Did the Catholic Church Corrupt Me (or you)?

In defense of anyone who was raised in a Catholic denomination (there are approximately 24 different Rites or brands), or converted to one, I find it insulting that some ignoramus knuckleheads insist that such persons are corrupted or stupid. Frankly, that is bull shit. I will push back against such nonsense. Since the accusing parties are atheists, their stance is hypocritical, or the pot calling the kettle, etc. Holier than thou atheism? No wonder some of us prefer agnostic.

How I got here

When I was a practicing Catholic of the Roman Rite, I often came to the defense of atheists and atheism. Now an unapologetic atheist, I find myself taking a stance that opposes the position of some atheists (anti-theists, as I see them) who seem to think all Catholics should immediately abandon their faith because church history is unclean. Religion is about God, not history.

Anti-theist atheists, and many others, struggle to deal with the fact that I did not embrace atheism because I rejected religion or embraced evolutionary science. I did neither. Nor did I reject God, as many believers are wanting to think. I simply concluded that it is all man-made nonsense. Since I find no reason to believe a god of any kind exists, religion is pointless for me. But not so for everyone.

A Cultural or Excommunicated Catholic?

I am a baptized Catholic who is an apostate, heretic, and to a lesser degree, a schismatic. I have been automatically excommunicated. Until the excommunication is lifted, it’s forbidden for me to have any ministerial part in the celebration of a Mass or other official worship ceremony. But anyone may attend Mass. I may not celebrate or receive the sacraments or to exercise any formal Church functions. I wouldn’t. I am good with that and I understand it.

I am not a cultural catholic who identifies with Catholic traditions. However, if invited, I would attend church at special occasions like Christmas, Easter, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and such.

What it means to be, or to, corrupt

If someone or something is corrupt, they’re broken morally or in some other way. Corrupt people perform immoral or illegal acts for personal gain, without apology. I have been accused of this because I was raised Catholic. I experienced much more informal corrupting influences outside of the Church in the secular world.

The irony here is that this is the same form of name-calling error believers make regarding atheists. We are corrupt and without a moral compass. Right?

In my case, I was labeled corrupt (indoctrinated would have worked) by a nonbeliever because I spent so many years in religion, particularly as a child. The same person also diagnosed me with cognitive dissonance because I do not regret my Catholic religious roots. He does not understand why I don’t see things his way.

When you corrupt someone, you convince them to do something wrong or even illegal. If you talk your little brother into stealing cookies from the cookie jar, you’re corrupting him. Something corrupt is rotten, spoiled, or out of commission, like a file that makes your computer crash.

To imply, or to directly state, that I was corrupted by the Church is fucking nonsense. In no way was I ever encouraged to do anything wrong or illegal by a Catholic church official or layman. If anything, it seemed to me that everything I wanted to do was morally wrong, according to the Church. In many cases, they had a point.

Should any religion be rejected?

I don’t know. That’s a personal decision. There certainly are a lot of things that should change in virtually every religion and within the minds of believers as well as skeptics. I have concluded that it is highly probable that no god exists, so I do reject all religion since the reason for it does not exist. Religions have done much harm, but also some good. It’s the people that count, not the dogma.

I struggle more with atheists behaving like ass holes, since atheist is how I currently identify. The same person accused me of guilt by association. I worry more about the association issue regarding my skepticism than anything in my past religious affiliations.

In Conclusion

I do not expect the Catholic Church or its people to take all their marbles and report to Saint Peter anytime soon. I don’t expect atheists or any other group to suddenly be enlightened or to behave better. I don’t anticipate any of us will stop criticizing religion. I don’t expect a perfect world.

I do hope that most of us can follow the ancient tradition of treating each other respectfully. I also expect that when I see an innocent group being wrongfully maligned, I will take up the golden rule banner. If that fails, I don’t know what I might do.

Bill

It’s All About How We Feel

All life is full of an unbalanced distribution of pain and suffering. Few, if any of us, intentionally seek out such afflictions. Yet misery finds us. Most animals, certainly humans, avoid these troubles. Unfortunately, many find suicide to be the only recourse to end hopeless permanent misery. While virtually all cling to life, the US suicide rate is at its highest point since WWII (lowest among people of Asian and Pacific Islander groups, highest among Alaskan native people).

Pain has its place. Doctors have denied me relief medication so as not to mask symptoms. I’ve sought medical treatment due to the pain I felt, which signaled something was amiss. I’ve sought support to alleviate my emotional distress, and many of life’s lessons came in the form of pain or shock.

Often, people who become chemically addicted had been seeking pleasure, pain relief, or withdrawal mitigation provided by the substance, either medicinal or nonmedical. Much the same can be said of social addictions. People often help us to feel better.

The goal is the pursuit of feeling happy, whatever that happens to be. A problem is the lie of some drugs, especially alcohol, provide in the form of temporary relief followed by dependence. While relief is the intent, loss of control accompanied by legal transgression is often the result.

And then we have the perverse, unwise, and often injurious idiom, no pain, no gain. I much prefer, listen to your body.

But I want to mention how religion, particularly Christianity, looks upon pain and suffering.

I was religiously taught that experiencing pain and suffering was good, perhaps blessed. While my secular world never supported this acceptance theory, my elementary school teachers, who were Catholic nuns, emphasized the suffering, sacrifice, and martyrdom of saints: holiness.

The passion (read suffering) of Jesus is emphasized dramatically as being caused by human sin. Thus, much, but not all, of Christianity is enamored with pain and suffering. I won’t over-do that here. It gets deep. There must be books and books about the art and science of suffering. Some even claim that one’s suffering contributes to the quality of one’s art.

Like most Catholics, I was taught to offer it up. They could have simply said, just deal with it. But on the mystical road to God works in mysterious ways, one must make life’s pain and suffering serve a useful purpose. That’s religion. And let’s not leave out the it’s your fault, and you should feel guilty and repent. Penance. More suffering which ironically may include prayer.

Fortunately, none of the physicians working in pain management tell their patients to do that, although many cautiously allude to it. However, I have not recently checked any Catholic hospitals.

I have had discussions with my medical providers about some of my pain, and we jointly decided I should endure exercise pain and work through it as it is the best alternative to dangerous surgery. Most properly done exercise is beneficial. I agreed, but dang! I wrote a poem about it.

Still, my goals are to feel good or at least free of most pain and suffering, to remain healthy, and to live as long as reasonably possible. I ascribe to the idea that there is a long enough or too long, but we only seem to know that point when we reach or pass it.

Religions want to tell us what and how god is, and how we should feel about life, death, and god. Some seem to want it both ways. The health and wealth folks are into get mine here and now, but most Christians and Muslims seem ready to accept that heavenly gratification will happen after we die. That is when we will be truly happy and pain free—and dead. I mean cold stone dead.

Many have decided that god is all for the good, and whatever it is they chose to believe is what they want to believe because that is what makes them feel good. And that’s my point. We all want to feel good. They see the wealth and well-being of theirs juxtaposed with their own suffering as God’s will or his mysterious ways.

Be it religion or reality, it’s all about how we feel. I feel as though I am championing the obvious, but for some, this is controversial.

Bill

God ≠ Religion ≠ God

Belief in a god or other spirits does not require practicing a religion. I emphasize the difference between the two things: a belief in a god and doing some religion. Religion makes the rules for dealing with that god, and in some cases other gods.

If something like a god exists as a spiritual or physical deity, with or without interest in humanity or any of Earth’s flora and fauna, then he, she, or it must exist outside of human contact or detection. If not, we would be able to detect a god and the whole question of existence goes away.

Then, we are left to fight over religion, something we have done for thousands of years. There could be anything out there. But, if no god exists, which seems likely without contact or detection, religion becomes pointless as rules for interacting with something nonexistent, which is silly.

Over the years, gods of one kind or another have been given names. You’d think they’d come with their own names, but they need us to name them. Think about it. Why would they need names anyway? Is it so we can tell them apart? We had to name them.

What ever happened to these gods we named: Baal, Isis, Osiris, Saturn, Furrina, Venus, Odin, Thor, Mars, Jupiter, Diana of Ephesus, Pluto, Nin, Istar, Sin, and Mami, to list only a few of the many who were worshipped and believed-in by millions of people? Admittedly, a few gods got their own planet.

Many people claim to believe in some god (usually it’s Jesus in these times and parts of the Universe) yet choose to practice no religion whatsoever (often because some church or preacher pissed them off). They, along with atheists and many others in between, are called nones because we mark or write none for the question that asks what religion you are.

I’ve never seen the question asked like this—Do you believe in any god or gods? That is unless it’s being asked by someone like employees of Pew Research while conducting a religion survey. Many of us lie about that part and say yes when we don’t believe. Back in the 1950’s if you wanted to file with the Draft Board as a conscientious objector, that was the first question asked.

The question usually asked is of what religion do you consider yourself a member, or something very similar. But that’s no big deal.

A bigger deal, which is much more interesting, is that there are many people participating in and practicing religious rites and rituals of one kind or another (even preachers, priests, and other ministers), but who do not believe any god exists. Some of these closeted atheists should win Academy Awards.

Other atheists are made to feel welcome at places like Unitarian Universalist churches and are comfortably open about their disbelief (I honestly don’t get this, but I’m far from an expert). Most others are faking belief (Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, you-name-it) as best they can for whatever reason they may have.

I stopped believing in a god before I stopped going to church. In fact, over the years I was on-and-off or hit-and-miss as in I’ll try this religion thing one more time. I think that’s the case for many other people. The sequence often goes like this: belief based on what we are told, doubts from thinking too much, disbelief as doubt grows, hanging in there, and finally leaving the faith/church/cult/whatever.

In my case, during the process of my deconversion (not a fan of that word, but that’s what it’s called), I held a senior leadership position in my large Roman Catholic parish (aka, church). Before I left, I was on the threshold of moving on to a new job in another state. I waited until I moved. Then, I simply did nothing. It was easy, if a bit semi-deceptive.

I thought it was better and easier to let my term expire quietly and move on rather than to go through all the business of resigning early and trying to explain why. As part of the process of finding a replacement for me, future leadership candidates asked me a lot of personal spiritual questions that I dodged or declined to answer. I recall saying, I’m not the person you want to ask that question of. I was lying. I knew the answer, but I avoided embarrassment for us both. They didn’t understand, of course, but it was better than don’t ask me, I no longer believe any of this (expletive).

Three or four years passed before I openly and clearly said that I am atheist. Before that, I knew, or at least thought I was. But saying the words to any other person seemed scary. I was wrong. It was not scary. It was just the opposite. It was a relief and not something I should have been worried about. If friends and family can’t handle the truth about me, that’s on them.

If I lost any friends I’ve not noticed. Certainly, some relationships have changed, but so what? I’m sure there were some believers who added distance between us, but others would privately confess to me that they were also atheist or some form of unbeliever, or that a loved one of theirs was.

Only a few centuries ago, Christians killed fellow Christians, Jews, and Muslims over religious differences. Now many Muslims seem set on killing the same three groups, including fellow Muslims (it’s a religion of peace, don’t ya know?). In some places, Hindus and Buddhists seem to be at it.

They are all united in that they all get their holy tit in the wringer if you’re atheist. The problems and shortcomings of religion, while denied by many, are obvious to most people if it is not their personal religion of choice we are talking about. But do they ever consider how foolish it all is if no god exists? Religion becomes a symbol of mankind’s stupidity over the eons.

Therefore, I don’t spend much time hammering religion. I can, and sometimes I must make my point. But the key question should be do you believe in any god? If so, then religion is rightfully a secondary issue. If not, then religion is immaterial.

What religion am I? It’s immaterial.

Bill

Allegory: The Man in the Room (2.0)

Note: I first published this allegory a year ago on the Our Literary Journey blog site (before I started this one). Based upon the comments at the time, it was well received. Some of you will remember it. For those who haven’t read it, here it is with some edits and corrections.

The Man in the Room (2.0)

I don’t recall exactly when I learned a man was in the room. I’m sure someone told me.

For years, I watched as other people behaved as if they knew he was there. This was serious business. People (called martyrs) died because of this man. As a child, I never doubted what I was told about the man in the room. I not only believed he was there, I also knew a lot about him. He was old with a long gray beard, but handsome. He was quite distinguished and grandfatherly.

The man in the room was more important than anyone, even more than the President or the Pope. The President, and especially the Pope, also believed there was a man in the room. The Pope even had secrets that the man had entrusted to him. The man in the room was even more important than I was, or my parents, or any king.

Everything was about this man.

People wanted me to devote my life to the man in the room. We gave up things and made sacrifices either for him or to him. We did good things, like give money and stuff to the poor and needy because the man in the room wanted us to. The more we showed that we cared about the man, the better we were treated by our teachers, preachers, and parents.

The man in the room made the rules for everybody. He picked special adults and told them what the rules were for all of us. Everyone I knew agreed that there was a man in the room, and he was in charge forever. He was super powerful. He could do anything. He was in total control of everything. He could be invisible and even bring dead people to life.

He had always existed and always would.

Eventually, I learned that the man in the room made everything; even me, and you, and the Pope. I learned that he made me for a reason. I was to love and serve him and to do his will outside of the room. Everyone was. Even people who didn’t know it were supposed to serve him. That was my first world view, my purpose for being, but I didn’t fully realize it.

People would talk to the man in the room. Sometimes, they would ask for something. I was taught how to talk to him. I did this for a long time, but the man never talked back to me. Apparently, he only talked to certain people using his thoughts. That made sense. I sometimes asked the man for things. I was told he was always watching me, so I assumed that was why he never gave me anything I asked for.

I knew people went into the room to see the man. One day, I decided to follow some people, hoping to see him. When I opened the door and stepped in, I saw no one, not even the people I had followed. It was an empty room and there was no man or any person to be seen. I wondered why I had seen no one else and why he apparently left the room when I entered. I had been assured that he always remained in the room.

I decided to find out why I had seen no one in the room, especially not the man I was searching for. Since everyone was so positive about the man, I was sure that I had made some mistake.

After leaving the room by the only door, I decided to ask my mother why I had not seen the man. Mom got nervous and seemed upset. She told me to ask my father. I did. That was a mistake. Dad became angry and sent me to my room. He told me that next time he might beat some sense into me.

I decided to try a more neutral person.

I asked one of my teachers who I could trust if there was a reason that I couldn’t see the man. I could see the irritation in her expression, but she kindly explained to me that if I could not see the man, it meant that I did not believe strongly enough. I needed to have more faith. If I believed strongly enough, I would see the man.

As I asked others and I talked with friends, I realized that some people did not see the man either. A few of them never went into the room, or they denied any room existed. But they never told me that there was not a man to be seen. Most others told me that they did see the man. I was told that those of us who did not see the man were at fault. The issue was our lack of faith. And my lack of faith was evidenced by the fact that I asked too many questions and talked about it too much.

I thought the problem was clearly with me. I could see the room, but never saw the man. Others did. I needed more faith. I simply had to try harder.

If others could see him, why not me?

Years passed. I lived my life and almost forgot about the man. However, the man in the room issue never went completely away. People began to assume I could see the man, just as they claimed. I stopped talking about him as though I could not see him. In a way, I lied by pretending.

For a while, I returned to the room often. I decided to ask a man in the room expert if there was reason for my failure and if there was anything I could do. Again, the blindness was my doing. If I would believe more, I would see him. That still made sense to me.

I wondered how to have more faith.

Since I was certain that there was a man in the room, that it was my lack of faith that prevented me from seeing him, I decided to take even more drastic action.

I became a man in the room fanatic. I joined organizations. I took all the classes and attended all the learning groups I could find. My expertise grew and qualified me to teach classes to both children and adults regarding the man in the room and the things they should do to be better followers. Eventually, I became a man in the room leader in a large and important relevant group.

I held firmly to the belief that there was a man in that room. Finally, one day I saw the room again. No one could have done more than I to be a true-blue follower, believer, and expert. I had not seen the room in years, but then one day there it was.

That was my moment, my time, my life-long goal of seeing the man was to be that day.

I proudly opened the door and triumphantly marched into the room, and there sitting in the chair in the corner was me as a child.

The child looked up and said, “I have been sitting here your entire life. I wanted nothing more than to meet the man in the room. For over 50 years, I have waited and searched, while you have worked and prayed and believed. But, look around. There is no man in this room and there never has been. I have gone to other rooms with the same discovery.”

I felt broken and deceived. I had wasted so much of my life hoping to see a man who never existed. Again, I walked out through the only door. When I looked back, the room was gone. I thought, and I wondered, and read and studied all the possibilities. I felt myself changing. I began to say negative things to people regarding what may be in the room.

I had lived most of my life with almost constant thought about the man in the room. Over many months I slowly became a person who openly expressed doubts.

Then one day a friend asked if I still believed that there was a man in the room.

I looked at my friend and said, “For more years than you have been on the earth I have searched for the man in the room. I did more than enough. I have decided that I was deceived. After a lifetime of trying to find a man, it is my conclusion that he does not exist and never has. The man is a myth and has always been.” I was relieved to know that I had finally found a truth that escapes so many.

One day, someone else asked, “What is the point of you saying that there is no man in the room?”

I responded, “There is no room, only one told in stories. There is no man, invisible or otherwise. Too much life is wasted over nothing. Either there is man, or there isn’t. Faith is irrelevant. Belief does not make it so any more than failure to believe makes it not so. It is reality based upon evidence.”

Another man overheard that comment. He approached me and said that I may not make such a statement if I have no proof that there is no man in the room. He said that I was asserting a fact that I could not prove. He wanted me to say that I only believed or assumed that there is no man in the room.

I objected by claiming that I was asked a question (what is the point?) to which I provided my best answer. I postulated nothing. My answer to the question is not an affirmation that there is a man, but an admission that there is no evidence that there ever was a man in the room. Since he was not in the room when I looked, that was all the proof I needed. The fact that others believe there is a man in the room because someone told them has no bearing on reality. It only supports what they already believe.

My conclusion is different than their belief. No one ever told me that there was not a man, only that there was. When I tried to find the man, or to ask why I could not see him, no one said he was not there. They only told me that my inability to find him was my fault.

I no longer believe what people told me. But since I did everything I could, and I did what they told me I must do, and I still did not find any evidence of the man, I concluded he does not exist.

One of the things that helped me with my conclusion is the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the resulting idiom regarding pluralistic ignorance. I should have known from the beginning that there was no man to see because I could not see him. That should have ended it. But I did not want to accept that what people were telling me were the same lies they had been told.

Almost everyone I knew insisted that I was wrong. When I realized that the Emperor was naked, I knew why I wanted there to be a man in the room. I wanted there to be a man, and I wanted him to be as I was told he was. I wanted to be like most people. I’m not.

Now, I know the truth. I need no proof of what does not exist.

Bill

Angry with or Afraid of God

I understand. Anger is a normal, if often unhelpful, human emotion. Likewise, fear can be disrupting and controlling, or it may keep us safe. Yet, despite experiencing such emotions since childhood (still do today), I have never experienced those two, or any others I can think of, like love, regarding what I considered a god.

If someone had called me a god-fearing man, I would object. I was not afraid of god, though many people wished I was. Through various stages of my life and maturing religious beliefs, I cannot recall ever being angry with any spirit, even the devil himself.

I’m certain that being raised in the environment where I was, being up to my ears in the Roman Catholic Church, its traditions and dogma, left me with a concept of the Christian gods (Father, Son, Holy Ghost; all one god) that is different from how others might imagine the same god.

For most of my life, I have been a man who essentially believed in a god to one degree or another, or tried to. Much of my personal religious effort was focused on growing; on believing stronger or more ardently than I did. I said the prayer, Lord help my unbelief, so many times; more often when I realized which way my theism was going or had gone, which was south. The prayer (of course) changed nothing.

One day a friend told me that she was angry with god because her first marriage ended when her husband left her for another woman. Then her second marriage was to a man who eventually died from alcoholic liver disease (he was still alive when she told me this). I remember wondering how she could blame god for the problems in her life which were caused by the men she loved. At the time I pondered my own faith. Would I ever have enough faith (belief) in god to feel such anger toward him? Today, I doubt the sincerity of her anger.

I was able to share neither her emotional experience nor her theological logic. She is now on her third marriage and, as far as I know, god got it right this time, or maybe the third time adage applies.

I have never been angry with Santa Clause for not bringing me what I had requested; nor at the tooth fairy for leaving such paltry sums of cash under my pillow in exchange for baby teeth. I have never been angry with unicorns because of their preference for human females, nor at leprechauns for not sharing their rumored wealth. I may have mumbled the words, oh lord, why me? or what did I ever do to deserve this? But I was never angry with god (or the Catholic Church) for worldly misfortunes befalling me or those I loved. My atheism is defined by my skepticism, not by my anger or temperament.

Since the time when I said (and wrote) I am atheist, I’ve learned that the concept of disbelief is so foreign to many who believe in god, to one degree or another (just as I did), they attempt to rationalize it by thinking that I really do believe in god, but I must be angry with him for some reason. My friend on her third marriage turned to the refuges of church and religion and to god for solace during her difficult times. She has not embraced atheism or rejected her church (former Catholic now Episcopalian) and religion. If anything, she has become more involved in all of that.

For me to be angry with god would require greater faith and stronger belief than I’ve ever had. When I get angry at anyone, I may cut off communication, but I know they still exist (unfortunate in some cases).

I have always rejected most religions as do most Christians. Now I simply reject all religions more fervently than in the past. When I de-converted, I needed to add only a few religions to the list.

While I remain furious at the Catholic Church hierarchy for how they handled and continue to handle all sexual abuse (cover up), so are many practicing Catholics (although far too many play apologists and make insanely poor excuses for the priests and bishops).

If I discover one day that I am wrong and god exists, I may ask, what the fuck were you thinking? Depending on the answer I get, I may then become angry with god. Until then, I see no reason to waste my emotions on the invisible (and nonexistent) man in the sky. Either he is not there, or he doesn’t give a shit. Either way.

What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose on earth?

I dug into the conclusion of Sam Harris’s book, Waking Up: A guide to Spirituality Without Religion, for those questions. They’re common. Religious people of all sorts use them to challenge nonbelievers because they are so esoteric and intended to flummox. There are others with the same intent. Religious folks think, no god means no meaning or purpose. Interestingly, people who do not believe in any gods see it in the opposite way, particularly regarding religion.

No one need answer such questions, but we certainly may. I personally would enjoy such a discussion with almost anyone. If my life has no meaning or purpose, just WTF have I been doing for the past six decades?

Questions like this remind me of memorizing the answers in the Baltimore Catechism during early elementary school. Two relatable questions from that book are:

Question 6: Why did God make you?
Answer: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever (sic) in heaven. (life’s meaning?)

Question 9: What must we do to save our souls?
Answer: To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart. (life’s purpose?)

Catholic grade school children had to memorize the questions and answers word for word and were given grades on the subject.

I would paraphrase a quote often inaccurately attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, Preach the gospel. When necessary use words. There is no evidence that he ever said that, but it is a good point whoever said it.

I also like a phrase that writers attempt to apply – show, don’t tell. I cannot change the world, what other people think, or undo the past. But I can (for the most part) choose my behavior and actions. I hope you understand my meaning and purpose.

For both the meaning and purpose of life, we must live into our personal meaning and each of us create our own purpose by making the one life we have something of greater value. I think we should be caring with nature and other people. We should embrace life’s natural compassion, charity, community, and contemplation. We don’t need religion or a god for that. In my opinion, they get in the way of thinking.

As nihilistic as that sounds, reality is not subjective but how we interact with it is.

Nobody knows all the answers. What’s the meaning and purpose of life? I have my thoughts … so do you. I create my purpose of life and it is to live the best life I can. If you need more than that, good luck. Questions about life’s meaning should be multiple-choice. I feel like the meanings of my life are the same as they’ve always been. It has nothing to do with any god and never has regardless of what the Catechism said.

Philosophically, there are people who make the claim that life has no purpose and is meaningless (i.e., nihilists). Yet, those people go on living for some reason. I wonder why. Maybe their purpose is to run around telling everyone else how meaningless it is. I disagree even though many inside-the-box believers insist that such claims to meaning and purpose without god and religion are pointless.

If other people need god or religion to give their life purpose or meaning, who am I to take away their crutch? I know from my experiences with reading and talking to others that admitting the truth about god and religion changes little about life’s purpose and meaning. In many cases, life becomes more meaningful within the reality of this one life and this one world, right here, right now.

And if you are up to it—-

Miraculous Miracles

For there to be a miracle, there must be some sort of supernatural entity. Call it a god. The event happens when the supernatural entity transgresses a law of nature in a good way. Some may credit the paranormal or the occult with the event, but such happenings are usually referred to as magick, not miracles.

For miracles think of things like rising from the dead, walking on water, or curing leprosy or cancer with a short cheer two thousand years ago. No tricks or sleight of hand may be involved. It must be real, and someone needs to see it. Statues dripping water should not be located just below toilets or the urinal in the mens’ loo.

Dictionaries have added definitions of miracles that are not miraculous. Natural events or accomplishments with highly improbable positive outcomes are included as miracles, even though they are not. For example, “It’s a miracle he passed the test. Her recovery was a miracle.” And some might even invoke divine agency by saying it was miraculous instead of improbable or extraordinary.

Neither the Miracle on the Hudson (plane landing) or the Miracle on Ice (Olympic ice hockey game) are considered supernatural miracles, but amazing events. (But not really all that unusual. Sully was an excellent pilot and the USA ice hockey team was also great). And then there is the Hail Mary pass in football. Mary is a fan of which team?

When my son (Steven, if you’re keeping track) doubted the existence of any gods, he said he wanted a miracle, or a sign, in order to accept a deity. I grabbed a loaf of bread and set it in front of him and I claimed, “This is a miracle.” He said, “that’s not what I meant.”

While bread is one of nature’s awesome wonders in that a seed can be made to grow and be transformed into food, it is not a miracle in the sense that it is natural and routine and there is no evidence of supernatural interference.

Now, there was that one deal with Jesus and the cursing of the poor fig tree (Matthew 21:18–22) that some call a miracle, but that sounds like black magick woo-woo to me.

In the Abrahamic religions miracles play a vital role in each belief system. In Christianity, they’re essential. For Jesus to prove his divinity, he allegedly performed miracles. Muslims rely on miracles too, beginning with the writing of the Koran.

Jews may manage with fewer, but they have the parting of the Red Sea, the Plagues of Egypt, and some raising of the dead and others. Undoubtedly, a modern Jewish believer will be far less prone to attribute extraordinary events to a supernatural intervention, but his or her belief in God’s power will not allow them to deny the very possibility of miracles occurring.

A Hasidic Jewish saying has it that a Hasid (a kind of Jew) who believes that all the miracles said to have been performed by the Hasidic masters actually happened is a fool, but anyone who believes that they could not have happened is an unbeliever. The same can be said of miracles in general.

Most religions have some form of tie with supernatural miracles. The rest of us use the term in the second sense, which simply means unusual, but often it is not even that. A close family member of mine was recently extremely ill. She did what the doctor said and added other things like proper rest, and eating healthy (including ensuring intake of supplements and electrolytes). On her next visit to the doctor, he declared her recovery miraculous. Her recovery had indeed been much faster than anticipated. While many used the miracle term, no one claimed supernatural intervention.

The Catholic Church’s process for determining one’s sainthood ordinarily requires that at least two supernatural miracles must have been performed through the intercession of the dead but blessed person who is not yet sainted. The idea is that if they are indeed in Heaven (where a saint must be), it is assumed they would intercede with god as requested by prayer. My point is that two miracles are required. One is insufficient. (God, just to be sure, would you do that one more time?) However, this requirement is on and off and seems to be completely waived off at times.

This is not a complex issue for me because I don’t believe in god or spiritual stuff. But for believers, it is very complex. David Hume’s “Of Miracles” section of his mid-18th Century book, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, is considered a classic about miracles and belief.

Preparing to write this, I read Miracles by C. S. Lewis. In the introduction of the book Lewis claims that one must have the right philosophy. In other words, for one to believe in miracles, one must first believe in miracles. Later in the book he criticized circular logic. Don’t waste your time (believer or not). Most of the alleged apologist writings of C. S. Lewis were intended for Christians. Perhaps most others are as well. In Miracles, Lewis admits as much. But, you do sell more spiritual books when you preach to the choir.

Thomas Paine, one of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution, wrote “All the tales of miracles, with which the Old and New Testament are filled, are fit only for impostors to preach and fools to believe.” That’s what I think too.

If everything is a miracle, is anything?