It happens every time.
Without fail, whenever some truly monumental event occurs in the world, God swoops in and takes all the credit for the good, slipping away before anyone has a chance to blame Him for the bad. Like everyone else in the country, I’ve been following the Virginia Tech shooting all day. This morning, a man shot and killed 32 students, faculty, and staff, and injured 29 more.
Pam Tickle is a housekeeper on campus who managed to escape the horrifying ordeal with her life intact. When she heard the gunshots, she ran to a lounge with several students, where they locked the door and waited for police. After two hours, the police had control of the situation and the gunman was dead. Tickle told reporters:
I thank God because he was watching me today.
Before I go on, let me get a few things straight. This woman went through a terrifying experience, and no one can blame her for falling back on her faith for some kind of comfort. We can, however, criticize the culture that allows this kind of magical thinking to manifest. This is a very common expression, uttered at the end of football games, at the Academy Awards, and at the scene of catastrophes such as this.
I think this quote encapsulates what many atheists find so repugnant about a particular brand of religious thinking: the idea that those who survive do so because of God, with no thought given to those who died. If this woman takes comfort in the idea that God spared her life because she is special, because he was watching over her, then I’m happy for her. But, at the same time, I can’t help but be very, very sad for the 60 people who were gunned down for no reason at all. What about their friends and family? It’s awful to lose someone you love, and that pain can only be compounded by hearing that God specifically chose to protect some while allowing your loved one to suffer and die needlessly. Did God choose for them to die? Did they not pray hard enough?
Or was God just not watching them today?