“Disaster and the Rhetoric of Sacrifice” by Yuki Miyamoto

Nearly two weeks have passed since a catastrophic earthquake and violent tsunami devastated northeastern Japan. Officials are struggling to calculate the still-mounting death toll and to assess the full scope of destruction, while efforts to avert meltdowns at crippled nuclear power plants intensify. Natural disasters, so often worsened by human failures, activate our religious imaginations.

Too often in times of crisis explicit religious expressions are appalling. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina stimulated an outpouring of hateful sentiment; the hurricane was deemed by some to be God’s punishment for homosexuality in New Orleans. In 2010, Pat Robertson infamously attributed the earthquake in Haiti to the Haitians’ “pact with the Devil.” Now, in connection with Japan’s current plight, right-wing firebrand Glenn Beck has speculated that the quake and tsunami were a “message from God.” To this he added, with telling ambiguity, that he is not “saying” that God caused the earthquake, but also not “not saying” it.

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