Atheists tend to whine (about miracles). They happen too often and not nearly enough. They are far too small and insignificant — like stigmata — and far too cosmic and looming — like the existence of the Universe. They have the annoying habit, as Hitchens pointed out, of largely happening to Catholics. They disdain to take place in climate-controlled, clinical studies, and in general, behave with total disregard for the atheist’s feelings.
We’ve all heard the complaint. Perhaps we’ve made it: “If God really wanted me to believe in him, He’d show me he existed! He’d rip open the skies, drop down and tell me: ‘I exist Joe! Therefore, stop smoking weed and posting YouTube videos, it offends my artistic sensibilities, and verily so.'”
So we pray that wonderfully self-contradicting prayer, “God, who I don’t believe exists, prove to me you exist!” And when God makes no response, but instead has the audacity to remain on his cumulus throne, smiting gays and forbidding drinking, we settle back into our sofas and smile, happy that “Well, we tried!” (This, of course, is supremely logical, akin to calling “Dad!” from your living room and, upon hearing no response, concluding you have no Father, but were in fact spawned from the elements of earth.) Off gallop we to L’internet, feverishly assembling a Tumblr post making fun of fundamentalist Christians for believing in God based on a singular, personal experience.
All of which misses the point. If it takes a miracle to make you believe in God, your belief could only ever be miraculous; never your own. Joe could not reject God after such an event any more than he could reject the weather. And without the possibility of rejection there exists no possibility of Love, a fact which the atheist, in his pious fear and trembling, always forgets, that God’s aim is not simply that we believe in Him — it is that we love Him. No miracle in the universe is performed without regards to this Love — no miracle ever was and no miracle ever will be. So please, my dearest, most fabulously good-looking atheistic hipsters, save yourself some time, stop with the “God — who I hate — prove to me that you are real — which I hope you’re not — and I’ll believe in you — but probably won’t be down with all your weird laws–thanks,” and read St. Thomas Aquinas instead.
After all, the Christian does not base his faith on inexplicable occurrences, but on good reasoning, and perhaps a little existentialism. It is always fascinating to me that the atheist assumes he will take pride of place within Christianity, were he ever to believe. He “tests” the claim of religion with the following mentality: “Of course you peasant Christians had to study philosophy, struggle with doubt, and live the sacramental life, but if I am to believe in God, it will be because He made a cow levitate around my head, and subsequently bought me an aaa-reo-plane.”
Of course, what’s really miraculous is the belief that miracles are impossible. On this point the heathen is the real priest of our age, the great mystic who baffles the common people with inexplicable revelations from Holy Science. “Pigs cannot fly,” he says.
“Why not?” the ignorant Christian rejoins.
“Because of the laws of physics.”
“What are those?”
“Laws we make based on common occurrences. Because pigs have not flown every time we’ve observed them, we can safely assume pigs never fly.”
“But pigs flying would be an uncommon occurrence.”
“So what you’re saying is that the uncommon occurrence of pigs flying is impossible because commonly, pigs do not. That which is unlikely is impossible, because it is unlikely.”
“Yeth.” The atheist inexplicably developed a lisp.
“What is it that makes a pig go on not-flying?”
“You must not like quantum physics.”
“No, I do. After all, I am an atheith.”
(It is very easy to win debates with atheists when you get to narrate them.) But all of this you know. What is truly interesting is that even were a miracle to occur according to atheistic standards, it would hardly convince the New Atheist. Modern atheism at its heart is not a search for truth; it is a philosophy invented for the purpose of justifying immorality. The atheists of my generation would only believe the Writing on the Wall if it spelled out “I’m cool with porn now.”
Seriously, what would it take? 1. The miracle would have to be obviously miraculous. No Virgin Mary’s on grilled-cheese, please. 2. There would have to be witnesses. How many? A hundred? Two hundred? Whatever, let’s go crazy — 30,000 to 40,000 witnesses. But they couldn’t all be Christians, right? It could be a really big lie, like the Bible. So 3. we’d need atheists in the crowd. Check. And 4. we need doctors, lawyers, and news reporters all in confirmed agreement, for peasants are easily fooled. 5. It couldn’t be random, it would have to be prophesied in religious terms, less some scientific marvel bedazzle us. 6. And it should be recent, oh yes, so there exists no possibility of a big game of Telephone, within the last 100 years, at least. Would that do it?
It happened. The Miracle of the Dancing Sun occurred in 1917, in Fatima, Portugal, to a crowd of 30,000 to 40,000 witnesses, including scientists, atheists and reporters. They gathered because three shepherd children claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary said a miracle would occur. The best explanation I’ve found for the event is that staring at the sun for too long dazzles the eyes. I went out and stared at the sun, and was unimpressed by the theory, given Dr. Almeida Garrett, Professor of Natural Sciences at Coimbra University’s description of the event, that “the sun’s disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl, when suddenly a clamor was heard from all the people. The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.” All other explanations seem to go along these lines, “Well stuff like this happens whenever a bunch of religious people get together and expect it.” Yes. Yes it does. But all this doesn’t matter. As far as I can tell, for a miracle to convince an atheist, it must convince an atheist. That’s what it boils down to. The atheist judges God by the almighty standards of himself. For a miracle to be true, the atheist must believe it.