Atheists in Foxholes: Post Hoc Miracles by Bruce Monson (June/July 2002)

Even before I got into the fire service, I had long purged myself of the self-righteous evangelistic rhetoric that had dripped on me from the pulpits throughout my youth. I was a free man, a freethinker in fact, although at that time I had never even heard of this term. So when I became a firefighter nearly a dozen years ago, I had no grand ideas about helping others in need as a means to proving “God’s love for His people;” or being a “vehicle” in which Jesus could “work his miracles through me.” This is certainly how many of my Christian counterparts view themselves, and that’s fine, for them.

But it’s not fine for me. I take exception when I’m told (all too frequently) that “even though [I’m] an atheist [I’m] still being directed by God’s loving hand,” and whenever I do “good,” I’m not really the one at work, but Jesus! But I’m still going to Hell!

Christians today are fond of proclaiming that–even in a world filled with “worthless,” “sinful” people, who “fully deserve to suffer in hell for all eternity”–Jesus, because he loves us all so much, still performs miracles for us. The reason nonbelievers don’t recognize these miracles is because we are “just too arrogant and too blind to see them.”

Isn’t it interesting, though, that these so-called “miracles” always seem to come in the form of naturally occurring phenomena, or riding on the coattails of human exertion and teamwork? For example, if a skyscraper collapses from an earthquake (or terrorist attack), killing thousands under millions of tons of concrete and steel, but a few people are rescued from isolated pockets within the rubble (through the efforts of human rescue workers, mind you), it’s labeled “a miracle from Jesus,” even though it’s a statistical probability that a few people will be alive. While the odds of any particular person surviving such a catastrophe are exceedingly small, the odds that some will be alive is virtually 100 percent; as such there is nothing “miraculous” about it.

And what of the hundreds that lie dead for every person rescued, many of whom may have remained alive for hours or days, buried alive, alone, terrified, but ultimately dying because human rescuers, hindered by the natural laws of physics, couldn’t reach them in time? It’s repugnant to think that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God, if it exists, should get credit for the “saves” and in the same breath be absolved of blame for the needless suffering and death! From a post hoc perspective, anything can be made to seem “miraculous.” Because these miracle claims are devised after the fact, and based on a need to believe that Jesus is real and that he performs miracles, Christians will latch onto any improbable event they can to fulfil that expectation in their minds, ignoring the thousands of other “improbable events” they see every day but never notice because they carry no religious weight for them.

This past summer during a major league baseball game the famed Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitcher, Randy Johnson, threw a blazing fastball toward home plate, and at that moment a bird happened to fly in the path of the pitch and was struck by the ball, and killed it in mid-air. Now, the probability of such an event happening is remote in the extreme, and yet we don’t see Christians running around proclaiming what a “miracle” it was!

They don’t call it a miracle because they have no religious motivation to do so. Moreover, there is no need to call such a thing “miraculous” since there is nothing outside the realm of the natural world required for such an event to occur, no matter how improbable it may have been. So why is it, then, with so many billions of prayers being said year-in and year-out by millions of Christians all over the world, we have never seen a “miracle” come in the form of even one resurrection from the dead?

I have seen many children die tragically in my profession and do you know what? They are all still dead. Evidently, Jesus’ best “miracle work” comes through death and destruction (e.g., 9/11, Oklahoma City, Columbine, etc.), because it’s always viewed as “God’s hand at work” when people work together and help each other in times of crisis (or even the Superbowl)! But why can’t He provide just one single resurrection today as objective evidence to “His” reality? Why not just one Lazarus (John 11); just one Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8); just one “Only son of a widowed mother” (Luke 7)? Are there no grieving Christian mothers who “lost their only son” on 9/11 who might read this story and ask, why not my son? The hard truth is that Christians secretly do feel a bit cheated when reading these dramatic miracle stories of lost loved ones being resurrected, with Jesus himself putting the skeptics in their place by performing the feat. They wish that their Jesus really would “answer their prayers” by coming down and putting on a biblical show of power rather than constantly having to pacify their doubts through hackneyed spiritual plagiarism where Jesus gets the credit for works done by real people in the real world.

Who would not be impressed if, say, a man identifying himself as “Jesus of Nazareth” (Caucasian, of course) were to float gently down from the sky like Mary Poppins, touch down at ground zero, and proceed to resurrect all 343 of the dead New York City firefighters (those He had “worked His wonders through” throughout their careers, but somehow saw fit to kill on September 11, when they were needed most). Or how about the eight children who were on board the doomed hijacked planes; or the fire chaplain that died from falling debris while giving “last rights” to a fallen firefighter? Would you not be impressed? I certainly would, as would Drew Harding, a retired FDNY fire captain who told me recently: “Any doubts that I still had about a supreme being and merciful God were given closure on 9/11.

I’m retired now but I lost 14 close friends and 343 brothers on that fatal day.” I hear you, brother! And rest assured that if Drew Harding, myself, or most anyone, for that matter, had the power to not only know in advance what was going to happen on September 11, but also had the power to prevent it, we would have done so without a second thought! That’s a no-brainer. In fact, as public servants we are mandated by law to report malicious intent if we are privy to such information, and failure to do so is a prosecutable offense. Fortunately, for the public’s sake, we are held to a much higher moral and ethical standard than Jesus, and other “heroes” of the bible. Colorado Foundation member Bruce Monson is a professional firefighter-paramedic and former Baptist turned freethinker.

He promotes religious tolerance, rational thinking, and the separation of church and state. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation