Leaving the Fold

Leaving the Fold

Monday, 5 May 2014

General Questions on Christianity Part 2: Miracle Stories & Prayer Continued

Why I am sceptical of miracle stories

In a case of very bad timing, I read an article about a gunman at a McDonald’s in Texas whose gun jammed when he went to open fire on someone, and as suggested by several Christian news articles this was because of a miracle that occurred as a result of a woman who had been praying. It was badly timed because I had just heard about a recent shooting massacre on the TV so I was very unimpressed when I happened upon this. In the McDonald’s story God made the gunman’s weapon jam when he (the gunman) went to shoot the woman praying and her family. The guy walked outside, his gun apparently worked, and he walked back in, the gun no longer working. The guy could have been acting in order to frighten people and stuffed his gun up, walked outside fixed it and fired, then walked back in having stuffed the gun up again all to make people afraid. He may have intended to intimidate, not kill, or less likely he did not know how to use or maintain a gun (unlike in Hollywood movies, they do not work well if not maintained which is probably a good thing). Yet Christians were praising the story. What had those people done wrong who had been killed in other incidences that only one mother had done right (including the massacre I had just heard about)? Had this one woman who had her prayer answered, out of the no doubt many such prayers that had been said that day, been the lucky and won the draw, in that her prayer happened to be randomly selected to be answered then, rather like getting the lottery (which might seem absurd). It seems unlikely that none of the other people who had died in shootings in that past year, or indeed the last century, or on the same day as this story even had been praying for themselves or others to be spared. If God was not willing to act in any of those other shootings, why did he randomly decide to act on a single occasion only? If he was going to answer that woman’s prayer why had not he answered the prayers of others as well and not just hers? God apparently more often intervenes in more mundane prayers, or prayers that if answered would make it look like he is playing favouritism when a non-believer may have been just as deserving of what the believer receives, if not even more deserving.

People with lots of Christian friends on their Facebook will probably be quite familiar with prayer requests, prayer for help with school, uni, college, personal goals and health concerns relating either to the poster or someone the poster knows. The very common responses of “praying” or “done” seem a bit unnecessary for one thing. Prayers for the sick are quite common but prayer requests are quite rigged due to the fact that God will be praised regardless of the outcome. if the person gets better, God will be praised (often they forget about saying thank you to the people actually doing the hard work, makes me feel sorry for the average doctor or nurse). If the sick person gets worse, it’s a faith issue, either on part of the patient or those praying. If the worst should come to pass then there is a general acceptance (at least amongst Christian circles) that the person has gone to a better place and God is praised for allowing the person in their lives. Praying puts Christians at risk of forgetting who the ones doing all the hard work of making the ill person better are, including hospital staff, paramedics, first aid officers where applicable, the patients family and often the patient themselves. Had most of these people not been involved, as can and does happen especially when health care is limited or unavailable (such as in third world countries) then the prognosis of the sick individual would likely been much poorer, regardless of the number of prayers made. If God does decide to heal people after getting a headache from so many people praying at once (which if he was, or is real, probably happens on Sundays), then this doesn’t explain why Christian’s go to a hospital or seek medical care at all. In fact there are some Christian groups in the US that shun the idea of seeking medical assistance for a serious illness because they believe that prayer makes it unnecessary, they are however a very small minority and rather controversial in their region.

- As I have made evident previously, I have an enormous problem with Christianity’s stance on suffering when God will apparently, at random, intervene if the person happens to be praying but not everyone who prays is always so fortunate. Anyone who does not pray is less likely to be lucky. The fact that he intervened once goes against all the arguments suggesting that God cannot intervene in human suffering because something is stopping him, or he cannot intervene without breaching free will. If he can stop a gun from firing, what’s stopping him from intervening on other occasions to? Why when a person is wrongly accused of a crime (even by their own church), can God not intervene and say the person is not guilty of the crime they are being accused of (or give the pastor some kind of divine revelation of that, like some pastors claim they get on other occasions). If he did answer the prayer of the woman in the above story, that would appear to suggest he is playing favourites and favoured her prayers above anyone who was not quite so lucky (and there have been a lot of cases of that including the other story mentioned). I could accept the idea that God can not intervene at all for some reason unbeknownst to us a lot more than I could accept the idea of him intervening at highly random and highly irregular intervals. It does seem that Christians are more likely to be optimistic about events and attribute good circumstances to God even if he more than likely had nothing to do with them. Another story which also only helped make me sceptical about miracles was from a Christian who proclaimed God got them into a course they had not got the marks for at university, suggesting God had favoured a Christian above anyone who had tried just as hard or even harder than that individual to get into that course. These are not the only times Christians accidentally make it sound like God plays favourites to the total disregard of the feelings or well being of non-believers or even sometimes other believers. I am sure making God sound like he likes to play favourites with complete disregard for non-believers is usually done by accident. However, it does not give anyone who is not a Christian and encounters this sort of attitude a very good picture of God or Christianity, nor does it remotely help people who a struggling in their faith. If anything it is more likely to make people who are struggling in their faith confused and angry resulting in their de-conversion. Another example of this was a man who praised God for saving his house from a bushfire after praying it would be saved, sadly most of the other houses in his street were not so fortunate. It was selfish prayer really, because it showed little concern for his neighbours property and a total ingratitude to the real saviours of his home, the people fighting the fire. That has to suck a little, you save someones house from a fire and instead of saying thanks they praise God. To a degree, in reality whether or not a house survives a large bushfire is a matter of luck and the ability of the firefighters to protect the property.

At times, God also seems to have an incredibly skewed priority when answering mundane prayers that would not seem to need as much priority as say someone whose life was in danger, like finding someone a car space while someone else who is praying is dying or suffering some sort of abuse. To be fair, many of these stories were targeted at a Christian audience and not intended to be said within earshot a non-Christian or somebody struggling with their faith (which just made the struggling bit worse). This happens to with Christians trying to justify suffering loss or suffering as part of God’s plan. This frequently not only makes God sound like a jerk who seeks his own wants above peoples needs, but it is also often a common and poorly timed mistake made by Christians as non-believers who have lost someone close to them recently are likely to find such justifications offencive or insensitive. This can especially be the case when the justification is poorly worded and despite being meant in comfort it is going to sound extremely cold to the person suffering i.e. God took someone away because he needed them, cold comfort for their loved ones or family.

Several incidents, which were ongoing for some time, opened my eyes to the large amount of hypocrisy present in the church. While many try to counter the issue of hypocrisy by trying to set an example, I still realised there were many two-faced Christians. Despite their increasing numbers, God seemed to be turning a blind eye. He was either unable to pull them into line or just did not care. It seemed odd that God was doing nothing to stop this hypocrisy in his church despite the damage they were doing to his name and the name of Christianity. Not does this give him a bad name, it also gives Christian’s trying to do the right thing a bad name and results in them being persecuted more. God’s lack of intervention to stop the growing incidences of hypocrisy in the church convinced me he either does not care, or the Christian deity does not exist.
This seems to encourage the psychological persecution complex, which is not helped by several verses suggesting Christians will be blessed for the persecution they face. This leads to many Christians feeling that the whole planet has it in for them; the bible encourages this idea. When bearing an open mind it is possible to realize Christianity is not the only religion where persecution is the problem. A couple of verses by Paul even seems to make it sound like non-believers like nothing better than to go Christian hunting over anything else, that or Paul the Apostle seemed to think that all non-Christians behave as he did before the eventful trip on the road to Damascus. Although Christian’s are quick to point out Paul was persecuted, as I mentioned in my first few posts, Paul brought this on himself. The reason Paul brought this on himself is he decided to go into Jewish synagogues and tell them basically that they were no longer exclusively God’s chosen people, not to mention he was a Roman citizen according to the text. It’s about as polite as someone going into a mosque and call a major prophet a false prophet loudly and interrupting the normal day-to-day activities of the devotees in the mosque in doing so. Christian’s often do not like it when people tell them their own religion is wrong, some more than others, yet for some reason many evangelists have no no problem stating when they think another persons religion is incorrect and don’t realise why the other person might not be pleased.

The Jews went through some of the most horrible examples of persecution, sadly in the past this has been encouraged by the church of the time, and they were later ignored by many Christian’s during WW II as nobody wanted anything to do with them, it was only later that the extent of this persecution became apparent to all. There are numerous incidences where people of religions other than Christianity have been persecuted, not always because of their religion either as the persecution has sometimes been motivated by other causes (e.g. racial or political).

Christian newspapers in particular annoy me. Quite frequently they highlight the suffering of Christians while ignoring the fact that they are not the only group in the mentioned article who are suffering and sometimes they deliberately omit when another group is being persecuted as well as Christians (or they will exclude all other groups except those their audience is likely to be sympathetic towards). That or they will highlight when a Christian does something good but fail to mention any other group who also do the same thing. They also seem to enjoy propaganda as well, although I won’t go into great detail due to the controversial nature of it, one example includes an incident in the middle-east, one of sadly many, in which some Christian's were killed in a bomb blast. Christian media reports failed to mention any of the victims that were not Christian and then proceeded to make it look like an attack on Christianity.

A major issue with Christianity in countries within and around central Asia is that it is often synonymous with western culture. Many Christians would not agree with this, and I do not agree with it either but the fact is many people in Central Asia associate white, Caucasian people with Christianity and think Christianity= Western culture. Considering the disdain some places have for western civilisation, this is not a good thing resulting in persecution. Some groups have also not forgotten their disdain for mistreatment suffered at the hands of powers such as the British Empire despite the span of time that has since passed, further fuelling this prejudice. It also does not help that Christians are taught that it is their ultimate mission that all must be converted to stop them from going to Hell, because although it may sound harsh, this results in Christians getting themselves into situations that result in them getting persecuted because they either say that to non-believers or believe it is their God-given responsibility to prevent people from going to Hell (and I have mentioned previously the enormity of this particular responsibility). Going to another country and telling people their religious beliefs are wrong and they must convert to Christianity, is not only a contradiction of the idea of free-will, but it is also understandably offencive which unsurprisingly causes some people to retaliate and not everyone deals well with such  an offence without resorting to violence.

Despite its prominence in the New Testament there are little to no records pertaining to the persecution of the first apostles or of them being a general nuisance as far as the Romans were concerned to the scale described, certainly nothing that would explain Saul (later Paul’s) apparent and bizarre zeal for hunting Christians. Christianity did not appear to start getting a lot of attention by the Roman Empire until later particularly around the reign of Nero from where well-known images such as Christians being used to feed lions in front of hundreds of Roman spectators comes from.