Natural disasters and human reaction

Anthony Grayling is as ever on the ball when it comes to the question of divine non-intervention and the incompetence and/or immorality of a god who allows his children to suffer. However, with all due respect for the philosopher, Grayling appears not to understand the motivations of those who come together in places of worship following disastrous events.

Praying for the repose of lost souls and recovery of survivors is certainly one of reasons why churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are filled following tragic events, often by those who would normally never set foot in them. But as a former Christian within a liberal-catholic tradition, I can safely speak for at least some believers when I say that appeals to the divine are only part of the story. Assembling in temples of religion is at root an act of human community and communion, in which we realise that we are more than the sum of our parts. The closest one comes to purely secular liturgies are humanist funerals and naming ceremonies.

Does it help in the aftermath of natural disasters for the non- and anti-religious to comment on the benevolence or malevolence of deities? Better in my view to draw together and express love and solidarity for our brothers and sisters, even if for whatever reason this appears as a tokenistic act. And if, in a world which remains in part religious, that means putting up with a few prayers and hymns, and tolerating “incoherent fictions”, then so be it. Community is preferable to isolation.

Hat tip for picture: Terry Glavin