Yesterday I watched the memorial service for the tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri. I know that it was a memorial service, and so the predominance of religious rhetoric should not be surprising. It was certainly an event designed to provide comfort and closure to the relatives of the victims, and I certainly respect that. However, I had two thoughts.
The first was the tastefulness of the speech done by President Obama. He was able to include a Christian religious sentiment without wallowing in it and using it using it to grandstand religious indoctrinational ideas. Governor Nixon spent more time talking about Jesus than he did the tragic victims of the disaster. Obama’s speech predominantly struck a more humanitarian chord than a religious one, which far more befits a speech by an elected official.
The second thought came from the attempts of the religious leaders to reconcile the disaster and its losses with God’s love. Damage control. How can a loving God visit such wrath or allow such a disaster to befall his devoted flock? The answer, it seems, is that God and Jesus stand beside the victims in support and never promised that the events of the real world would not be a hardship.
That causes me to be confused for a number of reasons. If God allows allows such disasters and provides strength for dealing with them, then what is the validity of the concept of prayer? Is prayer not intended to bring the action of God into the lives of the people praying? Are miracles, such as faith healing, not the hand of God? When football players and talent show contestants praise God, are they not acknowledging an active intervention of God? And if all of these can occur, then why, when it comes to a natural disaster such as this tornado, is God all of a sudden conveniently impotent?
The other thought had to do with quality of life. Has anyone ever studied the actual quality of life of devout Christians vs “devout” Atheists? Are these Christians any more likely to avoid disasters or cancer? Do they have a lower level of divorce or a higher level of happiness? Is there any tangible benefit at all? I don’t think so. In fact, I think that it may very well be the case that in the big picture, that the opposite is true.
The usual response to this kind of question or argument is that the benefit comes in the after life. That’s just too convenient. The benefit of Christian faith (or any other religion) is only demonstrated in a manner which is unprovable. Resurrection and reincarnation are both ways in which clergy can justify suffering and sacrifice (often to the will of the church) in the name of an intangible reward that can never be confirmed. I don’t think that one example of confirmation, poorly documented, would satisfy most people in any meaningful question, so I’m not sure why it carries so much weight in a question of such crucial importance.