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God’s Role in Natural Disasters

Sponsor: Religion News Service/Public Religion Research Institute
Released: 2011-03

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Most Americans believe in a personal God who is in control of everything that happens in the world — fairly standard orthodox theological affirmations –- but they resist drawing a straight line from those beliefs to God’s direct role or judgment in natural disasters.

7-in-10 Americans see God as a person with whom one can have a relationship, and a majority (56%) say God is in control of everything that happens in the world. However, less than 4-in-10 (38%) believe earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters are a sign from God; and even fewer (29%) believe that God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some of its citizens.

The one exception to this pattern is found among white evangelical Protestants. Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) white evangelicals also believe that natural disasters are a sign from God. Only about one-third of Catholics (31%) and white mainline Protestants (34%) believe natural disasters are a sign from God.A majority (53%) of white evangelicals believe that God punishes nations for the sins of its citizens–a view held by just 1-in-5 white mainline Protestants and Catholics.

Americans are more likely to attribute the increased severity of natural disasters to global climate change than to signs of apocalyptic biblical prophecy.

Only about 1-in-5 (18%) Americans say seeing innocent people suffer sometimes causes them to have doubts about God.

Most Americans have heard about the earthquake and Tsunami that hit Japan, and overwhelming numbers support government providing financial assistance despite the current economic climate.