When religion makes disasters more deadly


As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
— The Gospel of Saint Luke, 17:26-30

The Gospel reading for yesterday’s Mass expresses the view of many Christian believers: calamity is punishment for man’s sins and evil. Pat Robertson said

God punished Americans with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Five years later, the popular evangelist preacher declared that the earthquake that killed 100,000 Haitians was also divine chastisement. And when Yolanda struck the Visayas, Jim Solouki blogged: “God is punishing the Philippines for their tolerance of homosexuality, prostitution, Catholicism, and other sins.”

She may have a different set of transgressions in mind, but Yolanda victim Soledad Majos, 75, offered the same reason for catastrophe to London’s The Independent newspaper just days after Yolanda struck her city of Tacloban: “Because there are so many bad people. This is his punishment.” Still, Soledad remained faithful and thankful: “There is a God; he saved us.”

The year after Yolanda or Haiyan, religion’s impact on disaster prevention, preparedness, response and recovery has been accorded scholarly analysis in the World Disaster Report 2014, published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Available at http://worlddisastersreport.org/en/, this year’s IFRC study focused on how culture affects disaster risk and response. Chapter 2 is titled “How religion and beliefs influence perceptions of and attitudes towards risk”. It cites two crucial and often fatal ways in which spiritual beliefs may exacerbate calamity: “… beliefs form an obstacle to reducing risk (something that makes people think or do things that are counter to risk reduction or that increase their vulnerability) and the way in which beliefs influence people’s understandings of risks.”

While lamenting the adverse impact of religion on disaster risk reduction as “sometimes the main cause of people exposing themselves or others to greater risk of natural hazards,” the 276-page report cautions against simply dismissing and lambasting religous perspectives. “Recognizing and respecting that people see the world in different ways,” points out the study, “is a crucial first step towards being able to address the problems that are generated by the diversity in interpretations.” Moreover, it adds, religion can be useful in mobilizing people: “Spirituality and beliefs are powerful forces for influencing individual and group decisions, livelihoods, lifestyles and attitudes …”

Why did this happen?

That people turn to religion in the face of calamity is an age-old reflex, says the study: “Religion and other beliefs … help explain and sometimes justify why disasters occur. This can help people deal with questions about why something devastating happened to them: they can turn to their beliefs for comfort after an event occurs.”

In embracing such perspectives, the ones that “align with their worldviews” emerging from their experiences and overall culture. This outlook on calamities need not always involve deities. In Japan during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the Shinto faith was cited by Paris researcher Jean-François Sabouret as the nation’s support in times of disaster. For him, “enduring the unedurable” was central to Japanese culture.

But such stoicism can also make people accept ills without question or solution. In its report on the Fukushima nuclear accident, an investigating committee of the Japanese Diet or parliament blamed “collusion between the government, the regulators of Tepco [the power plant operator], and the lack of governance by said parties.”

And how did the erring entities get away with these excesses? Because the Japanese let them, explained Diet committee chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa, due to “the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity.”
Awaiting protection from above

If that can happen in advanced Japan, with its modern, technologically sophisticated populace, imagine how faiths can create even more unhelpful views in less developed societies. In communities around Merapi Volcano in central Java island, which erupted in 2006 and 2010, an estimated 1 million Indonesians live.

In the 2006 eruption, most of those who did not evacuate thought certain unseen spirits, makhluk halus, supposedly could control eruptions. A report said, “On the eastern slope, villagers think living on the back of the mountain would keep them away from lava flows, which will come out like vomit only from the mouth of Merapi, seen as a human-like being.”

Evidently, says the report, “people have incorporated the effects of ‘disasters’ into their worldview and do not aim to avoid them.” Still others believe certain rituals can fend off calamity. In Tonga, the second-most disaster-prone country until the Philippines displaced it in this year’s World Risk Index rankings, tribes made noise so the god Maui would not doze off and let the island he carries slip into the sea.

When religion fail to avert disaster, believers can lose faith. In Peru in 1100, the Sican deity was set aside after a series of devastating floods and droughts. And Lisbon’s destruction by temblor and tsunami in 1755 greatly affected Christian belief in Europe.

Still, the IFRC report calls on disaster entities and religious leaders to work together. Religion, it says, “can provide a platform, framework and social grouping that can be useful for educating about risk reduction.”

In Merapi, a new designated volcano guardian was appointed after his father died in 2010. He now liaises with a local volcano official to head off disaster.


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  1. Ang problema ang marami ay naniniwala sa diyos, pero iba ang sinasamba!
    Laking insulto ito sa diyos!!!
    Kung sino-sino ang tao at mga miracle pope at mga idolo ang ipinalit nila!!at magturo ka ng sarili mong opinion at baliwalain mo ang utos ng dios,ano kaya ang masasabi ng dios sa mga hanggal na tao!!
    Simpleng -simple lang ang utos ng dios, sambahin mo siya sa kanyang pangalan,at gumawa ng mabuti! Mahirap ba iyon!
    Iyong hindi naniniwala sa diyos, iyon ang mga taong walang nakitang mabuti sa mga nagtuturo ng religion,puro kamalian ang nakikita nila, kaya di mo masisisi ang mga ito,
    Dahil bigo silang madama ang katotohanan sa mga nagtuturo nito!
    Hindi ito talino na sakanila ito ay paghihimagsik sa mga nagtuturo na walang nagawang mabuti sa kanila!
    Sana ang lahat ay maghanap pa, meron at meron mabuti kahit isa sa libo-libong nag tuturo ng religion!

  2. Dear Mr. Saludo,

    God “..causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45).

    Disasters are part of creation that afflicts both the righteous and the unrightheous. However, the Flood during the days of Noah is not a disaster but to punish the wicked of his time (Gen. 6:9ff).

    The wicked of our day await not disasters but eternal punishment (Heb. 9:27, Rev. 21:8) if they do not believe in the Christ, repent and be baptized for the remissions of their sins (John 3:16, Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:20-21).

  3. Vicente Penetrante on

    Budha said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
    Let’s simply sing with Frank Sinatra, “Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back on the race. THAT’S LIFE, I can’t deny it. I thought of quitting, but my heart won’t buy it.”

  4. Connecting God with disasters is a pointless exercise. Only those who are, deep inside, not really sure if God exists like to point this out as proof that He does, forgetting that it is illogical to use faith to prove faith. If one is serious about his spiritual side then the only question that should matter is this and nothing else but this: what words did I say and what actions did I take today? Because when God has really touched you, it will show nowhere else but in your speech and action. Thats why real spiritual practice involves looking inwards, a journey of self discovery instead of going through religious rituals that are aimed at a deity that exists outside of yourself.

  5. Bonifacio Claudio on

    The non-religious PRESUMED that at the beginning there was nothingness, only a “Point” somewhere somehow. But such presumption is religion. TODAY the religious claims that that ‘point’ was created by a God who is PRESUMED to exist somewhere somehow. Until science explains the what, when, where, why of that “Point”, we are all on the same boat — PRESUMPTIONS. So how do you move about to cope on disasters? This issue is like a coin with 2 faces — at ito na nga ang topic dito na pinaghalo na ang balat sa tinalupan basta religion na ang usapan… So at this point we are reminded of that Filipino poet who wrote “If I aim an arrow at you, it’s not to kill you but to fathom you”… Yun na yun kung bakit pinaghalo na ang balat sa tinalupan… My eye… Yahoooooooo !!!

  6. Roger S COLLANTES on

    Dear Sir,
    I am a born again Catholic who strongly believes in the power of believing in Jesus as the Messiah and Lord. God loves us unconditionally. However, just like a Father, he disciplines but would be more than willing to forgive when we turn our hearts back to him. Just like what we learn from the story of the Father of the prodigal son.
    My point Sir is: people like you who are respected in your trade will start writing aboutmthensavingmgrace of God and the miracle working power of His precious word.
    I personally experienced God’s discipline, goodness and now overflowing favor.
    I believe if people like you help in encouraging people to read the Holy Bible then we are on our way towards the real MATUWID NA DAAN.
    MATUWID na DAAN can not be achieved with out practicing biblical Christianity. The bible is equipped with precious management principles that are so applicable to our modern world. The bible tells us that sometimes a way seems right to a man but at the end it leads to death.
    To be concrete about it, let’s organize seminars where biblical principles are taught. Even non Christians as long as they believe in biblical principles can join. Jesus Christ will not force anybody to accept Him but he loves to see people doing what he is preaching especially in dealing with one another and to be conscious about good works rather than just faith (going to church is not enough).
    You are in the best position to tell the world that change should start from our own individual hearts.
    God bless you sir!
    Bro Roger S COLLANTES

  7. Most religious people when good things happen say its gods making & when bad things happen its the devils work. So if i were an analysist i would work out the devil is more powerful than god, otherwise god could have stopped him. But if god is stronger than the devil then he may have agreed with the devil & let them punish the people. Im so glad im not religious.
    It makes me cringe everything i read about religion. All 3 jailed senators say god will show they are innocent, as did corona & also janet lim napoles says god is with her.
    Let me advixe you, there is no god, disasters happen, its called nature. They will always happen. When someone crashes a plane into a building to try to kill thousands of people he claimed it was what god wanted, others say he is delusional. He is & there is no god or he would have stopped that.
    All i see religion doing is giving people comfort when death occurs or a serious illness hapens. But it never stops people in this country or any other country from lying, cheating, stealing or killing. Get past religion & im sure this world can be a better place.

    • you can not prove that there is no God! but there are evidences surrounding you that testify there is God! you feel the wind but you do not see it nor do not know where it came from. why is there heaven and heavenly bodies (planets, stars, moon, sun, galaxy, milky way, etc.) -and who/what holds them in place and moves in such orderly manner. certainly nature does not have any effect whatsoever on the heavenly bodies, right?

      if you are curious where you can prove that God exist, grab a Bible and read Job chapters 38~41. read it just like you would read a book if you want to learn something.