Friday, October 15, 2010

Catholic League’s delusional, anti-atheist response to the rescued Chilean miners

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Chilean President Sebastian Pinera with message from miners: “We are okay in the shelter, the 33” (August 22)
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera with message from miners: “We are okay in the shelter, the 33” (August 22)

Unless you’ve been living without access to TV, radio, newspapers or the Internet for the past few days or months, you’re probably aware of the nearly three dozen miners in Chile who’ve been trapped underground since their copper/gold mine collapsed in early August. Rescue operations finally succeeded in freeing them from their would-be earthly tomb two days ago, combining sophisticated equipment with months of effort to save the lives of the 33 unfortunate men after spending a record 70 days underground.

The reason I bring this up is not because of a personal interest in the matter, but to shine light on this response from the Catholic League, a statement that’s as breathtakingly moronic, arrogant and downright delusional as expected from their purple-faced mouthpiece, Bill Donohue:

The miraculous rescue of all 33 Chilean miners is difficult to understand from a purely secular perspective. In this day and age of militant atheism, coupled with relentless assaults on Roman Catholicism, it is refreshing to read about the central role that Catholicism played in helping these courageous men survive, and of their enormous gratitude to God.

To those who cling to the superstition that there is no meaning to life beyond sheer material existence, we ask them to reflect on the following testimonials. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no atheists in trapped mines. Click here for some inspiring comments.

It’s all right. You probably didn’t need your brain this evening, anyway. (And if you did, well, mea culpa.)

There is so much wrong packed into those two mere paragraphs that it’s almost amazing it isn’t bursting apart at the seams (or <p></p> tags, for the HTML-minded). It’s hard to know where to begin, but the easiest target is the rant’s overall point about how the miners’ survival and rescue is purely miraculous event and can’t possibly be explained by any other means.

Naturally, this is precisely backwards. A “secular perspective” is the only way in which these events can be understood. Their survival was the result of bearable living conditions underground (made all the more easy with the steady flow of provisions and basic amenities and comforts), and the fact that they got out is thanks solely to the hard-working rescue workers who toiled day and night to dig through the layers of rock and earth until they bore a hole large enough to squeeze the miners up through via a little elevator-type mechanism.

See? All explained away nicely, simply and logically. No need to resort to any claims of divine providence, perhaps incurred thanks to futile invocations to a nonexistent deity, or any other forms of superstition. What happened was the result of a group of people who mobilized their efforts and ingenuity to attain their goals. To try and explain it as anything more, and especially, to try and pin this on God or any other mystical force, is not only pointless and irrational, but most of all, it’s downright insulting to the tireless men and women who actually did the job. It’s stripping them of their much-deserved credit and placing it on the shoulders of a figment of human imagination. This is a common theme amongst religious people: Any actions that lead to improving or saving their lives are the sole responsibility of Yahweh, rather than the common mortals who got their hands dirty out of duty or compassion and actually did something.

The second point of Donohue’s screed is how the miners’ faith supposedly kept them alive and how their story somehow demonstrates how belief in secular materialism is, itself, the “superstition” meriting derision. That’s almost idiotic beyond words. The men’s belief in God may have kept their spirits up to some extent, as faith has been known to do in certain situations (though I would suggest that their desire to see their families and friends again acted as a far more powerful drive), but if so, that is proof of nothing. So, a bunch of men were stuck together and held identical beliefs in the supernatural. That’s not inspiring. It’s not revealing. And it most certainly is not any sort of evidence showing how “there is more to this world”, to use a common phrasing.

Donohue links to a page filled with dozens of quotes from the miners themselves and various other pious onlookers in the media and government. These are supposed to be inspiring? What I see is nothing more than a collection of wishy-washy gobbledygook from people who can’t align their eyes properly and tell the difference between mere humans in hard hats at the helm of the massive drills that actually got the miners out, and some indistinct and immaterial spirit who’s being lauded for controlling the entire operation. Not to mention that, if said spirit was in control all along, why did he/she/it let the damn collapse happen in the first place, only to have the three-dozen-plus men pulled out over two months later thanks to the workings of other human beings? All just to bask in the babbled, semi-coherent praises of the rescued would-be victims? How incomparably vain and capricious is that?

To wrap it off, I’d like to mention Donohue’s deluded quip about there being no atheists in either foxholes (a stereotype that’s been debunked so often and thoroughly that you’re practically raping that dead horse by now) or “trapped mines”[1] – all from, well, nothing at all, other than this one, individual, specific case where all 33 miners are self-professed Christians. (As far as we know.) I would invite Donohue to go around and ask every single person who’s ever been trapped inside a collapsed mine about their religious beliefs. The results might be shocking – to him.

[1] How are the mines, themselves, trapped? Are they shackled to dungeon walls? Fenced in to prevent them from gamboling gaily across flowery fields? The miners are trapped; the mines are blocked.