You call that a miracle?

11 September 2009

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ZJ: Some people believe in a god who takes an active interest in our world and steps in from time to time to mess with things. This is one of the common uses of prayer: asking God to intervene and do something about a given situation. They consider it to be a realistic possibility that God will take action to fulfill their requests. In other words, there are certain conditions where God will decide that some aspect of the world has to change, and he will make that happen.

So, what are the circumstances where God finds it necessary to interact with the world? What does it take to spur God into action? It's hard to tell. Even if we do assume, for the sake of argument, that God exists and sometimes intervenes in our world, there are countless conflicting reports of God at work, and they're all nearly impossible to verify. Some people have claimed that God literally speaks to them. Others believe they've had actual visions of Jesus or Mary. And some even report having been miraculously healed from various ailments by the power of God.

One exceptional example is that of Lourdes in France, home of a shrine to an alleged apparition of Mary that occurred in 1858. Millions of people travel to Lourdes every year, and many of them expect to have their illnesses healed by the spring water from the shrine. Lourdes even has a medical bureau dedicated to investigating claims of miraculous cures from exposure to the spring water.

Over several decades, this bureau has determined that a few thousand recoveries could be considered inexplicable according to our current medical knowledge. Each case is then passed on to a Catholic bishop, who may choose to certify this argument from ignorance by declaring it to be an official miracle—a so-called "sign from God".

And out of the millions of people who have visited the shrine at Lourdes, a total of 67 of them are declared to have experienced a miraculous healing. That's 67 cases where God has allegedly stepped in to divinely heal someone of their afflictions; 67 occasions where God saw fit to make one person's life better.

Now let's consider the times when God decided not to step in. When did God think it would be better to stand back and let things unfold without interfering?

In the 14th century, over a third of the population of Europe died from the plague. Millions of people perished, and God did not heal them. From 1918 to 1920, over 50 million people around the world died from a flu pandemic, and God did not cure them. Throughout World War II, over 10 million people were systematically killed by Nazi Germany, and God did nothing to stop this. In 1994, hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda were killed because of their ethnicity, and God did not save them. Every year, 2,000 children die of cancer that God will not cure. Every day, a hundred thousand people die as a result of starvation and malnutrition, and God does nothing.

So what does this say about God, when he's able and willing to reach into our world and change things as he sees fit, and this is what he allows to happen? This is a God who stands silent when faced with the deaths of millions, knowing perfectly well that he could stop all of it, and instead, he chooses to heal a handful of random people.

That is our sign from God: a great big middle finger.

If we're expected to believe in this god, I believe he is irresponsible in a cosmic sense. I believe he is a god of false hope, a god who cures a few dozen people, leading millions to think he might help them too—and he doesn't. I believe this god is negligent beyond belief, and should he exist, he is not even remotely deserving of our praise. He is perfectly careless, profoundly indifferent, and his priorities are shameful. If this is the god you want us to worship, I want you to come to your senses.

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