Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Letter in the Irish Times

I had a letter in The Irish Times today. It was in response to this letter:

Sir, – Midwest Radio is to broadcast a special Mass for good weather (Home News, May 22nd). Are you really telling us that there are people in this country who believe that seeking divine intervention will result in an improvement in their economic situation? That there is a God who believes in providing financial assistance to those who ask her nicely? That She is willing to consider providing such aid selectively, and thereby to give preference to the farming community in Ballyhaunis over say, farmers in drought torn parts of Africa or indeed investors in bankrupt banks?

You also report that there is an appeal for a large attendance at the Mass. Do the promoters also believe there will be some sort of correlation between the attendance level and the scale of the economic assistance that will be delivered?

April 1st has gone. Please let us have some real news. – Yours, etc,


Howth Road, Howth, Dublin 13.

Mine was as follows (I reproduce it along with a typo that was not picked up-- "word" instead of "world" in the second last line. Tsk, Tsk, sub-editor!)

Sir, – It’s fascinating to see how powerful the animus against religion has become in this country. Gerry Moloney (May 24th) is agitated simply because The Irish Times carries a report that Midwest Radio is broadcasting a special Mass for good weather. One would presume that, even for those who do not believe in petitionary prayer – as I do, despite Mr Moloney’s incredulity that such people can exist – this would be a rather harmless and well-intentioned activity. Could secular intolerance reach any more absurd levels?

As for the various objections Mr Moloney makes to the validity of petitionary prayer, all that can be said is that those who wish to make God a performing monkey or a divine slot-machine have a pretty banal conception of the Deity. In any case, if the weather were to take a sudden turn for the better immediately after the Mass, you can be sure that Mr Moloney and those of a similar mind would dismiss it as a coincidence.

Personally speaking, I pray because the evidence of a benevolent Providence in our world seems overwhelming to me, and because (more specifically) the historical and other evidences for Christianity are so compelling. I am not keeping a score-card on God’s “performance” in answering my prayers. Besides, since people can (and do) argue endlessly about the exact causes behind pretty much everything that happens in the word, ruling out divine intervention seems arrogant in the extreme. – Yours, etc,



Sillogue Gardens,


Dublin 11.

I took up this matter because it seems like an important one to me. The challenge of sceptics regarding petitionary prayer seems to me a legitimate one and one that requires a response.

What I find funny is that the debate between believers and sceptics is often conducted at a high-flown, intellectual level that seems to me far less important than the more simple, blunt challenges. Even before I started to practice my faith, I could never see any difficulty at all in reconciling Christian faith with the theory of human evolution-- in fact, even the word "reconcile" seemed unnecessary as there was no conflict. The Gallileo case or the Spanish Inquisition seemed to me entirely irrelevant to the question of whether Christianity was true or false. Even the much-heralded "problem of evil", about which so much ink has been spilled and so much breath spent, always seemed like a non-problem to me. It seems to me painfully obvious that God could have very good reasons for permitting evil in the world, that right now we see through a glass darkly and we do not see the whole picture.

But the blunt challenges of the village atheist seem far more potent; challenges like the challenge of petitionary prayer, or the question of why demonic possession seemed rife in the environment Christ lived in, but doesn't seem very evident today. And I think these are matters which Christian apologists should shrug not off so casually.

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