Last time we met up, we were coming back to “Miracle Maxin’” to look at the question of miracles in Christianity. Christians love to claim that their god works miracles in their lives, and this claim comes from their nearly-universal belief in the possibility of divine miracles. We settled that idea last time. Now we find ourselves moving inexorably toward the second and third steps of our pushback: If miracles really did happen, and could be demonstrated to have come only from the Christian god, Christians would still not be any closer to establishing that their god was actually a good divinity who deserved our worship.
One Step Over.
I take a logical three-step path when I evaluate miracle claims.
First, the claimant must establish whether or not the claim itself is based upon a real event. To do that, we examine the evidence that the claimant provides–always remembering that the burden of proof always rests with the claimant. Did the claimed thing really happen? Does the claimed thing actually exist? In the case of miracles, the claim is that the event involved really happened the way it’s described. Often we find that it didn’t–or that it’s impossible to verify it as having happened at all.
If the event really happened as described, then we move to the second step. We examine the reason provided for the event. In the case of miracles, Christians claim that their god exerted some divine power to make something happen.1 So we examine that claim to see if there’s a more compelling alternate explanation for the event described.
The few accurately-described claims we encounter wash out here. In the entire history of the world, the supernatural has never actually turned out to be the explanation for anything, so that sheer improbability is a huge hurdle for any Christian to leap.
If the Christian god ever turned out to be the actual source of the event, though, then we would be moving to the third step: Does this claim actually demonstrate what the Christian claimant thinks it does: that their god is a wonder-working god who is worth worship; that their god is one who loves his followers and helps them in tangible ways; that he is ultimately all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, all-benevolent, and all-just?
I want to be very clear here: we’re heading into that third step from a purely theoretical standpoint. For the few claims providing enough evidence to examine them at all, we’ve consistently discovered that almost all miracle claims fail the first step, with the rest failing the second.2
Instead, what I’m putting forth here is why, even if miracles happened and even if anyone could prove that they came from some particular god rather than any other supernatural source, they don’t rise to the level of a valid reason to worship this god. If Christians could actually pass those first two hurdles, they’d soon discover that they were simply moving the discussion one step over, to a new dealbreaker they couldn’t resolve.
The Immorality of Miracles.
I really don’t think Christians think through their miracle claims when they issue them. Maybe they never have. Miracle claimants are very obviously used to saying whatever they like and receiving back only praise from their tribe. They are a very safe, inexpensive, and risk-free way to gain a little attention while trying to further the tribe’s overall goals of increasing its own power and credibility. Christians have always ignored the fact that these claims highlight some very disquieting truths about their religion.
As the religion has declined in dominance, the social landscape has changed quite a bit. Now the only really safe place for a Christian to get their expected attention and adoration is within fundagelical circles, and even then someone might ask some uncomfortable questions. In mixed-faith or progressive-Christian groups (and especially in skeptics’ groups, where these claims frequently figure in to evangelism attempts), miracle claimants get obliterated in short order. It’s
almost funny downright hilarious to see how completely flustered and indignant such Christians get when they realize that these groups are absolutely not responding as desired.
These claimants have never thought about miracles the way the rest of us have. What we’ve seen can’t be un-seen, and we’re under far less of an obligation to keep quiet about our observations than we were in years past.
The first such observation: Christians’ miracle claims illustrate the concept of a god who has no idea what priorities are.
A god who ignores hugely-pressing needs but provides small, picayune, everyday miracles to certain select followers is not a being who is worthy of worship. But those sorts of miracles abound in Christians’ claims. In fact, they are far more numerous than big miracle claims about stuff like magical healings and escapes from serious harm.
Every time a Christian finds an extra $50 in her bank account just in time to avoid a cell phone disconnection over a long-overdue past due balance and swoops onto Facebook to write a post exulting in how her god is totally taking care of her just like he does the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, she’s sure to get quite a lot of likes and praise for this ZOMG MEERKUL. It’s one of the most common miracles Christians claim, coming as it does from their own misunderstanding of how banks work and their own shoddy math skills (on the part of both the claimants and their preferred audience).
But sometimes listeners harsh these Christians’ buzz by reminding them that millions upon millions of Christians are drowning in debt–with no magic money in sight to help them. Other skeptics might also wonder why this god could arrange for $50 to materialize for a distinctly modern-world debt, when much more is needed to really resolve this Christians’ financial situation, and when millions of other Christians are food-insecure or facing bankruptcy over medical bills.
That’s how it is with miracles, though. A Christian claims that his or her god totally healed a minor injury, which just makes skeptics wonder why stuff like turned ankles are apparently easy but cancer’s impossible. A Christian claims that only divine aid got them to church on time last Sunday, and inevitably someone’s going to wonder why warping time and space is so easy for this god but universally preventing child rape is totally beyond his powers. A Christian claims that their god temporarily gave them relief from a chronic, lifelong condition, and we just wonder why he can’t do a one-and-done miracle and simply heal the condition forever. In the next section we’ll be meeting a Christian who thinks her god rescued her from an underwater car, but nobody wonders why her god let her get into that situation in the first place.
Christians are perfectly content to ignore the serious needs going unaddressed, as long as they get to say that some claims, small as they are, get addressed. Sometimes. If the recipient fits a long list of requirements. If the Christian god is in that sorta mood that day. If the request is virtuous enough.
If the recipient is favored enough.
The second observation: Christians consider miracles to be a very tangible sign of divine favor being shown to particular people. So they use miracle claims to demonstrate that they are indeed favored.
And Christians themselves–even the miracle claimants themselves–might not like that truth. They might even deny it. But anybody who claims to have received a miracle comes off looking like they’re exulting in this sign of favoritism. By contrast, anyone who doesn’t get a miracle upon request is considered, at least on the down-low, to be disfavored somehow.
Here, for example, is one of the first stories that pops up when one searches for “modern day miracles.” It’s the story of a young woman who claims that a miracle is all that allowed her to escape her impending death. Specifically, her god granted her a burst of superhuman strength so she could unbuckle her seat belt herself and then swim free of the car:
Morgan explained to me that she knows some people don’t believe in God. But now, she says; “They can look at me. They can look at the video of the bridge and my car being pulled from the water. . . As long as you have God with you, he will be there to support you through everything; even going over a bridge.”
Notice the word choices here; they’re never accidents with Christians. “They can look at me.” And “As long as you have God with you.” Morgan–and by extension the Faux Noise “reporter” who is relaying this
story propaganda piece with even less of a care for grammar than for realism–is very pointedly informing audiences that her god was indeed with her. And she’s very much saying that she expects people to look at her in evaluating her religion’s veracity. Morgan is the true center of this story, and it’s a very comfortable vantage point for her.
Morgan herself appears to pin the reason for her rescue upon her lifelong faith in Christian claims. She says that when she began to realize she was drowning, “in that moment of defying death she reached out to God. And she claims God turned her situation around.”
So I’m left to assume that all those other people didn’t “reach out to God.” They did not have “God with them.” Not like Morgan did.
These stories work a lot like advertisements do, by creating a serious need and then offering up a product to help fill that need. People are meant to see Morgan’s story and want the same divine safety net she has–and they’re meant to ignore the pressing reality that most of these other drowning victims were probably just as fervent, but didn’t get helped.
None of this makes their god sound supremely just or protective to me.
The Punt to Mystery.
Our third observation: There’s no real rhyme or reason to any of these supposed miracles.
Of course, a lot of Christians would tell us that their god just had a plan for Morgan, but that leads to the same problem: why was Morgan earmarked for rescue, while everyone else was destined for a terrifying and painful death? Certainly she hasn’t shown up anywhere in Christianity since the accident. Five years ago she had her big miracle and got tons of attention, and then she vanished back to wherever she came from. Every church seems to have someone like this in it using a miracle claim to gain local fame while otherwise being unremarkable or even hypocritically malevolent.
Other Christians might point to secret sin in someone’s life or unspoken doubt preventing them from receiving divine aid. Both were very common responses I personally heard regarding why prayer didn’t accomplish in reality what the Bible repeatedly promised that it should.
Eventually, though, Christians must perform a punt to mystery. They really have no idea why some people will cry out to their god and go to their deaths anyway, while a very few are rescued. To me, that’s an indication of a purely arbitrary nature, one that borders on malevolent caprice. A god who could rescue the many but instead saves only one or two is missing an omni- somewhere.
Still, I’d just about rather a Christian concede that they ultimately have no idea why their god does anything than hear one try to resolve this thorny moral question with apologetics. I’ve never seen a Christian try it without ending up making themselves and their religion look even worse.
If someone knew a way to get divine aid, and it were demonstrated to be aid that really happened, that’d be one thing. But Christians don’t escape harm more often than other people. They don’t experience remissions of disease more often. Their luck is not demonstrably better, so to speak. A Christian who cries out to their god doesn’t get aid consistently. Their survival or escape depends upon the mercy of the odds as much as anybody else’s does.
None of this makes their god sound omnipotent or omniscient to me.
Screw All’a Y’all. I’ma Get Mine.
Right now, in this moment, there are people in this world facing death, torture, rape, starvation, disease, and more. And they are calling out to their god, in whatever name they use, with more urgency than you or I will ever pray for something. And there is no help coming. God, for whatever reason, can not or does not deliver them from their peril. The peril takes them and has it’s way. So I do pray to god, but I tell him if there is a choice, don’t help me. Help them.
lawrence090469, before deconversion
Our fourth observation: Christians’ miracle claims reveal a disturbing underlying attitude of pure selfishness, narcissism, and greed.
Every time a Christian warbles on social media or in evangelism attempts that they escaped some terrible harm or misadventure through divine aid, you can count on this: a few people hearing them are struggling to get over horrific traumas that no divine force saved them from.
Other people’s suffering is negated and ignored. If one child survives a horrific event, the Christian parents involved cry with joy over the miracle that spared their child. They ignore all the other dozens of shellshocked parents who will leave that site holding only their children’s bookbags. Those other parents don’t even enter into Christians’ thoughts. The parents whose child escaped got their miracle–what else is important here? They don’t even stop to think what their display feels like to the many people who didn’t merit a magical escape.
What I find even more reprehensible than these oblivious Christians are the Christians who pray for something to befall someone else besides them. When a clanging fire truck zooms past Nani in 2002’s Lilo and Stitch, and she mutters a quick sorta-prayer for it not to turn down her street, she’s acknowledging that it’s heading to some dreadful emergency. She just doesn’t want to find her little sister Lilo at the center of it. Every Christian has likely uttered a prayer along similar lines; the old glurge story about angels protecting a woman against rape is built upon the same grotesque foundation.
Christians in these cases aren’t asking their god to hold back his hand so that nobody gets hit; they just want him to smack around the other kids instead of them. They’re just counting on him to like the sight of their slavish obedience and fawning praise too much to let them come to harm.
None of this makes their god sound omnibenevolent or just to me.
What Miracles Mean, Ultimately.
Ultimately what many Christians want is the rush of feeling special and favored. A miracle tells them that they’re worthy of receiving divine attention. For just one sparkling moment, they can think that the universe’s laws shifted so that a god could poke a hole through the natural world to alter circumstances just for them, just then, just to help them out.
Others seek a safety net. It’s a really scary world out there, and they want a way to ensure that they and their loved ones have as many resources as possible to ensure survival and happiness. Christians like that think of adherence to their religion’s many rules as a little extra insurance against the unknown. (So yes, they’re like Beni with his many religious necklaces.)
The reality of the situation must seem downright terrifying to miracle-loving Christians: Misfortune falls upon all of us and is simply part of the human condition. Adherence to any religion won’t make misfortune fall upon us any less often, or improve our chances of surviving any of it any better.
All in all, though, for my own part I’m grateful that miracles don’t happen. I’d far rather think that we’re in this together, and that together we’ll work out our own rescues–or commiserate when rescues can’t happen. Every misfortune and calamity we face binds us more tightly to the rest of humankind. Nothing that happens to us is really all that unique, and I find comfort and commonality there. We don’t need gods to swan around saving one or two people while leaving the rest to suffer; instead, we save as many as we can with the resources we have. Nor do decent people stand by and allow people to suffer if we can help them. Those traits alone make us more ethical, more just, and more compassionate than the Christian god.
I said this five years ago and I’ll say it again now: our connectedness, our existence, our capacity for empathy and kindness, and yes, our resolve and determination to defeat the terrible fates that people can and do face, those are the real wonders here. We ourselves are the “miracles.” And I will not concede one unearned inch to any force that zealots want to give credit to for our own accomplishments and achievements–and kindnesses.
Next time, we’re going to look at a Christian who thinks she’s figured out a brand-new PROOF YES PROOF of her religion’s claims. It’s a standard-issue Argument from Miracles that’s been going around lately, but it’s a really long and convoluted one. We’re going to dive into it to show you the sheer intellectual dishonesty that goes into these sorts of arguments–and show you just what function these miracle claims serve in the religion. See you next time!
1 Many Christians define miracles very loosely, to the point where any unlikely event can be construed as a miracle. Some even define a miracle as being anything that’s wondrous or beautiful, even if it happens every single day (like good weather or the existence of love). I’m using the definition of miracles as a violation of the normal laws of nature–in other words, as an event that cannot be explained in any other way but supernaturally. That is the way that the Bible depicts these events: they are unmistakably divine in nature as well as really attention-getting. But obviously Christians can’t hit that standard, which has resulted in the majority of them lowering the bar so far that literally anything can become miraculous and no falsifiability is possible. Often Christians won’t actually declare what definition they’re using ahead of time, so it helps to pin them down right away.
2 When I was Christian, my leaders taught that miracles could come from demons just as easily as from our god. The only way we could tell a divine miracle from an infernal deception was context. If the miracle convinced someone to join the “wrong” church or the “wrong” religion, or to commit a sin, obviously it was demonic. Making the matter more confusing, my church leaders knew that sometimes a miracle was just a trick of perception, which they called being “of the flesh.” On the plus side, at least they were correct some of the time.
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