Saturday, 11 April 2009

Fan Mail, II: My Problem With Miracles, & Why Religious Folks Don't Get It

Fan Mail

Of late, I have been receiving a flurry of comments with my post on the Lighthouse Evangelism (LE) Church, which I have written because of its rather tall, preposterous tales about riding folks of their respective diseases; I have also written at length the dangers of believing in such miracles and being suckled into the delusion that you actually do not need professional, medical help to cure your bodily ailments.

Below are some of the comments I feel are worth mentioning, and I shall try to elucidate and perhaps clarify some of the points these Christians have felt imperative to highlight to me; Both of them address themselves as "Lighters", in reference to Lighthouse Evangelism, although it does remind me more of a device I frequently use to light up my cigar........

1. "People Do Get Healed!"

Magical Thinking can be a wholesome and fun affair: When we watch Criss Angels walking across a swimming pool on water, or David Blaine attempting to perform a levitation stunt, we watch with awe and amazement at their "magic", while at the same time acknowledging the fact that these are but complicated versions of sleight of hand and illusions meant to entertain the masses, and are not meant as propaganda tools to advance any form of religion.

Some religious organizations, however, exploit the idea of supernatural phenomenon and claim them to be true, and I contend that miracle healing belong to a class of subterfuge which exploits the gullibility of religious folks, and I made no bones in sounding this point across in my LE post.

Lighter responds to my post:

"Being a Lighter (member of Lighthouse) myself, I must say that your post contains a lot of words against Lighthouse. At every week's miracle service on Saturdays, many people are healed, and it can be proved if you go there once and witness it all. Each week's Lighters' Link also puts in print the number of cases there are of people being healed by God. There is a whole list on the Lighthouse website of the people who have been healed by the wonderful touch of God. Please don't dismiss this as a 100% failure thing; many people have been touched and moved the accept God into their hearts in the Miracle Service."

As a secular humanist, I would like to take this opportunity to elucidate my point: I'd be elated if, and I do mean a big "IF", miracles do work: Who doesn't want to be cured on a wing and a prayer? No more nasty medications, no more painful vaccination jabs, no more painful and nauseating chemotherapy; life will be one absolute bliss!

Why wouldn't the Church, with its healing prowess, engage in proper Science to study their amazing phenomenon, so that humanity can harness some good, or a whole lot of good, out of these miracle sessions hosted by this church???

But alas, Lighter does not hold much regard for Science:

2. "Science isn't Everything!"

"Why is everything related to Science? Why must everything be explained with Science? It's not like Science created this world. It's not like everything revolves around Science. What makes you think that Science is all 100% correct and believable? There are things which Science can't explain. Miracles are definitely one of them. Don't just try to debunk miracles like that."

Ah yes, the shortcomings of Science. Indeed, Science is not a perfect tool for humanity, in terms of discovering the world and a seemingly boundless, endless universe.

But Science is our best tool in validating existing phenomena, and it is particularly effective in sieving out fact from fiction. While it is true that Science makes mistakes, it is very much a self-correcting tool in the sense that scientists carry out consistent, continuous research to ensure that what is being studied is closest to the truth. Science is therefore an honorable pursuit for the truth, and while corrupted scientists do exist, corrupted or falsified data are sieved out and discredited by other scientists quite readily, minus the bloodshed religious sects tend to mete out against one another over trivial differences over mere doctrine.

If Christians like Lighter insist that miracles do exist at Lighthouse Evangelism, Science would be the Church's elixir of sorts; folks will start flooding into the Church seeking for a cure, hospitals will lose business and close down, and everyone will be happier, healthier and more inclined to harbor faith and religion in their bosoms. So what exactly is stopping them?

3. "This is an Anti-Christian Post!!!!"

Besides discrediting Science in general, Lighter alludes to my perceived anti-Christian stance:

"And by the way, you're not educating. You are merely publishing an anti-Christian post. "

I do not deny the fact that more often than not, I have a morbid disdain for religion; while it has been an absolutely brilliant political tool for mobilizing entire nations into going to war with other tribes not aligned with the host's religious beliefs, religion is increasingly becoming less relevant in an increasingly less sectarian and rational world. That being the case, religion is more akin to a cancer in societies, who would have been much better off without their religious yolk.

That said, I do not, and am not, against Christians. Belief is, after all, an individual right, and I have nothing against Christians in general. In fact, I am so tolerant towards Christians that I can actually empathize with Christians who knock on my door in a bid to convert my erstwhile soul. I have reservations, however, with regards to the level of tolerance some Christians can exhibit towards folks whose creeds do not align with theirs.

I am against chicanery, in whatever shape and form: Like Fengshui, extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence. If, for example, I claim fairies exist, then it is my onus to prove it to you that fairies exist, and it is the same situation with miracles. If these folks from Lighthouse Evangelism have no basis of proof to validate their claims, then their activities, along with their unctuous claims, are no better or worst than the medicine man who sells snake oil to the unwary consumer.

Besides, blind faith of this sort is dangerous: Folks who believe that God can heal them of their ailments and adamantly refuse to seek medical help are going to end up with more trouble than they can ever bargain for.

4. "Tithing isn't Compulsory!"

"Your point about old people being cheated of their money is actually quite invalid, because in LE, we never force people to tithe/ give offering. People come at their own will and do what they want to; they aren't forced to do anything. They don't have to ask for healing if they don't want to. "

Herein lies a fallacy: Contrary to his claim, cheats invariably do not coerce people into handing over property; rather, the use of a glib tongue or flimflam are standard psychological tools deployed to induce people to part with their earthly goods.

Churches use a variety of well-proven techniques to induce the cash into their pockets: A place in heaven would be standard fare, or some earthly rewards using the time honored tradition of "the more you give the more you get from God" are excellent sales techniques in ensuring that church coffers never run empty.

While I am not implying that the Church itself is cheating folks out of their hard-earned cash on purpose, the idea that people can be cured in a Church-sanctioned "miracle" session sounds too far-fetched for the rational mind, and it takes a huge dosage of faith, clouded thinking and desperation to believe in such deluded nonsense.

A Miracle? Prove It!

If folks such as Lighter wish to be treated seriously, they might need to persuade their head honcho to perhaps engage more earnestly with scientists, and perhaps have their "miracles" validated for all and sundry.

While I appreciate fan mail, I am very much perturbed by folks who hold such dangerous beliefs: If one doesn't think critically, all manner of hucksters are going to exploit this form of "open-mindedness", i.e belief without evidence and take them for a ride.

While I have no doubt that miracle services of the LE sort are fun and alleviating to the unwary, a staunch belief in miracles and God does one little or no good in the quest for convalesce: If you are sick, seek the advice of a doctor, not the priest or the shaman.

-"Heroin also makes people feel better, but I wouldn't recommend using heroin. " James Randi