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January 06, 2005

God and the Tsunami: why the Archbishop of Canterbury's spiritual response to the disaster is wrong

Posted by Peter Mullen

The Archbishop of Canterbury has stated that the Indian Ocean Tsunami is "a challenge to the faith" and that conventional statements of God's comfort are, under these circumstances, "vacuous words". This is not the proper Christian response to such a disaster, argues Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen.

What of the spiritual significance of all the disaster in the Indian Ocean? Many in the newspapers and on radio and television have been blaming God for the disaster. I read an article by one prominent woman journalist who said that, after the tsunami she could no longer bring herself to attend Mass. Another writer said the events of this last week had turned him into an atheist. If it were not so pathetic – and if the circumstances were not so terrible – you could laugh. Is it only this event which has destroyed their faith? It's a bit late in the day. I mean, they went on believing despite knowing about the Black Death, the Lisbon earthquake and the flu epidemic of 1919 which killed 50 million! Why in other words hadn't they stopped being believers ages ago?

The same criticism can be levelled at the Archbishop of Canterbury too, for he described the tsunami as "a challenge to faith". Dr Williams went on to dismiss conventional statements of God's comfort as:

"…vacuous words pouring out about the nature of God's power or control, or about the consolations of belief in an afterlife."
So the Gospel words of the Divine comfort are only vacuous for thoroughly modern Christians are they? It is statements like that which make me want to ask, is there an Archbishop of Canterbury?

But we are always threatened by natural disasters. Nothing has happened in the Indian Ocean that has not happened – or similar - in a score of other places time and time again. To blame God, or to doubt God is the last gesture of a bankrupt intellect and worse, a failure of humility. Who do they think they are, these who blame God? Who do they make themselves out to be?

Humankind is a newcomer in an incredibly vast and ancient universe. And we understand our bit of it only. We understand our bit of it as the snail understands his bit of the garden. Who are we to search the infinite purposes of God? Ezra Pound gave some advice to modern man: Pull down thy vanity! We have been doing science in the modern sense for the small matter of 400 years. And we think to be able to comprehend the why and the wherefores of the universe and its meaning! Pull down thy vanity!

Regrettably modern secular man, modern media man, has been taught by Alexander Pope to think he is the measure of all things. By the great egocentric and purveyor of delusions Descartes to say "I think, therefore I am". How very French! We have been encouraged by the philosophers of the so called Enlightenment to think of ourselves as the centre of attention. We have been corrupted by Sigmund Freud and depraved by trashy consumerism to indulge ourselves by all available means. None of these influences will do us any good. They will fail us even in the best of times and when times are bad they will return to mock us.

And now these unenlightened sceptics have been joined by theologians and church leaders fretting over what they egocentrically describe as "the problem of suffering". They would hold God accountable, whereas what the faith to which these hubristic types subscribe every time they say the Creed says is that it is God alone who is judge. There is indeed a problem of evil, but it is God's problem. Fortunately for us, He did something about it in becoming man, dying on the Cross and rising again.

The modern theologians and senior churchmen treat God as if he is but one more item in our consumerist paradise. We don't like the way the world deals with us? What then – report God to the trading standards officials, demand our money back! The arrogance of these faithless churchmen is shocking.

We need to come back to where true comfort is to be found. And it is found next to true knowledge and true wisdom – in the Bible, in the voice of God. Listen…

Job complained to God about the hard time he was having and why did God let him suffer so…and what, incidentally, God, do you think you're doing? This is how God spoke back to Job the humbug who has much in common with our contemporary ecclesiastics.

And the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man: for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me…

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth….?

Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb…and said hitherto shalt thou come but no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed…

And again he said:
be still and know that I am God.

Prayer for the grief-stricken and for the repose of the souls of those who have died would be a better response from these clerical egomaniacs. Followed by a reverent period of silence.

Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill & Chaplain to the Stock Exchange.

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Is this the best that an organization dedicated to addressing "social, economic and cultural issues with an emphasis on the value of personal responsibility" can do? To discard the entire "so called Enlightenment" as an exercise in French egomania is about as "pathetic" as are the legitimate worries and questioning of ordinary, struggling people that Rev. Mullen so contemptuously pillories.

What, one might ask, has made the good Reverend quite so angry? Could it be, perhaps, that, his own faith shaken by the tragic events, he has lashed out against everyone who dares to voice the doubts that he refuses to confront? "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

If there's one good thing about the hysterical screed, is that it quite correctly points out the doctrinal mess at the center of Judeo-Christian dogma. It takes more thought than I have ever been able to muster to reconcile God's benevolent omnipotence with 150,000 dead South Asians. Unfortunately, thinking is an activity that Rev. Mullen does not seem to be particularly interested in.

Posted by: Alan Rozenshtein at January 9, 2005 06:49 PM

It's all well and good to say that we are not in a position to understand God's purposes. But when a parent regularly beats a small child and responds to the child's question "Why?" by saying, as God in effect did to Job, "Shut up, you ignorant little fool. How dare you question me!", then we know enough to call the parent a child-abuser. It may be "a failure of humility" to denounce the abuser, but it's a failure of humanity to praise him.

Posted by: Taylor at January 17, 2005 06:45 AM
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