OL: Coming Out to a Pastor's Daughter

  This is my first Out Loud, a thingy I'll do when I just want to vent or muse or blahblahblah.  For my first one I'm gonna talk about my experience revealing my atheism to some friends and a "miracle" one of them brought up that I wish I commented on during the conversation.

  I recently came out to two good friends of mine, Ken and Epril, concerning my atheism.  I've known Epril longer than anyone else outside of my family and Ken (her husband) is someone I got to become good friends with a little less than two years ago.  They are both Christians, future-teachers, and are fantastic, loving, genuine people with equally fantastic families.  They're humble folks, and would possibly be hesitant to accept the title, but I'd additionally classify them as missionaries- they feel burdened to take the gospel to Central and South America.
  The months leading up to me telling them that I was an atheist were filled with dread.  I knew they weren't going to freak out or disavow me or anything like that- as I said, Ken and Epril are great people.  However, Epril's dad (Lary), a Church of Christ pastor (I know CoC typically calls them "preachers".. but I grew up with "pastor") and a good friend of mine, is presently, as of the posting of this write-up, unaware of my upgrade out of religion.

  I arrived at Ken and Epril's home and we all sat down and talked.  It had been over half a year since we had all seen each other and there was a lot to catch up about.  We talked for at least a half an hour before I brought up "I'm no longer a Christian."  I told them that across a year-and-a-half pursuit of making sure I believed things for good reasons I had dropped religion.  I mentioned the fact that my research began with the goal of strengthening my faith, learning more about the Bible and Christianity with an end-goal of becoming a better Christian apologist.  
  I wasn't trying to convince them of anything or cause them to question their faith (although hopefully some doubt was planted, as doubt = thought), I simply tried diligently to reinforce the point that my honest pursuit of the truth had led me to a position of non-belief in my life.  They were very respectful and listened to everything I had to say occasionally asking a simple question or two for clarity.
  Come the end of the conversation, Epril said something to the effect of that she was happy I was diligently searching and not a nonbeliever out of obstinacy (which unfortunately suggests that she may subscribe to this fallacy about atheists.)  She then encouraged me to share the news with her father.  I confessed to her that the chance of upsetting Lary had caused me the most discomfort concerning me making my atheism known.
  Lary has been a good friend to me for years and was there for me through some very trying moments in my life.  He was also the pastor who baptized me most recently.  
February, 2012  SE Alaska (yes, it was very cold)
  The conversation then led to me admitting that in all of my research of miracle healings I had never come across anything convincing.  I think I even mentioned all the legwork James Randi put in during his investigations on "miraculous healings."  (there's a quick section from "Miracles for Sale" where an actor pretending to be a faith healer "heals" people of their pain)  I said that I was skeptical of all the "healings" I had witnessed in my several years as a Pentecostal.
  Ken and Epril's responses were expected, some of the usual apologetic, prepared answers "god doesn't want to create expectation", "don't want to create a healing market", "perhaps in extreme conditions" and the like.  However, Epril then said something that I wasn't expecting at all (her being Church of Christ.)  Epril said that some time ago she had some arm pain healed after praying for it (her and a friend or two if I remember correctly.)
  Ken gave off a vibe of I-don't-think-that-was-really-a-miracle-healing but Epril seemed convinced that it was.  When met with such conviction and honesty, it was hard for me to open my mouth as to my opinions on the matter.  I wanted to delve into the topic, but I also didn't want to come across as abrasive after just admitting my recent disposal of theism.

  Some thoughts that swam through my mind as she told me her tale of healing were as follows:
Is it improbable that her arm became better (or felt better) for any other reason?  Is spontaneous remission not a possibility?  Is it beyond consideration that she benefited from the placebo effect?  Would it be just too unlikely that the potential expectation placed upon her in those moments caused a chemical response?  Is there no reason to think her pain simply ran its course and the timing of her prayers just fueled her confirmation bias?  Was it beyond likelihood that any special treatment she was implementing to combat the pain, maybe mixed with some of the other more mental effects from this list, played a role in her feeling an improvement?  People naturally recover from afflictions all the time, is there reason to think some extranatural force had anything to do with this (perceived or actual) recovery?

During the several minutes that encompassed her moment of healing, across the world there were children being beaten, neglected, sexually abused, dying of disease.  There were people losing their livelihoods, dying of exposure and starvation, and a great many afflictions and troubles.  There were many, many cries for help, healing, deliverance--- and god healed her arm.  Was her faith more deserving?  Was her life worth more?  Were her prayers more genuine?  "Genuine" ... that word can cause some mighty uncomfy inspection. Were her desires more than those of an abused child or a mother begging God that the doctor isn't going to return to the room with news that her unborn child is dead?  What of the hurt and downtrodden that had other people praying fervently for them?  "God healed me" = "God answered my prayers."  

What of people being "healed" in different religions?  What of present-day people going to pagan shines and receiving "miraculous" healing?  What of Muslims praying for deliverance from an ailment and "miraculously" receiving it?  What of the Spiritualists and Mystics who claim healing by magical vortexes, "earth energy", chants, and crystals?  What of the witch doctors?  What of the "wondrous deeds" overseen by religious charlatans and hucksters?  What of the immeasurable miraculous claims from many religions across the entirety of human history?  What of the other Christian denominations which hold mutually exclusive beliefs than that of Church of Christ (or other denominations with opinions on miraculous healings?)  If a Christian is going to claim such an occurrence of "miracle healing" as evidence for Yahweh, do they accept that other religions are then granted such evidences as well?  Because, Christians, you are one among many groups that profess intervention from a divine source. 

  Even if none of the above scenarios I suggested are what took place (there could be a multitude of naturalistic explanations that I neglected to mention) that wouldn't demonstrate any reliability in considering a supernatural explanation.  Anyone positing a supernatural event needs to justify such a stance, it isn't up to the rest of the world to point out how such claims are reasonable to dismiss.  The burden of proof (an understandable point of concern for many theistic arguments, for a reason) lies on the one positing the supernatural claim- not the person listening to the claim.  
  I don't think Epril was lying, I think she really believed that her prayers were answered and she was healed.  I'm not trying to discredit her, she's a good friend of mine and a person I greatly admire and respect (people, she is awesome.)  Perhaps I'm moreso highlighting the end-all "God did it" as it is often employed by many theists.  
  The conversation didn't linger on miracles for long.  Soon we were back to talking about school, hobbies, future plans- all that great friend stuff.  The impressive amount of Christian literature on their bookshelves certainly kept my attention during any lulls in the conversation. Ken and I even spent at least a half an hour talking about Civ III strategies and maps (him having made a really cool custom earth map.)  The atmosphere was very calm, not a single harsh word was uttered, it was a very ideal outcome for an event that has resulted in tragedy for many other atheists.  
  It was a great visit, I was very glad to have gotten that off of my chest, and once I reveal my atheism to Lary I suspect my openness to others on the topic will be relatively unfettered.  

  So there's my first Out Loud.  I know, I know, edge-of-your-seat material here. 


  Whether you're a theist or atheist, here are a few things that you may find interesting that I came across casually browsing the Internet concerning the topic of prayer and miracle healings:

  Scroll down to the Rationalization section (near the first blue box) of "Why won't God heal amputees?" (although the entire page is worth a look.)  This website was the first ever anti-theism website I ever came across back in 2007 when I was a believer.  The uncomfortable dissonance I experienced greatly upset me as I read from some of its pages and I quickly buried any inquiry with anger or "who are they to question God?" and didn't ever browse that website again until years later. Looking at the site now, I can imagine (to great embarrassment) the rationalizations and mental gymnastics I would have employed as a believer if I had attempted to address some of the issues raised by this site.  I'm not saying every argument on this site is rock-solid.. but many theists would have to stoop themselves to distressing- and possibly immoral- apologetics to confront some of the points made by Why Won't God Heal Amputees?.

I even checked out a website that claims to be all about documented, verified, and/or published cases of miraculous healings, the Global Medical Research Institute.  ("seeks to apply the rigorous methods of evidence-based medicine to study Christian Spiritual Healing (CSH) practices.")  I quickly went to their "relevant readings" and was... puzzled by what they linked to.  Several of the links didn't work and most of the material had "inconclusive" or "no effect" or "maybe a possible correlation" as outcomes.  So either GMRI didn't read what they were encouraging others to read or they were scraping the proverbial barrel for material?  
  I also tried to make an account with the site, as to view any findings/case reports or look at the "community" information.  The registration process was broken to the point that I couldn't make an account plus the wording in the Membership Agreement terms suggested that I would need to pay to make an account.  Even running a web search on the group produced very little (although I did find a "Divine Healing" Facebook page with links to lots of 404 pages!)  There were several other problems with the site and its methods- but I think you're getting the gist.  A group/site that is primarily about miraculous healings that has very little. of anything.  

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