Respectful Insolence

Sugarland: Saved by prayer?

One thing that’s bothered me about religion even before I became the lapsed Catholic heathen that I am, is how God always gets the credit for good things but never the bad. A perfect example is related to the collapse of the stage in a storm at the Indiana State Fair that killed five people and injured scores of others. Apparently, the act that was to go on stage was saved by Jesus:

Call it a twist of fate or luck.

Whatever it was, members of Sugarland can thank stage manager Hellen Rollens for saving their lives by making a spur-of-the-moment decision to hold a prayer circle just before the stage collapsed last Saturday at the Indiana State Fair.

Looks like God was listening. Here’s what happened.

Sugarland’s manager, Gail Gellman, credited Rollens with keeping the country pop duo from walking down the ramp at the last second, just as a 70 mph gust of wind from an approaching storm caused the stage to topple over onto the crowd, killing five fans and injuring dozens of others.

“Everybody was standing in a prayer circle getting ready to go onstage, and [as Rollens] was walking down the ramp, the stage fell. So her decision to hold them for literally a minute saved every band member and crew’s life,” Gellman told the Associated Press.

Whenever I see a story like this, where it is implied that prayer might have saved the devout from dying in a disaster, I have to ask: If God gets the credit for saving Sugarland, why doesn’t he get the blame for killing those five people and hurting so many more? I know, I know, I’ve asked that question before, but I feel the need to ask it again every so often. I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer.

Comments

  1. #1 mochuck
    August 17, 2011

    The same as he got the credit for rescuing the Chilean miners but not for causing the cave-in that trapped them

  2. #2 Gabriel
    August 17, 2011

    I’m reminded of a story a couple years ago where a school bus full of cheerleaders (if memory serves) crashed and killed many of the people inside. When the mother of a survivor was interviewed she said “I guess my daughter is a better christian and prayed more than the other kids”.

    Disgusting!.

  3. #3 DLC
    August 17, 2011

    It’s the same thing I think when I hear someone thank god for saving their loved one from a medical emergency. they thank god and totally ignore the team of medical personnel who bend every effort to save their loved one. But it also leads to the dreaded “boat in the flood” joke.

  4. #4 transcendentape
    August 17, 2011

    The problem is you are trying to use logic to understand belief in an invisible super best friend sky fairy. It is only the abandonment of logic that allows one to attribute natural occurrences to ghosts, spirits, gods, angels, and other mythological entities.

  5. #5 BadDragon
    August 17, 2011

    From my point of view this is a classic rationalization (the defense mechanism of psyche) process. The world is wild threatening beast and we need to find “reason” where things just seem to be random. And the “reason” has to be inside the set of beliefs we are already familiar with.

    Unfortunately, as far as the theory goes, this behavior is common to all people, independent of the personal belief system. It doesn’t matter if I am a religious person or a skeptic, sometimes I just come up with crazy explanations to extraordinary events. That, or I go crazy myself because the Universe no longer makes sense. Kind of a self-preservation mechanism, if you want.

  6. #6 lilady
    August 17, 2011

    Maybe God sent the wind toward the stage and not toward an empty field, because God is displeased with the direction of the United States. I recall that Rev. Jerry Falwell said American’s acceptance of the pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians was the cause of the World Trade Center bombings and Hurricane Katrina.

    Then there is Fred Phelps the “spiritual leader” of the Westboro Church congregation who are real haters and picket funerals of fallen soldiers…it has something to do with their homophobia.

    Orac, I don’t know why you posed those questions to *us* atheists.

    *The troll* who is the only “real Christian” on this site says we are all atheists.

    P.S. The more likely cause for the tragedy is incompetence, possibly criminal incompetence, of the crew that set up the stage and the County or State inspector(s) whose job(s) and ass(es) are on the line, now.

  7. #7 Flora
    August 17, 2011

    The typical response is “god’s plan.” Of course, if it’s god’s plan that you die in a horrible stage accident, then why would praying about it affect anything at all? The whole thing is so confusing and falls apart at even the most cursory of skeptical inquiries.

  8. #8 craig schwartz
    August 17, 2011

    I guess they didn’t stop to consider that God actually *wanted* to kill Sugarland, and in stopping for a prayer beforehand, they have foiled God’s plan?

  9. #9 Vince whirlwind
    August 17, 2011

    Sombody should send those god-botherers a copy of the film “Final Destination”.

  10. #10 Nicole
    August 17, 2011

    The only loosely plausible explanation for a god like figure I’ve encountered is that we’re in somethink like a computer type simulation, maybe as an experiment or perhaps just as a really realistic game of The Sims. If that is the case our creators are either sadists or indifferent to the quality of our existence. It is the only possible explanation I can come up with.

  11. #11 Nicole
    August 17, 2011

    Something not somethink, grrr, was does autocorrect only work when you don’t want it to?

  12. #12 BadDragon
    August 17, 2011

    @Nicole: Just pray the auto-correct will work better next time.

    By the way, in the above comment was=why? I guess this is a mistake the auto-correct software will not warn you about.

  13. #13 Ender
    August 17, 2011

    It’s not really hypocritical – most of these people are the same people who would say things like “I guess God called them back to him” or “It must have been God’s plan” as a comforter when there is an unexpected death – it’s just it’s unnatural to take joy in the deaths of others, even when you think it’s part of a higher plan.

    So their reaction is exactly the same “It’s God’s plan/doing” in both cases, it’s just in one case they get to be happy “Hooray look who God saved” and in the other, stoic “It makes us sad, but it was his plan”

  14. #15 Jamie
    August 17, 2011

    @Nicole: Just read Douglas Adams “The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” series in it you’ll learn that the Earth *IS* a simulation used to figure out the question that has the answer of: 42. (It doesn’t make any more sense once you’ve read it–which makes it all the more fun!! LOL)

  15. #16 Dianne
    August 17, 2011

    The husband of a colleague used to work in the World Trade Center. On 9/11/01, he was late to work and therefore still in the subway when the planes struck. Therefore, being on time is evil and one can be saved by the grace of being late to work.

  16. #17 jeff keating
    August 17, 2011

    Seems simple enough. Those who are alive get to tell the story. We don’t hear of the prayers of those who died.

  17. #18 Calli Arcale
    August 17, 2011

    Prayer doesn’t work that way. People insist on continuing to believe that God’s function is as some sort of magical vending machine, and that good things or bad things happen based on whether or not you’re praying correctly, being a good Christian/Jew/Hindu/Muslim/Whatever, a generally good person, or part of some ineffable master plan, but Christians don’t have any excuse — Jesus *specifically* preached against this sort of mindset, which was widespread in Judea at the time. (It seems to be a popular mindset, existing across many cultures and religious belief systems. Maybe it’s just universal schadenfreude, but there seems to be widespread appeal to the idea that everyone gets what they deserve.)

    But it’s transparently obvious that this isn’t true. Either God is capricious and cruel, or there are multiple gods working at cross-purposes (probably why so many cultures are polytheistic and why even most monotheists believe in a devil — it helps maintain a belief in being able to ask for divine favors in the presence of wildly inconsistent results), or of course prayer doesn’t get gods to do your bidding. Me, I think it’s pretty presumptuous to ask God to do you a favor. What does He owe you? How is it fair? If God spares you, what is the price that you unknowingly ask to be paid? The stage collapse cost several lives and has probably permanently altered many other lives. What if their prayers merely shifted the harm from themselves onto someone else who wasn’t doomed to be crushed until God was asked to spare the believers? What Christian would want to believe in a God that would do something like that?

    No. If God created the world, then He also created the rules under which it operates. The laws of physics govern this universe. Chance is clearly an inherent part of it, and I believe that without chance, we would not have the opportunity for life and free will, and what would be the point of such a universe? It is the very chaotic nature of our universe that allowed it to give birth to us. If this were the sort of universe where God meddles, it could not produce us. Therefore, yes, God allows natural disasters to happen. It’s part of the world He created. Yes, people die, but it is not personal. Our mistake is in thinking that this is all about our own private struggles and forgetting that there are over six billion other people on the planet, and trillions of other organisms. On this planet *alone*. And they are not only alive, they are evolving. If God were meddling in that process, why would He have created it in the first place? Bad things happen. That’s part of life. Take it away and it’s not exactly life anymore; I think the price of removing all sorrow is too great.

    That’s how I feel about it, from a religious/philosophical standpoint.

    From an objective viewpoint, of course, it’s a no-brainer. There’s no rational reason to think the prayer group followed by a relatively low death toll was anything other than a coincidence. It bothers me that they’re minimizing the result of the tragedy. Yeah, it could’ve been a lot worse, and we should all be thankful it wasn’t. (Being thankful is important because it keeps us humble; we need to remember that it could have been so much worse.) But if we take *credit* for it not being worse, then we are also taking credit for those lives that were lost or irrevocably altered, and we are fooling ourselves into thinking that an accident like this won’t happen again as long as we are good people. We don’t have to, say, improve weather forecasting or alter how temporary outdoor stages are rigged.

  18. #19 Julian
    August 17, 2011

    Who claims the authority to say that Sugarland surviving is a good thing? Doesn’t that belong in God’s domain too?

  19. #20 Mu
    August 17, 2011

    Naturally you could also interpret the events as God’s attempt to take out Sugarland (as any benevolent deity would), and the devil took care of his own. Did the prayer circle involve a pentagram?

  20. #21 augustine
    August 17, 2011

    ORAC

    I have to ask: If God gets the credit for saving Sugarland, why doesn’t he get the blame for killing those five people and hurting so many more?

    If you took your skeptic glasses off, although I don’t think this is possible, then you could ask different questions from a fresh perspective.

    One thing that’s bothered me about religion even before I became the lapsed Catholic heathen that I am, is how God always gets the credit for good things but never the bad.

    Perhaps you’re a victim of greek metaphysics superimposed over a hebraic bible. This seems to be inherent in catholic/protestant doctrine. It’s augustine’s fault.LOL.

    Why is the God of the Bible in conflict with the adopted philosophy of SBM, metaphysical naturalism?

  21. #22 novalox
    August 17, 2011

    Ignore racist troll.

  22. #23 Lawrence
    August 17, 2011

    When people die, it is God’s punishment – when people live, it’s God’s grace (or something like that).

    Christians can have it both ways & don’t see any internal inconsistency with their dogma.

  23. #24 Knightly
    August 17, 2011

    The outcome of my surgery was so good because my surgeon has dedicated his life to helping people, had decades of practice, and had some of the best equipment available.

    My recovery was quick and comfortable because my team of doctors and nurses had done much the same, had trained to do what I needed to be done and had helped hundreds, even thousands of people like me before.

    The treatment I’m undergoing now is based firmly in science and has been shown to produce repeatable, reliable results.

    The only mystery here, the only question no one can answer, is what caused the cancer in my brain in the first place.

    So tell me, believers… where is the hand of God in that?

  24. #25 scott
    August 17, 2011

    I wonder how an antivaxxer would interpret this incident:

    Their reasoning is— kid gets vaccine, then autism follows, therefore
    Vaccine caused autism.

    Seems to me using the same reasoning they would conclude:

    Group prayer takes place, then horrible incident happens, therefore
    Group prayer causes horrible things to happen.

  25. #26 Calli Arcale
    August 17, 2011

    Knightly — well, as a believer, I’d say that God made the universe, ergo *ultimately* both you and the team that got you through that surgery so well . . . but what’s important is that each member of that team chose to learn to do what they do, and to dedicate themselves to doing it to the best of their ability. I don’t see God in toast; I see God in acts of love, and dedicating oneself to helping other people survive brain cancer is certainly an act of love. (Yes, they get paid for it, but that doesn’t entirely cheapen it.) They are doing what God would want them to do, but they are doing it of their own free will, with skills born of hard work and dedication.

  26. #27 killinchy
    August 17, 2011

    Is god capricious, or is there a hidden reason for some people being spared while others are smited?

    I’ve always thought it’s more a matter of god being clumsy.

  27. #28 augustine
    August 17, 2011

    The only mystery here, the only question no one can answer, is what caused the cancer in my brain in the first place.

    So tell me, believers… where is the hand of God in that?

    Who told you that God owes you and explanation?

  28. #29 Calli Arcale
    August 17, 2011

    Just to clarify my last post — while I see God in acts of love, I don’t believe God actually induces those acts of love directly and possibly not indirectly either. They wouldn’t mean as much if they were forced, IMHO. But I do believe it’s what God wants us to do — to be kind to one another, and to find where we can be of the most use to our community.

  29. #30 René Najera
    August 17, 2011

    In my opinion, this discussion belongs in a philosophy class, or a thological discourse… Maybe under the hashtag #towerofsiloam or something.

    Anyway, it reminded me of a joke where a group of boy scouts are in the wilderness and come upon a lion. They all drop to their knees to pray that the lion won’t eat them. When they open their eyes, the boy scouts notice that the lion has his own eyes closed. “I wonder what he’s doing?” one of the kids asks.

    The lion is praying, “Thank you, Lord, for the tasty treats I am about to consume. Let other lions who are less fortunate come upon their carcasses and lick whatever I leave behind. Amen.”

  30. #31 Roadstergal
    August 17, 2011

    God didn’t save those five people because he was busy fixing the cataract of Sam’s mum…

  31. #32 Scote
    August 17, 2011

    I’ve heard the argument sarcastically called the Argument from Incomplete Destruction. That no matter how bad the tradgedy that any exception from utterly complete destruction, no matter how small the exception, is considered proof of God. 300 dead and one survivor? Proof god is merciful! One person disfigured and crippled for life? But he’s **alive** thank god’s mercy.

    God. If its good, then god did it. If it is bad, people did it. Always. Even in sports. Won a game? Praise God!! Lost a game? Condemn God? Nope. Grrr…

  32. #33 rob
    August 17, 2011

    Rene: reminds me of another joke.

    two hikers are trekking through the woods when they meet a ferocious, hungry bear. one hiker turns to run, then notices the one has stopped and is putting on running shoes. the first hiker says “what are you doing. you can’t outrun a bear!”

    the second hiker replies “i just have to outrun you.”

  33. #34 Stu
    August 17, 2011

    Allow me to reiterate: God is what people come up with to avoid dealing with the fact that shit happens.

  34. #35 GregH
    August 17, 2011

    Calli Arcale: “People insist on continuing to believe that God’s function is as some sort of magical vending machine…”

    It’s the Prosperity Gospel, folks! (I’m agreeing with you that some people have very strange ideas.)

    And check out the great pic on the Wikipedia site!

  35. #36 Stu
    August 17, 2011

    Who told you that God owes you and [sic] explanation?

    Nobody, sweetheart. But without one, God has to be either (A) completely ineffectual, and hence not worth the time of worship and prayer, or (B) a complete and utter dick, hence not worth the time of worship and prayer.

  36. #37 Todd W.
    August 17, 2011

    @Roadstergal

    Tim Minchin. Brilliant.

  37. #38 joemac53
    August 17, 2011

    I can’t resist one-upping Orac on being a lapsed Catholic heathen. I am a lapsed Catholic heathen who started out as a regular Irish Catholic from Boston. I also had an uncle who was a priest in my parish and was in charge of the Catholic school I attended as a child. When I got in trouble, I was in trouble all over. I learned so much BS as a kid I became an expert BS detector.
    My family escaped.
    Many years later, I was prepared to live with my uncle in the rectory of his parish in a toney suburb of Boston, not far from my first teaching job. After a week, I had to move out. The rectory was on a road with no hills around, and I had a Volkswagen that I had to push every day to get it started. I had to move back to Worcester, a city with unlimited hills.
    Geography trumps religion.

  38. #39 augustine
    August 17, 2011

    stu

    But without one, God has to be either (A) completely ineffectual, and hence not worth the time of worship and prayer, or (B) a complete and utter dick, hence not worth the time of worship and prayer.

    Or…. you worship an idol and not the God of Abraham, Isacc, and Jacob. Then A and/or B may be correct.

  39. #40 lilady
    August 17, 2011

    @ Calli Arcale: Thanks for your posts upthread, which disproves the theory that those educated in the sciences cannot also hold a believe in God. Yes, it is difficult to straddle one’s science education, while maintaining one’s spiritual nature…especially in this world of “declaring” for one side or the other.

    @ joemac53: Here’s the topper for you. My friend Sister Helen went into a Catholic order at age 17 (novitiate), attended university for a BSc-Nursing, then attended university for MSc-Physical Therapy; she was my son’s first physical therapist (at age 3 months.) She became part of my family and her community of nuns welcomed us into their group.

    Sr. Helen was one of the many wonderful people who entered my life during some very trying times. We so enjoyed her company at social engagements (fundraisers for disabled kids); she was a skilled dancer (wicked at “twisting”), enjoyed the occasional bourbon (neat) and the occasional cigarette break. She was also at bedside with me when I was with my son in the PICU. We prayed together and celebrated my son’s recovery from yet another medical emergency.

    I often think of Sr. Helen and the profound loss of her in my life due to breast cancer, but find joy in the opportunity to have her in my life for a little while.

  40. #41 Jud
    August 17, 2011

    Perhaps you’re a victim of greek metaphysics superimposed over a hebraic bible. This seems to be inherent in catholic/protestant doctrine.

    Well yeah, since Hellenistic philosophy was certainly a part of the contending threads that eventually were more or less (sometimes more, sometimes less) harmonized into the Biblical canon.

    If you took your skeptic glasses off, although I don’t think this is possible, then you could ask different questions from a fresh perspective.

    Interesting – what would (some of) those questions be?

    Why is the God of the Bible in conflict with the adopted philosophy of SBM, metaphysical naturalism?

    It’s “methodological naturalism” that I’ve seen more often, which does have room for a creator God, but not a God who monkeys with the laws of Creation. Some scientists believe this is consistent with the Biblical God, while others do not. If I had to guess, I’d suppose that “do not” would be the majority.

    Orac is of course raising the “problem of evil,” often referred to in fashions such as “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Various faithful have wrestled with that problem for millenia, and I doubt the faithful here will come up with anything that hasn’t already been thought of.

  41. #42 anthrosciguy
    August 17, 2011

    Bartcop has a screengrab from the original version of the story in which the band’s manager was said to have held them back due to concerns about the wind. This got changed to a goddy thing.

  42. #43 Rebecca Lesses
    August 17, 2011

    I somehow had the hope that Augustine would be more pleasant when the topic was not vaccines. I see that I am wrong. He takes every opportunity he can to insult other people – but for what reason? Is it really pleasant for him to read all of the criticisms of him?

    I like reading Orac because I’ve learned a lot from him. I like this discussion (for the most part) because of what I learn from the other commenters.

  43. #44 lilady
    August 17, 2011

    At Orac’s most favored wretched hive of scummery (Huffington Post), this article appears:

    Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse: Questions Remain Amid Investigation

    There is a major investigation going on at the site of the Indiana State Fair to determine:

    a) which agency was charged with inspecting the stage after it was erected. Reporters are unable to get some straight answers from the State and the Indiana State Fair bureaucrats.

    b) what specific protocols were in place about inclement weather and…did anyone in authority know about them? Apparently there were some protocols located somewhere but no one followed them.

    So, it seems that it wasn’t God that caused the deaths and injuries and it wasn’t God that protected the Sugarland band.

  44. #45 augustine
    August 18, 2011

    Rebecca lesses

    I see that I am wrong. He takes every opportunity he can to insult other people – but for what reason?

    It’s not an insult(well, maybe a little bit), it’s a challenge of critical thinking. Sorry you feel that way.

  45. #46 Matthew Cline
    August 18, 2011

    @Jud:

    Interesting – what would (some of) those questions be?

    My guess is something along the lines of “Those questions would be incomprehensible to skeptics, so I’m not going to waste my time explaining them to you”.

  46. #47 Militant Agnostic
    August 18, 2011

    @42 – I am not surprised that this got changed from a saved by sensible caution story into a “saved by the lord” story.

    I also find the assumption that they would have been certainly killed if they had been on stage a bit of a stretch. Being on a stage that collapses has got to be a lot less dangerous than being in front of it.

  47. #48 Calli Arcale
    August 18, 2011

    Militant Agnostic — I’m not sure it’s right to say the story changed into a “saved by the lord” story. The more straightforward “sensible caution” version is still alive and well; it’s just that some are (predictably) framing it as “thank you for sparing us, God” story as they retell it. There are a lot of stories to tell within any tragedy, and none of them is the entire story; if one person tells it as a story of personal triumph of will over adversity, and another tells it as a tale of sorrow and horror for what’s been lost, and another tells it as rage against the people in charge for not building a safer stage, the story isn’t changing; it’s just being retold from different perspectives. They do change in the telling, but it’s hard to distinguish the overall story (if there is one) from all the individual variants. That’s the trouble (and the beauty) with stories.

  48. #49 Jarred C
    August 18, 2011

    Or…. you worship an idol and not the God of Abraham, Isacc, and Jacob. Then A and/or B may be correct.

    You mean the god that told Abraham to kill his own son in order to prove his love? That god? Yeah, he’s a total dick. Option B still applies.

  49. #50 Dr J
    August 18, 2011

    As I see it, God was aiming at Sugarland, but because they were hiding out with a prayer circle, S(He) ended up killing 5 other people instead. This kind of reasoning is so despicable.

  50. #51 Jamie
    August 21, 2011

    @ augustine

    It’s not an insult(well, maybe a little bit), it’s a challenge of critical thinking. Sorry you feel that way.

    I don’t whether to be amused or disturbed by the unintended irony in your post. You are a creationist – what on earth would you know about critical thinking?