Why did God destroy Haiti?

January 20, 2010 • 4:33 pm

The news from Haiti is unimaginably horrible: up to 200,000 people may have died.   There is a bit of good news, though: the quick and generous response of individuals and organizations throughout the world, which (unlike last night’s election results in Massachusetts) strengthens my faith in humanity. Predictably, people are using the earthquake,  whose only “meaning” is the movement of tectonic plates, to make all sorts of theological pronouncements, ranging from Pat Robertson’s inevitable lunacy to survivors’ assertions that they’re recipients of “miracles.”  (Presumably God didn’t care about those who didn’t survive.)

Over at the BBC News Magazine,  philosopher David Bain uses Haiti to discuss theodicy, discussing the two types of “evil” in the world:

  • the awful things people do, such as murder, and
  • the awful things that just happen, such as earthquakes

and claims that, in the end, natural disasters like that in Haiti cast doubt on a kind of God in which many people believe:

. . . A central point of philosopher Immanuel Kant’s was that we mustn’t exploit people – we mustn’t use them as mere means to our ends. But it can seem that on the soul-making view God does precisely this. He inflicts horrible deaths on innocent earthquake victims so that the rest of us can be morally benefitted.

That hardly seems fair.

It’s OK, some will insist, because God works in mysterious ways. But mightn’t someone defend a belief in fairies by telling us they do too? Others say their talk of God is supposed to acknowledge not the existence of some all-powerful and all-good agent, who created and intervenes in the universe, but rather something more difficult to articulate – a thread of meaning or value running through the world, or perhaps something ineffable.

But, as for those who believe in an all-good, all-powerful agent-God, we’ve seen that they face a question that remains pressing after all these centuries, and which is now horribly underscored by the horrors in Haiti. If a deity exists, why didn’t he prevent this?

Can you imagine a discussion like this appearing in a major media outlet in the United States?

h/t: Otter

27 thoughts on “Why did God destroy Haiti?

  1. …(unlike last night’s election results in Massachusetts)…

    It’s your blog, but is that really necessary in a post about Haiti?

  2. If some parent/president/corporation/etc had the power to prevent disasters but did not and then rationalized their inaction by saying that the death and suffering of tens of thousands are for a greater good, are part of a plan–one that they can’t reveal, these people would be lynched. But an invisible, undetectable, all-loving, all-powerful being is given a free pass to heap upon the universe the most horrific evils.

    Human psychology is fascinating … and twisted.

    1. If there were no evil, no disasters, would you be free to choose the peace that passes all understanding that comes from faith in God? Disasters and evil do not prove the fictiousness of God, rather they prove the strength of our convictions.

      1. I’m glad to know that God is looking out for those of us fortunate enough to live in areas where 7.0 earthquakes don’t kill 200,0000+ people, and that God has sacrificed those Haitians (oh, I’m sure they all chose to be sacrificed) in order to let us rich folk choose to worship Him.

        I guess God truly is American.

      2. Disasters and evil prove that disasters happen and that people are capable of doing vicious things. How many people need to die in agony and terror so that the rest of us can choose the peace that comes from faith in God?

  3. About David Bain’s piece.
    What, no reference to the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and its philosophical concequences? Especially the radical critique of theodicy?
    Come on! There are times when it pays to shut one’s trap and read the classics.

    Wikipedia does a lot better:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1755_Lisbon_earthquake#Effect_on_society_and_philosophy

    And don’t miss Voltaire’s poem.

    God’s moral seems to be: kick ’em while they’re down. Pat Robertson got that bit of theology right: his god is a Republican. Figures.

    1. Occam, do you really think David Bain is unaware of Candide? He cites Epicurus and Hume and CS Lewis; is he absolutely required to mention Voltaire as well? Maybe he thought it was just too obvious to mention.

      1. Franchement, non.
        But then, I thought the entire piece unnecessary.

        I remember a seminar with George Steiner, long before the internet age. He deplored the page-filling automatism of periodicals, and urged us to consider the question: Is my next issue / paper / contribution really necessary?
        It is my contention that Voltaire’s piece, obvious or not, was more original that Bain’s, and arguably more influential. It is also my firm belief that, in this era of near-infinite storage capacity and minute memory spans, we should try to re-connect to the foundations of the Enlightenment, whenever the occasion presents itself.

        Linking Lisbon 1755 and Haiti 2010 — again, whether obvious or not — might have been useful, and perhaps necessary. Much else written these days was merely hasty editorializing: indefinitely retrievable, infinitely forgettable.

    2. Hi Occam

      It was very tempting to get in Voltaire and Lisbon, but my principal aim was to be philosophical, not historical, i.e. to engage and advance arguments, not merely to report them and the historical circumstances that prompted them.

      You’re right, though, the Wikipedia article is good on evil, as on much else.

  4. In what way is God different from the psychopathic torturer/vigilante “Jigsaw” from the “Saw” horror movies. In the movies, Jigsaw kidnaps people who he believes have done wrong and then forces them to harm themselves or others in order to survive. He justifies this by saying that the people grow spiritually, they have a new zeal for life – the people that he’s testing and survive of course, not the people they must kill to pass the test whose suffering is purely for the benefit of the testee.

    For the life of me, I can’t see any substantive difference between the “love” of God and the “love” of this psychopath. It’s a question I’d like to see asked in a newspaper. If the religious wish to engage in a dialogue, I can guarantee that this will get plenty of people engaged!

    1. To understand the love of God you must be born again. You learn love is putting others first. Sacrificing yourself. You must lose your life to gain it. The psychopath sacrifices nothing…God sacrificed
      His son, and Jesus obediently carried his cross. The deaths in the earhtquake are not the result of a diabolical God, he cares for each one, but He does not promise heaven on this earth. He promises a new earth where there will be no death or tears…until then, His message of salvation is not the freedom from earthquakes, but from an eternity of sorrows.

      1. And how, exactly, do you know that YOU are right, Wayne, as opposed to adherents of Islam, or Hinduism, or any of the other religions that don’t believe in being born again, or in Jesus.
        Give us some EVIDENCE for what you believe.

      2. Putting others first…by torturing anyone who doesn’t worship you enough? You have a weird definition of “putting others first”.

      3. people of faith have been tortured just as much as anyone else…but people of faith by definiton put their trust in God and His word, not themselves. In other words, they put God (the supreme Other) first. They know their reward is to come. People tortured w/o that belief are just not saved from it.

      4. Scripture tells me to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” I have. i can’t prove to a vegetarian the flavor and satisfaction of steak, likewise you must trust for yourself the Biblical words of salvation for your own evidence. “For God so loved the world that He gave His son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

  5. Last night’s election results make perfect sense.

    People still want “Change”, and since Obama and the Dems haven’t provided it (or accomplished a fucking thing for that matter), people will look elsewhere.

    Not to mention the fact that Coakley is a fucking political putz.

    1. Shh … people raised believing Republican = Satan, Democrat = Good don’t like being told that the Dems offered a stinking heap of refuse that simply wasn’t anywhere near good enough.
      (And the converse is true of the GOP fanatics too – factional politics is almost as bad as religious sectarianism.)

  6. I am well aware of the dangers of Godwin’s Law, but as we’re discussing the mass murder of people…

    Isn’t saying that God allows hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people to die in order to serve a higher purpose (the “best of all possible worlds” if you will) like arguing that Hitler caused the death of millions of Jews and Gypsies in order to serve a higher purpose?

    If Hitler’s means were not morally acceptable to us no matter what his ends, then why give God a pass?

  7. “God works in mysterious ways” is the ultimate philosophical cop-out. It means, “I don’t understand why things happen, so I’m going to tell you why they do.”

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