Hi! Last time we hung out, I was talking about why I didn’t think miracles were real things that really happened to anybody. I touched briefly on the moral problems of miracles, but interestingly, that is where commenters zeroed in–which fits in nicely with what I wanted to talk about today.
When I was Christian, realizing that my “god” didn’t actually heal anybody was a huge blow to my faith. The Bible promised that anybody could ask for anything and get it, and healing was distinctly one of the promises repeatedly made. I trusted the Bible’s promises. Even as a Catholic, I took for granted my whole life that people could be healed via supernatural intervention.
When I finally came face to face with reality, I had two choices.
I could dive deep into the well of rationalizations to maintain the inevitable cognitive dissonance that resulted from that realization, as all of my peers were doing. Christianity has evolved a stunning number of these rationalizations to cover why someone didn’t get exactly what the Bible repeatedly promised, and every one of those rationalizations blame the people doing the praying or the person slated to receive the miraculous healing–or they simply punt to mystery with palms wafted skyward.
I could have done that that, sure. I’d done it my whole life. But the second option was to seriously question whether or not miracles really happened. I went that route. Once I no longer took for granted that they happened, I could examine these claims more honestly. And I discovered that not one single miracle claim actually held water. No wonder the atheists I knew scoffed at the miracles I offered up as PROOF YES PROOF that Jesus was real!
I’ve noticed that nowadays Christians like to panic about what a fact would mean for the world or themselves if it turned out to be true or false. (This is called an argument from adverse consequences and it’s becoming shockingly common.) This fearmongering is used to stave off serious, honest inquiry. That said, there are a few ideas that are perfectly safe from that serious, honest inquiry, and miracles are one of them. Not only do Christians take for granted that miracles happen constantly, they don’t actually think about what they’re really saying when they make that claim. They don’t realize what their claims say about their religion and about themselves. They don’t even wonder how they come off to others when they make these claims.
When Christians go on and on about this or that miracle they think happened, I’m hearing: Fuck all y’all, I got mine.*
They don’t even realize exactly what they’re saying about their god when they tell me, all breathless and bright-eyed and just a little proud and smug, about whatever half-baked “miracle” they think happened. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about something that happened to me to put miracles into perspective:
Right after my mother–a lifelong and devoted Catholic–died of cancer some years back, my boyfriend took me to a restaurant to get me out of her house and make sure I ate something. I was a wreck. A bunch of Christian men** came into the restaurant, clearly fresh off some ministerial meeting or prayer meeting or something, and even though my boyfriend and I were in the back section in the bar we could hear them praising “God” for giving them a nice window-side table. Look! A miracle! Praise Jesus! Hooray! They didn’t even have to wait!
Meanwhile, I was sitting there trying not to lose my shit because my mother had literally just died of a horrible, hideous disease, and apparently their god ignored her but reached down to give a bunch of Christian nitwits a nice table at a chain restaurant during its slow time between lunch and dinner rush in a suburb. I was years out of Christianity so I knew that the Christian “god” wasn’t doing anything for anybody, but that someone could say such a horrible thing, that someone could be so brutally insensitive to the pains and hurts of the people around them, that someone could chirp so happily about such a picayune miracle while my mother’s much greater need had gotten totally ignored, that all ground my gears so bad I needed a shop visit afterward.
I know they weren’t intending to hurt anybody’s feelings. And I know from experience all the evasions and rationalizations Christians have to explain why some people think they got a miracle while others don’t. I’ve heard them all. They don’t sound compelling at all to anybody who isn’t already Christian. What these excuses actually sound like are, well, excuses. They sound like exactly the ad hoc flailing that small children would make when confronted with their own naughtiness.
The reason these excuses sound so incredibly lame is that Christians themselves don’t actually know why one person gets a miracle while someone else doesn’t. They don’t actually know why their god ignores the cancer killing some of his children but bends his will toward obtaining good restaurant tables for others. They really have no idea why any of it happens. That’s the problem with magical thinking in a nutshell; it negates the normal rules of cause and effect, so nobody actually knows what actions, behaviors, and thinking will produce a desired outcome–or what will prevent undesired outcomes. Without objective input about miracles, all someone really can do is flail around.
Unfortunately, most of these excuses come out sounding like some permutation of “One of us is super-special and/or did the right things exactly, and one of us isn’t and/or didn’t.”
And this excuse works in both directions, by the way. I’ve got ex-Christian friends who suffer from serious chronic physical conditions who prayed for many years for divine healing and (obviously) never got it. They saw their peers getting healed. They heard constant
urban legends stories about people being healed of much worse problems. They were promised divine aid during revivals. They fasted, prayed, wholeheartedly believed, and did everything a Christian could reasonably be expected to do. The magic rituals never worked, though. And they blamed themselves for doing something wrong. It didn’t even occur to them that maybe the problem was that miracles weren’t real and that’s why they weren’t getting magically healed. At the time, they genuinely thought they were the holdup in the equation.
As the physical manifestation of a deity’s love and attention, miracles–especially healing–figure prominently in a lot of Christians’ testimonies, and no wonder. When confronted about the sheer arrogance involved in claiming that a god ignored every other person in that situation to help them, such Christians tend to demur, avert their eyes, and coo that they just don’t understannnnnd whyyyyyyy their god helped them but not all the other folks needing help, they just have nooooooo ideeeeeeeea, tee-hee! Gosh they just have no idea why they merited this favor! And even back when I was Christian and fully believed in miracles, I knew that this show of humility was bullshit.
Miracles–the granting of them, the withholding of them–are used to gauge someone’s spiritual desirability and fitness. They’re a way to see how high up the ladder someone is and how close to the inner circle of cool kids someone stands. Claiming a miracle can boost a Christian’s popularity enormously and give an otherwise lackluster Christian access to social and financial rewards that would be hard to reach otherwise; not only did I see this happen over and over again while I was Christian, but you’ll notice most of the big scandals in evangelicalism involve false claims of miraculous healing. When you see a Christian flaunting a miracle claim, what you’re seeing is someone who wants to feel more special than the other kids. Small miracles like a misunderstanding about one’s bank balance are a lot easier to claim than big miracles like a healing from cancer, but they’re all coming from the same place.
And when Christians beg their god for a miracle, even privately, even desperately, even from the purest place possible in their hearts, what they are asking is for their god to ignore all the other people needing that exact help to help them.
I know that many miracles are begged for from that pure place. I did it myself once.
I still wish that Christians remembered that they’re not the only people who are suffering when they make that request, and I wish they’d think about what they’re asking when they ask for these miracles.
Every miracle granted means a million miracles denied to others in need. Every single kid with leukemia who miraculously goes into remission means another thousand thousand kids die miserably. One person might crawl from a fiery plane wreck or a collapsed building that slays hundreds; a few might survive a pandemic that lays millions low. Another’s child might suddenly have a life-threatening lung illness reverse course. One person might successfully escape a spree killer or terrorist attack. And every one of these miracles entails, by necessity, the Christian god ignoring or declining all the other requests for his aid.
A Christian who claims that these survivors actually were divinely aided in escape is telling me that the Christian god left all the rest of those victims to it. Sparing one while allowing the rest to perish is not a miracle. It’s a mockery of care and love. Could you look into the eyes of those who did not get miracles and still puff yourself up as the recipient of one, even gloat about it, even use it to try to strong-arm non-believers? Could you be okay with knowing that you survived when they did not? Could you scoop up that money and not wonder if someone else who maybe needed it lost it? I’d like to think I would not accept a miracle under such ghastly terms. But that’s what I wonder, when Christians tell me about miracles: Who isn’t going home with a spouse or parent tonight because you squeaked through that near-miss? Whose kid is dying tonight because your kid got a little divine help for their common disease? I know that those hearing about miracles are not supposed to care or ask about those many faceless millions of others who didn’t get aid; I know that Christians are supposed to just be thankful even one person got help. But I do care about those others. I do ask. I have too much compassion to ignore them. (Are we made in this god’s image–except for compassion?)
Amy Grant sang years ago about how her god’s angels helped her avoid harm: “A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way”. But why didn’t she ask why her god allowed that reckless driver on the road at all? Sure, she avoided the accident that way–but surely that person would be reckless again later; did her god not care about the reckless driver’s eventual victim? Why couldn’t this god erase cancer entirely rather than pick one or two lucky children to get healed? Or make warmongers dedicate themselves to peace rather than save a few from destruction? Or all abusive romantic partners in the world to suddenly find themselves curiously unable to hurt their loved ones rather than allow some people a magic escape? Or alcohol not to make people drunk instead of saving a few folks harmed by over-imbibing? See that, friends? I’m not even a god and I just rattled off, with no effort at all, half a dozen ways to make miracles morally viable.
Either this god is the most glaringly incompetent godling in the entire history of gods, either he is evil on a scale I cannot even comprehend or maybe absolutely blitheringly unaware of what’s happening with his ant farm down here.
Or he doesn’t exist, and miracles are just examples of the fevered imaginations of religious people eager to pounce on something, anything, anything at all, that maybe half-kinda-supports their god’s reality and their religion’s validity and offers them a solution to a problem.
I know what seems most likely.
So no, miracle claims are not compelling to me. I’m totally okay with humans being on our own in this big ole universe. Not that it matters how I feel about the truth, because the truth is the truth either way I feel about it, but I’d really way rather it be this way anyway. It saves me from the contortions I used to have to make as a Christian to explain the erratic, unconvincing, and immoral aspects of my onetime religion’s hard-on for miracles.
Really, the best outcome there could be for Christians is miracles turning out to be utterly untrue. If they were real, that’d say a lot of really bad things about their entire religion from top to bottom–things they don’t even seem aware they’re saying when they make such claims. I cannot reconcile miracles–as Christians understand and engage with them–with the idea of a truly loving god. They contradict the existence of such a deity.
They’re not real, no, but that Christians even make the shameful claims they do speaks to what’s really at the heart of their entire religious worldview–and it is a sick, nasty infection if ever there was one. That’s why these claims ain’t going anywhere anytime soon: they cut to the very heart of what modern Christianity is all about.
And to my struggling friends who seek miracles, I say this: it’s okay to question the party line. If you’re sick or hurting, there are real ways of addressing your needs that work a lot better. You didn’t do anything wrong. The problem isn’t you and it never was. It’s that miracles aren’t real. Come away from that nonsense. Find help that’s real. It’s out there to be had.
We’re going to talk next about suffering. It was hard for me to reorganize my thoughts around suffering when I deconverted, and chances are it is for someone else out there. So please do join the community on Monday.
A Note to Any Potentially Ruffled Christians:
I know that some Christians will read this and immediately leap to one of those irrational excuses they love so much: “She’s just mad that she didn’t get a pony when she demanded one!” Let me help you out here: No, I’m not mad at a being I don’t think even exists, and I’m not mad I didn’t get a miracle cure for anything upon demand because I no longer think that miracles really happen at all, for anybody. I’m angry at a religion that teaches adherents to expect miracles all the time when they don’t really happen and then teaches those adherents to blame everything possible under the sun for its serious lack of evidence for miracles, and I’m angry at a religious culture that celebrates the most piddling and banal of any small bit of fortune as “miracles” without consideration for the suffering of others.
So yeah. 21,000 people are going to die of hunger and starvation today. But you got $2 off your coffee this morning on the way to work. Fuck all those starving people*, right? You got yours, right? Who cares about all of them, right? Better tell Facebook! You’ll get tons of likes.
You’re certainly allowed to gloat about your divine miracle of, um, cheap coffee. It’s a free country and you can believe whatever nonsense gets you through your day, and if thinking that you got discounted caffeine thanks to an immortal god’s intervention does the trick for you, then go on with your bad self. But please remember that you’ll be claiming such a ridiculous thing around people who are suffering and hurting–or who have been burned hard by Christian miracle promises–or who know that Christianity’s miracle claims aren’t true at all and will only add your fake miracle to the long list of fake miracles Christians have claimed in their earshot. These are all folks who will see this claim in entirely different ways than you intended. I just want you to think about it, is all. It’s great to be thankful; one needn’t have a miracle claim to be happy about a cheap coffee or an injury clearing up, nor have a god in mind when gratitude is expressed. You don’t have to imagine there are fairies at the bottom of the garden to see that the garden is beautiful. A bit of good fortune doesn’t need to be gussied up. Making false claims only hurts someone’s credibility. That’s all I’m saying here. Be honest, is all, and be loving.
* I don’t often drop F-bombs on this blog, but sometimes this is the language we deploy to engage with deeds we find morally reprehensible.
** When Christians worry about how people will know they are Christian, this isn’t the right way to do it.