So a month or two ago I went to the Christian Union at my university to get a bit of an insight, and hopefully to interact with people via debate. The topic was “Why does God allow natural disasters?” which I thought they may have a hard time justifying.

The first thing I noticed was just how popular the Christian Union was. I don’t know how many were like me, only there for observation and disagreement, but there were far more people than chairs. This slightly unnerved me, as religion is routinely shown to be fairly unpopular in the UK. Perhaps we still have a way to go.

The speaker gets up to the stage and the first thing he does is disagree with the ‘Pat Robertson’ approach – in other words he says that these disasters are not punishment from god for sins or dealing with the devil. Interesting, I thought – at least this won’t be some kind of ultra-fundamentalist argument which will result in me being thrown out due to anger.

However, whilst his first argument was slightly less overtly immoral, is was nonetheless vacuous. He claimed that natural disasters are required as part of the workings of our world – they are merely part of the process of the natural world. He is of course correct – but let me tell you something about omnipotence. Omnipotence means you can do anything. His god isn’t just doing the best with the tools he had, he wasn’t forced to use the framework for a planet that included earthquakes in inconvenient areas. An omnipotent god could create a fully-functioning world without natural disasters.

His other argument essentially boiled down to “money is evil” – which as an aside I rather like as being much truer to Christianity than certain denominations which have become so entwined with the political right that they have become ‘Churches of the Free Market and Jesus Christ’ – but let me explain: his idea was that if you looked at (to use his example) the 2004 tsunami, you would see that places like Thailand you would see a heavy effect, whilst places like Burma did not – this was due to the mangrove swamps around the coast being removed in places like Thailand in order to provide beaches for tourists. This, he claimed was bad – the Thai people’s greed (and he then went on in a slightly humourous manner to say how they exhibited all the seven deadly sins – every one of which boiled down to greed for money, which rather defeats the purpose of having seven) meant that they had destroyed the natural barriers god provided simply in order to make money.

Leaving for a moment the ridiculous notion of claiming that Burma is better than it’s neighbours (a country run by a military dictatorship that does not encourage tourism in any appreciable way), this is unbelievable. His argument basically boils down to “don’t try and make a living”. The idea that one should be punished (even by proxy) simply for trying to make one’s country prosperous and less like Junta-led Burma appalls me, frankly.

Unfortunately, no questions were had as he’d overrun on the time. Of my fellow students, no-one was really prepared to fully agree with the speaker once I had put my concerns to them (I find that Christians – or at least liberal Christians – tend to attempt to excuse away immorality of religion rather than simply condemning it or accepting it), so I didn’t get a good answer.

Perhaps someone else can enlighten me as to why the world’s poor must be required to undergo hardship like no other?