Amid all the images, YouTube videos and written reports of the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear failures, we can’t help but be in awe of the terror of it all.
Depending on one’s perspective, it can even raise questions of faith.
Maybe you prayed to God, maybe you cursed him. Maybe you thought if He’d existed the earthquake wouldn’t have happened at all.
There’s something in such a catastrophe that inevitably makes anyone, even the staunchest of atheists, at least ponder the subject of religion.
It makes complete sense. What else can people look to?
When 11,000 people are killed, 17,000 reported missing, more than 125,000 buildings wrecked at the hands of natural disasters — when we are faced with unimaginable violence and we don’t have a Gaddafi or a Hussein to blame — there’s really nowhere to look but up.
Such a conversation about religion could be a healthy, informative one. Unfortunately, a few radicals have dominated the national discourse, using recent crises as an excuse to degrade others and their beliefs instead of lifting each other up during dark times.
In the process, the very word “religion” has become corrupted by a minority.
“I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes,” Glenn Beck said on The Glenn Beck Program on March 15, adding, “I’m not not saying that either.”
Perhaps these claims are to be expected from Beck. He seems to be simply following the conservative pundits’ playbook, after Jerry Falwell blamed Sept. 11 on “alternative lifestyle[s]” in America, and Pat Robertson blamed last year’s earthquake in Haiti on the Haitian people’s “pact with the Devil.”
Likewise, Tokyo Gov. Shintar Ishihara (although he later attempted to redact his comments) told the Japan Times on March 14 the country “need[s] to use tsunami to wipe out egoism,” stating he believes the destruction is an example of “tembatsu,” Japanese for “divine retribution.”
According to these people, and others, God was punishing Japan.
It’s precisely because of the Becks, the Ishiharas and Falwells of today that religion, as a notion, needs to be redefined by better-meaning people.
If anyone saw Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake presentation in Bovard Auditorium last Friday, I suppose I’m advocating one of the same things he did: the re-evaluation of the word “religion.” It’s been corrupted by those who don’t practice it but instead wield spirituality as a political tool.
The City of Los Angeles is rather unfortunately positioned along the southern stretch of the San Andreas Fault. Based on empirical geologic research, enormous earthquakes have hit the area approximately every 150 years. The last was a 7.9 — in 1857.
So do we blame others for this imminent crisis? Do we run in fear? We can. Or we can use faith, whatever that might mean to us, to unite in common purpose.
In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, religion is posited as a choice: A choice between believing there is only the truth we know on Earth and believing that there is a greater — perhaps happier — truth to be found in religion. Neither is provable, but Martel personally advocates picking “the better story” because it gives us a purpose. And many of us out here seem to want one of those.
After all, the very word religion, when broken down into its components, means “reconnect.” Perhaps, as students, we can connect the word, and notion, back to its roots.
Greg Irwin is a freshman majoring in international relations.