Greta on God’s Baffling Decisions


Someone on Facebook linked to a 5 year old post by Greta Christina about something that really annoys me as well, the claim by anyone who is fortunate in any way that God is blessing them and looking out for them. She begins with the example of a man who narrowly missed out on a tragic accident:

From USA Today, August 2 2007:

“Jim Koralesky, 63, who also attended the Mass [a prayer service held Thursday in honor of the bridge collapse victims], took the Interstate 35W bridge six times Wednesday before it collapsed. He was about to take it again a few minutes before 6 p.m. to go to Home Depot. But he said he ran into a friend in his parking lot and got involved in a conversation. After 15 minutes of chatting, he scuttled plans for his errand.

“‘It would have put me on that bridge around that time,’ he said. ‘Someone’s looking out for me.’”

And she responds:

Think about it. So what are the people who actually did die — chopped liver? Where was their guardian angel? The people who did die on the collapsed bridge, the people who did get shot at Columbine — God thought they deserved it? Or maybe God just didn’t care enough about them to save them? Was their guardian angel on a coffee break — or did their angel decide, “Eh, never mind, you can be on the bridge when it collapses”?

Obviously, not all religious people are insensitive enough to actually say this stuff out loud. (Especially at a service in honor of the people who did die, for fuck’s sake.) But I think it’s inherently implied; not in all religion, but in any religion that believes in an interventionist god or spirit that has the power to either cause or prevent the earthquake, the school shooting, the bridge collapse.

When you say that your life is blessed by God — that you have your good job, your nice home, your happy family, your health and prosperity generally, all by the grace of God — the logical implication is that people who don’t have those things are cursed by God. The children born into starvation and war; the people whose homes are destroyed by tsunamis; the people who get slaughtered by crazy mass murderers; the children with birth defects or genetic diseases; the people who plunge to their death when a bridge collapses… either God doesn’t like them, or God doesn’t care about them.

When I was 24 years old, I got into a car accident. It was entirely my fault, as I ran a red light. I wasn’t drunk, I was just daydreaming as I drove and blew right through the red light, getting t-boned. I was very, very lucky. They had to cut me out of the car with the jaws of life, but I only suffered a concussion, some bruises and a fairly serious cut to my right ear, but that was easily fixed with no real damage. The other guy was in much worse shape, unfortunately.

The first person to reach the hospital was my sister, who only lived a few miles away. And the first thing she said to me was, “Boy, someone up there was really looking out for you.” Really? Really? Then that someone up there has terrible timing; if they were really “looking out for me” they would have stopped me from doing it. A completely innocent person who was doing nothing wrong at all was seriously injured because of that accident. Why wasn’t someone up there looking out for him?

People say these things while thinking that they’re showing humility, but the opposite is true. They’re really saying, whether they recognize it or not, that God specially favors them — and therefore specially screws up the lives of others. It’s about equal parts vile and irrational.

Comments

  1. Tualha says

    It also has a way of stealing credit. Talking about the “miracle on the Hudson” is an insult to the excellent skills of the pilot who saved his passengers’ lives.

  2. Chiroptera says

    “‘It would have put me on that bridge around that time,’ he said. ‘Someone’s looking out for me.’”

    Huh. If it had been me, I’d have shaken my fist at the sky and yelled, “Gotta work on your aim, Old Man!”

  3. jamessweet says

    When I was 24 years old, I got into a car accident. It was entirely my fault, as I ran a red light. I wasn’t drunk, I was just daydreaming as I drove and blew right through the red light, getting t-boned. I was very, very lucky. They had to cut me out of the car with the jaws of life, but I only suffered a concussion, some bruises and a fairly serious cut to my right ear, but that was easily fixed with no real damage. The other guy was in much worse shape, unfortunately.

    I don’t know your age, but I think you are too old for the timing to work out right… but holy crap, this is basically identical to an accident that a friend of mine got into about 5 or 10 years ago — except he was the guy in the other car.

    Same exact thing: The guy who ran the light wasn’t drunk, he just spaced out for a second or something, and he got T-boned by my friend who wound up shattering one of his legs. (My friend was most likely speeding a bit, in the interest of complete fairness — he has no recollection up to a few minutes before the accident, but he confesses that he very often would go through that intersection at a somewhat higher-than-advisable speed) The guy who ran the light was a bit scratched up, but basically fine.

    You always think of getting T-boned as being the worst thing, but in both of these cases, it was the person doing the T-boning who got the worst of it.

  4. MikeMa says

    Tualha,
    Certainly the pilot deserves a huge chunk of credit but the aircraft designers, the manufacturer, the quality control folks all had a hand in it. Even the FAA with all its airworthiness directives making planes and flying safer should get some too.

    The good luck that the river wasn’t too choppy or cold or more full of other craft is more than offset by the bad luck hitting the birds in the first place. If fools want to give god credit for the good stuff they really have to account for the bad stuff as well.

  5. dave says

    This annoys me as well. Whenever I see someone thanking dog that they were saved on TV, I make pointed comments about those who werent to my wife.

    On the otherhand, in my more reflective moments, I can understand this. When something random happens, we look for an explanation, why were we saved and someone else wasnt? Its a very natural impulse. “Dog wanted it” seems to answer the question nicely, mostly because it can be the answer to any question.

  6. d cwilson says

    Even the FAA with all its airworthiness directives making planes and flying safer should get some too.

    Don’t be silly. We all know those regulations are just JOB KILLING burdens that interfere with our sacred JOB CREATORS who just follow the highest safety standards anyway out of fear of lawsuits. We didn’t even have an FAA in the 19th century and there were ZERO AIRCRAFT CRASHES for the entire century.

    Think about it.

    /channeling paulite insanity.

  7. unbound says

    Many years ago, my wife was in a nasty accident that totaled the car. In the car was our oldest child and my mother-in-law (I was working across the state at the time). My wife was 3 months pregnant with our 2nd child. There were only minor injuries in the accident. The loyal xtian would say I should thank jebus that everyone survived.

    Of course, the real reason for the lack of serious injuries or death had to do with the “gubmint” stepping in and steadily requiring more improvements to car safety and the engineers that figured out the ways to accomplished that improved safety. The person hitting my wife was saved from serious injury due to the air bag that went off. My wife was saved from serious injury due to having a car at that time with the side-impact beam (wasn’t required for another year or two, but was included in the car so the manufacturer wouldn’t have to do a big redesign mid-life cycle). My oldest child and my mother-in-law were preserved to the miriad of other safety features common in cars.

    But what if it turned out different. What if a placental abruption occurred? Those same loyal xtians would say that I should thank jebus for preserving my wife, oldest child and mother-in-law. What if the vehicle didn’t have the side-impact beam? My wife would likely be dead or very seriously injured, but the loyal xtian would say that I should thank jebus for preserving my oldest child.

    And what if everyone in the car died? The loyal xtian would say that I should thank jebus for preserving my own life so that I could begin again.

    So not only does the thanking jebus take away proper credit for all the works that we as a society have accomplished, this whole thanking jebus business is utter tripe that can be (and is) applied to any situation regardless of outcome.

  8. Captain Mike says

    @ d cwilson: I know this has nothing to do with your post, but in fact there were a number of aircraft crashes in the 19th century. Balloons and gliders count as aircraft. /pedantry

  9. Alverant says

    Remember the Chilian miners who were trapped for weeks last year? People were thanking God and not asking why God didn’t also save the miners who died. I guess he was too busy helping Tebow or slamming his mother’s face on the Toster Phogograph or something.

  10. Parse says

    When I was in an accident that totalled the car I was riding in, I escaped without any major injuries. For that, I didn’t thank God; I thanked the engineers at Honda instead.

  11. rork says

    In Bavaria (southern Germany, “Bayern”) many of my relatives have statues of Saint Florian (a male Christian saint) to protect their houses and barns from fire. A caption under the saint says some variation of “O heiliger Sankt Florian, verschon’ mein Haus, zünd’ and’re an” (some use something like “schutz unser Haus” instead).
    The idea of which is
    “O holy St. Florian, protect my house from fire. Burn others.”

    A certain number of houses are destined to burn in any year it seems. So just let it not be mine. Note: Though monks settled in the valley I know best in the 8th century, Christianity is just over 100 years old for many local families, and it sometimes shows.

  12. says

    There is a myth that is still going around about 9/11 that on any other day there would have been 30,000 more people in the Twin Towers when the planes hit, and that God quietly diverted all those people away from the WTC through a highly improbably series of coincidences — like being stuck in unusually heavy traffic, staying home to look after a sick child, or a meeting in the WTC being postponed, and so on.

    I had the same reaction as Greta — if that’s true, then what are the relatives of those people who died that day to think? That God thought they didn’t deserve to live?

    I still remember one guy who was almost in the direct path of one of the planes claiming that God lifted the plane’s wing at the last second before it would have crashed into his floor, thus saving him. All I could think of was “what about the poor sods that wing crashed into instead?”

    When I was 24 years old, I got into a car accident. It was entirely my fault, as I ran a red light. I wasn’t drunk, I was just daydreaming as I drove and blew right through the red light, getting t-boned.

    That happened to me just last year. Same scenario — day dreaming, and running a red light at 40mph. I was extremely lucky. The car I hit had a six month old baby in the back seat, on the side I hit, but she came through without a scratch. If I’d have hit the car a split second later, I would have struck the rear door right next to her and who knows what would have happened?

    Being an atheist, it never even crossed my mind that providence had anything to do with my luck. And, of course, it was the decades of car safety improvements, driven by the hundreds of safety regulations that car manufacturers have to abide by, and likewise for the baby seat the child was in, that were the real reason I didn’t kill anyone that day. Twenty-five years ago, it would likely have been a very different story.

  13. tfkreference says

    Pope JPII credited Mary with changing the course of the wouldbe assassin’s bullet, so it missed a vital artery. Every time I hear that story, I think, “why didn’t she make the assassin miss his bus that morning?”

    (I don’t know whether that’s an original thought or something I read here–if the latter, thanks.)

  14. acroyear says

    a year or so ago, one of those images of the wreckage of the towers went around (especially on FB), showing the t-joint beams that someone wanted to be made as part of the memorial since it resembled a cross.

    they said it was proof God was looking after them.

    My answer, unhesitatingly, was that if God was truly looking after them, the proof would be that Towers would still be standing.

  15. says

    Captain Mike “@ d cwilson: I know this has nothing to do with your post, but in fact there were a number of aircraft crashes in the 19th century. Balloons and gliders count as aircraft. /pedantry”
    God doesn’t care about the French.

  16. wscott says

    Reminds me of Mr. Deity explaining why he doesn’t answer prayers. “If things work out, who gets the credit? Me! If they don’t work out, who gets the blame? Not me!”

  17. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    When we moved into our current house, one of our neighbors was astonished to discover that I didn’t believe in God, and made the argument that I should believe because God had been very good to me, giving me a good job, lovely wife, healthy children, etc. I forbore to point out that the corollary to this is that God must really hate a lot of the people in certain parts of the Third World.

    He had moved from the neighborhood by the time, a couple of years later, that my son was diagnosed with cancer, so I couldn’t ask him what this said about God and His love in terms of his theology.

  18. Michael Heath says

    Tualha writes:

    It also has a way of stealing credit. Talking about the “miracle on the Hudson” is an insult to the excellent skills of the pilot who saved his passengers’ lives.

    Skills which that particular pilot decided to repeatedly and voluntarily practice prior to the accident. So he was particularly perturbed when a so-called liberal journalist attempted to get him to attribute his success to God rather than his own conscious decisions and energy.

  19. Who Knows? says

    American Experience profiled the Amish last night and I was struck by how the Amish handled the murders of the five young school girls in Lancaster PA. To be honest, the way they viewed it and how they handled it was so foreign to me I cannot explain it. I’d have to sit down and talk with those people for awhile before I could.

    But there was none of this someone was watching out for the survivors business.

  20. Sastra says

    My mother had an a-ha moment way back in the 50’s in Chicago, when so many children were killed in a fire at Our Lady of the Angels elementary school. She saw a headline which said something like “God Saved My Child!” and thought “what must a mother who lost her child in the fire feel when she reads this?”

    She simply had too much empathy and common sense to remain a Christian. She’d dropped out of a brief period with the Jehovah’s Witnesses when she went door-to-door proselytizing, listened to the people who told her how sure and happy they were with their own faith, and thought “who am I to tell these people I know better?”

  21. cptdoom says

    I thought the worst example of this kind of thinking was when the DC sniper(s) was terrorizing the area. The sniper team deliberately decided to target children and shot a kid going into school after being dropped off by his aunt. The aunt is a nurse and realized immediately how badly her nephew was injured and, ignoring the advice of the 9-11 operator to stay at the school until the paramedics arrived, took him to an urgent care center she knew of close by. The doctors there were able to get him stabilized for transport to Children’s Hospital, where they successfully repaired the bullet’s damage. The aunt then turned around and talked about how “blessed” her nephew was and that God had saved him. Not a word about how important her own medical knowledge and skill had been in saving the kids’ life – or why the 10 people who did die had so clearly pissed God off.

  22. Doug Little says

    It also has a way of stealing credit

    Yeah, I never understand when athletes thank gawd for their accomplishments, it really is the ultimate in subservience and arrogance.

  23. Doug Little says

    When I was 24 years old, I got into a car accident. It was entirely my fault, as I ran a red light. I wasn’t drunk, I was just daydreaming as I drove and blew right through the red light, getting t-boned.

    That happened to me just last year.

    I’ve done the exact same thing driving to work but I made it through without hitting anybody. Does that make me more special? I wonder how many people have made it through just like me in a similar situation, probably shit loads. But why stop at this one particular incident you can apply this to anything that hasn’t happened to you, that’s what makes their reasoning mind boggling.

  24. says

    I’ve done the exact same thing driving to work but I made it through without hitting anybody. Does that make me more special? I wonder how many people have made it through just like me in a similar situation, probably shit loads.

    It’s very hard to do, no doubt, but I wonder how much easier it would be if everyone was able to understand that no matter how careful you and anyone else is, shit happens. Yes, you can blame someone’s bad driving, or some type of faulty construction or negligent wiring, but that doesn’t explain why it was you, or your loved one that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I think most people understand that on some level. Almost nobody looks at the country’s traffic accident fatality rate and believes that it’s falling because God has decided to be more merciful. Yet when you or someone you care for becomes a part of those statistics, many find it impossible not to look for some kind of explanation, some reason why it happened.

  25. sailor1031 says

    I’m always intrigued by the religionists who think that their deity can interfere with causality whenever it wants to, to perform some service for a few favoured people, while letting others be maimed or destroyed. If it were true that causality only works part of the time because doG is interrupting it the rest of the time, we wouldn’t be able to rely on anything. Maybe the sun will rise tomorrow – maybe it won’t. Maybe things will fall under gravity today – maybe they won’t and the spacestation will go skidding off to Jupiter or somewhere. Maybe electrons won’t be attracted to positive today so we can’t watch television. Maybe gasoline won’t burn today and we’ll all have to stay home or walk until doG changes its mind. The possibilities are endless. Cripes – we wouldn’t even be able to rely on quantum tunnelling. Oh, wait…..

  26. says

    I had the same thought when I went to pick up a Rx this past week. I had exact change and the woman at the register said, “Someone must be looking out for you.” I mentally grumbled, “Yeah, if they were, I wouldn’t get migraines from hell, now would I?” I wonder what her reaction would have been if I said it aloud? Living where I live- in the Bile Belt, I hear such things a lot and it drives me crazy. I never know what to say, so I keep my thoughts to myself, but I sometimes wonder if that’s the right way to go about it, because it drives me up the wall.

  27. Michael Heath says

    sailor1031:

    If it were true that causality only works part of the time because doG is interrupting it the rest of the time, we wouldn’t be able to rely on anything. Maybe the sun will rise tomorrow – maybe it won’t. Maybe things will fall under gravity today – maybe they won’t and the spacestation will go skidding off to Jupiter or somewhere. Maybe electrons won’t be attracted to positive today so we can’t watch television. Maybe gasoline won’t burn today and we’ll all have to stay home or walk until doG changes its mind. The possibilities are endless.

    The counter-argument to this is reasonable. The type of events you describe aren’t part of a benevolent god’s plan; that you’ve made a strawman of their beliefs. However your core point is a good one, i.e., we should be able to pick up empirical evidence of an intervening god, e.g., amputees growing limbs within seconds after being prayed-over.

  28. sailor1031 says

    Are you saying the doG wouldn’t suspend gravity if one of his favoured people asked him to?
    BTW I was under the impression that everything that happens is part of the “divine plan”…

  29. Jeremy Shaffer says

    Back in 2004 Hurricane Ivan came through Alabama and there were many people that lost their homes and suffered injury (not sure about the number of deaths, if any). Although the hurricane affected the state, Mississippi really didn’t get much damage and many churches there made it a point to highlight that as an indication that their god protected them. I guess people in Alabama momentarily forgot that they were pretty religious that day or something and didn’t pray. Anyway, we didn’t hear much out of those churches the following year when Hurricane Katrina decided to pay a visit to Mississippi.

  30. harold says

    The “God saved me” stuff is just ancient brain paleolithic magical thinking, dressed up in the language of socially acceptable Christianity.

    Human in societies at many stages of development gain an illusion of control by ascribing events to (implicitly non-omnipotent and usually numerous) magical beings who can be won over, assuaged, or in the worst case scenario, hunted down (e.g. witches).

    Planning to navigate a small ship on a long trip through turbulent northern waters? Make a sacrifice to Thor. If the trip is successful, you can reassure yourself that future trips will likely be successful, because you’re a guy who knows how to put together a sacrifice that really pleases Thor. On the other hand, Thor has enemies, and isn’t always in a good mood. You gain some sense of control, but there’s no implication that you’re a superior special snowflake – you just had the combination of prudence and good luck to make a “successful” sacrifice.

    Even a couple of hundred years ago, working class people might give blame or credit for things to a whole slew of imaginary, supernatural, but by no means omnipotent creatures. This still happens. Ghosts, aliens, psychics, etc.

    This near universal superstitious behavior does not have the repugnant narcissistic overtones, in a more traditional belief system, that it takes on when standard monotheism is invoked.

    Unfortunately, when transferred to a system in which one omnipotent god and his angels do all the work, and don’t ask for sacrifices, it becomes distorted into post-modern narcissism. “Ha ha ha, I’m doing well right now and you’re not, so God must love me and hate you.”

  31. harold says

    Another point to remember is that statements of humility can also take the form of “give credit to God”.

    For me that’s an annoying thing to say no matter what, but it can mean “I’m not intrinsically better than other people, but for some reason, I’m lucky enough to have this talent”.

    In the context of professional athletics, both are seen all the time.

    Sometimes “I praise God for my victory” means “I’m a narcissistic shithead who literally projects their own huge ego and contempt for the less fortunate onto an imaginary figure of divine perfection”. That is fairly common.

    You can usually deduce who means it what way by the way they say it.

  32. says

    A couple of years ago i was standing in a checkout line and a friend of the woman standing in front of me walked into the store. It was apparent they had not seen each other in some time and the conversation quickly turned to how much weight the woman in line had lost.

    She went into detail about the diet and exercise program she had used to drop the pounds and all the personal effort and sweat it had taken.

    The friend that had walked in simply ignored the story of hard work and continually offered all the credit to her imaginary friends by interrupting regularly with “Jesus had blessed you” or “Praise the Lord for his miracles” and an entire list of platitudes.

    It really made me want to scream at her.

    Another instance of credit where no credit is due involves an online friend who lost her daughter and someone at the funeral tried to console her with “The lord never gives us more of a burden than we can bear”.

    The comment pushed her over and she snapped on the person asking her if she had just been a weaker person her daughter might still be alive? Things got ugly from there.

  33. laurie says

    I drove over the same bridge that morning, and decided against it in the evening. No one’s voice told me to avoid it, traffic was pretty heavy on the bridge and it was faster to take a different route.

    Shortly after I got home I turned on the news and saw the report that the bridge had collapsed.

    It made me think of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, in particular the scene where Arthur says something to the effect of “I’m having trouble with my lifestyle today”. Those words traveled through a wormhole and came out over the negotiation table of two warring races, who saw it as an insult and started fighting again. When it was sorted out, they were able to follow the source of the words, and send a fleet to destroy the Earth. Upon arrival, the entire fleet was swallowed by a small dog due to a miscalculation in scale.

    Me not being on the bridge when it collapsed was something like that.

  34. I amafreeman says

    So simple even I understand it. In general, most if not all organized religions are ego-driven; would that this kind of fanaticism was directed toward insisting on and building an honest, logical, and loving culture.

  35. says

    This sort of magical egoism scales up, too. The Pat Robertsons of the world are, as we all know, fond of interpreting natural disasters as messages from God. Messages to whom? Why, to the ones hundreds of miles away from the action who were in no danger whatsoever, of course. Watch yourselves, Las Vegans. God just allowed thousands of New Orleanians to die violently (Good Christians presumably included) to send you abortion-loving, slot-pulling, coke-fiends a message.

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