God's will or human folly? Early lessons from Japan's nuclear disaster

T.A. Barnhart

God's will or human folly? Early lessons from Japan's nuclear disaster

see link to LA Times' photos in comments

April 22, 2008. Pastor John Hagee:

What happened in New Orleans looked like the curse of God, in time if New Orleans recovers and becomes the pristine city it can become it may in time be called a blessing. But at this time it’s called a curse.

Hagee, an influential fundamentalist pastor, was referring to a gay pride parade that, along with nearly everything else in New Orleans, was obliterated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens” said Hagee on NPR’s Fresh Aire to host Terry Gross. Likewise, the lands and oceans, if you agree with Hagee’s rigid Biblical interpretations. Most Americans do, to some extent, so most Americans must, I presume, believe that God either caused or allowed the Japan earthquake, as well as those in Haiti and New Zealand.
And the multiple snowpocalypses in our country.

And every other natural disaster that afflicts the race of Adam:

For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. Job 5:6-7

The knowledge, presence, power and will of God is beyond the ability of humans to comprehend:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
   And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
   Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
   And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

How can events of the magnitude of Katrina, Haiti or the two recent tsunamis lie outside the will of such a God? As a former fundamentalist Christian, I know that the belief is simple and beyond doubt: God’s will controls all aspects of our lives. I prayed constantly “to do the Lord’s will”, not to mentioning begging him incessantly for the things I desired, knowing that such wishes were granted only if they were in accordance with “His will”. For God, after all, controls the entire universe: “Consider the lilies of the field…”.

What, then, to make of the two nuclear reactors that have suffered partial meltdowns and are poisoning thousands of Japanese?

A hard-core adherence to a fundamentalist dogma requires one to accept that a, God allowed (willed) the construction of the reactors; b, that He then shifted the tectonic plates; and, c, allowed the earthquake and tsunami to cause the destruction of the two reactors: “Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”

A consistent fundamentalist response would be to question why God visited this horror on the Japanese people. Obviously this time they did not sin by attacking His chosen people in the United States. The fact that their people are, for the most part, non-Christian, perhaps figured into His designs. Maybe sacrifice them as a warning to the world? After all, we did not cease our sinful ways following the decimation in Haiti; Obama just recently doubled-down on legal approval of the sodomites. I find the timing compelling, along with the socialist uprisings in the Midwest.

Was there a gay pride parade scheduled in Sendai this week? Do they have abortion clinics in the city with the busted reactor? What did these people do to anger God? The Haitians, of course, practice voodoo; Lucy Lawless is the most famous New Zealander in the world and an ardent supporter of “gay rights”. A heart and mind filled with the Holy Spirit can see righteously into the truth of these matters.

If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of your land yield their fruit.


I will punish the world for its evil,
   the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
   and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
I will make people scarcer than pure gold,
   more rare than the gold of Ophir.

Christians of the fundamentalist sort like to see themselves as beyond sin: they have been saved for all time (unless, like me, they willfully choose to reject salvation). They may sin, but they will never again be sinners. Should they commit a sin and immediately drop dead, Jesus’ sacrifice will atone despite the unfortunate timing. So warnings such as these are meaningless to those whom God has called to salvation. It’s everyone else who needs to watch their asses.

All of which is to get to this point: Despite the horrors that will be revealed in Japan in the coming months and years as people suffer and die because of the simple fact that humans cannot create earth-proof nuclear reactors, advocates for building in this country will no more be dissuaded by Japan than deep-water oil-drilling advocates were by the Gulf disaster. Yes we face natural threats across the nation — earthquakes and tsunamis on the West Coast, hurricanes on the East Coast, and increasingly more powerful tornadoes in the center — but we are God’s chosen people. Has He not given us dominion over the planet?

And half-a-brain to use as well?

I know from experience that there is no convincing those who believe they act in God’s name. They will push forward regardless the evidence that nuclear power plants are a very bad idea, a technology for which the risks outweigh the benefits. (The same is true of the greedheads, who worship a different god but with equal fervor.) Those of us who do not ascribe to God, or anyone else, the kind of will that dictates every little motion of the planet, have to work with a faith of equal measure — whatever that faith resides in. For me, it’s a tow-fold faith: that this planet will find a way to wreak havoc on us through the destruction of that which we build (and where we build it), and that we have the creativity and intelligence to find solutions to human needs that are non-lethal, produce jobs, increase the common wealth, and reduce the risk to human lives.

Religionists are, for the most part, a lost cause. The United States, however, is a nation of moderate people. Most of us are not slaves to dogma; fear will generally over-rule faith. So will greed and, on occasion, wisdom. The greedheads and dominionists (fundamentalists who believe God wants “man” to rule the world to within an inch of its life) and end-timers (what does it matter? Christ is returning any moment anyway) will push for nuclear power plants and use every excuse and justification they can muster. We will have to defeat them politically, and the horrible disaster in Japan is both warning and opportunity. Let’s begin by gaining agreement from Senators Wyden and Merkley and Representatives Wu, Blumenhauer, DeFazio and Schrader to halt the development of any new nuclear plants. We need them to understand that our country can afford neither the cost nor the risk. We need them to get Pres Obama to reverse his foolish agreement to the new plant in Georgia. If he thinks any part of our country is immune to the possibility of disaster, then he’s not nearly as bright as I still think he is.

Wisdom is a precious commodity in the Bible, “more precious than rubies”. Pride, not so much. Those who speak of the need for energy independence, for maintaining America’s “god-given” prosperity, and for improving conditions for all through technology could begin with the most abundant, less expensive source of energy we have in this country. No natural disaster can interrupt it nor can terrorists turn it against us. Most of our energy-based problems can be resolved by tapping fully into this source, including our need to go to war for oil. We won’t need to pay huge corporations to provide, and, apropos the above commentary, it’s solidly based on any view of the Bible.


It’s simple, it’s immediate, and it’s smart.

And it’s just another form of wisdom-based stewardship.

I’m not sure what God would object to.

T.A. Barnhart has been writing at Blue Oregon for nearly 6 years, and has currently launched The Action TAB, video reports from the 2011 Legislature; a project made possible by supporters at Kickstarter.com. You can follow these reports throughout the session on Facebook.

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    Regardless of one's religious views, no one can deny that we live in an imperfect world with very few - if any answers - as to why disasters and tragedy strike.

    I do agree, T.A., that it's sad and insidious when Christians use tragedies to invoke God's name or try to point out the sin of others as the cause of that tragedy. Wild misinterpretation of Scripture leads to some pretty erroneous beliefs, in my opinion.

    While I know others disagree, I happen to believe that God is involved in our everyday lives. Of course, I believe this through my own personal experiences. But if you look at the life and teachings of Jesus, He was all about changing a person's heart, showing them to think beyond themselves. A perfect example of this is at the end of The Gospel of John when Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" Three times he asked this, and he followed Peter's answer of 'yes' by saying, "Then feed my sheep."

    The gospel, in my mind, is much simpler than Christians make it out to be. Live in peace, take care of God's creation, and love, encourage, and help others.

    One more thought...nearly every time God invokes wrath against people, or when Jesus rebukes, it's directed at the religious leaders and pious individuals who made specific attempts to lie, steal, cheat, and oppress others. The Prophet Isaiah rebuked the Priests and religious leaders for their hypocrisy and behavior, saying that God hated their worship, offerings and festivals. Then he said this:

    "Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."

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    “All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens” said Hagee on NPR’s Fresh Aire to host Terry Gross. Likewise, the lands and oceans, if you agree with Hagee’s rigid Biblical interpretations. Most Americans do, to some extent, so most Americans must, I presume, believe that God either caused or allowed the Japan earthquake, as well as those in Haiti and New Zealand.

    TA, do you actually believe that "most Americans" agree with Hagee's rigid Biblical interpretations?

    Most Americans believe in God, 71% according to the latest Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum. But only 26% are evangelical protestants. Now, to be sure, Hagee's views aren't confined to evangelical protestants - nor should we expect that evangelical protestants are uniformly in agreement.

    But I think it's clear that the claim that "most Americans" agree with such a fundamentalist viewpoint is, at least, one that needs a source. Got one?

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    t.a., Even as two partial meltdowns appear to be in progress, I agree that we must begin to reason with the politicians you list about stopping nuclear energy in our state and country. It's madness, given the instability of our planet and the "human error" we routinely commit, to continue, not to mention the short but disastrous history of the industry.

    I took a college course in the bible as lit. We had to spend most of the semester on the NT given the vastness of the OT, and so I need citations for some of your fire-eating quotes.

    I learned that in constructing the NT, the church patriarchs placed Mark, the oldest gospel, in second place, not first, for a good reason. As you know, unlike the other two synoptic gospels, Matthew (placed by them in lead off position), and Luke, Mark ends in sadness and despair, with no resurrection. That happy ending was added later on in Matthew and Luke. (John is a still later retelling, as you know, and full of Greek thought.) If Mark came first in position as it does in origin, well, perhaps Emperor Constantine would have found a different state religion to adopt. Yet the gospels are beautiful in many ways, especially JC's indignation at the rich and the exploiters, and I'm glad I studied them.

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    This is an incoherent post, seemingly about T.A.'s personal angst about fundamentalism. Impermanence exists, "the rain falls on the just and the unjust, stuff happens, the kingdom is within in the depths of the human heart. As the Dalai Lama says, religion is kindness. Kindness and compassion are what we can do, they are within our choice. Earthquakes and tsunamis are not.

    As for nuclear power plants. I suspect their stock has declined considerably. Although in fairness those power plants are reportedly 1960s technology.

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    RE: Looking for meaning in Japan where there isn't any

    I look at it like this, if you engineer something that sensitive and dangerous and leave it on the top of the Earth's crust floating on a churning sea of LAVA, chances are from time to time there will be destabilizing events. I do not see this as, "An Act of God". To the contrary, this is man's mistake. A horrible, horrible mistake. Please text the red cross at 90999 to donate 10 bucks to help others in serious danger.

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    On a related note...is that noise under my bed the boogie monster?

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    Contrary to T.A.'s obsession with fundamentalism and the likes of Chuck Hagee. Religion can be quite helpful as a lens in dealing with reality. Along the lines of "impermanence exists", the astute Buddhist religious doctrine of "anicca", what's happened in Japan is our future. It's happened before in the offshore subduction zone. So we're in for it, big time, earthquake and tsunami and should have a public policy that plans for it.

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    Human folly. There is nothing surprising in a 9.0 subduction zone earthquake off Japan; nothing surprising in the tsunami generated. It is human folly to build a nuclear reactor on Japan's Pacific coast that cannot safely get through either event.

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    It is easy to generallize and label those you know nothing about. I realize that Barnhart says that he was raised fundamentalist, and if he wants to speak for his former church, fine, but then he makes the jump that all Christians believe as he did. The Christians I know, do not believe that natural disasters are God's wrath being poured down on Earth. They are not racist or homophobic. The Christians I know are the first ones on a boat to help those in disaster areas. When it was New Orleans, a group of Christians from here travelled, at their own expense, to Lousiana three times. My son's (Christian) pre-school teacher sent a note home informing parents that a substitute would be filling in for her for a few weeks because she and her husband were going to build houses in Haiti.

    We are (rightly) asked to believe that all Muslims are not violent. Yet the readership here is ready to believe that all Christians are judgemental and hateful.

    I could just as easily conclude, from the majority of comments, that "progressive intellectual" is a synonym for "intolerant demagogue." But I know better and so should you.

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