The Pious Have Bills To Pay, Too

Colorado shooting: tragic. I don’t know why it occurred, where “blame” should properly lie outside of the lone gunman, or how any of the victims might feel. I tend not to spend much time reveling in the gory details, but Facebook has once again delivered a religious proclamation that makes me despise the religious mindset all over again.

The article that cropped up in my timeline is here, where a local pastor relates the story of a woman whose brain had a “defect” which allowed a piece of a shotgun blast pass through her grey matter, seemingly without any permanent cognitive damage. Said pastor calls this “miraculous” when they hear the tale from the operating doctor. He claims it was an instance of “God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future.”

He has received some mild pushback from the skeptical, to which he has constructed a forked approach, first saying, “If we are honest, we must admit we cannot explain everything.” Later, he justifies God’s non-intervention in the case of the shooter, saying, “We are free to act for good or evil.” Why? Because “Choice and freedom are removed if I[God] jury-rig the consequences.” He goes on to completely contradict himself when he says, “God interacts in the normal course of events in such a way that outcomes are changed from the normal workings of the universe.” This, in and of itself, represents a stark example of self-refutation that (nearly) renders any effort of mine superfluous. However, it’s actually even worse.

I will presently argue three basic points:

A) There is no more reason to suppose that God created the miraculous channel in Petra’s brain than that he failed to create those same channels in the bodies and heads of the other victims.

B) The very idea of contravening the natural course of events violates the Christian claim that God cannot prevent any of the evil presently in the world.

C) Even if this special case was the work of God, the adulation of God is utterly misplaced in the aftermath of this event.

In defense of A, I would simply point out that to claim we have discerned the “beneficence” of God through sparing one woman’s life while dozens fell around her, is to say that good fortune suddenly grants us some special insight that misery denies us. If God’s ways truly are mysterious, we are in no position to attribute the outcomes we prefer to God’s actions and the outcomes we do not prefer to some void of confusion. If we can, for a moment, admit that we do not know the mind of God, we immediately see that the 6-year-old whose body did not have special bullet channels, for example, is the failure of God’s non-intervention. Where was he when this child was formed, and his internal organs were placed directly into the future path of destruction. Busy carving the virgin mary into a tree in New Jersey, apparently.

In defense of B, I will point out an example used by Christian apologist William Lane Craig in support of the consistency between God’s existence and the existence of evil. It has been suggested, by his opponents, that God could turn some bullets to rubber, or butterflies, before they hit their target. In this way, choices might retain their moral content, while no innocent has to suffer for this moral freedom. Dr. Craig responds that this would turn the world into a playground, where no bad choices have bad consequences, and thus bad choices would not retain their moral content. If you fire at someone in this playground world, no one would be hurt, so why would firing in such a way, in that world, be a “bad” thing? This pastor’s miracle is but one example, but the principle is the same. If he can create one mind with special bullet-channels without stripping us of our freedom or moral responsibility, why can he not create all minds, and bodies, similarly? By Craig’s argument, he cannot even do this once without violating creaturely freedom, and so if God modified Petra’s brain in such a way, then the concept of creaturely freedom in the Christian context is rendered false. Since said freedom is a necessary component in the Christian religion (i.e. it cannot be false while Christianity is true), this event is either not miraculous, or the Christian God is a fiction.

In defense of C, let’s consider what it means for an action to be morally praiseworthy. If a man’s actions provide some benefit to someone else, at no cost to himself, we intuitively view this as mildly praiseworthy. Yes, he did something good, but it isn’t as though he went out of his way to do anything. The recipient may be thankful, but should anyone else view this as all that morally praiseworthy? I don’t think so. Now consider another man whose actions provide some benefit to someone else, and significant cost to himself. We immediately recognize the difference in how much praise each man deserves. The first may give $100 to a charity, yet possesses millions that he does not donate. The second may give the same $100 to a charity, and have to walk to work for a week because that was his gas money. Obviously the cost of an action to the actor is directly proportional to the level of praise we might visit on the actor.

In the wake of this tragedy, we have received (at least)two claims of praiseworthy behavior. In the first, a “good” God who fiddled with some woman’s biology in order that she might be spared death at the hands of a gunman. God has sacrificed nothing to do this, his powers, such as they are, remain unaffected, and his person unmolested. In the second, we have a man who shielded his friends from gunfire so that they might be spared death at the hands of a gunman. The second man sacrificed everything that he has and could possibly give in order to save his friends. Now I submit, on C, that while we may, perhaps, lend light praise to God, we might also wonder why he did not do more. In contrast, on C, the men and women who gave their very lives have so far outstripped the pathetic effort of an all-powerful deity in moral terms that to spare even that light praise on God is a complete waste of time.

Of course, if you read the article, you’ll notice that the lion’s share of the pastor’s time is spent extolling the virtues of God, likewise his supportive commenters. True courage, true sacrifice, truly morally praiseworthy action is readily available, and what does this pastor focus on? God. It’s almost as if he has a stake in keeping God in the picture; as if, perhaps, he might benefit from highlighting a supposed “miracle” from God rather than the actions of some brave men and women.

This sort of blatant opportunism makes me sick. A church is a business, and this is an instance of capitalizing on tragedy. It is the (socially acceptable) equivalent of slapping a gun advert over a still shot of the carnage.

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