***Dave of ***Dave Does the Blog fame provides what is probably the first decent answer to a question many atheists, myself included, have been asking for years: Why do some Christians attribute good fortune to an intervention on their behalf by God, but not their bad fortune? ***Dave was prompted to offer his thoughts after reading David Bernstein’s blog entry posing pretty much the same question. Bernstein phrased his take on the question as follows:
I’ve noticed that Americans have a tendency to publicly attribute any success they have had—anything ranging from winning a Little League playoff game to winning the lottery—to God’s intervention on their behalf. But I haven’t noticed a countervailing tendency to blame God when things go wrong, an especially annoying defect in the sports world, where victories are freely attributed to Jesus’s blessings. If God wanted the Marlins to win the World Series, doesn’t that mean he wanted the Yankees to lose?
***Dave’s response is the first I’ve seen that proposes some possible reasons for this that made sense to me:
- It’s prideful to attribute success to one’s own merits. It comes across as bragging. That said, there are plenty of people who say, “Yeah, we really all played hard today, and that’s why we won.”
- It’s nice to think that God is blessing you materially and with success. It’s scary to think that God is punishing you materially or with failure. On the other hand, while I’ve found folks who thank Jesus (etc.) for the good things in their life to often be pleasant and, well, thankful, folks who attribute their failures to God’s displeasure usually react by becoming puritanical and fundamentalist (very OT), which is often not all that good a thing.
- Blaming God, especially over something like a football game or the lottery, seems improper and/or asking for further trouble. If we are going to lament, Job-like, we tend to do so in private, in the dark of night.
- Some folks do say things like, “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be,” or, “I guess God had other plans in mind.” But, particularly in the arena of sports, that sort of attitude would sound fatalistic; sports is a “can-do” field, and while it’s nice to appreciate God doing something nice for you, “God helps he who makes TDs himself,” so to speak.
While not being willing to discount by any means divine intervention in human affairs, reading it into fortune (or failure) is an iffy proposition at best. It gets into a very tangled thicket of free will vs predestination, why God lets bad things happen to good people, and other thorny conundra that are uncomfortable to examine, let alone assert.
My own theory on the topic is based on the observation that some factions of Christianity seem to emphasize the approach that mankind is unworthy to draw breath let alone expect any good fortune to come his or her way and so even the slightest bit of good fortune must certainly be a sign of God smiling upon us when all we really deserve is to be bitch-slapped and tossed into Hell for the sins we’ve committed.
This attitude reminds me of scenes from black comedy films where the really evil tyrant of a king in a moment of confusion from some startling news orders that the peasant cowering before him for some offense such as stealing food merely lose his hands rather than be put to death in some horrible fashion whereupon the peasant immediately begins thanking and praising the king’s immense kindness and mercy. That’s probably not how these people really view their situation, but that’s the sort of thing it reminds me of.
A particularly annoying form of this behavior are the various forwarded emails extolling stories of how a faithful believer avoids some terrible harm lying in wait for them after prayer while other’s fall victim to it such as the one about the young woman who avoids being raped in an alley. As ***Dave points out himself it’s likely the folks who promote this viewpoint don’t consider the implied message these sorts of statements contain.
Back when I was inclined to believe in the concept of god(s) I tended to think he/she/it had better things to do with his/her/its time than micromanage every event that happens in every person’s life. Then again, he is supposed to have some grand plan for every single person according to most Christian teachings so perhaps he just likes some people more than others.
My, that line of thinking does open a rather messy can of worms…