Tuesday, June 03, 2008

God, Buddhism and Tsunami

God, Buddhism and the Tsunami
The recent tsunami, the greatest natural disaster in living memory, has given rise to a great deal of soul-searching, not to say ‘theological’ searching. People are struggling to explain the disaster within the context of their religious beliefs. The English papers in Singapore have published several articles and letters on this issue, so far only from the Christian perspective. I would like to make a contribution to this discussion from the Buddhist point of view. There are two sides of this issue - the first is how religions respond to terrible disasters. In this sense we see that all the world religions have much in common. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Taoists have opened their hearts and their wallets to help the afflicted without regard to their religious affiliations. Buddhists have helped Muslims who have assisted Christians who have helped Hindus.
The second aspect of this issue is how religions explain the tsunami. In this sense there is little agreement between the different religions. In the Straits Times,1st January, Andy Ho wrote an article called ‘Where God was When the Tsunami Struck?’ and on the 9th January it ran an article by Tan Tarn called ‘Evil? No Way, Come Hell and High Water’. Both authors say that disasters like the tsunami cast doubts on the notion that there is a benevolent God. Thus they have raised very legitimate moral and philosophical doubts that have existed ever since people started believing in God. On the 29th January, Edmond Chew wrote to the Straits Times trying to answer the questions raised by Ho and Tarn and also to give his explanation of why God would let the tsunami happen.

Chew’s explanation is a simple one. ‘Actually, the simple reason why God allows evil is that if He did not, then a lot of good would be lost.’ In support of this opinion he quotes Thomas Aquinas; ‘If there is no evil there is no God. For there would be no evil, if the order of goodness were taken away…’ And again; ‘Hence many good things would be taken away if God permitted no evil to exist; for fire would not be generated if air was not corrupted, nor would the life of a lion be preserved unless the ass were killed.’

I would like to examine Chew’s argument from the Buddhist perspective. Continue reading...

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