The Grand Rapids Press recently printed a story by religion columnist Charley Honey, entitled, “In defense of miracles and other unlikely events.” Here’s an extended quote from the piece, followed by my remarks:
“As one who has written about faith for 20 years – and who has witnessed some of its more extraordinary manifestations – allow me to say a few words on behalf of miracles and other unlikely events. I will start with an experience I had on a bike a few years back.
I was riding the Old Kent Trail and stopped for a rest on the trestle bridge spanning the Grand River. Feelings of anxiety and insecurity dogged me. I felt the need for some reassurance that someone bigger than I was keeping track of things. I looked out at the river and said to myself, “So, what’s it all about, God?”
At that instant a huge gust of wind roared up, violently whooshing the trees on the far riverbank. I laughed. It was like, “OK, message received!”
The most rational explanation here is a random swell of wind that coincided with my thoughts, easily interpreted as divine revelation. That could be the case. It could also be the case that something extra-ordinary happened there, with messages received on both ends. But of course there is no way to prove that – or disprove it.”
So let me get this straight…
After 20 years writing about faith, after having supposedly witnessed some of faith’s more extraordinary manifestations, and after naming the piece, “In Defense of Miracles and Other Unlikely Events,” this is what Honey decides to run with? He could’ve titled the piece, “Na-na-na-na-boo-boo, stick your head in my non-verifiable religious woo-doo!” And to end it with, “But of course there is no way to prove that — or disprove it.” That’s it? Really? (A subtle summoning of the fallacy recently repopularized by Josh Wheaton, the central character in the not-so philosophical film, God’s Not Dead?)
Honey’s piece in a word: Pandora’s Box!
Contrary to Honey’s better wishes, the reality of the situation is this: it’s hard even to imagine the kind of world Honey describes, a world wherein diverse groups with differing worldviews take seriously the anecdotal claims of those outside their group. In a word: it’s unrealistic, period.
Think, even for a moment, how this really works–you know, in reality.
Religious individuals and groups have not only experiences they claim to be divine, they come equipped with pre-existing worldviews wherein any and all anecdotal claims make sense. Sometimes, these worldviews collide–especially on anecdotal matters! More often than not, personal experiences give way to groupish convictions regarding not only what may or may not happen in the hypothetical, but also what can or cannot happen in actuality.
Let’s keep this simple, sticking with Grand Rapids. And let’s limit this to Christianity. Aside from being Grand Rapid’s largest religion, most Christian denominations in the area believe themselves to share “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” with other self-identifying Christian denominations. (Read: “We agree on essentials, disagree on non-essentials.”) Plus, practically every brand of Christianity is present in Grand Rapids; we have Christian Reformed churches, Baptist churches, Roman Catholic churches, Eastern Orthodox churches, Mormon churches, Oneness Pentecostal churches, Unitarian-Universalist churches, Charismatic Word Faith churches, Lutheran churches, Presbyterian churches, Methodist churches, Episcopalian churches, home churches, etc. etc. etc. Each of these local churches have their own views of reality, often differing sharply on beliefs that, within their worldview, both underlie and precede how adherents of that worldview interpret the world, including how they valuate diverse personal experiences occurring within what they otherwise deem to be a shared reality with members outside of themselves and/or the group.
So what happens when anecdotes collide with pre-existing worldviews held by diverse individuals and/or groups? Well, you probably already have a pretty good idea as to how this plays out.
What happens when a Baptist hears about eucharistic miracles, Marian apparitions, or anecdotes about purgatory from Roman Catholics? What happens when Pentecostals tell the Eastern Orthodox about the wild manifestations occuring at revivals, such as people speaking in tongues and being drunk in the spirit? Are Presbyterians impressed with Mormon tales of burning bosoms confirming Mormon beliefs to be true, or of the wondrous visions and tales of Mormon prophets? Are Oneness Pentecostals bedazzled by anecdotes coming from gays and lesbians attending Universalist-Unitarian churches contending that, “God makes people gay and loves us just the way we are”? How do Jehovah’s Witnesses take claims of prosperity or deliverance offered by adherents of Word Faith?
These questions could go on and on and on! More to the point, this exercise didn’t even require us to consider questions as to what the opening of Pandora’s Little Box of Antecdotes would mean for the unquestioned and uncritical reception of anecdotes from Muslims, Jews, Hindus, New Agers, pagans, Scientologists, believers in aliens, and the rest. (Imagine that universe!) But enough is enough, as I’m sure you’ve already caught my drift ten-thousand times over, and then again.
In final analysis, Honey may be a daydream believer, but he’s no apologist; and whether it was intentional–I highly doubt that it was–Honey is really suggesting a new religion of sorts, a kind of Utopia where in-group and out-group anecdotes are considered equally beyond question and criticism. Either way, intentional or otherwise, the terms of his defense land both him and his readers face-to-face with the very real wall of resistance–not in the least by already-existing worldviews antagonistic to Honey’s already-existing spiritualistic relativism.
Allow me, then, to conclude with a twist on Honey’s use of Hamlet:
“There are more things in reality, Charles Honey, than are admitted of in your philosophy.”
Jeremiah Bannister is the creator of PaleoRadio and the editor of PaleoRadio.us. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 269.317.1263. You may also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instragram.