, to an extent, this is perhaps a reflection that these areas were over-populated.

The shifting of tectonic plates is inevitable, but fewer people in the areas affected would have led to a much smaller loss of life. When watching the TV news, reading the papers or thinking about the tsunami, we are thinking about the Buddha we like the best - perhaps the Red Buddha, the Buddha of limitless light. We do this so that when those who died in the disaster wake up from the shock of dying - we believe it takes about three days to do so - they will be sent up to the Buddha we have in mind. Buddhists think the mind is indestructible so, after a while, if one wants to and is able, they will have the choice to take rebirth in society as beings who help others.


It is the teaching of Islam that it is through the will of God Almighty that this has happened but then the positive side is the way mankind has reacted. People will question why it is taking place, why the enormity of loss of human life, but it is that aspect which is beyond us and it is our firm belief that any such disaster, anything of that nature happening, is through the will of God Almighty. Allah knows best.

We certainly have the right to question. It's a time for us to really think of ourselves, our deeds, our acts, and we need to ponder over this. It's a sign that none of us are going to live for an indefinite period, therefore it is a sign for us to do something very positive. Death always takes place. When a person is born one thing guaranteed is death but what form it takes is always beyond us. People of faith need to have a very firm belief in God Almighty, that at the end of the day it is through his will and it is for the betterment of mankind at large.


Religion cannot provide an explanation for the tsunami, and while prayer for the victims may comfort those who pray, it will not provide practical help to the people whose lives have been devastated by this appalling disaster. Science can explain earthquakes and tsunamis, even if we are still unable to predict where and when they will happen. Our response to this and other disasters, as compassionate human beings and regardless of our religious or non-religious beliefs, must be to provide whatever help we can.

Faith in god does not protect people from disasters or give the victims what they need to survive and rebuild their lives. We need to accept responsibility for our fellow human beings. We need to put our efforts into practical ways of preventing disasters when we can, preparing for disasters that cannot be prevented, including investing in early warning systems for tsunamis, and helping those affected by disasters. We cannot rely on any god to solve the world's problems. We - the people of the world - are humanity's only hope.

Rani Moorthy is an actress and writer; Paul Chitnis is chief executive of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund; Lama Ole Nydahl is a teacher of Diamond Way Buddhism; Iqbal Sacranie is the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain; Hanne Stinson is executive director of the British Humanist Association.

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