Wednesday, January 5, 2005
Voltaire and the tsunami.
More critical theology from the Boston Globe op-ed page — this time from columnist Scott Lehigh. He focuses on Voltaire's response to the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that devastated Lisbon, Portugal, on All Saints Day, 1755, killing between 15,000 and 60,000 people. (Many of the people who died were crushed while worshiping in the 30 churches that were destroyed by the quake, a circumstance that provoked all sorts of religious interpretations.) Lehigh writes that Voltaire's disgust at theodicies in the aftermath of the quake has grown commonplace today — to the good of religion as well as science:
We now know that the shifting of tectonic plates causes earthquakes — and the notion that God uses natural disasters to punish sinners seems hopelessly antique to most of us. To profess that sort of belief is to betray oneself as a captive to a fundamentalist mind-set that has elevated faith above reason in apprehending natural phenomena.
Yet because we don't see God's hand at work in natural disasters, neither do tragedies that shock the mind strike us as a compelling argument against God's existence.
Now, one can argue that that's because the faith-eroding questions that would be raised are simply too disquieting to confront. Or that we don't have our own Voltaire to frame them for us.
Yet the larger reason is surely this: Science has so succeeded in separating the physical from the spiritual world that if we don't see the tsunami as God's wrath, neither do we realistically consider that divine intervention might have stayed the massive wave that claimed so many lives. Indeed, even as we pray for the afflicted, we neither fault God for the misery nor expect that he might have forestalled it.
Thus have faith and science come to exist in their own realms, a construct that largely sidesteps the great debate that followed the earthquake of Lisbon. By separating faith from the natural processes of the world, we have also removed it from the path of calamity. And made it possible to maintain our belief in the face of such a mystifying tragedy.
("Faith Meets Science," Scott Lehigh, Boston Globe 1.5.05)
Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 5 January 2005 at 9:15 PM