Monday, October 02, 2006

Angels watching over my ass

About a week ago, I came across a sappy little . I'm not sure whether this is supposed to be cute or inspirational or what, but there it was in the paper, and thank goodness that Thel was attentive when that angel tapped her on the shoulder, or little PJ would have had a very bad day indeed. But you know, the whole thing bothered me, and it bothers me in the same way that hundreds of other stories like it bother me. I mean, even if you believe angels exist, isn't this sort of BS?

My mother, who is not a Christian, (at least in the more theologically conservative sense that I am: she's a Unitarian) had an incident in my own childhood that she attributes to the supernatural. See, one day she was making me macaroni and cheese, and I, a mere three-year-old at the time, thought I knew how this cooking thing was done, so I decided to get the noodles off of the stove myself, and in the process, poured about a gallon and a half of boiling water down my front. This is the sort of thing that would give most children a rather large scar for life, but my mother rushed into the kitchen, scooped me up, ripped off my clothes and dumped me in the bathtub under cold water. Having had no first-aid training, she confided to me many years later that the fact I am completely unmarked by that accident today is something she attributes to God. Surely, God somehow spoke to her and told her what to do. Do you see what might be lacking from this reasoning?

Well let me explain it with one more story that's truly my own, not my mother's. On a normal day in 1998, I was on my way to work. I was traveling south on a six-lane portion of Southern California freeway during rush hour at about 60 mph. There were four lanes to my left, and one lane to my right with a small concrete abutment separating it from an exit lane. In that lane to my right was a car being driven by a woman whom I somehow sensed was having trouble a second or two before anything happened; maybe I caught something in her facial expression out of the corner of my eye, I don't know.

In fifteen seconds, the following happened: Her car began to zigzag just slightly, and then spun out. One of the rear tires of her car made contact with the abutment and her car ricocheted off of it, and then her car was going straight, but at a 90-degree angle from the rest of rush hour traffic. The right front corner of her car plowed through the right rear corner of mine, and kept going across the freeway, leaving my car at a 45-degree angle to traffic, but still traveling in the same direction. As her car traveled across all lanes to my left, finally striking a pickup truck in the leftmost lane, my car resolved its contradictory momentum and position by flipping up and rolling end over end across the lane to my right, over the barrier and the exit lane, finally landing in a drainage ditch right side up. The pickup truck had landed on its roof, and the car that had started the whole thing came to a stop on the leftmost side of the southbound freeway. All three cars were demolished, but all three drivers were left without a scratch.

Later, someone commented to me upon hearing the story, "Wow, your guardian angel must have been working overtime that morning!" I responded with a polite nod, but was bewildered. It's not that I don't believe in angels. I believe in the Bible, and while it doesn't say much about angels, at does seem to be pretty clear that their existence is attested to in Scripture. It's not even that I don't believe in "guardian" angels. There's a bit of evidence for them in the Bible, and if angels exist at all, why not have them work as guardians? The problem is that if you suppose they exist and are going around tapping moms on the shoulder, delivering first aid advice and acting as divine airbags in serious auto crashes, you've got a lot of explaining to do.

Why would the Family Circus angel go tap Thel on the shoulder rather than just stop PJ, or even push the lamp out of the way? Why would my mother get a message on how to treat her son's burns rather than a message to go into the kitchen a few seconds earlier and stop me from doing something stupid? If angels can keep the accident that morning from effecting more than three cars, why not hold it to two cars, or one, or none? And what about all the children who do pull objects off of shelves onto themselves, be they lamps or pots of boiling water, and are injured and scarred for life? What of all those who are killed in auto accidents, whether they be believers in angels or avowed skeptics? I can't help but think that logically, it's all a bunch of hooey, you know?

Allow me to switch gears, though. I've been thinking about this subject off and on since I saw the cartoon, and that was over a week ago. I'd originally meant this as one of a series of posts talking about things that Christians generally believe that I find more than a bit dubious. I probably will still throw in a few things in future posts, but for some reason, I found myself rethinking this.

It's interesting to me that atheists do tend to point to religion as a practice of "blind faith". The truth is, there's not really any such thing. It's not like there are people who find a scrap of paper with the word "Jesus" on it and decide on the basis of that alone to become Christians. No, people have reasons, and one person's reason is different from another's. Some people were brought up in the culture of Christianity and never bothered to question it. Some people may have read the Bible and found it fulfilling something they thought they were lacking. A lot of people experience some sort of trauma in their life that makes them turn to spirituality to find meaning. I don't know anyone that became a Christian for no reason whatsoever.

It's that last point about traumatic experiences, though, that seems so suggestive. People who argue against God often bring up the bad things, the suffering, the hypocrisy, the disasters, etc., as a reason to disbelieve in God, but oddly enough, there are a lot of people who believe for those very reasons. A friend of mine who is a "pro-life" activist is not an activist because of her religious convictions, but developed religious convictions due to her activism. "When I saw the evil and violence that was at work in abortion, I was sure that nothing could be so evil unless there was something supernatural behind it. If there were supernatural forces at work in the world, then it made sense to me that God would be one of them." While her experience is quite different than most, I've met scores of people who decided to give their lives in service to Christ when they found they had reached rock bottom.

What is my point? Maybe it doesn't make much sense; it often doesn't to me. Still, could it not be possible that many instances of suffering are allowed by God and His angels for the purpose of a greater good? I remember years ago being at a Christian evangelistic rally at which two mishaps occurred in sequence. First, the P.A. system blew out, and those people who had gone forward to make a commitment to Christ were forced to crowd in closer to the stage in order to hear the pastor. Secondly, after the pastor was finished speaking, a technical problem occurred that would have easily killed someone who had been standing in the area many people were standing before the P.A. mishap forced them closer to the stage. Many in attendance chalked it up as a miracle that the P.A. system had gone out at such an opportune time, but I was skeptical; did two wrongs make a right? Why not have everything function properly with no mishaps at all? Perhaps for the person who had been standing on that spot, the malfunctioning P.A. system would somehow empower them to find greater faith than if they had just stood there with nothing happening.

In a perfect world where nothing ever went wrong, I doubt anyone would ever notice God.

1 comment:

Na said...

The accusation of "blind faith" by atheists is not a suggestion that religious people do not have reasons for being religious, just that at most they have anecdotal evidence (like the examples you give), and that it wouldn't matter what any evidence was shown, they would still believe. The faith is blind to evidence, that's not to say it isn't opportunistic.

You ask "could it not be possible that many instances of suffering are allowed by God and His angels for the purpose of a greater good?" You could hold this point of view (and I think I remember covering this before on a different post), but you would have to then see our existence as part of a process towards creating this "greater good", we become God's means to that end; the humanity this is all being done for is still to come. I find this view fairly bleak concerning us, our past and I expect a great deal of our future. Though an interesting thought could be put to those that would follow this. It may well be that God placed religion on this Earth as means of people giving justifications to cruelty and worshiping an idol of egomania. The hope maybe that the feedback loop of suffering caused by this may break our willingness to trust and follow those that claim to be righteous based mainly on their power and volume. It may well be that one of the signs God is looking for is man's ability to move away from religion and focus purely on the well being and support of one another. To reach a place where the good we do to each other makes us collectively the kind of god to each other that everyone would like to believe in. After all, there can be nothing more pleasing to a truly good God, than to feel redundant.
Now of course I don't believe there is a God, and I am thereby pleasing the God I don't believe in ;p

"In a perfect world where nothing ever went wrong, I doubt anyone would ever notice God."
I couldn't agree more!