As we zoom ever closer to this blog’s five-year anniversary (holy cow!), I look back at one of the most important posts I wrote in its first year, “Miracle Maxin’.” It’s still one of my all-time favorite posts. Today, almost five years after it debuted, we look back at why miracles are still at once one of evangelists’ most treasured persuasion tools–and yet one of the most damning pieces of evidence contradicting their claims. Today I’ll show you why so many Christians cling to the idea of divine aid and why they can’t look away from the idea of miracles–and even why they get so touchy about people who refuse to buy into their claims.
The Singular Importance of Miracles.
Miracles are, to Christians, the tangible evidence of their god’s hand upon the world. They are the proof of his love for his followers (and really, of all mankind). They are like the flowers that sprout and bloom with every footstep of a preternaturally-beautiful creature upon the grass: if the creature is real, then obviously those flowers are what people will see as it passes.
Miracles are the proof Christians need to know that the supernatural is real. They think that miracles are a sign of favor from their god. Miracles also figure very prominently in Christians’ testimonies, which are short prepared speeches they give about their conversions.
In short, miracles are everything to a Christian.
Christians believe in miracles–that they happen at all, that they can be observed and experienced, and that they can be requested. This belief has become one of the very few near-universal beliefs in the religion as a whole. Of course, the more extremist the Christian, the more power they believe they have over the invocation of miracles and the more miracles they think they have seen.
The Singular Problem With Miracles.
A miracle is what you call it when something occurs that you can’t explain and you’re too impressed to try and figure out exactly what happened.
Christians believe in very big miracles and very small ones, stunning ones and nearly-invisible ones. All of these wonders share one trait in common.
They aren’t real. They’re just imaginary.
Not once, not ever, has a single claimed miracle ever been found to be a credible support for the notion of a supernatural being of any kind. Most educated folks don’t even think that the universe has room for genuine divine miracles. (And many of them point to the simple logical difficulty of coming up with a coherent definition of miracles themselves.)
Certainly Christians have had a very long time to come up with a single event that they could credibly claim as a real live miracle. Their religion’s very founder is described as a near-nonstop dispenser of exactly these events. And yet when we dive into Christian claims about them, we discover rapidly that there’s no there, there.
The Rolling-Downhill of Miracles.
If the person making a miracle claim isn’t simply lying through their teeth, then we discover that they are simply not describing the situation accurately. And a lot of things can happen to make this inaccurate description sound persuasive to those who don’t know any better:
- Distorting timelines and professional opinions
- Leaving out or minimizing damaging information
- Inflating coincidences
- Repeating unverified information
Once a miracle claim gets rolling, it’s like a snowball; it gathers more and more believers–and more and more untrue elements–as it goes along, aided by humans’ piss-poor memories for exact details and Christians’ own motivated reasoning to recast their chosen event as a divine intervention.
This exact process is how a Christian can move through a world that is absolutely swimming in miracles, and profess not to understand how anybody could possibly deny their reality and existence.
The Inviolability of Miracles.
You’d think Christians would really want to make sure that every one of their claims is verifiable and credible. But that’s not how Christian-Land works. They can’t challenge miracle claims.
First and foremost, Christians think miracles are so important that they grant the mere claims themselves sacred status. They will denounce any Christian challenging a miracle claim as sacrilegious and boorish. The more extreme the flavor of the religion, the less tolerant its adherents are to any expressions of doubt about anything they believe.
Second, if anyone disproves any one miracle claim, that suddenly makes all of them potentially wrong. When a Christian lays their hand on their heart and declares that they’ve just seen a bona fide miracle and this claim is challenged, then everyone who hears that challenge becomes acutely aware of the possibility of unreliable narration. If someone discovers that one claim is untrue, then people might apply the same standards of skepticism and criticism to any other claim. Maybe critics will discover that every one of Christians’ miracle claims are untrue. And so Christians will fight to the end to avoid beginning any such examination.
Third, Christian leaders themselves have made belief in miracles a necessary component of faith as a Christian. The other day I heard a Christian declare that old chestnut from the Bible: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Christians often take this verse to mean that if Christians turn out to be wrong about Christianity, then they are the most pitiable and miserable people in the world. It ultimately means that Christians know that the rules and torments they impose upon themselves are a big burden. They do it because they think their magical invisible storm-god wants them to do all that stuff. But if that storm-god doesn’t really exist, then wow, they’ve gone to all that trouble for absolutely nothing! Meanwhile, non-Christians go about their lives just fine.
So Christians won’t be challenging miracle claims any time in the foreseeable future.
The Necessity of Miracles.
A Christianity without miracles is a religion most Christians themselves would absolutely reject–for a few reasons.
First, obviously, Christians like thinking that they have a “leg up” on other people. They think they can access a supernatural force that they believe grants them perks and advantages as a sort of randomly-distributed bonus gift for faithful service.
Second, however, a Christianity without miracles becomes simply a philosophy, not a god-created, god-inspired, god-breathed faith system. It becomes secular. It no longer confers any special supernatural vibe to its adherents. It doesn’t do anything for them–or to them.
Third, though, and maybe worst, if miracles aren’t real then maybe nothing else about the religion is real either. Every debunked miracle claim becomes a point on a trend line labeled Nothing Christians Claim is True. By now we’ve got millions of points on that trend line–and not one single point on the one labeled Miracles are Totally For Realsies, Y’all.
The Cruel Dilemma of Miracles.Those two trend lines represent a huge, huge problem for Christians. The pushing of miracles has become a cruel dilemma for believers.
The cruel dilemma is my term for a sudden high-speed collision of Christianity’s claims against the solid brick wall of reality. Reality is just that inexorable and undeniable. It cannot be gainsaid; it cannot be warped. It’s there, and it doesn’t care what a Christian thinks reality is. If a Christian tests the religion’s claims too stringently or even thinks about them too much, they will get closer and closer to the wall. And they fear it very much, maybe more than anything else.
Christian leaders have all but designed their broken system to produce this collision. I think they want it to happen, moreover. They want believers to come right up to that wall and then steer sharply away from it. They know that if a believer encounters a strong contradiction to their beliefs before they’re ready to process it, they will drill down really hard on the untrue belief. They’ll only become stronger in their faith after such an encounter. They act just like anti-vaxxers do when put into the same situation.
That’s how it’s always worked in the past, at least!
But that expectation isn’t working out anymore. Now believers are likely to crash right into the wall and then to emerge out the other side of it safely. It’s only dangerous for Christians, who stand to lose so much if they’re wrong! You can bet that they will not be happy about the deception that made them fear that reality-wall, either.
So Christians find themselves in a very difficult place when one of their claims turns out to be false.
It’s way easier for them not to think about that stuff, and to accept all the hand-waving around miracles that their apologists teach them to do and say. This hand-waving has a deleterious effect on their sales, but it keeps their butts in pews–and at this point simple retention must be one of their leaders’ most intense desires.
It also greatly enriches the apologists and evangelists who sell libraries’ worth of books to explain why a world full of miracles looks exactly the same as one entirely lacking them.
The Selling of Miracles.
I hope that I’ve demonstrated why Christians have such a huge affection for miracles, why they need miracles to be real, and why they absolutely cannot closely examine the claims they encounter and create.
Using miracles in the course of selling Christianity comes easily to Christians. Miracles are a big part of why they themselves believe. Evangelists also believe that miracles are PROOF YES PROOF for their various claims.
In reality, miracle claims don’t rise to the level of evidence for claims. They are simply part of Christians’ overall package of claims. (In the same way, Christians demonstrate great dishonesty in trying to use the Bible to support the Bible’s claims. The Bible is the claim; it cannot also be the support for the claim.)
But Christians live in a culture where miracles can’t be questioned. They can’t see miracles as claims that must be verified as carefully as possible. They’ve been taught that miracles are evidence for Christianity since they were small children. Many of them give testimonies that include miracle claims, as well. I’ve met many Christians who count a miracle as the driving reason for their conversion.
Naturally, they think that miracles will be a big selling point with everyone else in the world.
The Rejection of Miracles.
But then they charge out into the big bad ole world and discover a few things that none of their pastors probably told them:
People ain’t buying miracles as a reason to convert to Christianity!
And nothing those lil evangelists do can turn a skeptical public around!
Like any regressive group does in these situations, Christians derive great comfort from retreating to their online and RL haunts to grouse and gripe about how obviously society is falling away and in the last days–and to complain about how meaniepie atheists wouldn’t be happy even if their god literally appeared in person to declare himself, considering the constant rejections of the miracle claims these salespeople so earnestly offer up.
In reality, we’d want to know about even one miracle being true. But after being disappointed a few million times, we’re not going to sit down patiently to listen to every zealot who thinks that no no man, this time it’s all for real, dude.
The Second Problem with Miracles.
We’d be interested in such a revelation, but not happy.
Let’s say that somehow Christians could demonstrate that any miracle claim is truly a divine act that could only have come from their particular god. At that point, a new and way more serious problem would come into sharp focus.
And this problem is a complete and total dealbreaker for their claims about their god’s very nature.
Mind you, these objections already exist right now, but they’re more abstract because miracles aren’t real. If they were, these abstract objections would simply move into front-and-center position like Speed Racer maneuvering into the lead.
It’s sorta like all those discussions about Creationism and the historicity of Jesus that Christians love to dive into: whether they exist at all is the primary discussion now. If Christians could actually demonstrate that any of their claims are based in reality, then we’d just enter a whole new phase of the discussion. We wouldn’t just fall onto our knees and recite the Sinner’s Prayer.
I really don’t think Christians realize where the real dealbreakers are here. Our first response is almost always going to center around the lack of credible evidence for miracles. But there is another, as Yoda said once.
And that’s where we’re going to take up next: What if miracles actually happened sometimes? What would that mean for Christianity? (Spoiler: Nothing good!) I hope you’ll join me–see you then!
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Endnote to any miracle-peddling Christians who happen by: Yes, even your ZOMG MEERKUL.