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Miracles, Christians, And Anthropology


R. S. Martin

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Originally posted here in the thread on miracles.

 

Mythra, thank you for raising this question. It allows me to think through some major issues I spent much time thinking about and never had anyone to talk to because the questions themselves were taboo. Well, I'm not sure if I thought about them consciously because thinking about taboo topics would have been taboo. But sometimes there are tennis balls just beneath the surface.

 

QUOTE(Mythra @ Sep 16 2007, 01:15 PM) post_snapback.gifWhen you were entrenched in religion, how many of you spent time thinking about the wonderful miracles in the bible, and wondered why God suspended them after Jesus?

 

This in and of itself raises a major item. 1. A child obligated to raise her siblings under the iron rule of her parents could use so many miracles if only God would see fit to perform them. Why can't he do it now if he could back then? 2. On the other hand, does God even exist? How can we know for sure? In order to perform miracles he has to exist. It's best to just believe. 3. If I oblige God and believe in him, why won't he oblige me and just perform a few miracles and make life a bit easier? How can he be so cruel as to suspend miracles now? 4. On the other hand, if there are no miracles now, were there really any miracles ever? But it's not okay to think this way....And I'm quite sure I never allowed any of this to become conscious because I tried very hard to be a good Christian girl.

 

QUOTESurely if God wanted all people to come to repentence and salvation, the continuous demonstration of bona fide miracles would have been helpful to His cause.

 

Of course, the explanation that miracles ceased after Jesus' time is an unsatisfying answer that can only resolve things in the minds of the unquestioning religious masses. Those who's faith has formed an impenetrable wall between them and reason.

 

Their faith has formed an impenetrable wall between their precious selves and me. My questions don't matter, don't count. They hate me because I want to be honest and understand the things I am supposed to belief. It is so unfair to be punished for being unable to believe things that don't make sense. I am punished if I am impatient with my sister who has difficulty reading but I am hated for having difficulty understanding the religious things. No one has patience with my difficulties. When I complain that this is unfair I am punished for complaining.

 

That was long ago when I was about twelve years old. Now I'm all grown up. I've done much research and I have concluded that there are no answers for my questions. I have resolved that I will no longer lie about sacred things like God. Since there is no evidence for God's existence I will no longer profess to believe in God. For this I am severely punished.

 

I guess that is why they built such an impenetrable wall between themselves and me; they hoped they could keep me from thinking about these things and that I would just believe what they said I should if they didn't encourage my questions. Now that they see that this didn't work, they have cut me off. They cannot risk seeing the Light of Truth for themselves. They do profess to have the Truth.

 

I have never seen a link between miracles and repentance. I thought the miracles were meant to prove that Jesus was God's Son, the very Christ. I thought the miracles of the OT were simply performed to help God's People out of their desperate need of the moment. In thinking about it now, they seem a great deal like the magic in the secular fairy tales I read as a child.

 

QUOTEThe real answer is that miracles were never suspended. Life has always followed natural laws. Always. The impossibilities in the bible never happened. Period.

 

You know, it's really therapeutic to hear someone say this out loud. Or type it in black and white. Just see the ghosts scurry into the shadows. :)

 

QUOTEI'm not talking about improbabilities. I'm speaking of things which cannot happen. Irreversibly dead things (from human beings to dandelions) do not re-animate. Ever. Never have, never will.

 

Even the most religious people know this when it comes to their own lives. I grew up on the farm where life and death of animals and plants was an everyday occurance. Now-a-days barns are built better but when I was a child our barn got pretty cold in winter. Dad would somtimes bring a half-frozen new-born baby animal into the house to unthaw. Baby pigs or lambs sometimes revived on our kitchen floor near the woodstove or in the open oven. I think he even brought in a calf on one occasion. The animal would be on an empty feedbag with some straw--never mind the smell. There was money invested in this smelly itsy-bitsy thingy on the floor.

 

He would rub it to stimulate circulation. There was nothing to indicate whether there was life or not. All he could do was nurture it and wait to see what would happen. If, after a long time, it began stirring to life, we children might think a miracle had happened like at Jesus' resurrection. But my parents would assure us that such things didn't happen today. If we objected that it was dead when Dad brought it in, Mom would explain, that "it never was dead--it just appeared to be dead." I seem to faintly remember that this actually happened. So I learned about life and death.

 

QUOTEAnyone with an inkling of rational thought knows this. People do not magically fly into the sky. Never have, never will. The earth cannot suddenly cease to spin and then magically start up again.

 

It's silly thinking about it actually. Sillier still that grown up men and women lay their grown up minds on the shelf and cling to the claim that these things actually happened.

 

The last little while when I still identified as a Christian I went to a church where some fairly highly educated people also attended. One of these was a retired sociology professor. He loved to be part of plays in acting out bible stories. He was really into this stuff. Because of his academic training I assume he understood something of aboriginal or "primitive" religion. He personally had served in an Amazon tribal mission at one point in his life so he pretty much had to know something in this line.

 

I was really into anthropology of religion at that point. I never took roles in any of the plays. I had not grown up with this sort of thing and it bordered on blasphemy in my opinion. However, I watched him--and everyone else--with the eyes of an anthropologist. Watching this retired sociology professor at a modern Mennonite Church perform as a chief priest condemning Jesus was, for me, a real-life lesson in anthropology of religion.

 

These people were the "real thing"--they were exactly like the Pacific Islanders I had watched in a movie my anthropology prof had shown the class. They believed that what they were performing actually was real, that it had happened much like they were telling the story, and that they had benefitted from it in a real, tangible way--exactly like the Pacific Islanders believed about their religious ceremonies that they re-enacted.

 

The Christians and the Aboriginals all believed with equal fervency and with equal legitimacy in their respective religious stories. They were equally unbelievable and equally impossible. Thanks again for giving me a venue in which to discuss this topic.

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