“Faith can move mountains, Milt, but it can’t beat a faster draw.”
– El Dorado
Each Monday morning, I start off my podcast listening schedule with an episode of “The Atheist Experience.” It’s a show out of Austin, TX that takes open calls – mostly from believing Christians – which discusses and debates the callers ideas on belief and God.
This past week, one caller brought up a subject on which I have often dwelt. After rambling a bit on his woefully inaccurate understanding of biological evolution, he came to tell his own conversion story. The caller claimed that he used to be skeptical and once fell to his knees and asked God if he was real and if He was the god of The Bible. The caller then claimed that he was visited by a being that convinced him that God was real, and that He was the god of The Bible.
A powerful story. At least, it was for the caller. Fair enough. Mayhaps it did happen, just as the caller purported. Neither the hosts, nor I, nor anyone else is in a position to claim it didn’t happen. We were not there, and there is no other evidence to prove or disprove the event.
There are a great number of issues I have with that story (start with the assumption that he asked God if God was real), but chiefly it reminds me of the story of Paul – struck down on the road to Damascus. Apparently Paul had been preaching against God, which upset God, and thus he was visited by an Angel, told to change his ways, and struck blind. Somewhat unremarkably, this confirmed to Paul that he was woefully wrong to doubt The LORD. Hence, Paul went on to become a mighty advocate for Christianity – though he no longer had need of faith as he now had pure, unequivocal knowledge. If questioned, he might have answered, “God and angels and supernatural things exist; I have seen them.”
Similarly, Jesus reportedly performed many miracles for the inhabitants of Israel during his life. Attendees to the wedding in Canaan did not have to have faith in the power of Jesus; they saw the water turned to wine. Neither did witnesses to Lazarus’ resurrection, nor those who were healed of blindness or leprosy. Their faith in miracles was replaced by sure knowledge that miraculous things, being the will of God, could and would occur.
Of course, we in the here and now are to take on faith that these events occurred. We cannot verify their experience. Even if the Bible stories were written first person, they are anecdotal at best.
I have prayed for miracles. Long before my doubt took full hold of me, I prayed often, and sincerely that I be made to understand. I asked God that I be shown something that would take away the rushing tide of doubt. I am still waiting for His response.
I am left to wonder, why a Paul-like experience does not befall me? I am known to most of my friends to readily question the existence of God, and miracles, and anything supernatural. I write this blog (which, admittedly, not many really see nor read), but nary once have I been visited by an angel, nor spoken with a deceased relative, nor struck blind, nor seen water turned to wine.
Some who know me from my youth may feel that I have witnessed miracles. It is true that I have been given a blessing and felt better. I cannot deny that. Of course, though I felt better, I still had a fever, still had a cough, still had strep throat, my leg still broken. Knowing what I know now of placebos, confirmation bias, and Pygmalion effect, I cannot help but assume that time, biology, and knowing I had the care and concern of my family, friends, and church leaders, did most of the healing, and that the most miraculous event was the love of a family, fortunately so common amongst our fellow human beings.
But, forget my tiny and insignificant contributions to the heathen realm. What about Dawkins, and Shermer, and Dennet, and Hitchens, and Harris? People who have truly led so many away from the road of faith – and specifically Christianity. Why does God not see fit to send upon them the visitation of an angel, much like Dicken’s Marley? Warning them of their folly? Their arrogance? Their pending damnation? Their damage to humanity? Why are they so different from Paul? Why am I? Why must we who doubt take the anecdotal word of long dead prophets as truth, whilst others are given visions that confirm the truth?