The recent mine explosion and the deaths and heartache it caused has made me think a lot about the nature of certain aspects of faith. I blogged the other day about the impotency of prayer, for example. Another topic that’s come to mind has been the popular understanding of miracles. Many have suggested that the survival of Randy McCloy is a miracle. I suppose that in a twisted way, you can call this a miracle. I say twisted because it seems certainly a mixed blessing that anyone should survive with probable brain damage. What’s so miraculous or great about someone’s surviving to remain a vegetable or a shadow of himself? What kind of blessing will it be for McCloy’s wife and children to have (if this turns out to be the case, and let’s hope it doesn’t) an invalid to care for over the next 40 – 50 years?

The notion that any miracle has happened here seems even stranger when you consider the bigger picture. Twelve fucking people died in the mine! How can you label “miracle” a situation in which the alleged miracle-inducing agent allowed twelve to die while half-saving one? It would take a demented god to produce a people that can see a miracle in this situation. And it would take a demented god to permit a situation like this to begin with.

Of course the reason people see miracles in such situations is that they’ve been told for their whole lives that God is merciful and omnibenevolent, etc. And it’s hard to let go of deep cultural conditioning like that, especially when clinging to it in spite of reason somehow actually does help you to get through tough situations. To reconcile pain and suffering with an omnibenevolent god, the religious must always be on the lookout for a silver lining to attribute to the god, nevermind that he’s the author of the much more substantial thundercloud itself and should thus be vilified rather than praised (think of it in human terms: if a person killed a dozen people but only maimed one, we wouldn’t praise him for maiming the one while writing the twelve off as the reasonable product of mysterious designs). I can understand the emotional gymnastics people have to go through in order to negotiate this reconciliation, but viewing it from outside the funhouse mirror room of faith is sure maddening.

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