The Arrogance of the Miraculous

This past Tuesday, a DC-9 jetliner crashed on takeoff in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After failing to lift off, the plane crashed and burst into flame on the ground. Among the passengers were the Mosiers, a family of Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries. With the help of other passengers, they forced open a door and escaped as smoke filled the stricken plane’s cabin. The Mosiers’ 3-year-old son Andrew suffered a broken leg, but other than that, they got out with only bruises. Surely, this was a miraculous escape – a tangible sign of God’s supernatural protection – and the Mosiers didn’t hesitate to affirm that belief:

“We couldn’t believe that our family of four could all escape a plane that was crashed and on fire, but by God’s mercy, we did,” he said.

Mosier said he believes the family made it for a reason.

“I think the Lord has a plan for us, otherwise we wouldn’t have survived,” he said. “He still has work for us to do.”

There’s just one tiny little problem with this interpretation. After failing to lift off, the plane overshot the end of the runway and crashed through a fence, into a crowded marketplace. Most of those on board the plane got out, but the people on the ground had not been expecting a huge mass of tangled, flaming metal to suddenly come hurtling towards them. The market was decimated, and at least 40 people died.

Read those sappy, self-congratulatory quotes again. The missionaries made it out by God’s mercy. God has a plan for them. He miraculously saved them from this catastrophe.

Now read the accounts of people on the ground:

Hundreds of people gathered at the morgue in Goma. Annemarie Mulotwa, 19, leaned against a wall and wept for her young nephew, Kikuni.

“I saw his body inside, he is dead, he was burned,” Mulotwa said, covering her face with her hands. “He was 12 years old, he was only in primary school. He wasn’t even on the plane.”

Mary Rose Kiza, 33, said she watched as her 15-year-old son ran out of a shop, his clothes and body on fire. She does not know if her three other sons were alive.

“What have I done to God to deserve this?” she wailed outside the morgue, after leaving a hospital bed where she was treated for back injuries.

Apparently, God’s mercy protected the family of white American missionaries on board the plane, but God did not have mercy on the 12-year-old boy who was burned to death. Evidently, God had no particular plan for the lives of the dozens of people in the marketplace, nor did he have any reason for them to continue living, so there was no reason for him not to violently kill them in a sudden, unexpected disaster. This view makes us all out to be God’s toys, to be used as he sees fit while we’re useful and then thrown away without a second thought when we’re no longer useful. Don’t these missionaries see the grotesque arrogance and ugly narcissism of believing that they rated God’s special protection, while the people burning and dying all around them did not?

In the real world, there are no demonstrable miracles, and in catastrophes like this one, blind chance rules the day. The lack of any tangible evidence that a deity is protecting his followers makes it even more offensive for people to claim that their survival was due to some special worthiness or virtue. A humbler, more ethical philosophy would refrain from drawing any conclusions about the relative moral worth of those who survived versus those who didn’t, and simply express happiness to be alive without demeaning those who were not so fortunate.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.