Newsweek published an article on the spiritual responses of the communities hit by the Dec. 26th tsunami and I found it interesting to consider how these responses would feel to me (Countless Souls Cry Out to God, Newsweek, January 10 2005). It discusses in very broad and general -- and I have no idea how accurate -- terms the basic beliefs of four major religions: Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. It says Hindus worship a number of gods who they see as directly affecting the lives of humans. According to this article, "Hindus use the deities to think about and explain happenings like the tsunami as destructive acts of god...Relating to the local deity and cooling her anger through propitiation is more important than thinking about personal or collective guilt for what has happened. What seems good about this is that it at least relieves people of the soul-searching of other religions that believe we cause what happens to us. In fact, the idea that our lives are ruled by capricious and emotional deities who must be honored and placated doesn’t feel to me too different from the Catholic god I learned about when I was growing up. Who can guess what actions will cause what results when “God” is a judgemental yet inconsistent distant monitor with human tendencies towards anger and punishment?
The article quotes a professor of Buddhist studies, "Buddhists will look to the idea of karma and ask what they did, individually and collectively, that a tragedy like this happened." This focus on karma and figuring out what they did to reap such consequences reminds me of the Unity church I attended for many years. If I lived through a tragedy like that tsunami and then tried to figure out how I/we had brought that kind of destruction on myself/ourselves, I would be overwhelmed. I'd wonder, Could I possibly have led such a life that would bring this on myself? My tendencies towards self-blame and self-loathing are exacerbated by this kind of life view. The Unity church's focus on how we all create our own reality amplified my self-blame and guilt until I had to abandon that belief system.
Of Muslims the article writes, "Like the Bible, the Qur'an recognizes no natural laws independent of God's will. All that happens is Allah's doing, and nature itself, wind, rain, storms, constitutes signs of his mercy and compassion. Even the destructive tsunami, therefore, must have some hidden, positive purpose." To me this sounds the most unreasonable. There's a hidden, positive purpose to this tsunami? Really? Even if some good does come of it, I can't imagine it will even begin to balance the incredible horror and sorrow. Hundreds of thousands of families have been torn apart, entire communities have been levelled, and some believe it will all have a net positive result in the end? No. That's all I have to say. No.
The article concludes with the Christian tendency to see this kind of suffering as a Job-ian test of faith. I'd like to ask, to what end would "God" put people through such tests of faith? If "God" sends me a wall of water to kill my family and tear my children from my arms to test and strengthen my faith, I don't want to be around for the events that "He" is preparing me for. I'll take a life of wishy-washy faith and uncommitted spirituality if my life can be free of "faith-strengthening," horrific tragedies like that tsunami.