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    USAir Flight 1549: Do you believe?


    So I was watching next-day coverage of the Hudson River airplane crash on CNN today and at some point one of the anchors brings up God and says something to the effect, "And if you're not already religious, something like this may make you believe."


    And it made me wonder,






    Well, of course not.

    Look, what happened in New York yesterday was amazing. I'll go even so far as to call it a miracle, in the sense that the very happy outcome was also a very unlikely one (although this fascinating and potentially useful Time article says a surprisingly high 76% of passengers in serious plane accidents survive).

    But it's another thing entirely to believe that God was responsible for what transpired, that He or She or It was the reason why the 155 people aboard USAir Flight 1549 survived yesterday's crash.

    First of all, that kind of blind faith minimizes the heroics of the people involved in yesterday's events - the pilot who steered an engine-less plane safely into the middle of a river in one of the country's most populous metropolitan areas, the passengers and crew who took charge of the plane's evacuation, the ferry boat operators and other good Samaritans who helped in the rescue effort.

    Secondly, if we are to give credit to God for yesterday's good news, mustn't that mean we also hold him responsible for all the crappy things that happen in this world. If we are to say that for some reason God thought those 155 people yesterday were worthy of being saved, then we must also admit that God thought all 230 people on TWA Flight 800, and all 1,836 people in Hurricane Katrina, and all 2,974 people in the 9/11 attack, and all 225,000 people in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and all 6 million people in the Holocaust, that God thought all of them deserved to die (of course, some evangelicals have argued just that - that these tragedies have all served some sort of divine purpose).

    Don't get me wrong: It's nearly as tough for me to understand how someone can be an atheist, certain of God's absence, as it is to understand how someone can be just as certain that there is a God (and even more incredibly, that they know what such a God is like). As far as I'm concerned, the Hudson River Airplane Miracle is no more evidence that God exists than the picture of the two towers above is proof that He doesn't. But I'd venture to say that if you were to line up all the wonderful miracles that occur in this world alongside all the awful tragedies that happen, the list would be overwhelmed by the depressing side of the ledger.

    But true believers have an easy, pat response when a seemingly incomprehensible tragedy occurs: "God works in mysterious ways." I've heard people say that all the time to mourners who have watched their children die or suffered some other overwhelming loss, and the insensitivity of the sentiment astounds me.

    If it gives comfort to you to think that there is a just and merciful God out there who has a plan for each and every one of us - a plan that we will never in our earthly existence fully understand but one that may at times require the deaths of innocent infants, the destruction of entire cities and the occasional systematic slaughter of millions of citizens - then who am I to take away your comfort and solace?? I cannot prove otherwise.

    But as for me, I'll stick with what I know. That life is usually short and sometimes sweet. It is precious and precarious. That bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. That for no other reason than there is already enough pain and suffering in this world, that I must do what I can to balance out the scales - by enjoying myself while I'm alive and able, by spreading joy and love to others, by being grateful for the blessings I have ... and by celebrating happy moments like yesterday's miracle, without ascribing to it some kind of divine meaning.


    Taking the "miracle" aspect of this story a step further: If you truly believe that this is proof of God, then why should we bother training pilots how to deal with emergency landings? Better yet, why bother with pilots at all? If the plane's already going to the lord's will, then why not just assign a random passenger to sit in the cockpit and play with the controls? Better yet, why don't televangelists invest their millions of dollars in a new plane that flies using nothing but "prayer power?"

    As one US Airways flight 1549 survivor put it, "God was certainly looking out for all of us." So I guess what this fortunate fellow means is, God, the old man with the beard who lives up in the clouds, decided that all the people on US Airways flight 1549 were so special, that he decided to frighten the crap out of all of them by faking a fatal plane crash, systematically making them think that they were going to die, then at the very last minute, God said, "HA-HA! Just kidding! I'm not going to kill you! I just wanted to scare the shit out of you, and then save your asses, since you're all so special, and I really want you to know that I care for you and love you, so I'm going to save you now, so that you believe in me. The passengers on Flight 800, and other catastrophic fatal crashes were generally not good people, and so I disposed of them... After all, I'm God, damn it, and I exterminate bad people. The Sudanese victims of genocide are generally bad people, which is why I don't let them live. 9-11 rescue workers, trapped and crushed on 9-11... Obviously bad people... Jewish victims of the Holocaust? Well certainly I had to kill them since they didn't believe in the divinity of my son Jesus. I mean, no brainer there." There you have it folks. If you survived a near fatal plane crash, it wasn't because a highly trained and experienced professional crew exemplified ingenuity, composure, and magnificent skill to save your ass, it's because God apparently loves you more than others, whom he has previously allowed to perish.

    that was exactly my point, godlovesmebest. not that i don't understand why a survivor would feel that way. It's arrogant, and presumptous, and simplistic, and yes oddly unconcerned with why god decided to cause the plane to crash in the first place, but it other ways it also makes perfect sense, and I'm sure if I went through a similar experience, I could possibly be thinking the same things: 'There's a reason I was saved. I must have a purpose I'm supposed to fulfill."

    and heck, if the experience makes someone on that plane be a better person, or accomplish something they may not have otherwise accomplished, all the better. what i have a problem with much more than someone feeling they were saved because they have a purpose to fulfill are the devout folks who feel they have a right to tell people mourning a huge loss than god works in mysterious ways. as if that is supposed to be comforting...

    Sorry I didn't see this earlier.  Thank you Deadman for posting this.  We hear this stuff all the time without giving it any thought to what is really being said - God saved me (so that means I am special).  I hope I can remember to point out how ... I'm trying to think of a work somewhere between selfish, creepy and stupid... that remark is next time I hear it.

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