Monday, July 18, 2011
It doesn't matter if it's true -- evolution of a Mormon miracle
I had a friend over the other day who told me of a miracle that happened within his family. His brother in law had been cured of hemophilia. My first question was if there had ever been documented proof of a diagnosis of hemophilia; or that if it were possible it was misdiagnosed in the first place. This apparently had never occurred to my friend. A true miracle such as the healing of hemophilia is indeed compelling evidence for the existence of a supernatural force getting itself right in the middle of things. The problem is though, too often in our haste to believe them, we don't ask any questions like "Where's the proof of the intial diagnosis?" or "Could it have been a mistake?."
One day during a very violent internet argument about the power of prayer (started by my troublemaking nephew, bless him), my sister said she had powerful evidence of the power of prayer involving none other than myself! Imagine my surprise to hear this...I asked her to be more specific, as she knows that I am an atheist and could hardly be more surprised about being somehow involved in an actual miracle. She told the following story:
"Once my dad was in Denmark and had a very bad premoniton about my brother. He just had a very bad feeling something was horribly wrong. Being in Denmark, there was nothing else to do but pray. He prayed all night long. The next day, he found out that Kevin's life had been saved by the arrival of some missionaries in the knick of time. "
I had to think about this, but it soon came back to me. Once, when I was struggling with depression, I made a cursive, bungled suicide attempt involving a plastic bag. No sooner had I aborted the attempt out of fear, there was a knock on the door and sure enough, two elders were at the door. But I had already aborted, let's be clear. Later, in open discussion I told my dad about what had happened, and how odd the timing of the missionaries was, in a Twilight Zone way that yes, spoke of an odd coincidence but certainly did not promote any belief that the missionaries did me any good.
So my dad ran with it, apparently. There are several deep and puzzling ironies to this miracle story, having nothing at all to do with the fact that the time frame of the events was nowhere near his travels to Denmark. The first irony is that I attribute my depression and self hatred that led me to suicidal thoughts directly to my growing up being told I was meant for some higher purpose and failing my destiny miserably, thus highly involving the church in my condition. ( I have often wondered how many others have struggled with a self hatred born from their LDS upbringing). So the church apparently saved me...from the church.
The second irony is that upon hearing this story my sister never asked me once if it were actually true. I was a direct witness to the story--even the very subject of the miracle itself, and yet there was no need to question my dad's spectacular claim even to gain the simplest, most easily afforded verification. "Hey, Kev, did this actually happen?" And there is a gaping plot-hole to this heroic tale that struck me right out of the blue. If my dad had a premonition of this nature, even if it did happen in Denmark, his only option was not just to pray. We do have a working international telephone system. Why didn't Dad call me, or my other brothers and sisters in my proximity, to see about getting me some help? This didn't strike my sister as odd?
The third irony is that the missionaries were not very interested in me, once they found out I was already a member. They did not tell me they were prompted to come to this door, this was a day just like any other, and even though I even thought it might be nice to let them in and talk (I had just tried to kill myself), they quickly excused themselves to go onto greener pastures, apparently. I could have used someone to talk to, and I think I showed some pretty obvious signs of this, but our faithful elders didn't clue in. I don't blame them really. I've been a clueless missionary myself, and it's hard to always be right about who needs help and who doesn't.
The final irony is that my sister fully believes that if this happened to me, exactly as my father told it, which she accepts piecemeal as the truth, that I wouldn't consider it evidence enough to rethink my religious approach. Yeah, it still might logically be a coincidence, but if missionaries really did knock on the door the very minute I had a plastic bag over my head, and the only reason I pulled it off was their knocking, then yeah, I'm just about weak minded enough to buy that as a divine intervention. That would be good enough for me right there. Especially with the tie-in of my dad bringing it on with his premonition. Yep, that would do it for me. And yet she believes that I just forget about all this divine interventionism and threw it all away out of what--anger at God for the bad things that have happened in my life? Like I'm as bad as Laman and Lemuel, who see an angel and still don't get it. Wouldn't you be inclined to ask someone in this situation, "Hey bro, what about that actual miracle that happened to you? How do you explain that?" But she's never asked, not even once.
I don't blame her, not really. I've made the same mistake myself, with one erstwhile Paul H. Dunn and his wonderful war stories. I ate up the 11 man 300 yard dash that only he survived. I ate up the Ted Williams wanting what we've got speech and I considered these stories strong evidence of the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You see, the reason we don't ask the simple, quick questions about holes in logic, probabilities and even just asking a direct participant for their side of the tale, is that really down deep -- it doesn't matter if it's true. What matters are the feelings these stories cause--the emotional response alone. The mind itself was really never meant to be in the picture.