God Was With Him
By Farell Till
(The Skeptical Review)
In January, newspapers in Central Illinois reported the tragedy of a young man who was seriously maimed in a train accident. Wearing Walkman earphones as he strolled along a railroad track, the boy was apparently unable to hear a slow-moving train approaching in reverse from behind him. Despite frantic shouts from people nearby who tried to warn him, the boy stepped onto the tracks at the last moment and was struck by the train. He survived but lost his left arm and right leg in the accident.
One of the witnesses who tried to warn the young man said, if quoted correctly in a local newsarticle, "He could have been killed. God was with him."
A tragedy like this needs no commentary; the sympathy of everyone goes out to the young man. The comment of the witness, however, is quite another thing. Unfortunately, her reaction is too typical of those who are parties to incidents like this one. If a tornado or earthquake devastates a community or if an airplane or train crashes, those who escape death are often too eager to think that the hand of God reached down especially to aid them. "The Lord was with me," or, "Somebody up there must like me," are typical comments that the survivors make.
Reasoning like this (if we can even call it "reasoning") fails to recognize that if the hand of God reached down to aid the survivors of a tragedy, then it is necessarily true that the hand of God did NOT reach down to aid those who died. If someone whose home escaped serious damage in a tornado attributes his good fortune to the providence of God who directed the funnel around his house, then surely he can see that God cared more for him than those whose houses were destroyed. In the case of the young man who was maimed in the train accident, if God was truly with him, then why wasn't God with him in a way that would have spared him the crippling injuries he suffered? Why couldn't God have influenced him in some way to remove his earphones a minute or so before the accident? Or why couldn't God have caused a power failure that would have taken the radio off the air or any one of a dozen things we could think of that would have enabled the boy to hear the witnesses yelling at him? The logic of this witness requires her to believe that God wanted this boy to go through life permanently crippled, because she believes that "God was with him" but not with him enough to spare him completely from crippling injury.
The purpose of this article isn't to argue the question of divine providence but to take notice of the appalling lack of logic in the thinking of Bible believers. The woman who thought that God was with the boy who was maimed in this accident identified herself as a Lutheran, but she could have been a Baptist or Methodist or Catholic as well, for in matters concerning traditional theistic beliefs, we hear such irrational thinking as hers from all brands of Christians. The more of it we hear, the more we wonder if there is any hope at all of ever building a society that is relatively free of superstition.
To say this is not to retract what was said in "Living on Borrowed Time" (Winter 1993, p. 1). We still believe that Bible fundamentalism will continue to wane until it ceases to exist, but, as we noted in the article, its extinction will be a long time coming. We live in a tabloid society that makes astrology and physic predicting profitable enterprises to engage in. The same mentality that sustains them sustains Bible fundamentalism, so certainly Bible fundamentalism is going to be with us for a long time.
When we consider the damage that religious fundamentalism inevitably inflicts upon the societies in which it thrives, it isn't very comforting to think that social progress in our country will continue to be impeded by those who seek to impose their interpretations of "God's inspired word" upon us all. Something that rationalists can do that might hasten the demise of Bible fundamentalism is to get involved in teaching people how to think. A regrettable characteristic of our society is the emphasis that we put on teaching what to think. Certain ideas and attitudes become socially, politically, and religiously correct, and children in particular are indoctrinated in them with little or no attention to logical analysis to determine if they are indeed the most suitable and beneficial ideas and attitudes to espouse. For this reason, people grow up to believe that God exists, that Jesus of Nazareth was his son, that the Bible is his inspired word, that God is responsible for the apparently fortuitous events that happen to us, etc., etc., etc. They believe these things not for sound rational and well thought-out reasons but simply because these ideas represent what they have been taught to believe.
In this publication, we have identified and discussed more than enough problems to convince rational thinkers that the Bible just cannot be "the inspired word of God." We will continue to publish articles with that intention in mind, but perhaps it is time to devote at least some space to articles that discuss how to think and how to apply logical thought processes to the biblical text. Some of the articles in this issues have been written and selected with that intention in mind. Similar ones will follow in later issues.
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