Japan Disaster: Is there some ‘Sign of God’ here?


All weekend, my elementary-age son wore a black T-shirt with “Japan Disaster Relief 2011” on the front and “I supported the Japan Disaster Relief” on the back. He even slept with it. He purchased it on his own at the dojo where he learns ninjitsu, a Japanese martial art. The senior instructors at the school have trained in Japan, and the head instructor has just returned from Japan several weeks ago. All funds from the sale of the T-shirts go to support humanitarian efforts in Japan.

My son wasn’t alone. T-shirts are a popular part of disaster relief efforts. One news story from a Canadian indie-news website, called ChrisD.CA, reported on the high-tech T-shirts shown above. They contain a small black logo (in the red “O”) that smart-phone users can photograph—then jump to a Red Cross website to donate via their phones. And there’s also that conspicuous God reference on the Canadian shirts. These are natural expressions for millions. Given the magnitude of the Japanese disaster, and the increasingly bad news about radiation exposure, the need will be great and last for a long time—and one obvious God connection lies in the relief effort from faith-based groups.


These positive responses I have described stand in sharp contrast to another reaction—one that blames the victims. Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, for example, said that the Japan earthquake was some sort of “message” from God—a warning or even punishment for transgressions of … something. Beck’s remarks place him at the head of an inglorious line that includes other conservative public figures who have linked natural disasters with God’s displeasure. Rush Limbaugh linked the new healthcare law with eruptions of volcanic ash in Europe. Pat Robertson claimed that Hurricane Katrina was also God’s smiting hand.


Most Americans don’t see negative connections—but it may surprise you to know that there is a sizable minority that does, according to a survey taken by the Public Religion Research Institute after the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Just over a third of Americans (38%) agree that “earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters are a sign from God.”  About three in ten (29%) say “God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some of its citizens.” White evangelical Protestants are especially prone to see God’s wrath in natural disasters. Almost six of ten (59%) of this group say that natural disasters are a sign from God, and 53% say that God punishes nations for the sins of its people.

Are you surprised by those attitudes?

Do you think there is a link between God and natural disasters?

Comment below. This is a hotly debated issue. Please, share a bit of your wisdom.

(Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)

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