Monday, January 24, 2005
Disaster stirs debate on God
Disaster stirs debate on God
By Rachel Stohr
Published: Monday, January 24, 2005
Nearly four weeks after much of southeast Asia was devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami, UNM's Humanist Society is asking, "Where was God?"
Members of the secular group presented a series of prepared discussions to less than a dozen students in the SUB on Friday.
Fliers promoting the event drew criticism, vice president Kelly Cowan said.
"The title 'Where was God?' is a response to The New York Times piece by conservative columnist William Sapphire," he said.
Sapphire's Jan. 10 column referenced a similar natural disaster in the 18th century in Lisbon, during which more than 100,000 people died. According to the column, Voltaire's Candide savagely satirized optimists who still found comfort and hope in God.
Cowan said Sapphire was unfair in his criticism of Voltaire's novel.
"He's unable to distinguish between his job as a journalist and that of a preacher," he said.
Cowan said Sapphire and right-wingers like him are often blinded by their faith."
They think they can explain these things by saying, 'It's all for the best,'" Cowan said.Former Humanist Society president Ron Herman said he founded the group a year ago as a reaction to the open manner in which President Bush discusses his faith.
"There are about 10 active members, but we have a mailing list that includes 60 people," he said.Herman said he aims to recruit more students willing to speak out for minority rights as humanists. There are more of them than one might think, Herman said.
"If you're a skeptic and a freethinker, if you question authority and tradition, you're likely a humanist too," he said.
Cowan said he knows of numerous attempts by Christian leaders to justify natural disasters, such as tsunamis and earthquakes, by blaming victims and labeling them sinners. They rationalize such events so they don't have to face reality, he said.
Sophomore Abby Hernandez disagreed.
"They're trying to say that if you have faith, you're narrow-minded," she said. "I have respect for their right not to believe in God, but that doesn't mean they're free to put down all Christians."
Hernandez said she noticed the group's promotional fliers around campus.
"I think they're wrong, because it's obvious that God is there in the relief effort," she said. "He's there in the kindness of all the volunteers and average citizens who've sent their money.
"The overwhelming majority of charitable donations that went to the tsunami survivors were from Christian charities, she said.
Cowan said he's willing to admit religious groups have done some good but said Evangelical groups such as World Help attach conditions to their aid.
World Help had plans to raise Muslim orphans in Christian homes squelched by Indonesian officials, he said.
"They were going to bring 300 tsunami orphans to be raised in Christian homes," Cowan said. "It's in bad taste to attempt to convert people in a time of tragedy."
Hernandez said science can't explain everything.
"It doesn't matter if you help because you think God wants you to or because you think it's your duty as a human, as long as you help," Hernandez said.
This protest seems like much ado about nothing. I hate it when people seek out ways to be offended.