On Other Religions and Miracles (Part 1)
There is an innate feeling of uneasiness when it comes to hearing miracle claims of other religions. Something within us wants to argue that the only legitimate place to encounter the miraculous is within Christian contexts. We often find it necessary to argue that adherents to these miracle claims have somehow been deluded—in a way which the apostles were not—and thus suppose that non-Christian claims of the miraculous are all fabrications.
Currently I am part of an on-going discussion in which the claim has been made by an atheist that Sathya Sai Baba, a late Indian miracle-worker with millions of adherents, proves that humans tend to accept miraculous claims on a whim and are incredibly prone to delusion. You can gather the sort of implied statement here: atheists are rational and not so easily deceived; religious people are quite easily deceived into accepting anything and everything that has the “God” sticker attached. I want to challenge this sort of notion in my next post but tackle a couple up front questions.
Let it first be said that I understand that there are some Christians out there who reject the idea that miracles happen today. I suspect that this is in the minority but I am aware that this viewpoint exists and is very prevalent in some circles. Indeed, I use to fall within this camp and used to be quite skeptical of miraculous claims in any worldview, including the Christian one. Two things really caused me to abandon such a presupposition and begin to allow for Christian claims of the miraculous. First, I started to recognize that there was little difference between my approach to miracles and a deist’s approach to the miraculous. I had fallen into the a priori conclusion that because I had not experienced one directly all claims must be false. Psychosomatic explanations or those stemming from coincidence were much stronger in their ability to relay truth than divine activity. But this viewpoint was little different than the deist claims which espoused that God either couldn’t or wouldn’t act within nature. Was I putting limits on God? Absolutely. Walter Winke puts it fairly succinctly, “People with an attenuated sense of what is possible will bring that conviction to the Bible and diminish it by the poverty of their own experience.”1 In my case, it was not only beginning to influence the way I read the miracle accounts of scripture (I started to try and explain them away) but it was diminishing my view of reality into a sort of materialism or, at best, a liberal theology.
Secondly, I experienced a miracle myself three years ago. I don’t talk about this much and I’ll leave the details aside for a variety of reasons, but the experience—which had little to do with me—changed my approach to the topic completely. Occasionally, I still have this tug to try and go back and explain away the experience with more materialistic conclusions. This pull, however, is more of a condition of a post-Enlightenment culture and the legacy of David Hume (the 18th century philosopher often credited with debunking the miraculous) than it is a desire to find the truth of the experience. The truth is, when I go back and actually analyze and revisit the experience, there is simply no alternative explanation which makes sufficient sense. This endorsement is strengthened by the testimony and witness to miracles that many others have tossed up. Since allowing myself to accept claims of the miraculous within the modern world, I have seen phenomena on several occasions which cannot be boiled down to a material worldview.
I still tend to approach supernatural claims with a good deal of skepticism, but this is in fact healthy. The level of ascent that so many religions and adherents fall into with claims of the miraculous is unfortunate and unhealthy. There are con-artists and magicians out there which use religion as a means for scamming people. As a rule of thumb, if somebody tries to grow your leg, he is probably trying to actually grow his own wallet. But I will talk more on this in my final post.
1Walter Winke, “Write What You See”, accessed 3/11/2012, http://www.westarinstitute.org/Periodicals/4R_Articles/wink_bio.html