Not So Polite Dinner Conversation: signs from gods, prayer and decoupage

a sign? photo source unknown
a sign? photo source unknown

Theists often claim that they see a “sign” from their god. These claims usually revolve around pareidolia, but occasionally there is a claim of a relic or divinely-touched item. One of these claims is about bible pages on a piece of wreckage from the WTC terrorist disaster (unsurprisingly, the provenance of the item is very questionable). I found a blog where a pastor claimed that this item was evidence for the Christian god. Such claims about an item does help me pose the question: if this god can decoupage pages on a piece of wreckage, why didn’t it use its supposedly omnipotence and omniscience out of its supposed omnibenevolence to help the people who were hurt and died in the disaster? This question can be a part of the “problem of evil” but in this scenario there are definite claims of divine action, not just a philosophical argument. These claims by a theist add some meat to the thought problem of “Why is there evil in the world?” as the pastor says, when it also adds why does this god do nothing about it, except, perhaps, an item that is little different from what I made in bible school. If a figurative message in a bottle is all this god is capable of, that is one thing; gods are not always omni-max. The problem is that a god like this isn’t the god that most, if not all, Christians worship.

In his post, this pastor is quite sure that his god directly applied these pages to the wreckage and that he knows that his god intends the pages as a message to humanity and that this could not be a coincidence or a hoax at all. I asked why this god couldn’t help the people who risked and lost their lives to rescue people or help those who chose to jump rather than burn. The resultant discussion was civil and interesting. It seems that it may be ended, and ended abruptly, but I am hopeful that Pastor Ashcraft might continue.

When someone claims divine action in this world, there is always the problem of showing that the event cannot be simply coincidence, or in the instance of relics or divinely touched objects, not a fraud. There is also the problem of explaining why this divine action happens in one occasion and not another, if one assumes that the deity involved is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-concerned about the happiness and well-being, e.g. “love”, of the human race as many theists, especially Christians, claim. As above, it is much easier to claim a “sign” rather than showing that this god actually does anything. The pastor asked that I not lump his claims of a message from his god in with the claims of “the guys who see Jesus in toast” but there is little reason not to do so. He sees agency in the pages on possible wreckage; “the guys” see agency in an image of a god, or his mom, on food, trees, stains, rust, reflections, etc.

Pastor Ashcraft has said that this is how the world is “God created man and everything was good. Man rejected God’s plan, and evil entered his heart. Man does evil things against man. God has a better plan.” This doesn’t fit what the bible says, nor what we observe. This “better plan” of the Christian god is undefined as are the terms “good” and in our discussion, “love”.  It does not explain why this god sits on its thumb and does nothing, but, according to many Christians, make “signs” that may be improbable but no more than any other curious coincidence.

One place that our discussion widened to is the idea of prayer and its effect. It is worth noting that Pastor Ashcraft has claimed that prayer will help one achieve financial success for one’s ministry. He claimed that it was more complicated than that but with quotes like these: “What fueled the rocket launch[his supposed success]? Prayer. But not just regular old customary prayer. Prayer that was energized by scripture. Prayer that was powered by faith. Prayer that was inspired by revelation from the Word of God. These prayers were so successful, that I wanted to share them with you. Mustard Seed Budget is a ministry dedicated to helping you arrive at success. May your labors never be held back by lack of finances!” And this “As your knees hit the ground, may your prayers hit the heavens. Let these pearls of wisdom become pearls in your pockets.”

And this “Stop letting your shortcomings deplete your faith. Pray for finances with full confidence. If even sinners can get miracles, why not you? You may have foibles but it’s folly to lose faith.”

It doesn’t appear to be that complicated at all.  I think one can be pretty sure that there were a lot of prayers going up on 9/11 (and from many different theists).   If this god will get you cash in your pocket, then why can’t it save someone who is praying desperately to live as the towers collapse around them, as the fires race down the halls of the Pentagon, as the plane plummets to a field in Pennsylvania?

If you wish to read what our discussion was, you can find it at the link in the third sentence. The discussion stays fairly on topic, though it does widen into the usual baseless claims about morality that Christians make about atheism and the common ignorance of Christians about evolutionary theory, etc. Those things are always disappointing, especially when counter information is simply ignored. Many questions are also ignored but that is expected. Pastor Mike also made a post claiming that Peter Hitchens (Christopher Hitchens’ conservative Christian brother) explains his position from another perspective. You may read it here. It is a reminiscence of how he fought with his brother, and ends with Pascal’s wager for no discernible reason. How it was supposed to answer my question about why the Christian god can do arts and crafts rather than actually helping people is beyond me.

If you would care to read it, the discussion as of this date is in the pdf below as well as at the blog link above.

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