The blame game
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Date: 14 January, 2005

Woman looking out of window

Photo: Reuters/Kim Kyung- Hoon, courtesy

' only takes 18 days for 150,000 to die from Aids. The tsunami is not actually worse, just more newsworthy.'


In this day and age of blame culture, Steve Tomkins asks whether we should be looking at ourselves before apportioning blame to God.

'This has made me question God’s existence,' said Rowan Williams, according to the Sunday Telegraph, about the tsunami that has so far claimed 150,000 lives and added a new word to our vocabulary of disaster.

In fact he said no such thing. The Archbishop has after all been around long enough to know that, horrible as this wave of destruction is, such horrors have happened before and will happen again. In fact they happen constantly - it only takes 18 days for 150,000 to die from Aids. The tsunami is not actually worse, just more newsworthy.

Then again, which of us would blame Rowan Williams for offering, amid all the prayers for the bereaved and homeless, a bewildered 'How could You?' to the silent heavens? Surely any faith worth the name must struggle with the callous cruelty of such disasters, and return to the struggle repeatedly in the face of new tragedies.

The tsunami in some ways is easier for those of us not directly affected to deal with, emotionally. Unlike the deluge of war, genocide and poverty that constantly claims countless lives, this was - with all due respect to the conspiracy loonies - no one’s fault.

In fact, the response of ordinary people reaching into their pockets instead of leaving it to the unreliable pledges of politicians is nothing short of heart warming. Human nature has come out of this one rather well for once, certainly better than nature itself.

But that is the problem of course for religious believers. Everyday stories of human badness we can blame on the cost of free will - if that does not let God entirely of the hook, it at least takes some of the heat off him.

But the crashes of tectonic plates seem to be an obvious design fault in the earth, and for such charges of criminal negligence, God stands in the dock alone.

This is the issue grappled with in pulpits from Canterbury to Jerusalem the Sunday after Boxing Day. I can’t help wondering whether we’re better off keeping our own counsel. Those who have all the answers sound trite and unfeeling; those who have none seem to have had their religion disproved by the disaster.

How almighty goodness can allow such terrible suffering is the hardest question for Christianity - and far older than Christianity.

The answer that makes most sense to me is that once you set a universe in motion your options for interfering are pretty limited. The 'light the touchpaper and retire' theory. But that threatens to take us a long way from orthodox Christianity.

The answer of the book of Job is to rail against God as a callous malicious bastard, which has got to be healthy, whether it answers the question or not.

But there is another question even more important for Christians, and perhaps even harder. It is all well and good for us to be questioning whether God could be doing more than he is to stop human suffering; better still question whether we ourselves could be doing more.

That may not solve the theological problem, but it puts it into perspective. God’s apparent negligence concerns me deeply; my own concerns me rather more deeply.


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