Dont call tsunami divine punishment &mdash our faith has heart

A shockingly large number of Christian and Islamic leaders agree that the tsunami was a punishment from God for human sin.

The sins in question are the subject of some dispute. But all agree that homosexuality tops the list.

“These great tragedies and collective punishments that are wiping out villages, towns, cities and even entire countries,” said influential Saudi cleric Sheik Fawzan al-Fawzan, “are Allah’s punishments.

“We know that at these resorts, which unfortunately exist in Islamic and other countries in south Asia, and especially at Christmas, fornication and sexual perversion of all kinds are rampant. We must fight fornication and homosexuality.”

Yup. Those gays will even get you drowned in a giant tidal wave.

The point was reemphasized by Catholic spokeswoman Jennifer Geroux in two debates I had with her on MSNBC, when she said that the tsunami was a result of abortion and homosexuality in the United States.

The Rev. Pat Robertson, who was in the TV debate with us, predicted that the tsunami would soon be eclipsed by an even bigger disaster in the form of a giant asteroid plunging into the oceans of the earth.

Of course, this is not the first time homosexuals have been blamed for mass deaths. Immediately following 9/11, the Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed gays, lesbians and abortion advocates for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Speaking on “The 700 Club,” Falwell said: “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. … I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle … I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’"

For my part, I do not know why God allows the murder of innocents. But I do know that it takes tsunami-sized chutzpah on the part of Islamic and Christian clerics to claim to know the mind of God, and to claim that 150,000 people whom they never met were so sinful and evil that they merited extermination by drowning.

The specter of Islamic and Christian clerics coming to the faithful in their greatest moment of sorrow and robbing them even of the dignity of victimhood is deeply troubling.

Has religion no heart? Will we tell parents, even as they bury their children, that their sins caused the deaths of their young? Is not the purpose of religion to provide strength and comfort?

But even more frightening than how cruel and misguided these Islamic and Christian clerics can be is the possibility that they may be right.

Could it really be that God punishes with no sense of proportionality? Is a God who wipes out thousands of innocent children because adults in their vicinity practice homosexuality really to be worshipped?

And would a God who uses Osama bin Laden as an instrument of His will really be deserving of praise?

Whereas Islam means “submission to God” and Christianity advocates that its adherents take “a leap of faith,” the word Yisrael means “he who wrestles with God.”

Jews are taught to fight God in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice.

Whereas Christianity and Islam always seek, in the face of human suffering, to vindicate God and implicate man, Judaism indicts God for the suffering of innocents and demands that He halt the affliction.

We are commanded not to murder and not to sit idly by the blood of our neighbor. It makes no difference whether it is man or God who is doing the killing.

Our moral imperative is not to rationalize suffering, but to end it.

Thus, Abraham warns God against the infamy of destroying the innocent along with the guilty. When informed that even the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah will be exterminated, he thunders: “Shall the judge of the whole earth not practice justice?”

When Moses is sent to deliver the Jews from Egypt but their workload ends up being increased instead, he points an accusatory finger at God: “Lord, why have you dealt ill with this people?”

And later, when informed by the Almighty that He intended to devour the Jewish nation for idolizing the golden calf, Moses demands that if God will not forgive the people, “Blot me out, I pray you, from the book which you have written.”

To challenge God is not blasphemous but the ultimate act of devotion. In so doing we affirm our belief that God controls the world, that He is good, and demand that He fulfill his promise to His creatures that they be granted life and blessing.

To claim that innocent people suffer because they are in reality sinful is to commit blasphemy by indicting God’s guiltless children.

The Bible declares that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.”

The human imperative is not to reckon with God’s secrets but to promote those values that He conveyed as being supreme, leading with the defense of human life.

Judaism sees death, illness and suffering as aberrations in creation. Suffering is not redemptive and affliction is not cleansing.

In Judaism, unlike in Christianity, nobody needs to die in order to bring about atonement for sin. Man’s mission is not to make peace with pain and await a better existence in the afterlife. Rather, we seek to perfect this world by filling in for God whenever He chooses to be overtly absent.

At the risk of offending my Muslim and Christian colleagues, I fully affirm that any doctor, even an atheist, who struggles to cure AIDS and save life is doing far more Godly work than a cleric who sacrilegiously asserts that the disease is a divine affliction for sexual sin.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s newest book is “Face Your Fear: Living With Courage in an Age of Caution.” This article appeared previously in The Jerusalem Post.