The Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, that killed over 170,000 people, left some religious and non-religious, people asking questions. One of these was whether or not the earthquake was an act of God.
“It is not an act of God to punish the Haitians,” clinical professor Lynn Mitchell said. “That’s just a hangover from medieval superstition. In fact, there’s not much even in the Bible that talks about God punishing people through volcanoes and earthquakes.”
Mitchell said there are two Christian opinions on natural disasters.
“There’s this tension in the Bible between disasters being kind of accepted by people as punishment from God that should bring about repentance, but there’s also the side that says you cannot make those kinds of calculations,” he said.
Though most Christians believe the latter, Mitchell said some are strong in their belief of the former.
“There are some ultra fundamentalist Christians in America … who think that this is a punishment from God for the religious primitivism of Haiti,” he said. “But these are the same people who called Katrina a punishment from God for homosexuals and witches and voodoo.”
Mitchell said people can’t interpret why a higher power does what it does.
“People need to understand that they don’t know much about God’s ways as they think they do. The Bible says that we don’t know much about it either way, so we can’t make those kinds of judgments,” he said.
Some believers of Islam also attributed the earthquake to a higher power.
“There’s no capital ‘N’ in nature,” political science junior Hasan Khan said. “Nature, lower ‘N,’ is just a vehicle of God doing what he wills. There’s nothing which is random.”
Khan, who manages the Islamic Information table for the Muslim Students Association, said a higher power doesn’t send natural disasters only for destruction; they can bring benefits, as well.
“There is no such thing as pure evil,” Khan said. “There is always good and bad; there are benefits in calamities. People come together; people turn to God. It makes people thankful that this could have been worse. I could have lost my family, I could have lost all my wealth, but I’m still alive.”
Khan also said that with any sort of suffering, a higher power is always opens a door of forgiveness.
“It’s an expiation for some of their sins,” he said. “It’s not something that they necessarily earned; they’re innocent. But because it’s something bad that befalls them, it takes care of their sins.”
Some believers of Hinduism also saw the earthquake as a divine act.
“Hinduism works in a cycle,” electrical engineering senior Sreejith Menon said.
“Brahma creates, Vishnu sustains and Shiva, the god of destruction, maintains the balance by destroying those who deserve punishment.”
“It relies more on karma,” Menon said. “That whatever you do, you have to pay for it.”
In Hindu mythology, the clan of Vishnu was destroyed by a flood because of the injustices they committed. Some Hindus may relate this to Haiti, he said.
“My take would be a bit different,” Menon said. “I was always confused. How can a whole set of people have the same amount of karma so that they can be destroyed at the same time? I don’t know. Maybe there is justice.”
Though each religious group had a different perspective of why the earthquake happened, the believers agreed that spending time passing judgment and speculating over the reasons is not the most important task at hand.
“Most Christians assume that their first duty is to help people like this, not to just judge them as worthy of enduring all this suffering,” Mitchell said. “Even if it were a punishment from God, we would be punished by God if we didn’t help.”