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God’s Hand? 44% of Americans See Natural Disasters as Sign of End Times

Posted on: March 28, 2011

According to just over half of Americans, God is in control of everything that happens on Earth. But slightly fewer are willing to blame an omnipotent power for natural disasters such as Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

A new poll finds that 56 percent of Americans agree or mostly agree that God is in control of all Earthly events. Forty-four percent think that natural disasters are or could be a sign from the Almighty. The fire-and-brimstone version of a vengeful God is even less popular in America: Only 29 percent of people felt that God sometimes punishes an entire nation for the sins of a few individuals.

Nonetheless, the desire to turn to God for an explanation after a disaster is a widespread human urge, said Scott Schieman, a sociologist at the University of Toronto who studies people’s beliefs about God’s influence on daily life.

“There’s just something about the randomness of the universe that is too unsettling,” Schieman told LiveScience. “We like explanations for why things happen … many times people weave in these divine narratives.” [Read At God We Rage: Anger at the Almighty Found to Be Common]

Deity of disaster

The poll surveyed a random sample of 1,008 adults in the continental United States in the few days after the Japanese disaster. The sample was weighted by age, sex, geographic region, education and race to reflect the entire population of U.S. adults.

The poll found that evangelical Christians are more likely to see disasters as a sign from God than other religious faiths. Of white evangelicals, 59 percent said disasters are or could be a message from the deity, compared with 31 percent of Catholics and 34 percent of non-evangelical Protestants. The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 3 percent.

Forty-four percent of all Americans said that recent natural disasters could be a sign of the Biblical end times, with 67 percent of white evangelicals holding that view. (In comparison, 58 percent of Americans attributed recent severe natural disasters to global climate change, as did 52 percent of evangelicals.)

It makes sense that those who interpret the Bible more literally would link disasters to God, said David Foy, a psychologist at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles who has studied religious coping and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, Foy said, the poll should be interpreted with caution.

“They try to draw some conclusions between evangelicals and mainline Protestants and Catholics, and I don’t think they can do that from the data that they’ve got,” Foy told LiveScience. “[The poll participants] weren’t selected on those variables, and other things that could have influenced their responses weren’t controlled.”

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