Belief in miracles, it would seem, is the mainstay of popular religion, while disbelief in such things seems to unite those who are more sophisticated (or those who think of themselves as being such) no matter how much they may disagree on other matters. If one doubts this, one need only think of the popular religious shrines of the old world such as Loudres or Compastella and the Pentecostal enthusiasms of the new on the one hand, or the disdain for such things evidenced by intellectuals, whether they be outright atheists or simply skeptical biblical scholars on the other.
There is nothing new in this. Thomas Jefferson, like most of our founders who believed in a supreme deity ("Nature's God") who designed the universe was, at the same time, a God who would never stoop to violating his own immutable laws of nature. Jefferson even rewrote the gospels to is own liking to present a Jesus who preached a golden rule but never did anything which might have astounded or baffled his critics. In much the same way, the collection of American scholars who call themselves "the Jesus Seminar" have met periodically to vote not only on what they think Jesus really said (see The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, New York, Polebridge Press, 1993) but also to decide what Jesus really did (The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus, San Francisco: Harper, 1998), this despite the strong evidence that in his own time the skeptics, and even his enemies, were impressed by his wondrous powers.
Why is this? Why this widespread prejudice against anything that might upset our own expectations? I suppose the most obvious answer is that we live in a scientific age, one which is dominated by belief in immutable scientific laws and the rule of reason. While we may accept at least some “miraculous” cures, at least on the basis psychosomatic possibilities, we are much more skeptical when it comes to claims of things like walking on water or miraculous multiplication of loaves of bread or fishes. While we are somewhat uncomfortable with the first category, we tend to outright reject anything that falls into the second, the so-called “nature miracles.” Otherwise, who knows what irrationality or craziness might follow?
Yet, when one steps back and thinks about it, is not this supposition and the prejudices enjoins itself illogical? If there truly is a God who is ultimately responsible for all there is, who is to say that this God may never allow any deviation to prove a point or to exercise compassion? Is that not logic of the miracle itself, that it is normally so rare that when it does occur, its function is to elicit wonder?
Indeed, when one follows this logic to its end, one must conclude it that it is not reason that dictates that miracles cannot take place, but rather, if not an outright atheism, at least a residual form of idolatry that assumes that God must always conform to our own self-imposed rules of behavior.
R W Kropf 3/10/08 Miracles.doc