38% of Americans believe natural disasters are a sign from God, and 29% believe that God punishes nations when some of their citizens sin.
Twenty-nine percent. Where are these people? Who are these people?
Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) white evangelicals also believe that natural disasters are a sign from God. Only about one-third of Catholics (31%) and white mainline Protestants (34%) believe natural disasters are a sign from God.
A majority (53%) of white evangelicals believe that God punishes nations for the sins of its citizens–a view held by just 1-in-5 white mainline Protestants and Catholics.
If you haven’t bashed your head into your desk yet, consider the following: nearly half of Americans (44%) consider recent natural disasters to be evidence of Biblical ‘end times.’ Again, white evangelicals are skewing the results: 67% of them agree with the above.
What troubles me most is that a majority of Americans seem to have no trouble whatsoever believing in an all-knowing, omnipresent, benevolent God who allows most of the earth’s population to suffer on a daily basis. Only 18% of the respondents completely or somewhat agreed that “seeing innocent people suffer sometimes causes me to have doubts about God.” Nearly half (48%) completely disagreed with that statement, and nearly a quarter (24%) somewhat disagreed. The remaining 10% either professed no believe in God or refused to answer.
I’m no stranger to the typical Christian responses to this problem. The first is that human suffering and death are consequences of sin and/or Satan, and the second is that suffering is a tool God uses to mold us into better followers (I once attended a service where the pastor emphasized this point by randomly cracking a giant bullwhip as he talked). Both of these arguments are pretty easily dismissed. If it’s no skin off God’s back to prevent human suffering, isn’t he sort of obligated to? Couldn’t an all-powerful omniscient being just make a few tweaks to produce a world with no disease, hunger, or natural disasters? Perhaps we wouldn’t expect this of every conceivable deity, but if the Christian god has time for a personal relationship with every single human being on the planet, surely he can make time for this.
This is usually where the second argument comes into play: if there were no suffering, there would be no personal betterment. I don’t entirely disagree with the sentiment, but the application is egregious. There’s a pretty obvious difference between a parent allowing his or her child to “learn the hard way” and a deity allowing the daily torture and death of millions of relatively innocent people. If you or I ever allowed our toddlers to play in the street, reasoning that they were told to do otherwise and were thus at fault if they were hit by a car, virtually everyone would agree that the authorities should intervene. Why gods get a pass where fallible human beings wouldn’t, I’ll never know.
For an example of the questionnaire and a full breakdown of responses, click here. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the data for different demographics has been made public.
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