Saturday, March 6, 2010

When God Intervenes

I was reading this article about the two security officers who were wounded during a shooting at the Pentagon:

Angela keeps telling me I should quickly sit down and blog it when something stirs me up. This one stirs me up.

I understand that emotions run high when a person is faced with a life or death situation...I really do. We come out the other side with this sense of elation and powerful feelings, especially about the fact that we survived. In the midst of those feelings we tend to say things that we wouldn't otherwise say. I get that. But the person reading this story doesn't feel those emotions. Well, they may feel something akin to them if they've had a similar experience or if they are strongly empathetic.

But something about this has always bothered me. This appealing to divine intervention because we survived a potential tragedy. First of all it implies that the person who received the divine intervention was worthy of god's personal interest. Second, it implies that all those people, in all places, at all times, who DIDN'T survive their own brush with death were somehow not worthy of god's protection. Or worse, that they were deliberately targeted by god for retribution.

I recall in exquisite detail the reaction I had when O.J. Simpson publicly thanked god for his Not Guilty verdict in his murder trial. It infuriated me to think that he could deliberately slaughter (and slaughter is the only way to describe their deaths) Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman and then imply that they deserved it by invoking god.

It's something that we do without thinking. "It's a miracle", "God intervened", "The lord shielded me". We should think about that before we say it. So he shielded you but he deliberately slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Haitians. He miraculously cured this one of cancer but stayed his hand when two boys massacred a school full of teenagers. What are the loved ones of those who die to think?

By advocating such a position, we conversely support the notion that every tragedy, every death, is allowed by, if not caused by, god. REALLY?!?

One other thought...if god was really there in that gun battle...Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent god had a dog in that fight...why'd he let them get wounded? Why not just take the shooter out with a passing motorist as he crossed the parking lot to the Pentagon?

I'm glad they survived. I'm always happy to hear someone escaped tragedy and I'm always hurt when I hear someone succumbed. Invoking god does nothing to explain or improve the situation. It just causes more grief.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nate, I agree. As a person who has survived trauma and tragedy, I see the invocation of God as adding insult to injury. As a gay person, I've been a member of a scapegoated group (somehow my existence was causal in both 9/11 and Katrina?!?). I think that Robert J. Lifton has a good point when he says that scapegoating is inextricably linked to what he calls "totalism", or being subjected to another person's "desire [for] total control over human behavior and thought." Wikipedia goes on to state:

"In Lifton's opinion, though such attempts always fail, they follow a common pattern and cause predictable types of psychological damage in individuals and societies. He finds two common motives in totalistic movements: the fear and denial of death, channeled into violence against scapegoat groups that are made to represent a metaphorical threat to survival, and a reactionary fear of social change."

"In his later work, Lifton has focused on defining the type of change to which totalism is opposed, for which he coined the term the protean self. In the book of the same title, he states that the development of a "fluid and many-sided personality" is a positive trend in modern societies, and that mental health now requires "continuous exploration and personal experiment", which reactionary and fundamentalist movements oppose."

When people invoke God as the power behind life's blessings or disasters, they are trying to impose order and meaning, but at what cost? Seeing yourself and others always at the mercy of a supernatural tyrant who can do absolutely anything with impunity? Then, trying to read the mind of such a tyrant and do anything to placate and/or stay off the radar and beneath notice? As a survivor of domestic violence, I also know first-hand how that looks and feels with a human being. As a survivor of both the evangelical and fundamentalist movements, I know the feeling of despair that accompanies thoughts that God has abandoned me, or that I've committed the "unpardonable sin."

I think compassion towards self and others can only grow if a person "grows up" and takes responsibilty for things under his/her control, and responds to catastrophes/disasters not with judgment, but with deeds. Judgment and guilt paralyze. Compassion energizes.


March 27, 2010 at 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you should be the most famous phelps

April 1, 2010 at 2:29 AM  
Anonymous Stupid American said...

I agree with "Anonymous" above. It's too bad you aren't the most famous Phelps - but keep at it! I had an experience that fits your argument. I lived in southeast Texas in 2005 - important only in that that was the record-breaking hurricane year that included Rita. A group of acquaintances got together to pray that the hurricane would miss the Houston area and proudly stated that the "lord had spared us" when it swerved east and savaged Beaumont, Port Arthur and many other places east. To a person, they could not understand how that was the most ridiculous and horrible thing for which to "thank god". It was a moment of clarity for me. I kept my outrage in check and walked away incredulous at their thought process, but to this day I regret that. I should have torn (verbally) into the entire group for their simple-minded, mean, selfishness. Thank you for making this post.

April 1, 2010 at 2:50 PM  
Blogger shadowspring said...

Just found your blog. It was good to read.

I was raised in fundamental evangelical churches, but only on the fringes. Add to that, I have had intensely personal mystical experiences with who I know as God. Of course to the fundies, my experiences are nothing and their doctrine should mean everything.

But it's my life, my one and only shot, and I have no shame in admitting my personal experience means more to me than someone else's doctrine. And it should! What more to guide us do any of us have but our own personal experience, let's be honest!

So what I personally "know" of God has NEVER squared with the Saw-ver-en-tee of God as giant puppetmaster that is preached all the time. That absolutely does not square at all with the Great Love I feel I have come in contact with, though the life and words of Jesus himself are harmonious with Love.

The world is governed by the laws of physics, including hurricanes, ballistics and illnesses. Once we fully understand them all, we can predict when hurricanes are going to turn and why.

Human nature, why people kill and murder, will always be the wild card. I don't think we'll ever be able to predict that accurately, though we could maybe put possibilities on it.

Anyway, thanks for the space to muse on your blog. Enjoy your life. Love the people in it. And thank you for the reminder to think before speaking. =)

April 2, 2010 at 7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nate, Thank You for speaking UP & OUT! Finally a voice of reason from the Phelps family.

April 2, 2010 at 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nate, I am glad I found about you! Thank you for being a real human being.

April 3, 2010 at 7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intelligent AND understanding.

April 8, 2010 at 7:32 PM  
Anonymous Dr. John said...

Great posting Nate. One thing to consider, though is that we are not aware of the many possible times God may intervene in our lives. In an example of a tragic accident that was abated at the last minute, it's rather easy to invoke God as the reason disaster was avoided. But what about ways in which we have no idea god intervened? Say that while getting dressed this morning, you spilled some coffee on yourself. It takes you like 2-3 minutes to change. Meanwhile, had you not spilled the coffee, you would have been the victim of a traffic accident at a certain intersection,one you travel through everyday at the same time, but on this certain day, a seemingly innocuous mishap delayed you long enough to avoid danger. was that God? One wouldnt even be aware that God intervened, but perhaps He did. My point is that it isnt always evident that God is with us, kind of like the "footprints" story. Remember that just because we arent aware of God's intervention, or mislabel a 'coincidence' as God's help doesnt preclude Him intervening in our lives if that is what He wanted to do. P.S I am from Topeka and my family and my heart go out to you. I have lost alot of family to scientology so i understand in a much smaller way what you have lived through!

April 28, 2010 at 12:05 PM  
Anonymous Miss Lucy said... hit the nail on the head for me! This is exactly what I've been struggling with in my jourrney to non-belief. Why would god single others out & destroy others. Just doesn't make sense. Thank you!

April 28, 2010 at 5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, try this...

Go to and click on "random mutation generator" at the top.

It gives you a sentence, or you can type your own and then randomly mutate it to get it to say something else. The trick is to get it to say something sensible without first producing a jumble of mis-spellings that drive your message into extinction.

I have trouble with atheism theory for this reason, among others, but this is a big block for me. I mean, all life processes require communication and intent.

I think that faith and reason can be friends. God doesn't care who wins a ballgame and allowing good people to die and evil to continue doesn't discredit him as a good God and here's why:

If there is a God and we are like him, then it has to be in a spirit sense. I was taught that we are only on earth to learn to love and this is learned by being challenged. Food grows bodies. Trials grow souls, so it would be a tragedy not to struggle in life.

A perpetrator of evil harms their own soul and a person who perseveres in love and faith builds a stronger and greater soul. So, in that sense, we wouldn't be harmed. We would be increased.

Doing evil is like turning off a light. It's a turning from goodness. We want to be with others who are like us. If we love, we will be like God. If we are selfish, we will be "darkened" and will find him uncomfortable. I think this is what makes hell eternal - not that an omnipresent God is eternally angry and spiteful. But, if we are uncomfortable in his presence and his essence is like fire to us, we would probably feel that he is punishing us.

May 1, 2010 at 7:41 AM  
Anonymous Rita said...

Interesting post, Anonymous. I'm not sure what God actually is, and I never thought of evil or hell or any of it just like that, but it makes more sense than the Christians I know do.

I have been through some awful experiences and have wanted to die. It's what I've learned from it that has made the suffering worth it. I've acquired insights and empathy that I can share with others, and that's pretty cool. I wouldn't want to be some of the people who have made my life painful, even if their grass does seem greener sometimes. I feel like at least I can respect myself, and more than that I like myself for not giving up. I also hope that someday they will realize how much harm they've done and feel that pain of reality.

I don't want anyone to go to hell and I can't believe there are real flames and brimstone, but I can appreciate the idea that miserable people can choose to stay miserable just to avoid some other misery even if it's a worse thing over time. That, at least leaves them in control even if they make a bad choice. I see people all the time who are their own worst enemies because they want something now or to avoid something now and they won't think about later. If there's a God, I would want him to be fair like that - letting us choose and not hating us. I would also want him to not judge us for what we couldn't really choose. That would be cruel and unGodlike.

Even though I feel proud of myself, someday I hope that I will be completely at peace. That's harder sometimes than other times, but maybe it's heaven when we are.

Also, I tried the generator. It's a good test, but it didn't show growth of language and cellular communication, etc. to be repeatable. Anyone? Does it have to be?

May 8, 2010 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger redneckgirl1 said...

I visited the website mentioned above and I read some of the articles, one that really got my blood boiling is the New Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God. To me it is the rantings of someone who is so into his religion that he needed to be able to provide proof but what ultimately ended up happening was the making of more proof for the scientific part of the world. "There had to be a beginning therefore there had to be a beginner." Give me a break, the big bang may have happened and I can buy that but to try to make me think because of that there was some infinate being sitting there out in nowhere land and just loved humans so much he decided to create us and this perfect universe for our earth to live in is just a leap beyond being rediculous. Maybe I am not getting what they were saying but I think I am so I'd be interested to hear what others and Nate think of the site and that piece to be exact.

January 12, 2011 at 9:46 PM  
Anonymous jeanie said...

Hi Nate,

I am very happy you were on the Joy Behar show. I think you show such courage!
The Westboro Church issue makes me sad for them because you gain so much by getting to know people who are different from you. You find out we're not so different after all.
Thank you for the courage to be different from your family...
We need to embrace our differences and show respect and tolerance for all...

March 24, 2011 at 11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just discovered you existed, as I'm sure many here have, by reading more in depth on your family. I cannot express how happy I am to see you coming through your trials and standing triumphantly. I too was raised in a fundamentalist church. Again, as others have posted, my experiences were nowhere as heart-wrenching as your own. I respect you for your courage.

As to the substance of this particular post, I'd like to add the adage, "there's no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole." It's the same logic, just applied before or during the danger. I am a three-time combat veteran and I can attest that there are atheists in foxholes the world over, however after a traumatic experience it is common to hear people attribute their survival to 'the Almighty' and not the fact that they were at the right place to survive, simple as that.

I can take this logic one step further and apply it to the notion that proper training and good soldiering will save your life. It's a popular thing to say in a military where we train nonstop for deployment and war. Training is important. I absolutely see the value of training in helping ensure you survive combat- but I also see the inherent dichotomy each time I stand in a memorial service for those killed in action and they are inevitably praised as the 'consummate soldier' and like epitaphs. Are you really saying that these were the best? They failed at the ultimate goal of soldiering- surviving while ensuring the enemy doesn't. Or isn't it time we admit the two (training and survival) have almost nothing to do with one another; just as survival and deity have nothing to do with one another.

In addition, I'd hate to wonder why (discounting immediately your father's signs) your god allowed me, a heathen and unbeliever, to survive and allowed good upstanding Christians to perish.


April 21, 2011 at 8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There comes a time in life to just be thankful ... for all of it. Today, I am sincerely grateful for your life and the hope you bring to so many. Peace be yours, my unknown friend.

June 18, 2012 at 10:48 PM  

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