Just a day after the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a prominent public figure had the reason for the tragedy all figured out, declaring it to be a “heavenly punishment” on the people of Japan. But the pronouncement didn’t emanate from Virginia Beach, Colorado Springs, Nashville or any other hotbed of American Christianity but rather from Tokyo, Japan, from the mouth of its controversial and colorful governor, Shintaro Ishihara.

Michael Kinsley once famously defined a gaffe as “when a politician tells the truth,” and despite his subsequent apology, the fact that a nominally Buddhist politician based in a mostly secular but nominally Buddhist/Shinto majority nation is even thinking such thoughts speaks to something of the universal feeling that most human beings seem to have amidst such tragedies– that God or the gods express their displeasure with us by sending calamities.

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