How many times have you heard a religious person tell a story that goes something like the story below (I actually heard this from someone):
”I was driving too fast down a winding road when suddenly I started skidding, heading towards a steep embankment. Then, out of no where, I felt a sharp bump on my car and it stopped a few feet from the edge of the cliff.”
I don’t know about you, but I have heard some rendition of this story at least 20 twenty times from different people. There isn’t always a cliff, sometimes it’s another car, a light pole, a train, etc. All have the commonality of something happening they interpreted as being divine intervention.
When I hear this kind of story my logical brain just wants to scream at the person. The problems with their story are incredibly obvious to an outside critical mind. Let’s break the story down.
“I was driving too fast down a winding road when suddenly I started skidding, heading towards a steep embankment.”
At least they admitted they were at fault for the accident, but I’d bet the embankment wasn’t as steep as they remember it. It could be, but in a panicked, fear-riddled mind, minor dangers will appear to be far greater than they actually were.
“Then, out of no where, I felt a sharp bump on my car and it stopped a few feet from the edge of the cliff.”
You were skidding across a road and felt a sharp bump you say? Oh my, how unusual to feel a bump on the car when you’re skidding. “Oh, but it was a definitive and sharp hit on the side of the car.”
Remember that panicked and fear riddled mind I mentioned above? Yeah, human memory is horrible at the best of times and is amazing at creating false memories. There likely was a bump of some kind, which is to be expected when in a car that’s skidding across a road, but I’d put my money on the “sharp hit on the side of the car” part being your mind creating a false memory after the fact to support your conclusion that it was Divine intervention.
The bump might even be what stopped your car from going further, you know, as increased friction is prone to do. You may have hit the curb, a big rock, or tree stump, all of which could slow your car enough to keep it from going over the edge. This happens a lot, but so too does cars not stopping and going over the edge, and both seem to happen at about the same rate of blind chance.
“God saved me that day.”
If you were already religious, you are already going to be prone to confirmation bias towards possible divine intervention. If you are a huge believer in miracles, then that confirmation bias will be in super-overdrive at all times. You probably see miracles when you find your keys, a dentist extracts a wisdom tooth and when a baby laughs. The more you believe in miracles, the easier it is for your mind to convince you that the tiniest of things was a miracle, let alone something like your car not going over a cliff. So excuse me if I have an immediate and strong compulsion to not believe you.
Occasionally you get this story as part of a conversion story. Like the person wasn’t overtly religious but after this, they “saw the light” and this story becomes the center piece of their “coming to Jesus” testimony. In these cases, the person was probably a non-committed believer in the god of their culture. That almost always explains why they suddenly gain a bigger faith in the religion they grew up with. I’ve never heard of a case where someone raised as a Catholic had a traumatic experience and suddenly converted to Hinduism. It never happens because confirmation bias doesn’t work that way. If anyone knows a story that contradicts me, please share it. So again, my initial predilection is to not believe your stories of angels, divine lights, or whatever other details your add it to try and sound more convincing.
Now, it’s entirely possible that you never even considered the possibility of divine intervention until someone else said something like, “Someone was looking out for you that day.”
If you are already inclined to believe in the divine, this kind of statement can get your memory invention machine rolling and suddenly “memories start coming back” from that day and you’re suddenly positive you felt this sharp bump on the car. You might even go on to say, “A weird calmness came over me and I knew I was going to be ok.”
Meanwhile, if there was video footage it would probably show you screaming, “FUUUUUUUCK! SHIT SHIT SHIT! AHHHHHHHHHHH!”
Science has fairly well-established that human memory is not to be trusted.
So we as human beings, need to be very wary of our own memories, especially if they involve implausible or highly improbable events like divine intervention, not to mention when traumatic events are at play as well.
Now let’s talk about the less flattering reasons people tell these stories. This next reason is often an unconscious reason because few people are blatant narcissists. Having a story like this makes the person feel special. It makes them feel like they have a special purpose, as though like they were saved for a reason. It makes them feel good about themselves. Basically, their ego loves shit like this.
They may stop to think, “Why was I saved?“, but rarely do they ask the critical question of, “Why was I saved when millions of others died in similar circumstances?”
The first question is easily answered by the ego. “God still has a purpose for me” or some version like that.
When you ask the second question, it’s still possible to use the same answers, but if you really think about it, you’re basically saying, “God has need of me, but didn’t need those millions of others.”
If that isn’t ice cream to an ego with an eating disorder, I don’t know what is. Could you be any more special?
It’s flat out egotism. It’s ignoring the fact that blind chance is a more reasonable explanation in favor of one that makes you special and who doesn’t want to feel special.
Now imagine you told this story to someone who just had their mother die in a car crash. Imagine their internal reaction as you tell them how special you are in the eyes of god, and therefore, since their mom died, she must not have been as special. God must not have needed her on Earth, who gives a damn if you still needed her on earth, all that matters is gods needs.
This story that you see as being a “good will” story, one of God’s love, can come across as sheer arrogance to others. My suggestion to you is, “Get over yourself, you got lucky, punk”.
Until next time, keep drinking the Kool-aid and be nice to one another.