Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Voltaire said it well way back then, speaking in the aftermath of the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1775. Compare what he wrote in a letter then, with today's Great Asian Tsunami of 2004. [Comments welcome below]

FINAL DEATH TOLL:
?00,000 dead !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Watch the news develop over the next few weeks.

http://humanities.uchicago.edu/homes/VSA/letters/24.11.1755.html

How will this Great Asian Tsunami of 2004 impact future writers, poets, artists, musicians and philosophers? Our spiritual understanding of life on Planet Earth will undergo a huge transformation in the aftermath of this tragic tragic event...

[The Earthquake of Lisbon," on All Saints' Day, 1755, which destroyed 30,000 persons in 6 minutes, drew from Voltaire not only the mockery of Candide, but one of the most beautiful and serious of his writings, The 'Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon'. The disaster is the subject of many of his letters of this period, and profoundly touched his soul.]



In "Les Délices", November 24, 1755, Voltaire wrote:

"This is indeed a cruel piece of natural philosophy! We shall find itdifficult to discover how the laws of movement operate in such fearfuldisasters in the best of all possible worlds-- where a 100,000 ants,our neighbours, are crushed in a second on our ant-heaps, half, dying undoubtedly in inexpressible agonies, beneath debris from which it was impossible to extricate them, families all over Europe reduced to beggary, and the fortunes of a hundred merchants -- Swiss, likeyourself -- swallowed up in the ruins of Lisbon. What a game of chance human life is! What will the preachers say -- especially if the Palace of the Inquisition is left standing! I flatter myself that those reverend fathers, the Inquisitors, will have been crushed just like other people. That ought to teach men not to persecute men: for, while a few sanctimonious humbugs are burning a few fanatics, the earth opens and swallows up all alike. I believe it is our mountains which save us from earthquakes."

Les Délices, UPDATED, December 26, 2004 [THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS 2004]

"This is indeed a cruel piece of natural philosophy! We shall find it difficult to discover how the laws of plate techtonics movementoperate in such fearful seismic disasters in the best of all possible worlds -- where a 200,000 ants, our neighbors, are crushed in a second on our ant-heaps, half, dying undoubtedly in inexpressible agonies, beneath debris from which it was impossible to extricate them, families all over Asia reduced to beggary in the ruins of the Great Asian Tsunami of 2004. What a game of chance human life is! For, while nations fight nations in terrible wars, the Earth, our Earth, opens and the seas swell and swallow up all alike."

What Voltaire experienced in 1775, many people on Earth experienced in the aftermath of the Great Asian Tsunami of 2004. It will have a profound impact on human hope, yearning, philosophy and the understanding of the meaning of life.

BLOG LOG:

http://www.thiswayplease.com/2004/12/day-three.html BLOG

http://news.com.com/Blogs+provide+raw+details+from+disaster+scene/2100-1038_3-5505092.html?tag=nl NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE ON TSUNAMI BLOGS

http://www.livejournal.com/users/insomnia/525268.html BLOGS

http://edition.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/asiapcf/12/27/quake.aidsites/ FUNDRAISING SITES

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/29/opinion/29winchester.html OPED PIECE

http://jlgolson.blogspot.com/2004/12/tsunami-video.html LIVE VIDEOS

http://sumankumar.com/ BLOG

http://sa.nextwish.org/Video/patong_beach.wmv VIDOES 1,2,3:

http://sa.nextwish.org/Video/sri_lanka_tsunami.wmv

http://sa.nextwish.org/Video/tsunamiphuket.wmv

http://worldchanging.com/

tsunamihelp.blogspot.com

What Was G-d Thinking? http://www.ou.org/other/5765/tsunami3.htm
By Jonathan Sacks, Chief Jewish Rabbi of the UK


26 Comments:

Blogger dan said...

An Internet poster, using the id name of Zenman, asked to have his post posted here. Here it is:

Thoughts after pondering the meaning of the Great Asian Tsunami of 2004

by The Zenman (with a bow and a nod to Voltaire in 1775)



In 20 minutes, immense tidal waves, or ''tsunami'', as the Japanese call
them, wiped out over 500,000 people living or vacationing along the
seashores of the vast Indian Ocean. The Great Tsunami of 2004 will go
down in history as one of the greatest natural disasters ever
witnessed by the postmodern world, where digital cameras, videos,
websites, blogs, TV camera crews and newspapers told the tragic story.

What does it all mean? Is there a God who caused all this human
suffering? Was the Earth angry at us for the way we have treated her
the last 100 years, producing vast clouds of pollution everywhere,
cutting down her forests and depleting her coal, oil and gas reserves
for our homes, our cars, oun airplanes and our vacations in exotic
locales? Was all this predicted by Nostradamus long ago, or within the
mysterious pages of that book titled The Bible Code?

The answers to all the above questions are no, no, no and no. There is
no God, and it's time to get over it. Earth is not a concious living
thing that gets angry or smiles or lauhgs or coughs. Nostradamus was a
French poet and a quack doctor, forget about him. And as for The Bible
Code, what a bunch of crock!

This tragic event, seen worldwide this time via TV and video, the
Internet and blog websites, was just the way things happen. From time
to time, there are powerful earthquakes on Earth that do immense
damagge. From time to time, there are floods, typhoons, tsunamis,
tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, draughts. We can prepare for them,
and we can use technology to be prepared for them.

But one thing we must keep in mind, as the events of the Great Tsunami
of 2004 are replayed in our minds over and over again, is that we
humans are mere evolutionary guests here on Planet Earth. We evolved
from the earliest forms of organic life, and now we have arrived at
the point in cosmic history where we are. But we did not create Earth,
and there is no God or gods who created the Earth either. The Earth
was here long before we were ever here, and it will remain here long
after we are gone, and even after all forms of human life are gone in
the future.

I think the Buddhist teachings have it right: there is suffering in
the world, in life, and we must lean to accept it, and then get on
with our lives as best we can, working together to lessen the
suffering and the pain. That is one lesson we can all take from the
footprints left on the beaches of South Asia by the Great 2004 Tsunami
in the Indian Ocean.

I was reading the story of a young 16 year old Sri Lankan girl who
miraculously survived the tsunami in her village, but lost many
members of her own family. She said: "It's hard to bear this tragedy,"
she said softly to a CNN camera crew, "but I have to."

One of the greatest natural catastrophes in generations was just
another milestone on the trail of this shy girl's ill fortune. It's
hard for all of us to bear this tragic event, that killed nearly
500,000 people -- innocent people, young and old, black and white and
brown and yellow, from over 40 nationalities -- but we have to.

We must go on, we will go on, supporting one another in the best ways
we can, and as human history evolves, seesawing from tragedy to
tragedy, we are slowly understanding our place in the vast scheme of
things.

It is our place to be born, to live, to dream, to suffer, to
experience joy and bliss, to write and to dance and to paint and to
make music and to hold hands, watching sunsets and sunrises, and while
there is no supernatural God of the Bible or the Koran, and no Hindu
or Shinto or Taoist gods, we do have each other to rely on, and there
is where our real strength and power lie. Use it. Let us hug one
another and rise up from this indescribable natural calamity and
become one with the world we are part of. Let us endure, let us
persevere, let us move forward.

January 1, 2005 at 1:07 AM  
Blogger dan said...

David Brooks, columnist in the New York Times, January 1, 2005, writes, an oped piece titled A TIME TO MOURN:

last three graphs read:

In the newspaper essays and television commentaries reflecting upon it all, there would often be some awkward passage as the author tried to conclude with some easy uplift - a little bromide about how wonderfully we all rallied together, and how we are all connected by our common humanity in times of crisis.

The world's generosity has indeed been amazing, but sometimes we use our compassion as a self-enveloping fog to obscure our view of the abyss.

FIRST MONEY QUOTE: Somehow it's wrong to turn this event into a good-news story so we can all feel warm this holiday season. It's wrong to turn it into a story about us, who gave, rather than about them, whose lives were ruined.

BIG MONEY QUOTE HERE: This is a moment to feel deeply bad, for the dead and for those of us who have no explanation.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/01/opinion/01brooks.html

January 1, 2005 at 2:03 AM  
Blogger dan said...

From the UK, this note comes our way, via the blogosphere:

By the way, Bob McManus & Ophelia Benson, regarding that Lisbon earthquake and related religious/enlightenement controversy you mentioned earlier - I just came across this column in the UK Guardian that makes exactly that same reference:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,5673,1380248,00.html

QUOTE: For most of human history people have tried to explain earthquakes as acts of divine intervention and displeasure. Even as the churches collapsed around them in 1755, Lisbon’s priests insisted on salvaging crucifixes and religious icons with which to ward off the catastrophe that would kill more than 50,000 of their fellow citizens.

Others, though, began to draw different conclusions. Voltaire asked what kind of God could permit such a thing to occur. Did Lisbon really have so many more vices than London or Paris, he asked, that it should be punished in such a appalling and indiscriminate manner? Immanuel Kant was so amazed by what happened to Lisbon that he wrote three separate treatises on the problem of earthquakes.

Our own society seems to be more squeamish about such things. …. Yet it is hard to think of any event in modern times that requires a more serious explanation from the forces of religion than this week’s earthquake. Voltaire’s 18th-century question to Christians - why Lisbon? - ought to generate a whole series of 21st-century equivalents for all the religions of the world.

UNQUOTE

(Have to say I don’t quite get the point but I sure hope he’s wrong on that “ought to”! The last thing we need is attempts at explaining earthquakes in religious terms. How about a proper alert system instead)

Posted by nic · December 28, 2004 / reposted Jan. 1, 2005

The full story here:

How can religious people explain something like this?

Earthquakes led 18th-century thinkers to ask questions we shy away from

Martin Kettle

martin.kettle@guardian.co.uk

Tuesday December 28, 2004
The Guardian

The modern era flatters itself that human beings can now know and shape almost everything about the world. But an event like the Indonesian earthquake exposes much of this for the hubris that it is.
Perhaps we have talked so much about our civilisation's potential to destroy the planet that we have forgotten that the planet also has an untamed ability to destroy civilisation too. Whatever else it has achieved, the Indian Ocean tsunami has at least reminded mankind of its enduring vulnerability in the face of nature. The scale of suffering that it has wreaked - 20,000 deaths and counting - shows that we share such dangers with our ancestors more fully than most of us realised.

An entirely understandable reaction to such an event is to set one's face against any large questions that it may raise. But this week provides an unsought opportunity to consider the largest of all human implications of any major earthquake: its challenge to religion.

A few days after the 9/11 attacks on New York, I had dinner with the Guardian's late columnist Hugo Young. We were still so close to the event itself that only one topic of conversation was possible. At one stage I asked Hugo how his Catholicism allowed him to explain such a terrible act. I'm afraid that's an easy one, he replied.

We are all fallen beings, Hugo declared, and our life in this world is a vale of tears. So some human beings will always kill one another. The attack on New York should therefore be seen not as an act of God, but as an act of fallen humanity. Then he paused, and added: "But I admit I have much more difficulty with earthquakes."

Earthquakes and the belief in the judgment of God are, indeed, very hard to reconcile. However, no religion that offers an explanation of the world can avoid making some kind of an attempt to fit the two together. And an immense earthquake like the one that took place off Sumatra on Sunday inevitably poses that challenge afresh in dramatic terms.

There is, after all, only one big question to ask about an event of such destructive power as the one that has taken place this week: why did it happen?

As with previous earthquakes, any explanation of this latest one poses us a sharp intellectual choice. Either there is an entirely natural explanation for it, or there is some other kind. Even the natural one is by no means easy to imagine, but it is at least wholly coherent.

The tsunami took place, say the seismologists, because a massive tectonic rupture on the sea bed generated tremors through the ocean. These unimaginable forces sent their energy coursing across thousands of miles of water, resulting in death and destruction in a vast arc from Somalia to Indonesia.

But what do world views that do not allow scientists undisputed authority have to say about such phenomena? Where do the creationists stand, for example? Such world views are more widespread, even now, than a secularised society such as ours sometimes prefers to think.

For most of human history people have tried to explain earthquakes as acts of divine intervention and displeasure. Even as the churches collapsed around them in 1755, Lisbon's priests insisted on salvaging crucifixes and religious icons with which to ward off the catastrophe that would kill more than 50,000 of their fellow citizens.

Others, though, began to draw different conclusions. Voltaire asked what kind of God could permit such a thing to occur. Did Lisbon really have so many more vices than London or Paris, he asked, that it should be punished in such a appalling and indiscriminate manner? Immanuel Kant was so amazed by what happened to Lisbon that he wrote three separate treatises on the problem of earthquakes.

Our own society seems to be more squeamish about such things. The need for mutual respect between peoples and traditions of which the Queen spoke in her Christmas broadcast seems to require that we must all respect religions in equal measure, too. The government, indeed, is legislating to prevent expressions of religious hatred in ways that could put a cordon around the critical discussion of religion itself.

Yet it is hard to think of any event in modern times that requires a more serious explanation from the forces of religion than this week's earthquake. Voltaire's 18th-century question to Christians - why Lisbon? - ought to generate a whole series of 21st-century equivalents for all the religions of the world.

Certainly the giant waves generated by the quake made no attempt to differentiate between the religions of those whom it made its victims. Hindus were swept away in India, Muslims were carried off in Indonesia, Buddhists in Thailand. Visiting Christians and Jews received no special treatment either. This poses no problem for the scientific belief system. Here, it says, was a mindless natural event, which destroyed Muslim and Hindu alike.

A non-scientific belief system, especially one that is based on any kind of notion of a divine order, has some explaining to do, however. What God sanctions an earthquake? What God protects against it? Why does the quake strike these places and these peoples and not others? What kind of order is it that decrees that a person who went to sleep by the edge of the ocean on Christmas night should wake up the next morning engulfed by the waves, struggling for life?

From at least the time of Aristotle, intelligent people have struggled to make some sense of earthquakes. Earthquakes do not merely kill and destroy. They challenge human beings to explain the world order in which such apparently indiscriminate acts can occur. Europe in the 18th century had the intellectual curiosity and independence to ask and answer such questions. But can we say the same of 21st-century Europe? Or are we too cowed now to even ask if the God can exist that can do such things?

martin.kettle@guardian.co.uk

January 1, 2005 at 2:25 AM  
Blogger dan said...

Orphan 'can't understand'

(CNN REPORTING) *** see last sentence !!!!

Sulochana Gunawadena sat on a bench, staring at the ground.

"I can't understand what's happening," said the barefoot 16-year-old,
who was seeking refuge in a hall at the Buddha Sinharamaya temple, a
group of concrete buildings set in lush vegetation. As she spoke, a
monk in an orange robe scurried past a blackboard announcing mealtimes
for the refugees who crowd the temple.

Tragedy is nothing new to Sulochana. Nine years ago, her mother died
in childbirth. Her father, distraught over the loss of his wife,
committed suicide three months later by drinking a chemical mixture,
according to friends and a cousin.

Sulochana and her two sisters and two brothers moved into the house of
their grandparents, who took care of the orphans. One sister married
and moved to Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, and Sulochana became the
oldest child left in the house. A year and two months ago, a police
motorcycle struck and killed her grandfather.

Sulochana's grandmother buckled under the burden of taking care of
four children as well as selling snacks and betel leaves, a mild
stimulant, at a kiosk at the bus terminal. So the girl quit school to
help care for the younger kids.

Then, on Sunday morning, the waves hit.

On the temple bench, Sulochana was reluctant to talk about the moment
when torrents of waters first ravaged the family's house from the sea
side, then from the opposite side as the enormous waves retreated.

She let other homeless people nearby recount how she and her siblings
fled the house, scrambling onto a wall to escape the tide. When the
wall crumbled, they clambered onto a roof, and when the roof started
to shake, they jumped onto another building. Finally, they climbed to
safety on a main road.

Their grandmother was left behind. Afterward, her body was found,
crushed between two floating buses. A telephone kiosk lay on top of
her. The children had no way to arrange burial, and so the body went
into a mass grave.

For now, Sulochana stays in the temple, where monks hand out
toothpaste, mosquito coils and other supplies.

Her hair tied in a ponytail, Sulochana shows little sign of grief or
anxiety. Like many Sri Lankans who lost loved ones and homes, her
quiet demeanor suggests acceptance of her fate, or possibly shock. She
says she might live with a cousin, though her two uncles cannot serve
as guardians because they are heroin addicts.

Her siblings are all she has left.

"I want to stay with my brothers and sister," Sulochana said. "I know
this isn't the proper age to take care of children. But I don't care
because they're my brothers."

One of the greatest natural catastrophes in generations was just
another milestone on the trail of this shy girl's ill fortune.

"It's hard to bear this tragedy," she said softly, "but I have to."

January 1, 2005 at 2:31 AM  
Blogger dan said...

Arthur C. Clarke, the famous science fiction writer, remember Hal?, and a longtime British expat resident of Sri Lanka, was in his Colombo mansion when the tsunami hit, on high ground, and is, of course, okay. But he told the media:

"This is indeed a disaster of unprecedented magnitude for Sri Lanka which lacks the resources and capacity to cope with the aftermath. We are all trying to contribute to the relief efforts. We shall keep you informed as we learn more about what happened.

"Curiously enough, in my first book on Sri Lanka, in 1957,I had written about another tidal wave reaching Galle Harbor [see Chapter 8 in "The Reefs of Taprobane," published in 1957]. That happened in August 1883, following the eruption of Krakatoa in roughly the same part of the Indian Ocean."

cf. Simon Winchester

January 1, 2005 at 2:47 AM  
Blogger dan said...

Posted by "Tom Paine" at 12:37 PM /Reposted today

This essay was posted on the now-defunct blog "War Now" on Saturday, July 27, 2002. It originally appeared in the New Zealand Listener in August 1998.

I thought it was appropriate to dig it out and give it another airing, after reading a self-satisfied dig at religion in the Grauniad this morning:

How can religious people explain something like this? Earthquakes led 18th-century thinkers to ask questions we shy away from.

For most of human history people have tried to explain earthquakes as acts of divine intervention and displeasure. Even as the churches collapsed around them in 1755, Lisbon's priests insisted on salvaging crucifixes and religious icons with which to ward off the catastrophe that would kill more than 50,000 of their fellow citizens.

Others, though, began to draw different conclusions. Voltaire asked what kind of God could permit such a thing to occur. Did Lisbon really have so many more vices than London or Paris, he asked, that it should be punished in such a appalling and indiscriminate manner? Immanuel Kant was so amazed by what happened to Lisbon that he wrote three separate treatises on the problem of earthquakes.


Here's my take on this, which was written in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster which struck the north coast of Papua New Guinea in July 1998, which I was sent to cover for Radio New Zealand.

My employers sent me to compulsory counselling after I came back, but I only had one session, as the counsellor said I was able to use my strong religious faith to cope with what I'd seen. It was also the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av the week after I came back, which enabled me to process things even more. I realise the Torah is not a spade to dig with, but is it such a bad thing if religion can actually be of practical assistance in helping people cope with such things?



GOD WAS NOT IN THE WAVE

“How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!” - Lamentations

When the tsunami roared out of the darkness just after sunset, it destroyed all in its path. The wall of water, 10 meters high, paid no attention to flimsy huts, small canoes or running people. Some died on the spot, smashed into bloody pulp, others drowned when the awful suck-tide of the retreating wave pulled them out to sea. Some were so badly crushed that they were easy meat for the sharks, crocodiles, pigs and dogs that feasted on the bodies in the days afterwards. Children in particular were vulnerable. Unable to run as fast or climb as high as adults, they were killed in large numbers. Along thirty miles of coast west of Aitape, almost an entire generation disappeared beneath the water.

Why is it that we call any random act of senseless, tragic natural violence resulting in the deaths of the innocent and guilty alike an act of God? Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Sarajevo and the Somme are easy enough – they’re our fault. Man made disasters are par for the course – almost expected really. But how to cope with things like the Papua New Guinea tsunami?

It’s the ultimate betrayal in a way – the earth and sea we rely on for life can suddenly rise up and destroy us. The internal compass we steer our lives by spins wildly, out of control. The modern Western attitude is to use the phrase “act of God” as a sort of moral shrugging of the shoulders, a helpless “what are you going to do”? It’s also an implied criticism of God. We’ve pretty much had it in for the old boy ever since a devastating earthquake hit Lisbon in 1755 and Voltaire declared the traditional church teaching, that the victims had it coming because of their sinfulness, was well past its use by date.

They don’t read much Voltaire on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, and the Enlightenment appears to have passed by the traditional Melanesian villagers who still live by fishing, tending their food gardens, and trading. Nowadays the canoes have outboards, metal hoes are used to tend the gardens and some people have jobs in the cash economy in far away places like Port Moresby. But the unhurried rhythm of life is still what it always was – the most useless thing in a PNG village is an alarm clock. After the wave struck though, everything changed.

Although Australia was the first country to come to PNG’s aid, as always, New Zealand wasn’t far behind. The Army and Air Force sent transport planes, engineers and medics. An appeal was launched for the victims, and people donated generously. The foreign media poured into the affected area, and the television pictures of the Sissano Lagoon choked with floating bodies shocked the world

It was a tropicalised episode of M*A*S*H. The RNZAF Hercules loaded with relief supplies and a team of army medics landed at Vanimo, and immediately you could hear “Suicide is Painless” playing in your head. Medics jumped into trucks and headed for the field hospital, a sudden influx of terribly wounded people, exhausted Australian doctors working on a hideous scalp injury in the OR tent, patients being examined under the bright television lights in a triage area to see which ones should have urgent surgery and which could wait . All it needed was Radar O’Reilly to occasionally yell “Choppers”.

It was an incongruous sight. In one direction was a picture postcard view of palm trees swaying in the sea breeze on a glorious white sand beach. In the other was a vision of hell – wounded people waiting to be seen by doctors, a row of tents with doctors and medics methodically working on injuries too terrible to be described, relatives sitting with the wounded, feeding them, holding their hands, and worst of all, the injured children. They were so quiet, the children. They were just waiting, looking up with large, solemn eyes. They broke your heart.

We flew over the Sissano Lagoon in an RAAF Caribou transport plane. Once thriving coastal villages were simply gone as if they had been steamrollered out of existence. Along parts of the coast trees were all laid flat, pointing in the direction of the wave, like the result of some giant’s comb. At Sissano airstrip, the last PNG Defence Force group was pulling out due to the health risk. Pigs and dogs were eating the corpses, and in some cases were digging up already-buried bodies. The soldiers were shooting the animals they saw, but there was no way they could prevail against the real enemy – disease.

I met Lieutenant-Commander Ben Keri, of the PNG navy, who was from Sissano and had returned to help with relief work. He was clearly under a lot of strain, and had a chillingly matter-of-fact tone when he described how many of his own family were dead, and how he had lost his home and possessions. Even when he was asked about the decision to leave the bodies of his friends and family to the elements, he never faltered. His way of coping with the tragedy was to keep working as hard as possible. But his eyes were agonised as he described how the bodies were by now unrecognizable due to swelling up in the heat, and how they simply broke apart if you tried to retrieve them. “They’re pretty smelly” he said, and you knew there was a world of hurt behind the flat, unemotional voice.

Back in Vanimo, without waiting to be asked or told, the townspeople had set up an informal support network for the wounded survivors at the field hospital. Volunteers brought food to those without relatives, sat with them, prayed with them and helped interpret their Tok Pisin for the Australian and New Zealand medics and doctors. Most of the mainly female volunteers were not relatives of the wounded, but said one day they might be in the same boat. “They tell us we are helping bring them back to life” one woman said, and the others nodded happily in agreement.

Indeed the entire town of Vanimo appeared to have become united in the face of the disaster. No one involved in the relief effort needed to walk very far. Anyone with white skin was automatically picked up by passing vehicles and taken where they needed to go. Even reporters were showered with help. Several times local people came up to me, shook my hand and formally thanked me for letting the outside world know about the disaster.

The church service on Sunday will stay with me till I die. In an open area under a palm-frond roof, were gathered wounded victims, Australian and New Zealand army medics, Vanimo townspeople and the foreign press corps. The service was taken by the Australian Army chaplain, Father Glynn Murphy, in English and Tok Pisin. I saw an incredible depth of faith in the wounded people who gathered to praise God for his mercy and his love. That these people who had literally lost everything could sing “Thank you God” and mean it was very humbling. Father Murphy told the emotional service that when the earth shakes and the sea rises, that’s just the way the earth is. But he also said that God carries us on a journey with meaning and life. And if we believe that those who have died are with God, then if God is with us, they are with us. Many of us cried during the service, but they were tears of healing.

Father Murphy gave communion to survivors, army personnel, townspeople and international media alike, and then toured the makeshift recovery wards giving communion to those too badly hurt to attend the service.

Faith is an important part of life in PNG. It’s simple, but deep. But despite it’s simplicity, people did not blame God for what had happened. They told me that God was not in the wave, God was in them, in their hearts and souls, a God who helped them offer comfort and assistance. They believed, and they acted on that belief. Even Voltaire could not argue with that.

I looked around at the tents of the field hospital, the Australian and New Zealand medics treating the wounded survivors, the relatives of the injured sitting quietly with them, the local volunteers bringing food and comfort, the padre quietly going through the wards, the other reporters preparing their stories for newspapers and radio stations on the other side of the globe, stories which would mobilise international aid and support; and I remembered the words of the Patriarch Jacob after he had dreamt of the ladder connecting earth and heaven.

“Surely God was in this place, and I, I did not know”.


Then of course there's this counter-argument, which I found thanks to Brad Coulbourne's website, in which he links to both articles.

God Cites 'Moving In Mysterious Ways' As Motive In Killing Of 3,000 Papua New Guineans

VANIMO, PAPUA NEW GUINEA--In His first official statement since the July 17 tsunami that claimed the lives of an estimated 3,000 Papua New Guineans, the Lord announced Monday that He killed the island villagers as part of His longtime "moving in mysterious ways" policy, calling the natural disaster "part of My unknowable, divine plan for mankind."

"Though the need for such a tidal wave is incomprehensible to you mortals, flawed as you are by sin, I can assure you that I had a very good reason for what I did," God said of the disaster, whose death toll is expected to climb to 5,000 once the effects of disease, starvation and marauding crocodiles become known. "Trust me."

Yahweh, whose unknowable purposes have necessitated, among other things, the death of 40 million Europeans from the Bubonic Plague, 40,000 Peruvians in a 1868 earthquake, and six million of His chosen people in Nazi concentration camps, said he was "not unmoved" by the suffering of the Papua New Guinea flood victims.

"Of course I hear their prayers," God said. "I see every sparrow that falls. But it is My will that these prayers not be answered, and that life continues to be nasty, brutish and short for the majority of mankind. And My reasons are not yours to question."

Added God: "Where were you when I created the Heavens and the Earth?"

World religious leaders are standing behind the Lord. "We must not presume to know the mind of our Creator," Rev. Billy Graham said. "We are, as He often reminds us, His flock, and He is our shepherd. It seems clear that the people who are criticizing Him for killing the Papua New Guineans have not fully considered the theological implications of the shepherd-sheep relationship."

"I honestly do not know why He wanted those people dead," Pope John Paul II said, "but I have full faith in the wisdom and justice of His acts."

Despite top religious leaders' reluctance to speculate on the Lord's motive in the killings, many contend it was an act of heathen-smiting.

"I would never presume to understand God's plan, but it seems like more than a coincidence that these typhoons, tsunamis and earthquakes always seem to hit non-Christian countries like India and Bangladesh," said Matthew Ellsworth, pastor for Holy Name Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, CO. When was the last time a tidal wave devastated France?"

Though a majority of those who perished in the tsunami were non-Christians, God did kill several hundred of His followers.

"I must have faith that the Lord will help me," said Aitape Bulolo, a Protestant fisherman who spent 11 days clinging to the top of a tree while waiting for flood waters to recede and watching the hogs he raised feed upon the corpses of his family. "I know my wife and daughters are with Him now in Heaven, and that He is sparing me for some greater purpose. This horrible tragedy has only strengthened my faith. God is love."

Upon hearing Bulolo's words, God said, "I can neither confirm nor deny rumors of Aitape Bulolo's family's presence in My heavenly kingdom. Be content that it is one of the many mysteries of faith, and that I am always watching over you, albeit for my own unfathomable purposes."

"And believe Me," God added, "never in a million years would you guess what those purposes are."

-------------------


Just a note on the coverage of this current disaster; if my experience at the PNG tsumani is anything to go by, you're not seeing the worst of it. All of us in the international media presence there had worked out that there were some things just to gruesome and disturbing to tell people about.

For example, there were actually many survivors in the jungle who were too badly injured to move or defend themselves against the wild pigs, dogs and crocodiles. Quite a few were eaten by animals, and they weren't always completely dead first.

Also, we deliberately turned a blind eye to some of the corruption that was going on. To be fair, the people up the sharp end of the relief operation, where we were in the affected area, were fantastic. But back in Port Moresby, there was definitely a bit of "shrinkage" going on as the huge cargo planes arrived from all over the world with tonnes of supplies. A lot of it simply walked out of the back of the warehouses, perhaps as much as a third to half of it.

We all pretty much agreed amongst ourselves that if we reported on that, then the relief supplies would probably dry up, and that mean that the people who needed help wouldn't get it. Even half of the massive airlift was still an awful lot, and we didn't feel comfortable in endangering that by doing a story about corruption and theft. Mind you, we didn't feel too good turning a blind eye to what was going on either. In a sense, we had become accomplicies to what was happening. In the end we did what we thought would mean the most help getting to those who needed it, and hoped God (or whoever's really in charge) will give us a pass on breaching journalistic ethics.

And if I can encourage you to use some of the links in Wind Rider's post below, now is in fact a good time to donate. There are skilled professionals in the areas, but they need money to buy what's required. And right now the race is on to prevent what could become the real killer of this disaster - disease. Especially cholera.

It's not over yet folks.

http://www.google.com.tw/search?q=cache:1gt0Mf3bvXgJ:silentrunning.tv/+tsunami+blog+voltaire&hl=zh-TW

January 1, 2005 at 2:54 AM  
Blogger dan said...

Susan Sontag, may she rest in peace, said in a lecture last spring of 2004:

"Hearing the news of the earthquake that leveled Lisbon on Nov. 1, 1755, and (if historians are to be believed) took with it a whole society's optimism (but, obviously, I don't believe that societies have only one basic attitude), the great Voltaire was struck by our inveterate inability to take in what happened elsewhere. 'Lisbon lies in ruins,' Voltaire wrote, 'and here in Paris we dance.'

One might suppose that today, in the age of genocide, people would not find it either paradoxical or surprising that one can be so indifferent to what is happening simultaneously elsewhere. Is it not part of the fundamental structure of experience that 'now' refers to both 'here' and 'there'? And yet, I venture to assert, we are just as capable of being surprised by, and frustrated by the inadequacy of our response to, the simultaneity of wildly contrasting human fates as was Voltaire two and a half centuries ago. Perhaps it is our perennial fate to be surprised by the simultaneity of events, by the sheer extension of the world in time and space. That we are here, prosperous, safe, unlikely to go to bed hungry or be blown to pieces this evening, while elsewhere in the world, right now in Grozny, in Najaf, in the Sudan, in the Congo, in Gaza, in the favelas of Rio....

It is a beginning of a response to this painful awareness to say: it's a question of sympathy, of the limits of the imagination. You can also say that it's not 'natural' to keep remembering that the world is so extended. That while this is happening, that is also happening.

True.

But that, I would respond, is why we need fiction: to stretch our world."

http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/la-122804sontag_archives,0,4595889.story?coll=ny-entertainment-headlines


Essay: The truth of fiction evokes our common humanity

Editor's Note: The above essay was excerpted from a speech by Susan Sontag given April 7 at the Los Angeles Public Library upon receiving the library's annual Literary Award.

January 1, 2005 at 3:51 AM  
Blogger dan said...

And on the subject of Voltaire and the Lisbon earthquake, mentioned in Susan Sontag's April speech above comment, George Hunka has posted a portion (in translation) of Voltaire's "Poem on the Lisbon Disaster" at his weblog, Superfluities. Here is the passage to which Sontag referred:

''Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice''
''Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?''
''In these men dance; at Lisbon yawns the abyss.''

Ouch! On New Year's Eve 2004/2005, people in some great cities celebrated with festive "dance", while a few thinking, somber cities cancelled their New Year's celebrations in view of the recent tragedy in Asia. The entire civilized world should have cancelled their New Year's Eve parties this time. They didn't. What does that tell us about "civilization?"

January 1, 2005 at 3:56 AM  
Blogger dan said...

The Asian Tsunami of 2004 and Its Victims (3 Letters to the New York Times)


Published: December 28, 2004

To the Editor of the Times:

Re: Your recent editorial "A Day of Devastation" (Dec. 27):

It is much too easy to blame the devastation and loss of life from the Southeast Asian earthquake and tsunami on "the overpowering, amoral mechanics of the earth's surface."

Why were there no warning buoys in the area?

In natural disasters of all kinds, it's always the poor and marginalized who suffer the most. The reason is not far to seek: the indifference of the world's powerful to the vulnerabilities of the poor.

No one can prevent such cataclysmic natural events. But we can invest in measures that mitigate their effects on the victims, if we care.

T. Michael McNulty
St. Paul, Dec. 27, 2004



To the Editor:

Much discussion has focused on how an early warning system could have alerted coastal areas surrounding the Indian Ocean of an impending tsunami ("With No Alert System, Indian Ocean Nations Were Vulnerable," news article, Dec. 27). We should recognize that the United States lacks a fully deployed early warning system for earthquakes.

One of the goals of the Advanced National Seismic System is to provide this capability. Only $16.6 million has been appropriated for the system from the $170.3 million needed and authorized by Congress.

Seeing the loss of life that could have been prevented by an early warning system in Asia should be motivation enough to push for the full deployment of a seismic system to mitigate the loss of life that can occur in the regions of our country that are affected by earthquakes.

Timothy Dawson
Newark, Dec. 27, 2004
The writer, an independent consulting geologist, formerly worked at the United States Geological Survey.



To the Editor:

It was the lingering spirit of Christmas that left me wondering whether the earthquake and tsunami south of Asia could have been an opportunity to fight terrorism in a different way.

If we weren't so wrapped up in war and the military pursuit of peace, we could afford an organized force that is prepared to "invade" devastated areas on a moment's notice to help with recovery.

If we were as prepared to extend good will as we are to wage war, we'd have a lot more friends in the world and a lot fewer enemies. That's something our gargantuan military power has failed to achieve.

Glenn Cheney
Hanover, Conn., Dec. 27, 2004

January 1, 2005 at 4:30 AM  
Blogger dan said...

The Asian Tsunami of 2004 and Its Victims (3 Letters to the New York Times)


Published: December 28, 2004

To the Editor of the Times:

Re: Your recent editorial "A Day of Devastation" (Dec. 27):

It is much too easy to blame the devastation and loss of life from the Southeast Asian earthquake and tsunami on "the overpowering, amoral mechanics of the earth's surface."

Why were there no warning buoys in the area?

In natural disasters of all kinds, it's always the poor and marginalized who suffer the most. The reason is not far to seek: the indifference of the world's powerful to the vulnerabilities of the poor.

No one can prevent such cataclysmic natural events. But we can invest in measures that mitigate their effects on the victims, if we care.

T. Michael McNulty
St. Paul, Dec. 27, 2004



To the Editor:

Much discussion has focused on how an early warning system could have alerted coastal areas surrounding the Indian Ocean of an impending tsunami ("With No Alert System, Indian Ocean Nations Were Vulnerable," news article, Dec. 27). We should recognize that the United States lacks a fully deployed early warning system for earthquakes.

One of the goals of the Advanced National Seismic System is to provide this capability. Only $16.6 million has been appropriated for the system from the $170.3 million needed and authorized by Congress.

Seeing the loss of life that could have been prevented by an early warning system in Asia should be motivation enough to push for the full deployment of a seismic system to mitigate the loss of life that can occur in the regions of our country that are affected by earthquakes.

Timothy Dawson
Newark, Dec. 27, 2004
The writer, an independent consulting geologist, formerly worked at the United States Geological Survey.



To the Editor:

It was the lingering spirit of Christmas that left me wondering whether the earthquake and tsunami south of Asia could have been an opportunity to fight terrorism in a different way.

If we weren't so wrapped up in war and the military pursuit of peace, we could afford an organized force that is prepared to "invade" devastated areas on a moment's notice to help with recovery.

If we were as prepared to extend good will as we are to wage war, we'd have a lot more friends in the world and a lot fewer enemies. That's something our gargantuan military power has failed to achieve.

Glenn Cheney
Hanover, Conn., Dec. 27, 2004

January 1, 2005 at 4:30 AM  
Blogger dan said...

The earthquake and tidal wave that destroyed Lisbon in 1755 was the inspiration for the satirical ''Candide''.

What works of art will be inspired by the Great Tsunmai of Asia 2004?

January 1, 2005 at 4:31 AM  
Blogger dan said...

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Blue Goddess blogger said:

by nasreena on December 30, 2004 01:31AM (EST)


The earthquake/tsunami disaster in South Asia is so gargantuan that I have trouble getting my mind around it. Maybe I never will.

But I think it'd worthy for all of us to try to do what we can to make some kind of sense of it.

For my part, it seems an act of the terrible face of the Goddess -- maybe Kali Ma.

Natural disasters always seem to me to be the will or whim of the terrible aspect of the Goddess, yet it doesn't make me hate the Goddess. The lesson to be learned is that we are puny humans. Nature is more powerful. The mystery of life abides and we can never best it. Yet also, nature -- the earth, Gaia, the Mother, the Goddess -- is dependent upon our care and respect. It is a symbiotic relationship, a reciprocal relationship. That is at the heart of what the Goddess has to teach us and show us. That we need to care -- about others, about the earth, about the atmosphere, about all creatures and forms of life. Our egos need to be humbled and our hubris needs to be rejected (particularly those who seek power need to take this to heart).

God-worship as laid out in the Bible teaches us that the earth is "ours" to exploit, a gift from the heavenly Father above. I think with the tsunami the Goddess has spoken -- made her rage felt -- that earth is not ours to exploit, but to live with in reciprocal harmony. The Great Tsunami of 2004 is a powerful lesson in caring -- we are being shocked into attention. Man is not the Lord of the Earth and existence is not about selfishly pursuing one's own greedy gains at the expense (and lives) of others. God the Father is out playing golf and won't be back anytime soon.

We're here on Planet Earth with the Great Mother and we are very foolish to ignore her and to disregard her lessons about human existence on earth. Playing God is nothing but a fool's game and sooner or later, all men will learn this to be true.

"The soul that worships becomes always a little child: the soul that becomes a child finds God oftenest as mother. In a meditation before the Blessed Sacrament, some pen has written the exquisite assurance: "My child, you need not know much in order to please Me. Only Love Me dearly. Speak to me, as you would talk to your mother, if she had taken you in her arms."

Kali's boon is won when man confronts or accepts her and the realities she dramatically conveys to him. The image of Kali, in a variety of ways, teaches man that pain, sorrow, decay, death, and destruction are not to be overcome or conquered by denying them or explaining them away. Pain and sorrow are woven into the texture of man's life so thoroughly that to deny them is ultimately futile. For man to realize the fullness of his being, for man to exploit his potential as a human being, he must finally accept this dimension of existence. Kali's boon is freedom, the freedom of the child to revel in the moment, and it is won only after confrontation or acceptance of death. To ignore death, to pretend that one is physically immortal, to pretend that one's ego is the center of things, is to provoke Kali's mocking laughter. To confront or accept death, on the contrary, is to realize a mode of being that can delight and revel in the play of the gods. To accept one's mortality is to be able to let go, to be able to sing, dance, and shout. Kali is Mother to her devotees not because she protects them from the way things really are but because she reveals to them their mortality and thus releases them to act fully and freely, releases them from the incredible, binding web of "adult" pretense, practicality, and rationality."

(Reprinted from Exotic India)

January 1, 2005 at 4:42 AM  
Blogger dan said...

How religious people are perceiving the tsunami tragedy:

"This event is easy for scientists to explain, but very hard for
theologians to explain," says a Jewish rabbi. "God has knowledge, and
God controls the universe, but the question is: 'To what extent?' " [THE QUESTION IS: DOES CONTROL EARTHQUAKES AND TSUNAMIS, OR JUST THE BROKEN AIR-CONDITIONER IN OUR HIGHRISE APARTMENT OVERLOOKING CENTRAL PARK?]

The tsunami may be part of a huge divine plan humans are too frail to
understand, says an Islamic preacher. [YES WE ARE MUCH TO FRAIL TO KNOW ALLAH'S WAYs, or JEHOVAH's WAYS, or YAHWEH'S WAYS, of the WAYS OF THE 8000 HINDU GODS...]

"We can't fathom the wisdom of
the creator," he said. "We have to bring out the positive humanity in
all of us and try to help instead of questioning the scheme of
things." [THAT's GOOD POSITIVE THINKING, YES!]

The world has been an imperfect place since Adam and Eve ALLEGEDLY betrayed God
and were REPORTEDLY forced out of the Garden of Eden, says a Christian pastor. [BIBLICAL NONSENSE]

So tsunamis happen, people get cancer, accidents occur. [BECAUSE OF ADAM AND EVE? GET REAL!]

"The hardest
thing for all of us to live with is the suffering that goes on in the
world. These are forces of nature that happen, and we accept them in
our lives. The Christian reaction should be, 'How do I use this to
return to rectify my life?' " [THAT'S NICE!]

Hindu and Buddhist philosophies are more accepting of the potential of
natural disaster than are Jeiwsh, Christian or Moslem theologies. [GO FIGURE!]

"There are things that are going to happen that are not going to be so
pleasant, but that is just part of totality," said a Hindu teacher.

"We pray in these sad events to console the departed soul and the
families and hope that the next journey will be more pleasant than
this one." [THE WHEEL OF LIFE, REINCARNATION.]

The leader of a Buddhist Association said:
"We will pray and chant for the people who are suffering and for those
who have died."

She said the disaster reinforces the Buddhist
philosophy that nothing is permanent.

"These are forces of nature that happen, and we accept them in our
lives," she said. [RATIONAL MATURE UNDERSTANDING OF LIFE AND DEATH.]

January 1, 2005 at 5:18 AM  
Blogger dan said...

In communist China, state television said it was canceling its live New
Year's Eve gala programming out of respect for the disaster victims.

But in free, independent, democratic Taiwan, televised government celebrations with pop stars and TV actors went on as planned.

On tsunami-ravaged Phuket, Thailand, tourists and bar owners were not
sure how to spend the evening.

"Too many people died here. I cannot celebrate New Year," said Rene
Vander Veen, a tourist from Waiblingen, Germany who survived the tsunamis.

Herve Boyomo, a Cameroon native, arrived from Beijing to look for his
sister, Berthe Boyomo Ackermann. Asked what he would do on New Year's
Eve, he replied: "Stay in the hotel and pray, that's all."

January 1, 2005 at 5:23 AM  
Blogger dan said...

Questiong God in Disaster's Aftermath

By Jonathan Sacks

Chief Jewish Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

reprinted in the LA Times.

It is the question of questions for religious belief. Why does God permit a tragedy such as the Indian Ocean tsunami? Why does He allow the innocent to suffer and the guiltless to die?

It was just such a disaster — the Lisbon tragedy of All Saints' Day, 1755, in which as many as 100,000 people died as a result of an earthquake followed by a tsunami and fire — that led Voltaire to write “Candide,” satirizing religious faith. The butt of his irony, Dr. Pangloss, is generally thought to be modeled on Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the German philosopher who held that “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”

What incensed Voltaire was that there were religious believers who thought that the quake represented God's anger at Lisbon's “sinful” ways. After all, didn't the Old Testament speak of divine anger? Were catastrophes not interpreted as punishment against sinful nations? Is there not justice in history? Yet, in the end, that interpretation was unsustainable. Why Lisbon and not other cities? Why were the young, the frail, the saintly among the casualties?

Even the most dogmatic found it hard to answer these questions. In any case, the suggestion is morally unacceptable. It blames the victims for their fate. After the Holocaust, such thoughts ought to be unthinkable.

Jews read the Bible differently. One of its striking features is that the most challenging questions about fate come not from unbelievers but from the heroes of faith.

Abraham asked: “Shall not the judge of all the Earth do justice?” Moses asked: “Why have you done evil to this people?” The book of Job is dedicated to this question, and it is not Job's comforters, who blamed his misfortunes on his sins, who were vindicated by heaven, but Job, who consistently challenged God. In Judaism, faith lies in the question, not the answer.

Earthquakes and tsunamis were known to the ancients. Job said: “The pillars of the heavens quake, aghast at his rebuke; by his power he churned up the sea.” David used them as a metaphor for fear itself: “The waves of death swirled about me. . . . The Earth trembled and quaked, the foundations of the heavens shook. . . . The valleys of the sea were exposed, and the foundations of the Earth laid bare.” In the midst of a storm at sea, Jonah prayed: “Your wrath lies heavily upon me; You have overwhelmed me with all your waves.” Yet God taught Elijah that He, God, was not in the earthquake or the whirlwind that destroys but in the still, small voice that heals.

What distinguished the biblical prophets from their pagan predecessors was their refusal to see natural catastrophe as an independent force of evil, proof that at least some of the gods are hostile to mankind.

In the ancient Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, for example, Tiamat, the goddess of the oceans, declares war on the rest of creation and is defeated only after a prolonged struggle against the younger god, Marduk. Essential to monotheism is that conflict is not written into the fabric of the universe. That is what redeems tragedy and creates hope.

The simplest explanation is that of the 12th century sage, Moses Maimonides. Natural disasters, he said, have no explanation other than that God, by placing us in a physical world, set life within the parameters of the physical. Planets are formed, earthquakes occur, and sometimes innocents die.

To wish it were otherwise is in essence to wish that we were not physical beings at all. Then we would not know pleasure, desire, achievement, freedom, virtue, creativity, vulnerability and love. We would be angels — God's computers — programmed to sing his praise.

The religious question is, therefore, not “Why did this happen?” but “What then shall we do?” That is why, in synagogues, churches, mosques and temples, along with our prayers for the injured and the bereaved, we are asking people to donate money to assist the work of relief.

The religious response is not to seek to understand, thereby to accept. We are not God. Instead we are the people he has called on to be His “partners in the work of creation.” The only adequate religious response is to say: “God, I do not know why this disaster has happened, but I do know what you want of us: to help the afflicted, comfort the bereaved, send healing to the injured and aid those who have lost their livelihoods and homes.” We cannot understand God, but we can strive to imitate His love and care.

That, and perhaps one more thing. After an earlier flood, in the days of Noah, God made His first covenant with mankind. The Bible says God had seen “a world filled with violence” and asked Noah to institute a social order that would honor human life as the image of God.

Not as an explanation of suffering but as a response to it, I will pray that in our collective grief we renew the covenant of human solidarity. Having seen how small and vulnerable humanity is in the face of nature, might we not also see how small are the things that divide us, and how tragic to add grief to grief?

http://www.ou.org/other/5765/tsunami3.htm

January 9, 2005 at 1:02 AM  
Blogger dan said...

An Israeli firm called Patus, a startup
company with offices in Tel Aviv and Chicago, has generously donated
to tsunami relief headquarters in Asia about 10,000 foil packets of a
nasal gel that can mitigate exposure to debilitating and traumatic
odors. OdorScreen helps the mental health and well-being of workers
and civilians forced to endure the smells of the tsunami's aftermath.
"The enormity of the tragedy will be with us for generations. If Patus
and OdorScreen can reduce the psychological toll on workers, we feel
that we will have done our part," said Patus CEO Guy Hirsch. The clear
gel is dabbed around the nostrils and imparts a soothing vanilla
aroma. Each packet lasts about 2 hours. It is being used now in Sri
Lanka, India and Thailand, according to Hirsch. [guy@patus.co.il ].

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