Monday, June 19, 2017

Selling the Supernatural


Getting into another person's automobile has always been a bit of an entertaining game for me.  I find that a person's car or truck is a fascinating window into that person's habits and quirks, especially if they spend a lot of time in their car on a daily basis.  And this is totally an anecdotal guess on my part, but most of the people I've ridden with likely don't even realize how much of themselves that they're exposing to their riders.  I'm betting it's because the passengers have a lot of time on their hands to be nosey, while the driver is predominately occupied with, you know, driving.

Okay, now that you have some background on my own, "inquisitive quirks," the reason I started a blog post in such a strange way is to segue into the fact that my family and I spent a lot of time in cabs and other shuttle services while we were on our most recent vacation.  (We also used the mass transit system as well, but that wasn't nearly as entertaining this time around.)  In doing so, we regularly found ourselves with plenty of interesting things to talk about after the ride.

Before I go on, I will say that some drivers were respectful, quiet, and the interior of their automobiles were extraordinarily clean.  And obviously they all got us to our destinations safely.  Well done, gents.

But this post is for you few drivers that seemed to awkwardly forget what you were listening to on the radio.  Because that's where it got really... REALLY interesting.

I heard heated discussions varying from the legality of political asylum, to the legitimacy of disclosing menstrual cycles to employers.  With the latter, I can only imagine how uncomfortable my teenage son must have felt listening to that contentious debate.  Anyway, the most laughable situation, by far, was our exposure to an extremely lively monologue, by a religious radio personality I've never even heard of, detailing how he had various god-given methods to provide the millennial generation with actual supernatural powers.

You read me right.  This guy was trying to sell super powers to young people.  Real, honest to Abe, X-Men style super powers.  He was using the god of the Bible to promote it.  And it wasn't a joke.

It wasn't a joke because we were forced to listen to this religious radio personality promote his superhuman regimen for at least 20 agonizingly hilarious minutes where, out of respect for the driver, we couldn't laugh our asses off.

You may snicker and dismiss this guy on the radio as a nut, but what he was selling is really just a modern twist on Christian beliefs and Biblical presumptions.  Before you think I'm as nuts as the, "Weapon X Program" promoting pastor on the radio, hear me out on this...  There really is no difference between that type of crazy and any other pastor who claims that the stories in the Bible are real.  For example, in the Bible a guy caused multiple plagues on a country, one poor woman was turned to a pillar of salt, a snake and a donkey spoke to people, one guy had colossal strength, one guy even walked on water and healed a blind dude with mud and spit...

See what I mean?

What I'm getting at is that while it's easy to ridicule a radio personality for trying to convince young people that they can possess supernatural powers, it's equally easy for most religious people to sit quietly feckless in church and accept the ridiculous stories being presented to them simply because those particular stories are wrapped in the protective presumptions of the authenticity of the Bible.  Why is that?  Why didn't the cab driver scoff at this nonsense and change the channel?  And for that matter, why is it easy for me to predict that most religious people reading this would think that radio personality is as nuts as I do, yet be perfectly comfortable believing any of the supernatural passages I listed above?

If god is your rationale for belief in the supernatural, then you totally missed the point.  If faith is your excuse, then I would argue that you're just being lazy.

Okay, I'll admit that it's really not fair for me to pick on this particular cab driver on this.  He stood out to me simply because riding in his cab/shuttle was definitely the most memorable.  And yes, I realize that he's not the only one.  I see this and hear this type of thing on a daily basis, automobile or no.  And some people reading this may also feel that it's not fair for me to pick on people that might believe the stories in the Bible.  But if you believe those supernatural stories in the Bible, why don't you immediately believe that this radio pastor can indeed give millennials super powers?

Answered Prayers

Most religious people I know are very skeptical of supernatural claims by people they don't know personally.  They get it that people lie - frequently - and thus they are generally not willing to accept an outrageous claim without some form of actual evidence.  However, what they generally have the most difficulty with is being equally skeptical of people that they know who claim that their prayers were answered by god herself.  All that is necessary for most religious people to believe a claim is to wrap it around a smidgen of, "I prayed about it..." or a pinch of, "I asked God..." and religious folks practically knock each other over just to fawn over his or her good fortune.  I mean, it basically gets believers into the religious equivalent of a piranha-style feeding frenzy with all the exclamations of, "Praise Jesus!" or, "Amen!" or, "Thank the Lord!"

Be that as it may, I've found that these answered prayers are never that extreme or over-the-top.  I'm assuming this is probably due some unspoken restriction where believers have to keep claims of answered prayers just under the threshold of other people's bullshit alarm.  Sure, there are those that think Jesus saved their house from a tornado when other people were killed by it, or that their god was good enough to leave a cross at the World Trade Center after allowing the death of over 3,000 people. But all in all most religious folks think even THAT kind of crap is nuts.

It's the people that believe their prayers are answered over the silliest of things that I honestly cannot tolerate.  Like finding a $20 dollar bill in their jacket pocket after praying to god for more money.  Or praising Jesus for putting that pair of jeans on sale so he or she could finally afford them.  Or worse yet, thanking god for curing your cancer after going through surgeries and/or various other medical treatments.  That kind of nonsense makes my blood boil.

Yet I rarely hear about instances where god simply couldn't be bothered to answer any prayers.  (Don't get me started on amputees or people who die from cancer even after aggressive treatment.)  And if I do hear anyone whining about an unanswered prayer, I can bet money that person will have the absolute perfect excuse for god.  So perfect in fact, that the excuses themselves appear designed to relieve god of any burden whatsoever.

God seems to have the perfect gig.

What you're witnessing here is the case where people ignore the failures and concentrate on the successes.  Gamblers do it, superstitious people do it, and sadly, very sick people do it.  In science terminology, we refer to this as confirmation bias, and it's every bit as dangerous as the people peddling the supernatural.  By ignoring the times that something fails, people are tilting the scale in favor of a lie.

It is this type of believing behavior that creates and maintains the idea that somehow, somewhere, there is something larger than what the universe allows.  It is this believing behavior that rationalizes a supernatural being taking time out of her busy schedule to spot you a $20.  Belief based solely on the requirement that all you need is a little faith.  Faith that god answered your prayer because you believe and are somehow special.  Faith that god intervened in the natural law of the universe in order to make sure you have a new pair of jeans.  Faith that against what you know is impossible, a supernatural being is looking out for you and yours.

Of course, if you've ever taken the time to wonder why god answered your prayer but couldn't be bothered to protect a child from being raped or couldn't take the time to keep people from starving, then you're on the right track.

In any event, that kind of supernatural crap is fine when writing fiction, and works really great when creating comic books.  But in the hands of people who know how to exploit others, it's essentially a ticking time bomb.

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