Gimme a Sign!

Humans are pattern-seeking creatures.  Religious people have found divine communications in the strangest places – from an appearance of the Virgin Mary on a cheese sandwich, to the likeness of Jesus on a tortilla.

Popular evangelical pastor Louis Giglio has wowed audiences with a sermon based on the ‘revelation’ that in scientific drawings, the protein molecule Laminin is shaped like a cross.  Of course, the actual electron microscopic image of Laminin hardly looks like a cross – more like a deformed swastika, but that did not quell his audience’s enthusiastic cheers and clapping.

Christians, despite all their proclamations of walking by faith and not by sight, often seem curiously desperate for something - anything - to latch onto as a bit of tangible proof which will validate their beliefs. I view this as a ‘tell’ – a momentary slipping in the poker face of faith. Somewhere deep inside, many Christians know that the evidential hand they have been dealt is not a good one. They have a nagging suspicion that their religious faith is indeed a house of cards, unable to stand up to testing. They need reassuring - their faith must be shored up. And, in the absence of any real evidence to substantiate their beliefs, they will clutch at the silliest things to stop from slowly sinking into the sea of disbelief.

The really astounding thing is that these inconsequential ‘proofs’ will often be held up in the face of some monumentally glaring example of the failure of their god to intervene in a situation. For example, I have a close family member who has suffered from a debilitating mental condition for years. No amount of praying has brought about any change in his symptoms. And yet, my family members continue to extol the power of prayer – often claiming insignificant coincidental outcomes to be answers to their petitions. Of course, the matter of the unhealed mental condition is carefully avoided in these conversations.

On a national level, the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center provides a good example of believers playing the ‘sign from God’ mind game. In the aftermath of the attack, amidst the rubble, this was found:

Christians latched onto this cross-shaped steel-beam with great enthusiasm, finding comfort and restored faith through it. Pictures were circulated on the Internet, accompanied by “oohs” and “ahhs”. No one seemed to ask the obvious question: Why would God feel it was alright to stand by and do nothing while many people died horribly, and yet decide to announce his existence through a cross-shaped piece of debris? This meme spells out the implications:

Of course, the signs of God are all around, if we are only willing to look:

Anyone can play the sign game – even an atheist. Let’s see how it works. First, pick a tragedy or disaster. We’ll pick Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Next, find some religious symbol amidst the destruction. In this case, we’ll use a statue of the Virgin Mary which ‘miraculously’ survived:

In case you were wondering, this has been touted as a sign from God. But, let’s dig a little deeper. What is this sign telling us? Well, we need to combine it with another amazing sign – the fact that miraculously, this house survived the hurricane unscathed:

What house is this? Why, it is the house where the popular Jersey Shore TV show was filmed.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.

 In August of 2012, MTV announced that it was cancelling Jersey Shore. In October of that same year, Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey, but the Jersey Shore house was left standing. Coincidence? I think not! Obviously, God was big fan of the show, and was angry at the cancellation. He sent the hurricane as judgment. I’m surprised noted hurricane-punishment expert Pat Robertson didn’t pick up on this!

Still not convinced? Well, consider this: In August of 2012, Jersey Shore star Snooki gave birth to a baby boy. The Virgin Mary, whose statue was preserved in the hurricane, also gave birth to a baby boy – Jesus! It all fits like a seamless garment… How could you not believe?

Okay, you’ve seen how the game is played. So, what is our strategy in confronting it?

When presented with bogus evidence of ‘signs’, we must challenge believers with these questions: “Why is your god engaged in some kind of spiritual ‘Where’s Waldo’ game in which we have to spot the hidden symbol of his existence in disastrous situations? Why does he seem to prefer ambiguous parlor tricks rather than intervening in our world in a clear and meaningful way?”

In the Bible, none other than Jesus himself condemns the seeking of signs:
An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign…
Matthew 16:4 (ESV)
Of course, that doesn’t stop Christians from seeking them. Speaking of Jesus, perhaps it’s time for him to stop appearing on tortillas, and start doing something useful for a change!

Written by J. M. Green