Religious representatives debated Monday night whether modern day disasters are a divine punishment or natural occurrence at the fifth annual World Religions Conference at Red Deer College.
None of the men of various faiths — Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, aboriginal spirituality or Judaism — solely credited a greater being for these acts.
Islam representative Ataul Wahid LaHay was in fact the only speaker to say some calamities can be attributed to the hand of a higher power, as noted in the Qur’an.
“Islam does not believe that each and every accident of nature, disaster, upheaval or change for the worse is a reflection of divine punishment or chastisement,” the member of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’ said to the roughly 350 people in attendance.
“Nor is every divine punishment obtained by means of a natural disaster.”
LaHay explained that destructive mayhem is considered divine punishment if the event is foretold, made conditional, spares believers and annihilates evil ideologies.
Christianity representative Paul Vallee, a pastor, argued that God cannot complete evil acts that are not consistent with His good nature and therefore cannot be held accountable for disasters that range from floods to famines.
“It’s humanity sins that brings disasters into the world,” he said, then questioning why God does not stop such tumultuous events.
“God himself, he does utilize all these things in our lives to direct us back to him.”
Lyle W. Keewatin Richards, who spoke of aboriginal spirituality, agreed that world disasters are being created by humans who are not leading a balanced life.
“We are at a place where we’re taking far more than we’re giving back,” said the man born of a Cree mother. “We are changing this planet irrevocably. Whether or not it’s a natural disaster or whether it’s divine intervention, it’s irrelevant.”
Zvi Andrews Pardes, a masters student in religious studies, said Judaism does not ponder that which creates turmoil and instead focuses on a response to such events.
“There is an idea that suffering is reparative, that suffering has a role to play in your life,” he said. “A life with no suffering would involve no growing.”
Only Pliny Hayes, a practicing Buddhist for the past 30 years, denounced that natural disasters could be created by a divine being.
He relied on science to explain earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes, adding that Buddhists don’t believe in God (the Buddha, a human, was the “awakened one,” he said).
“These world calamities, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes, are perfectly predictable in time and space,” Hayes said. “They’re predictable because they’re caused by natural phenomena. The main point is what can we do, all of us, to help the people who are suffering?”
The World Religions Conference, held at the Arts Centre Mainstage at RDC, provides speakers the opportunity to discuss a topic in an attempt to dismiss any religious misunderstandings as well as to explore any similarities shared by different faiths.