Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Holier Than Thou

Christian Evangelicals have this complex surrounding miracles.

Now, first off, I'd like to say that I absolutely do believe in miracles. I am entirely certain that people have been healed of diseases, made to walk again, or see again, or what have you. Planes have been strategically delayed, and cars have been made to start again. Poisons have been purified and bullets steered off course. I firmly believe that these things can and do happen.

However, I don't believe that they come on command. Certainly it seems that despite God's myriad opportunities to wow us, He seems perfectly content to let the world do its thing most of the time. I can't explain it, but needless to say, God is not a lab rat or a dog. He can't be trained, and He doesn't bark on command. You can't wave your hands like a magic wand and expect God to do something flashy for you. (For those of you who still believe that televangelists like Benny Hinn work miracles on camera, just Google "leg lengthening." The people these guys call up for demonstrations, are total plants. People have seen the wheelchairs waiting for the plants that "stand up and walk.") Anyway, despite "God is not a trained dog," the Evangelical church is rooted in physical display. Funny, for a denomination that so vehemently protests science and other such "visible" things, they sure do rely a lot on what they can see and feel. Speaking in tongues is one such phenomenon, as is "being slain in the Spirit," which looks a lot like a pastor touching someone on the head and said person fainting. Every so often, you'll get the claim that someone has cast out a demon, but I can't comment on what that looks like because I've never seen an exorcism.  Either way, there are a nontrivial number of church members, usually well-known pastors or ex-pastors who now function as "prophets" or "healers" or what have you, who go around claiming that God has endowed them with a very Elijah-esque ability to call down miracles at will.

That's at the high level. Go one step down, and go back to speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit and what have you. When I was a kid, I always wanted to know what those were like. Did you just start doing something against your will, as if your body was suddenly being moved by invisible strings? Did you just have an overwhelming desire to do the action? Did you blank out and wake up five minutes later with everyone gawking at your words of Godly wisdom? What happened? Needless to say, I always went to the altar when we had special guests, or when it looked like the pastor was going to walk around doing that funny thing where he touched people's foreheads and they fell over.

It took me years to finally get someone to tap me on the head, and let me tell you, it was really underwhelming. Despite my praying, and wishing, and getting into the zone and all that...nothing really happened.

I was disappointed. I expected something transcendental. But I was young, and my legs were tired from standing I figured, okay, maybe that means something. So I let myself sink to the ground. I got a vague curiosity about talking. So I started saying something, and I wasn't sure what it was. I don't think it was much of anything, even for an attempt at the neat babbling thing that the old ladies in church did.

I got up off the ground at the end of the service, and I didn't mention much about it. I went on with my life, wondering if anything had really happened. In the end, I figure it didn't, and I was just hoping really hard and doing what I saw everyone else doing in hopes that it was something it wasn't.

I'm sure that God does sent messages through unknown languages. I'm also fairly sure that they don't happen in 95% of cases. I'm guessing most of the people who fall over in church, do it because they're so psyched up that it seems like a good idea at the time.

This all culminated in the biggest letdown I've had: my friend Amy (not her real name), who I decided I would get healed of a bone issue she had in her hands. Her fingers were stiff and couldn't bend more than maybe an inch in arc, and she couldn't make a fist or even start one. So I was super enthusiastic and prayed as only an innocent believing little kid can, and I brought Amy to the altar at a healing service at church. We cried and prayed and talked with the guest speaker/healer guy and we begged and we tried really hard to be Good Christian People, and I secretly hoped to myself and God that her hands would be healed so that she would get off the fence about whether she was Christian or not, because look! There would be proof.

Nothing happened. Nothing at all. Zip, zero, nada. Her fingers were as straight and stiff as the moment she walked into the building.

Looking back on all this, two things have occurred to me. First off, 99.N% of people who claim they can zap miracles out their fingers, are clearly smoking something. Second, the Evangelical church teaches you to join the "holier than thou" contest of who can do or see miracles, and who can't. It seems like to them, the more faithful you are, the more crazy supernatural things will happen to you. If you can't even faint in church, seriously, how faithful can you be? As a kid, I felt deficient somehow, as if I just didn't believe hard enough. Maybe if I prayed more, or read the Bible more, then next time I brought an Amy to the altar, something would happen.

In the end, I have settled on the idea that Christianity isn't a contest to see who can rack up the most cool showoffy miracles. But in the end, it sure sets up the idea.