CBCP Online carries Bishop Teodoro Bacani's admonition to Sulpicio Shipping Lines to "stop blaming God" for the tragedy that befell its 23,000 ton Princess of the Stars ferry:
MANILA, June 26, 2008—When an accidental death occurs or weather disaster injures or kills people, is it fair to classify such troubling events as deliberate acts of God?
Certainly not, said a Roman Catholic bishop as he urged Sulpicio Lines to stop blaming God for the sinking of the ill-starred Princess of the Stars off Sibuyan Island in Romblon province on Saturday.
Novaliches Bishop-Emeritus Teodoro Bacani claimed the tragedy that killed hundreds of people fall under one of two categories—time and chance and human error.
He said God, or some other force for good, cannot orchestrate a natural disaster with such dreadful consequences.
Bacani said in this litigious age people are always looking for someone to blame and in the absence of anyone, people tend to blame God because the tragedy was a result of a “natural” event.
It’s quite clear the world is riddled with inequality but the bishop doesn’t accept that God is sitting up there mischievously tweaking the strings.
In the case of the latest maritime disaster, Bacani said it is usually the result of being at the wrong place or in the wrong situation at the wrong time.
He said the tragedy could have been prevented if only the authorities and the vessel officials made a “better judgment” during a raging typhoon.
For the bishop, the ship should have not been allowed to cruise because of the bad weather.
“That is not an ‘act of God.’ That is a human error,” Bacani said in an interview over Church-run Radyo Veritas on Thursday.
“Lives of many people were really at risk at that time. The trip should have been cancelled,” he also said.
Bacani called on officials of Sulpicio Lines to “reflect” first whether the tragic event was an “act of God” or an “act of human imprudence.”
He said people should be more vigilant in examining themselves, admitting their weaknesses and mending in their own ways.
“As we do, we’ll start to see that God has been much fairer with us than we could have ever imagined,” Bacani said. (Roy Lagarde)
Now in fairness to Bishop Bacani, he does allow that this event occurred due to either "time and chance" and/or human error, and though he appears to blame the event on the latter category, he is giving Sulpicio the benefit of the doubt in the former, since "time and chance" would appear to be equivalent to "accident."
But I want to raise some theological or philosophical questions that the good Catholic Bishop's statements have provoked in my own mind.
According to the article, "God, or some other force for good, cannot orchestrate a natural disaster with such dreadful consequences." Also the Bishop does not accept that "God is sitting up there mischievously tweaking the strings."
I wonder if the Bishop means to suggest by this that perhaps it was some other force, like the Dark Force, the opposite of El Shaddai, that orchestrated a natural disaster with such dreadful consequences. Perhaps it was Satan who mischievously tweaked the strings of the weather and brought about those dreadful consequences.
It's a rhetorical possibility, but accepting that would only beg a further question. Why did not the Force for Good not get up from the sitting position and stand up to the Force for Evil in order to thwart the dreadful consequences of the Other's mischievous actions?
It brings up the broader question that was the subject of a Conference on Science and Religion that I attended a few years back at the Ateneo's East Asian Pastoral Institute on "divine action in historical time" -- whether God indeed directly interferes with the Laws of Nature and changes history through miracles and direct involvement with the affairs of men.
The answer to this according to the Catholic religion is YES. Divine Action is evident, sez the Church, at several decisive moments of history--for example when He/She/It created the world some 8,000 years ago (if you believe the calculus of Bishop Ussher) and when he founded the Holy Catholic Church by sending down his only begotten Son to take away the Sin of the World, a lil more than 2,000 years ago. And of course, numerous miracles through the intercession of the Virgin Mother of His Son, and the 10,000 or so very special human beings called Saints (most of whom just happen to be Italians, for some strange reason, despite Pope John Paul II's strenuous efforts at holy roman egalitarianism).
It would seem therefore that the God of Good being described by Bishop Bacani is highly selective about when, where and on whose behalf He momentarily suspends the Laws of Nature (which he presumably controls with theocratic supremacy). Otherwise, we would be forced to conclude that the good Bishop is committing a patent act of Deistic heresy since the Catholic teaching is that sometimes He does benedightly tweak the strings to prevent dreadful consequences of one kind or another or to cause some good thing to occur.
What criteria if any the Deity uses to decide if or when to take Divine Action is of course part of the enduring and obscure mysteries of the infallible Catholic magisterium. Perhaps He just rolls some dice and it just so happens that throw during last week Sulipicio Lines came up snake eyes?
Please notice that the Bishop, perhaps unintentionally did call the event "a natural disaster." He has to, of course, in order to absolve God of conjuring up the tremendous meteorological forces that created Typhoon Feng Shen, as well as to reject any supposition on the part of heathens like me that the weather might be in the mischievous hands of the Other Force.
But he also insists that this was a case of "human error" -- not of Divine cruelty or negligence, that the tragedy could have been averted if we would only more carefully examine ourselves, admit our weaknesses and repent of our sins, we would discover that “As we do, we’ll start to see that God has been much fairer with us than we could have ever imagined.”
There you see, those seven hundred plus drowned souls really had it coming to them, in the infallibly fair judgment of the Force for Good we call God, because Sulpicio Shipping Lines made a human error and did not properly mind the Mind of Yahweh.
Speaking of which, this commercial for Yes HDTV in Israel is making it big on YouTube