The sweeping devastation and intense horror wrought by the south Asia tsunami will shake the faith of many "believers". How could a God, or some other force for good, have orchestrated a natural disaster with such dreadful consequences?
The Archbishop of Canterbury said it would be odd to expect God to intervene
Here, believers from the Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist faiths, and an atheist, explain how they have come to terms with the events in south Asia.
HINDU - RANI MOORTHY
The tsunami brings into question both personal and collective destinies for Hindus. In terms of the latter, we are born in an age of destruction, known as Kali Yuga, an age that lasts for perhaps 1,000 years. This says that we must go through a series of set-backs, obstacles, suffering, eg Aids, and a propensity for natural disasters as nature shows its malevolent side. Mankind goes through this to be renewed.
As for my personal destiny, there is no central text in Hinduism as there is in other religions so it's up to each of us to formulate our own understanding, based on the Brahman - the divine - and the belief that all of us will one day escape the endless cycle of birth and death and be returned to our maker. My belief is that I am connected to all humans and so while I grieve for those that have died in the tsunami, I don't feel sorry for them because they are part of me and part of the divine. Their deaths are a manifestation of karma, the debits and credits you amass through your series of lives.
CHRISTIAN - PAUL CHITNIS
In this litigious age we are always looking for someone to blame and in the absence of anyone else we look to blame God because it is a "natural" event. It's quite clear the world is riddled with inequality but I don't accept the idea that God is sitting up there mischievously tweaking the strings. In the case of the tsunami, we as Christians are challenged to live out our response. We know that Jesus is among us, living through this reality because he said whatever you do to your brothers and sisters, you do to me. By the same token, what you fail to do to them, you fail to do to Jesus. Until now at least, we have not been found wanting in our response. Christian churches have been among those at the forefront of the relief effort.
BUDDHIST - LAMA OLE NYDAHL
We all die, sooner or later. Some have conditions for living long lives and some for short lives. That is your karma - the total effect of one's actions and conduct. What might have precipitated the tsunami was a lot of people coming together who had the karma for a short life and, to an extent, this is perhaps a reflection that these areas were over-populated.
The scale of the tragedy has caused some to question their faith
The shifting of tectonic plates is inevitable, but fewer people in the areas affected would have led to a much smaller loss of life. When watching the TV news, reading the papers or thinking about the tsunami, we are thinking about the Buddha we like the best - perhaps the Red Buddha, the Buddha of limitless light. We do this so that when those who died in the disaster wake up from the shock of dying - we believe it takes about three days to do so - they will be sent up to the Buddha we have in mind. Buddhists think the mind is indestructible so, after a while, if one wants to and is able, they will have the choice to take rebirth in society as beings who help others.
Buddha taught to remove the causes of suffering and Buddhists are today gladdened by the worldwide outpouring of compassion for those struck by the Tsunami. May this humanistic impulse stay strong and find practical ways to benefit beings also into the future.
MUSLIM - IQBAL SACRANIE
It is the teaching of Islam that it is through the will of God Almighty that this has happened but then the positive side is the way mankind has reacted. People will question why it is taking place, why the enormity of loss of human life, but it is that aspect which is beyond us and it is our firm belief that any such disaster, anything of that nature happening, is through the will of God Almighty. Allah knows best.
We certainly have the right to question. It's a time for us to really think of ourselves, our deeds, our acts, and we need to ponder over this. It's a sign that none of us are going to live for an indefinite period, therefore it is a sign for us to do something very positive. Death always takes place. When a person is born one thing guaranteed is death but what form it takes is always beyond us. People of faith need to have a very firm belief in God Almighty, that at the end of the day it is through his will and it is for the betterment of mankind at large.
ATHEIST - HANNE STINSON
Religion cannot provide an explanation for the tsunami, and while prayer for the victims may comfort those who pray, it will not provide practical help to the people whose lives have been devastated by this appalling disaster. Science can explain earthquakes and tsunamis, even if we are still unable to predict where and when they will happen. Our response to this and other disasters, as compassionate human beings and regardless of our religious or non-religious beliefs, must be to provide whatever help we can.
Faith in god does not protect people from disasters or give the victims what they need to survive and rebuild their lives. We need to accept responsibility for our fellow human beings. We need to put our efforts into practical ways of preventing disasters when we can, preparing for disasters that cannot be prevented, including investing in early warning systems for tsunamis, and helping those affected by disasters. We cannot rely on any god to solve the world's problems. We - the people of the world - are humanity's only hope.
Rani Moorthy is an actress and writer; Paul Chitnis is chief executive of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund; Lama Ole Nydahl is a teacher of Diamond Way Buddhism; Iqbal Sacranie is the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain; Hanne Stinson is executive director of the British Humanist Association.
Here is a selection of your comments. Thank you for contributing to the discussion.
A Buddhist perspective on the tsunami
"The tsunami reminds Buddhists of the simple fact that life is unpredictable and inevitably involves suffering of various kinds. The Buddha taught that some of life's unpleasantness is caused by one's own actions, some by other people, and some by natural events which have nothing to do with human actions.
Since Buddhists do not believe in a creator God, we cannot see the tsunami as an act of God, or as a punishment. It was not the result of global warming, so we are not to blame for it.
The causes of this tragedy lie simply in the realm of geology. Any meaning for Buddhists may be found in the opportunities it provides to express and develop the Buddha-like qualities of fearless compassion, wisdom and generosity, towards the bereaved, the destitute and the orphaned."
Munisha, Member of the Western Buddhist Order, Manchester UK
Natural and other disasters happen in this world NOT because God wills or plans them; God simply KNOWS that they will happen.
LJ German, Malta
I believe that God has everything in hands and that He permitted this disaster to happen in order to punish human beings for their sins and for not believing in His Son Jesus that will come back soon to judge us all according to our deeds. So I believe that we have to give these events the proper attention to avoid them happening again.
George Tudor, Romania
With regard to the world's problems religion is part of the problem and not the solution. I am not an atheist, or a humanist, I am simply a person, and it is people acting together because they want to that will relieve poverty, hunger and inequality in this world.
Tim, Birmingham, UK
I am a Muslim but I feel that whenever a natural disaster strikes a poor country the loss of life is enormous but a similar disaster taking place in a rich country the loss comparatively is very small. I always ask why God is playing games with the lives of the poor?
M. Rashid Diwan, UK
I am a Christian, a Catholic for that matter, and I cannot replace my faith with anything and still remain myself. I am myself because I believe in the Christian God manifested by Jesus Christ.
I am at a loss to understand the logic, reason or any justification for the Tsunami disaster being allowed to happen by any righteous Being. Can you help. I cannot abandon my Christian faith and still remain being myself, I can't.
Cyprian Lunga, Russia
The tremendous response to this disaster shows to me that there is good in the world, and where there is good, there is God - whichever faith you express your beliefs through. We are all temporary inhabitants of a majestic and wonderful earth, which we should learn to respect and nurture. Unfortunately such disasters are inevitable in nature - we can only predict, plan for and respond to them. My thoughts are with the relatives of all those people who have been killed or injured; may they gain peace through whichever faith they choose to follow.
Paul King, UK
If as most religions seem to suggest, the conditions here on earth and our short lives have been set up by some god or other as a cruel and risky training camp for our souls...then I reject my ultimate salvation if it means the suffering of one single child or one grieving parent. Let us all stay unholy if it means no more suffering.
Stephen Jeffrey, England
I wish that we would not interpret these natural phenomena in terms of faith. The world would be a much better place with fewer religious interpretations. You can see this from the utter failure to expalin tragedies in the terms described in your article.
Harshad Bhadeshia, UK
It's painfully obvious to any person who has the freedom to think outside the constraints of man-made religions that all religions are about control ie. you ask us, the self-ordained conduits to the truth, and we will, by relieving you of the burden of individual mental effort, absolve you of the responsibility of making up your own mind. Total control = total conditioning!!!
Ron Reece, UK
As a Muslim I would say that by looking in the Tora, the Bible, the Quran and other holy scriptures, mass disasters and destructions have continued to happen on nations and the tsunami is no different and a reflection is needed on society and our way of life. As god says, I send things down on you as a warning so that you may ponder and change your ways.
Thank goodness for the mighty Atheist, both sensible and (most important of all) USEFUL.
Dave Gibbon, USA
From a Muslim point of view I agree with Iqbal Sacranie, we must remember our goals in life - for death can strike at any time and we won't be prepared for it.
Usayd Younis, UK
To hear religious people trying to explain away devastation as the will of god or a test of faith - frankly, it's pathetic. Earthquakes are natural events, there is no god. It is truly sad and amazing that so many find the truth, no matter how obvious, hard to accept.
Phil, Newcastle, UK
I would love to know why it is, that when confronted by a disaster such as this, God is not responsible. If a wonderful event occurs clearly he is to be thanked. Is it the case that the Christian God is like a child, and for that reason cannot be blamed for this? If he created all with a plan, then obviously he has caused this.
Victoria Finney, UK
Humans were given free will to use. Unfortunately it is too often abused. Tragedies like this are down to mankind and the response of humanity by the majority will help to come to terms and exercise our greatest instinct which is survival.
Tim McMahon, Pennar, Wales
It doesn't matter that one religion believes it was an Act of Judgement or another believes it to be part of the never ending, always changing cirlce of life. What matters is that people just continue to HAVE faith - to believe that everything happens for a reason, whether religious or not, and if faith in a god is beyond you, simply believe in the human spirit. This last week has proved without doubt that the human spirit is a strong and hopeful creature and that by finally banding together with a common purpose can we create a world where beliefs and faith s are tolerated and used to raise our awareness. And in case anyone is wondering, I'm a Pagan.
Jane Gorton, UK