Heather MacDonald over at Secular Right wrote an interesting post pondering the strange phenomenon of people believing in God’s intervention in mundane, everyday affairs even when He appears to avoid meddling in more weighty concerns.

The vast majority of Christians, guided by their priests and pastors, assume a loving God who intervenes regularly in human affairs. Christians pray to God to cure them from cancer or protect them from a plane crash. (Intermediaries are also useful: A soon-to-be closed Catholic school in Brooklyn is called Our Lady of Perpetual Help, presumably because She does provide perpetual help, but not in this case.) A politician and Baptist minister in Kentucky is promoting a law requiring the state’s office of homeland security to display a plaque that reads: “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.” Apparently God is not just a co-founder of the United States but also a federalist, honoring state boundaries in his on again, off again solicitude for the country.

[Martin] Gardner [in his review of Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem in the New Criterion] argues that were God to start preventing some deadly accidents, he would have to prevent all such accidents, resulting in chaos. The reality is far worse than that. Since believers give credit to God for answering their prayers when they are saved from catastrophe or illness, they have to explain why he answered their prayers and not those other people’s prayers, why he saved these children from a tsunami and not those other children. Any believer who today thanks God for making sure that his coronary bypass operation was successful has to explain why God allowed at least 37 peasants to be buried in a Guatemalan landslide on Sunday. Such an explanation requires either extraordinary narcissism on the believer’s part or positing capricious injustice on the part of God.

I recommend reading the entire post. It’ll help you try to wrap your mind around why people think that God decided to intervene to help them win $50 in the Lottery while shirking his responsibility to prevent thousands of people from dying on 9/11.

Update: Secular Right‘s Bradlaugh makes a related point in a later post:

I watched Bill O’Reilly’s show last night on Fox News. The Big Mick was going on about how the successful ditching of that plane in the Hudson River, and the rescue of all on board, must have been a miracle.

I’d be curious to see O’Reilly’s mailbag on that. Somewhere out there in TV-land there must have been someone watching who’d lost a loved one in a plane crash. That person would surely have been thinking to himself: “Wait a minute here, pal. My wife was as worthy of life as anyone. She was a loving wife and mother, a patriotic and hard-working citizen. Why didn’t she deserve one of these miracles your God hands out so capriciously?

Don’t religious people understand that when they talk like this, they are implicitly insulting people? This planeload of people was deserving of God’s attention and a subsequent miracle, but that one wasn’t? Why?

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  1. Schu says:

    Do I believe that God answers prayer, yes I do. Do I believe that I should be granted everything I pray for, no I do not. Do I need to justify why the Lord has called some, but not others. No I do not. Among other reasons is that I do not know what he knows, and I do not know all of his plans. To my mind the references you have quoted from are people who are pushing their own agenda, and it is not a Christian one. And yes a lot of prayers are self centered and in my opinion that is why they are not answered.

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