I debated whether making this post, but what the heck. First, a disclaimer: I know Steve Landsburg “was just kidding” with this recent post about John Paul II being canonized. I’m not bringing it up to pout; I’m not even Catholic (anymore). But I still think it epitomizes an ironic trend among very confident atheists. Here’s Steve:
So if I have this right, it is now the official position of the Catholic church that:
1. The late Pope John Paul II has the ongoing power to cure brain aneurysms.
2. As far as we know, he has chosen to employ this power exactly once. (He also once cured a case of Parkinson’s.)
3. While hundreds of thousands of others have suffered and/or died from brain aneurysms, John Paul has not been moved to intervene.
4. The one victim he troubled himself to save was selected not because she was particularly deserving or particularly valuable to society, but because she chose the right guy to pray to — sort of like having to suck up to the teacher to get a good grade.
5. All of this makes John Paul II particularly fit for veneration.
For God’s sake (you should pardon the expression), if you’re looking to make the case that John Paul II was capable of performing (or at least catalyzing) genuine miracles, isn’t the defeat of Soviet Communism good enough? That right there makes him a saint in my book — though if I ever come to believe that he can cure aneurysms and has been holding out on us, I might have to retract my endorsement.
Look, I get it: If you are committed to an atheistic “scientific” worldview, then the popular religions seem absurd, particularly among people who really believe stuff in the Bible rather than just hoping in some vague thing out there that’s “bigger than us.”
Yet look what Steve had to do, to make his joke work. The initial premise is totally wrong. Not only is that not the “official position” of the Catholic Church, but the link Steve gives doesn’t even have a sentence that could be misconstrued to make one think that. So why did Steve put that as plank #1 in his argument? Because he needed it, in order to mock Catholics. If he had accurately reported their view, the particular joke he wanted to make wouldn’t have worked.
(Steve could have said, “Religious folks believe that if they pray to God, sometimes He miraculously cures them of illnesses. Huh, what a jerk, why doesn’t He always do this?! And why would an omnipotent Being let the prayers of little puny humans affect His wise decisions? This is ridiculous.” That would have made sense. But then, it wouldn’t have had the news hook of the John Paul II story, which is why Steve had to invent all the steps in his argument above, out of whole cloth.)
So, what’s my point? It’s this: Isn’t it a little ironic that a lot of atheists in effect say this, “Hey, when we mock religious people, cut us some slack, OK? We can’t be expected to actually get inside their worldview and try to critique them fairly. It’s fine to set up a strawman to knock it down, when it comes to religion, because they’re so illogical anyway. Remember, we’re the paragons of reason and empiricism.”
This is why atheists can simultaneously criticize theism for
(A) believing in a sick God that would let little kids die, and
(B) believing in a sick God that forces us to stay in a painful existence on Earth instead of being with Him in heaven.
And there are plenty more examples where that came from.