After Surviving a Car Accident, God Doesn’t Need a Thank-You

Neece, a blogger at Heaving Dead Cats, got into a horrible car accident earlier this week:

She’s ok, for the most part. Minor injuries.

The car… not so much… but after something like that, the car is really the least of your worries.

But the reason I’m mentioning it here is because of how grateful she is toward everyone and everything that helped her get through the ordeal.

Turns out God isn’t on the list.

I thanked God and Jesus all the wonderful strangers who stopped and helped me when I was so shaken up; the truck driver who called 911 for me, the two guys who made sure cars didn’t have a bigger accident by directing traffic for about 25 minutes, and all the fire and other guys. And even the cop, who was very nice, didn’t grill me or make me nervous, and (most importantly) didn’t cite me (since it was just an Act of God unfortunate accident).

So I was standing there waiting for them to flip my car over and tow it, and for my friend to come pick me up so that I could help him with his project (yes, I still helped him out. But he bought me dinner with dessert, so it was all good, lol). And I realized, damn, this could have been so much worse and I took the time to count my blessings evaluate the good things.

I had my seatbelt on. If I hadn’t, I might have gotten half thrown out of the window, or otherwise seriously battered or even killed. The seatbelt did a great job to keep that all from happening. So I was grateful to seatbelt designers and makers.

When you find yourself surviving a bad accident with relatively few injuries, it’s easy to resort to supernatural thinking to explain why you were so lucky.

But it’s far more honest to thank the people who really played a role in keeping you safe. It’s almost jarring to see someone do it because it happens so rarely, but it’s good to know some people can keep their minds in the right place after going through a traumatic event like that.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Bo Tait

    Funny, I have been in two serious accidents without injury and 1 with severe injuries and I don’t remember once thanking god. And they all happened well before I realized I was an Atheist. For some people, that may have been used as an event to turn to god, but for me it never occurred that I should thank some mystical entity for surviving. 

    I guess it was just god’s plan that I become an Atheist….

    • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

      in some religious environments, they REALLY drill it into you to say “Thank God” and “Praise the Lord” for EVERYTHING. Years later and I still reflexively say it without thinking of the meaning, like we say “good morning.”

  • Travis Morgan

    If you were in a bad accident and survived, you weren’t really so lucky though. I mean, you were just in an frickn serious accident and could have died. That is unlucky.  Why in the hell thank a god who if he had the power to save you also had the power to prevent the accident but didn’t? He’s obviously just fckn with you. Thnks ashl for almost gettign me killed is more like it.

  • http://twitter.com/Remijdio Nick Johnson

    Never heard anyone say “Damn God!” after a friend of there’s died from a serious car accident either. Thank god for the good times and ignore him for the bad! Seems about right.

  • Guest

    Don’t forget to thank the lawmakers who forced car manufacturers to put seatbelts in the car, along with numerous other safety regulations!
    Score one for the “nanny” state.

    • Anonymous

      Additionally, don’t forget to thank the people who donated their bodies to science and were used as crash test dummies in order to perfect the engineering behind all of those safety features!

  • Danial

    A few years ago I was in a serious car accident, didn’t thank god, but I was thankful for the airbag which prevented my face from getting smashed up and especially the seat belt which stopped me from ejecting myself into the SUV I had just hit. 

  • Justin Miyundees

    I was in Redneckville Jawja for a goodly spell and happened upon this little scenario.  One of my student’s father was killed in a car accident and the child was nearly as well.  In fact, she came out far the lesser from the ordeal and suffice to say she won’t contribute to the family tree.  This was a wonderful child, so bright and loving and her father was torn out of her life – Mom, in jail, he was everything to her.  

    So I’m hanging out in the parking lot and hear some dumb redneck about three months later talking about his own recent brush with brush.  He had been in a well publicized, as EVERYTHING is in a small town, accident and it could well have cost him his life too, but he was thrown from the truck and landed safe and sound in a large cushion of briars.  Painful for sure, but it saved his life.

    What irritated the shit out of me was his comment that “God has a plan for me, that’s plain to see.”  How’s that for ego?  He knew the other event was still ringing in the ears of locals and I’m sure comparisons were made of the two events – that’s what pissed me off.  God has a plan for old dimwit here, but my student and her father – God said “screw’m”.

    What arrogant gall it takes to claim God preserved ME, but they think they’re being pious.  I don’t think it gets much plainer or much uglier than that.

  • Silo Mowbray

    A friend of mine is a firefighter.

    Years ago he attended the scene of a very bad multiple-vehicle accident on the highway. He was assigned to a car that had one occupant, a female who was suspected of having a fracture in her neck. The most important thing to do in such a situation is to immobilize the head and neck, but because there were so many other victims, the fire trucks didn’t have enough hard collars, so they had to wait for the ambulances to arrive to get extras.

    In cases like this, first responders are trained to get behind the victim and place their hands on their foreheads, and firmly holding the head in place. Come hell or high water, you do not remove your hands. If you do, the victim (if they do in fact have a neck fracture) could suffer damage to their neck that could paralyze or kill them – that’s how serious it is.

    So he’s in the back seat, behind this woman with his hands locked firmly in place. Anyone who’s taken this level of first aid knows how quickly tiring this is. You don’t get to move your elbows or anything. But he’s a trained firefighter so he spends the several minutes with her just calmly talking to her, asking her questions about her family, work, that sort of thing. Doing his best to keep her calm. He had been crying when he showed up to help her.

    She started crying again and said she didn’t want to die. My friend replied: “I will NOT leave you. I am here until you’re out of this car and safely on the way to the hospital. Do you understand me? I will NOT leave you.”

    It was exactly what she needed to hear. She calmed down. Minutes later they had a hard collar on her and she was transported to the hospital. She recovered and could go home to her two kids and husband. She and her family found my friend some months later to thank him. Plenty of tears were involved I am sure, including I am certain from my firefighter friend, even though he’d never admit it.

    I’m glad they thanked him and not some invisible, capricious cloud-borne patriarch.

  • Blair

    I had a wreck where I was convinced I was going to die. I wasn’t afraid of what came after, and I wasn’t thinking about god, but rather how I had no regrets and would have loved to spend more time with my loved ones. The comment was made that “someone must have been looking out for me,” and it made me uncomfortable. I was grateful for effective engineering, seatbelts, and simple physics, not some supernatural force arbitrarily deciding who should live and die.

  • Lamont

    Another thing is leading up to the accident…

    If you go all “Jesus, Take the Wheel” (Carrie Underwood) then you’re gonna have an accident.  If Jesus didn’t buckle you up beforehand you’re going to get ejected and die.  Better to take personal responsible over your vehicle and steer and brake it such that you avoid a fatal accident.  In reality, Jesus is gonna help those who help themselves in that kind of situation.  If you hit black ice, then understanding the physics of the situation is going to help you out a lot, having read the Bible will not help — I’m pretty sure Moses didn’t inform the Israelites that they need to pump the brakes and steer…

    And same comments go to the metaphor that Carrie is using there.  If your life is in a bad situation, don’t expect Jesus to come down and help you, you need to help yourself and make a decision to change whatever is wrong.  Lose weight, get off drugs, dump the abusive husband, etc.  Don’t wait for Jesus to do it for you.

    • Lgirl

      My Father In Law raised his hands from the steering wheel during a family disagreement. He looked skyward waved his arms and muttered “Help Me Jesus help me Jesus”. I have never laughed so hard in my life. FIL was serious and I suppose the idea of Jesus really did help to break the tension that day. Thankfully FIL’s hands made their way back to the driving position soon after and we didn’t crash.

  • AtheistMom

    My Christian spouse is big on giving God praise for all sort of things. I always add in stuff like, “Thanks for the tow truck driver.” It’s important for our kids to get the rational point of view.

    I’m happy Neece is doing well after the accident and was able to look at the bright side of things.

  • AtheistMom

    Oh, and when I read about Neece thanking the seat belt makers, I thought of Ralph Nader. He was so instrumental to making seat belts a routine thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Tracy.Bradley1 Tracy Bradley

    I was in a car accident when I was 16, but I was the passenger. Car flipped a few times and landed upside-down in a field. I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, which turned out to be a good thing in this case – my seat had been bent pretty much in half, about where my head/neck would have been, and I ended up trapped under the car and wedged under the dash somehow. Anyway.

    I couldn’t really breathe, and thought I was going to die. I could hear people yelling, feel them lifting the car and trying to pull me out, and then having to set it back down – I figured this was it. What did I think? 2 things: “Oh, so this is what it feels like to die” and “Hey, the radio still works!” 

    I was eventually pulled out, and a woman knelt with my head on her lap until the police and ambulance came. After I recovered, all of my thanks went to hospital staff, the ERT, and the people who helped pull me out from the car. No thanks to a sky daddy, even from my (admittedly) liberal catholic family.

    (Sidebar – I actually did get to thank the woman (and her husband) in person… after I’d been dating this guy for a few years, we discovered that it was his sister and brother-in-law! My accident was on the way to their house, and they’d been the first people to pull over and help. Thanks be to people.)

  • Fiddledefern

    I got in an accident where I was sandwiched between two cars during rush hour. (Guy in front slams breaks, I slam brakes in time but the kid behind me was on his cell and didn’t react in time). It could have been really serious, but I came out of it with just a bloody nose (from the airbag ). Sadly my car was totaled.  I didn’t thank a god for saving me, just as I didn’t blame a god for inspiring men to create cars and therefore rush hour. I didn’t thank a god for the airbag, I didn’t blame a god for creating the kid that was distracted on his phone.  These things swing both ways after all, which religious people tend to forget.

    I did thank the state trooper that helped me get in contact with a tow (I didn’t have my celphone.) I did thank the guy in front of me, that gave me a ride (his car was better off). I was relieved that the kid had car insurance and things were sorted out by humans. No deities were involved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

    God was in  a car accident?  I heard he used to drive Adam and Eve in a Fury.  Those classic cars are murder to get parts for.

  • Ahildreth

    I rolled my car a few months back avoiding a deer in the middle of the road. I got into an argument with a relative about the advisability of swerving in the first place rather than just hitting the deer – my point being that I didn’t want the thing ending up in my lap, I had only a split second to react, yes, the car rolled and was totaled, but I walked away without a scratch – from where I was sitting, my decision to swerve was sound. The relative commented that it just goes to show you that God looks out for stupid people, too. My thought, after the fact, was, “If He is so all-powerful and looking out for me, why didn’t He just move the damn deer?”

  • Flah the Heretic Methodist

    Christmas night there was a horrendous accident near our house; a driver left his lane and had a head-on with another vehicle, resulting in multiple deaths in both cars.  We passed the accident after bystanders had stopped to help but before the rescue vehicles showed up.  My MIL exclaimed that it could have been us (well, it could have, but it wasn’t), and that “everything happens for a reason”.  My reply was that other families were having a shitty Christmas instead of us, and I couldn’t imagine her saying that to them.  I don’t think we were saved “for a reason”, and clearly Jesus didn’t “take the wheel” for either of those other drivers.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    A long life has left a history of many near misses. I have: missed being crushed in an earthquake by four hours, missed being run over by one step, missed being smashed in a collision by two feet, missed being choked with hydrochloric acid by one second, missed being electrocuted twice by fractions of seconds, missed being attacked by a badger by sheer dumb, dumb luck, missed falling off a cliff by two cubic inches of quartz, missed being shot in the head by a very alarmed cop’s momentary hesitation, and I can’t count the number of drunk drivers who have missed me by inches.

    Those are the ones I know about.  There are probably many more of which I was blithely unaware. So far, no broken bones, no missing parts.

    I’m not trying to sound macho or be boastful by describing this list. The point is life is dangerous, whether you live in the nice part of town or in the wilderness. I never considered any deities being involved to either cause those things or to intervene in them on my behalf. I was grateful for my having looked both ways, for the people who helped me, and for the ability to take the next breath. These things have taught me that life is too short, too accidental to spend a moment in a crappy mood if I can help it, or to miss any opportunity to put love into practice.

  • Mrschili

    I’m a nervous flyer; whenever we land safely, I take a second to send gratitude to the pilots, the air traffic controllers, and the people who built and maintain the aircraft for getting me there and back safely.  “God” has nothing to do with it.

  • Tim

    This post reminded me of Dan Dennett’s “Thank Goodness”  http://edge.org/3rd_culture/dennett06/dennett06_index.html

  • Brian R Shipman

    The issue of whether we thank god, each other or both is
    certainly compelling.

    Also interesting to me is the belief among some of my
    Christian friends that they hold the high ground over non-believers when it
    comes to personal character and ethics. We don’t know affiliations of the
    people who helped the victim of the car wreck but it’s safe to say they were a
    combination of religious followers, atheist and agnostics.  We can also surmise that all these
    citizens were people of great character because they stopped and did the right
    thing. My point here is that no one group is more morally just than the other especially
    on the issue of character.

     

    Many Christians believe whole-heartedly that ethics comes
    from scripture and divine revelation. Philosophers dating back to the ancient
    Greeks believed it is taken from our own experiences and our ability to reason.
    Aristotle’s believed a person of soundly formed character will do the right
    thing because it is right in the circumstances (Johannesen, Valde, Whedbee,
    2008). I find Christians will also do the right thing and once done will thank
    god for the opportunity.

     

    When I’m the one with his car sitting on the roof I wont be
    choosy about who stops and helps me or whom they thank afterwards. Personally,
    I’ll be thanking the people took the time, got out of their cars and helped
    because it was the right thing to do.

     

     Brian R. Shipman

     

     

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Brian, that was wonderful. Thank you for your gentle wisdom and clarity. 

  • David Anjoe

    can you show me what can i do if were at the serous road accident

  • http://www.facebook.com/cale.howells Cale Howells

    did you think about why those people were there? who put them there in the first place? you’re just looking at the face value of it. I wonder why all those people were there when they were. it wasn’t chance. things fall in place for a reason. I urge you to reconsider who you thank when thanking people. God hasn’t been on earth in person since about AD 33. so its fitting to say that God wasn’t visible during this time, but we live by faith not sight. just because you haven’t seen God doesn’t mean that He doesn’t exist. Do you believe that we are in a solar system? You can’t see it but you know it exists because you learned in elementary school that there are planets around us revolving around a star. you don’t actually know its all there because you can’t see it all. but you believe it anyway. I just urge you to reconsider.

  • A friendly agnostic

    I think it’s ignorant, unfair and disrespectful to write such an article like this knocking other people’s beliefs regarding such a serious life-threatening event. You should be ashamed. Yea, write an article about how many amazing people do amazing things to preserve life, but there’s no reason to hate on other’s religions.

    I just survived a car crash two nights ago, one that I know I should not have walked away from. Was a short drive home from a restaurant and I hopped into a friend of a friend’s convertible. Long story short, he flipped the convertible, only the driver wearing his seatbelt (backseats don’t have seat belts in India). Yea, I had my wits about me enough to hang on to the seatbelt in front of me, but really I know that someone was looking after me that night. In my religion (which I really don’t take very seriously) we’re each assigned a guardian angel to watch over and protect us, our liaison with God. Given the seriousness of my crash, I have nobody to thank for saving me except for my friends who drove me to the hospital. Call me crazy, but in that moment during the impact at 100 k/m I know I was not alone in keeping me from being jettisoned from that vehicle.

    Have some respect.

  • Rach210

    I recently survived a car accident which had paramedics scratching their head. One of them stated that I must be talking to God and have him on my side because it was a miracle I got out alive. My car rolled and landed on a pole came through the window and hit me on the neck leaving me only with a bruise and cuts. The first person I thanked was God and everyone at the scene was astonished at how I had survived. My guardian angel worked a miracle for me with the help of God and for that I am forever grateful!

  • Wolf

    I had a pretty severe accident in 2008. After midnight, 33 miles from the nearest middle-of-nowhere town, in the mountains, in a developing blizzard, right when they shut the freeway down both in front of and behind me, I rolled down a 20 foot embankment, flipping completely over two times. I was in a hospital 3 hours later, on the road again (not in that truck, alas) by noon the next day.

    Thank you, Mazda. Thank you for designing a pick-up truck that saved my life in a crash. Thanks, Verizon, and all cell carriers, and whoever it was who decided to put cell-phone boosters along every major freeway out there in the middle of nowhere. Thank you, GRUDGINGLY, Wyoming Highway Patrol, you asshats; at least someone was there to respond. Thank you, MYSELF, for all the survival training I have always so obsessed over, because that stuff is what kept me from dying of hypothermia, out of sight and off the road, before anyone opened the road back up and saw that there was a pickup down in that ditch.


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