Via email from Rohan Oberoi, here are two quotes I can’t resist sharing. First up, here’s Mahatma Gandhi, writing in 1934 in The Harijan:
When at Tinnevelly I first linked the event with untouchability, I spoke with the greatest deliberation and out of the fulness of my heart… To me the earthquake was no caprice of God nor a result of a meeting of mere blind forces. We do not know all the laws of God, nor their working… Visitations like droughts, floods, earthquakes and the like, though they seem to have only physical origins, are, for me, somehow connected with man’s morals. Therefore, I instinctively felt that the earthquake was a visitation for the sin of untouchability.
And now, Sharon Stone:
Well you know it was very interesting because at first, you know, I am not happy about the ways the Chinese were treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else. And so I have been very concerned about how to think and what to do about that because I don’t like THAT. And I had been this, you know, concerned about, oh how should we deal with the Olympics because they are not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine. And all these earthquake and stuff happened and I thought: IS THAT KARMA… when you are not nice that bad things happen to you?
Similar views were expressed after the 2004 tsunami as well: for example, Rajeev Srinivasan had wondered if it was “a caveat from Up There about the atrocities being visited on the Kanchi Acharya”. Needless to say, I find such views odious, a hijacking of the misery and death of thousands by individuals sanctimoniously pushing forward their own ideological agendas. (Some of those agendas may be worthy, but that’s not the point.)
Despite these quotes, of course, there is much I like about Gandhi—and Stone.
For more on earthquakes and religion, do check out this old piece by Martin Kettle: How can religious people explain something like this?