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Dec 08 2010

It’s a miracle!

Miracles are funny things. Whenever something good happens, we call it ‘a miracle’. It doesn’t matter if there is a clear causal chain that can be followed from the beginning to the end – it’s still a “miracle” when surgery fixes someone’s cancer; it’s still a “miracle” when seatbelts and safety testing help someone survive a car crash; it’s still a “miracle” when an international team of engineers develop technology to save the lives of 33 men trapped in a collapsed mine, it’s a “miracle”.

So what about when 29 men trapped in a collapsed mine just die there? Is that a “miracle” too?

New Zealand has begun to mourn 29 miners who were declared dead earlier after a second explosion ripped through the shaft where they were trapped. A memorial service was held in the town of Greymouth, and Prime Minister John Key said it was a “national tragedy”.

One of the regular readers of this site is a New Zealander, and I am sensitive to the fact that this might hit home for him, so I am going to do my best to treat this tragedy with the appropriate gravity. There is nothing funny about the death of 30 people, and my characteristic flippancy is targeted not at them, or at the people of New Zealand, but at anyone who wishes to credit the Almighty with only those events that are good, whilst simultaneously failing to take credit for the bad stuff.

So, trying to keep that in mind, here’s my question to those who called the Chilean rescue a “miracle”: why did the New Zealand miners deserve to die in the opinion of your god? Would they have been judged worthy if they had prayed harder? Were their families just not devout enough? Were 28 punished for the sins of 1 other? How about the reverse – were they just evil “on average”? How do you explain the great “justice” and “mercy” of your deity?

Those who criticize the evils of religion are commonly admonished to be fair, and reminded that people do good things for religious reasons too. Assuming that the evil that is done by religion is balanced out by the good (and I don’t think it is), then religion is a negligible factor with respect to goodness. However, the religious are always quick to claim that religion “helps people be good” or some such nonsense that are entirely unsupported by evidence.

It is this same wish to both have your communion wafer and eat it too that comes into play with invocations of the word “miracle”. If God can take credit for things that happen to trapped miners underground, then He has to take credit for both the success of Chile and the tragedy in New Zealand. He has to take credit for both the magic of a newborn child and the horrible reality of stillbirth. He has to take credit for both the majesty of a sunset and the devastation of a hurricane.

But of course we know that God isn’t responsible for any of these things. He’s just responsible for people failing to deal with reality, and cherry-picking their perceptions of the world to preserve the illusion of a just and fair world.

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2 comments

  1. 1
    Brian Lynchehaun

    But dude… God works in mysterious ways, and it’s arrogant of you to think that you can understand them.

    (Of course, when good things happen, everyone is allowed to claim to understand the mind of god… it’s only arrogant when horrible things happen)

  2. 2
    Autumn

    Not to nitpick, but shouldn’t it go, “You can’t eat your wafer and have it too?”

    Because if you have it, there is nothing stopping you from eating it.
    But if you eat it… then you can’t have it after. Its gone.

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