The Earthquake – Why?

The earthquake in Haiti has dominated the news this week. It is human nature to ask “why?” and “what does it mean?” and there have been a variety of responses: some logical, some spiritual, and some just willfully ignorant.

First things first. This earthquake has killed thousands and devastated millions. Real people are suffering – DO something. I’m giving to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, but there are numerous organizations that have the infrastructure to respond to a crisis like this and could use your help – if you don’t give to the UUSC, give somewhere.

And remember Haiti in your prayers, no matter how you pray.

But eventually, we have to answer the question that this event brings to those of us who call ourselves Pagans – how can you worship Nature when Nature does things like this? Most people asking those questions don’t think twice about worshipping a God who supposedly is in control of everything including earthquakes, but let’s leave them alone for now – their failure to answer this question for themselves doesn’t invalidate the question.

Why did this happen? There is only one answer that can be given with complete and honest certainty: we don’t know. As rational, scientific, post-Enlightenment Westerners, we think every question can and should be answered. They can’t. Mystics and honest religious practitioners have understood this since at least the Axial Age. And since we can’t know, we have to make a choice: do we believe that Life is good or not? Do we order our lives as though Life is a blessing and the joys are worth the sorrows that accompany them, or do we order our lives as though Life is suffering and must be escaped?

The essence of Paganism is that Life is good. The Charge of the Goddess, which is the closest thing there is to a universal creed of modern Paganism, says “Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in my presence, for mine is the ecstasy of the spirit, and mine also is joy on earth. For my law is love unto all beings.” Life contains suffering, but ultimately, the joys are worth the pain.

Once you accept that, something else becomes obvious – Life isn’t just about humans. The monotheistic religions in which our culture is grounded teaches that God made Man “in his image” (and if there was ever any doubt that men wrote the Bible, that should settle it!). Science has shown that we weren’t placed on the Earth, we grew out of the Earth – along with every other living thing on this planet. And if you subscribe to the Gaia Hypothesis (materially or spiritually or both), then the geological processes that cause earthquakes are just as much as part of Life as we are. The needs of humans must be balanced against the needs of plants, other animals, the atmosphere, the ground itself, and everything else on our planet and in our universe.

That’s a humbling concept that most people don’t like to consider. But the evidence tells me it’s true.

I do not accept the theory that says suffering exists in order to provide humans with opportunities for service and growth. But suffering does exist, and it does provide us with opportunities for service and growth. Give to the relief effort and remember the land and people of Haiti.

May we learn and grow as we help others in great need.

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  • "The monotheistic religions in which our culture is grounded teaches that God made Man “in his image” (and if there was ever any doubt that men wrote the Bible, that should settle it!)."

    And you think pre-monotheistic pagan religions didn't have similar or identical beliefs JohnFranc? Aren't most pagan gods just a tad anthropomorphic?

    BTW Real people are suffering all over the world, for all kinds of different reasons, ALL the time. DOing something is a great idea but why limit it to Haitian earthquake victims?

  • "Aren't most pagan gods anthropomorphic?" True, but not the point. The point was that the Bible was written by men and not dictated by God as some claim.

    "Real people are suffering all over the world … why limit it to the Haitian earthquake victims?" I think we intuitively recognize that a sudden, catastrophic disaster like this creates intense suffering in a way that day-in, day-out living in a crappy situation doesn't. And so we feel the need to respond.

    We can't save everyone – we can't help everyone. So we do what we can.

    My main purpose in including the call for contributions was that it seems at best unethical – if not downright exploitative – to be engaging in philosophical discussion about a disaster while the people of Haiti are still quite literally digging out. Call it pragmatic religion – asking "why?" is only human, but doing something to help is far more important.