Working with the U.S. Peace Corps in Jamaica almost forty years ago, I learned that, for perhaps what are now far more obvious reasons, there were few leaders either from the U.S. or Jamaica for that matter who seemed truly interested in teaching us Volunteers that most uneducated or even poorly-educated people, regardless of where they lived, would hold beliefs that at best were simply wrong or, at worst, likely to be detrimental to their well being. I suppose it was intended that we discover such things firsthand and learn to deal with them individually, if that was possible.

One unfortunate notion that many poorer, less-educated, Caribbean peoples still hold today, is that God is responsible for disasters, particularly large-scale, natural ones such as hurricanes and earthquakes. At best it seems a useful idea only to those who would in one way or another like to control other people’s behaviours for their own benefit. Politicians come to mind first, don’t they?

No doubt there are many educators, however, not to mention at least some few honest politicians, businessmen, and even church leaders who would like to move this group along the path of progress toward living in a more modern, rational world. Their sincere frustrations and often all-too-useless explanations are typically heard when such disasters occur.

Perhaps the reality that they miss in this instance is that you simply cannot prove something that also cannot be disproved, regardless of whom you are trying to prove or disprove it to. Does that make any sense? Try proving that space has an end, or that there are only a certain number of angels on the head of a pin, or if you like, that time travel is possible. And good luck. Life’s paradoxes await your efforts.

That said, if God, (as the popular, self-proclaimed and so-called “Christian” albeit provocateur Pat Roberson, among others has recently suggested) was recently punishing Haiti for its past sins, then you most likely aren’t going to prove he is wrong by trying to explain the mechanics of plate tectonics to that same group – not because it isn’t correct, but because you can’t really prove God didn’t do it in any case, plates or no. The theory of plate tectonics, regardless of its accepted veracity, is still just a theory and there are many theories that probably won’t ever be proven, at least in our lifetimes.

If you try expanding discussions which compare hurricanes to earthquakes however, you are far more likely to teach something about it and perhaps move these folk a little farther along on the learning curve that brings such notions out of the darkness and into the light.

This approach might indeed work to convert some disbelievers, particularly if and when they realize that hurricanes, which happen far more often, travel across nations that are filled with good people as well as the bad, alike. After all, God certainly wouldn’t punish good people, so maybe there’s reason to believe that such an occurrence as recently struck Haiti, was only, like any accident, something that apparently couldn’t have been avoided.

On the other hand, if you are solely concerned with trying to make the best of a bad situation, you might be better off telling them that it might have been something that God gave them as a challenge to help them improve the world they had before. That seems far less harmful, at least it probably isn’t a lie, and as an outcome it accomplishes much the same thing.

Without knowing it, at the same time there also are many of us who realise that “frequency” and “familiarity” have a lot to do with understanding the difference between a natural disaster and a God-inspired intervention or punishment.

For example, far fewer people believe God controls individual events in the weather, because the weather, specifically bad weather, is almost always there with us and in every different place is likely far too individual for the Lord to be taking so much time with controlling. As such, because far more people experience the weather regularly and are at least to some extent often far more familiar with its intricacies than even the most well-educated of us, but at the same time can’t see and have no firsthand experience with the movement of tectonic plates, there is far less reason to associate something supernatural with it.

What I am saying therefore is that generally speaking, the movement of tectonic plates should be left to science classrooms, just as the notion that God causes earthquakes to punish people, and those who advocate such a ridiculous notion as well, should be left back in the Dark Ages where it (and they) belong(s).

It makes me wonder personally, given the obvious education about, familiarity with, and knowledge of the frequency of earthquakes we all suppose Mr. Robertson actually has, if he was sick that week, asleep in his high-school class that day and is simply unaware of that particular set of lessons, or if on the other hand he knows he is lying to his followers and is just trying to make a buck off their ignorance.

Categories: Religion

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