Faith and superstition in times of crisis

Yahoo! News has a story about the church’s reaction to the Minnesota bridge collapse. As usual, the Christian response to sudden disaster is a mixture of superstition and pragmatic compassion.

At Holy Rosary Church in Minneapolis, the faithful thanked God for the “angels” who rescued 50 terrified children from a school bus when the span collapsed Wednesday…

“The thing I always think about is if we were seconds ahead or seconds behind, we could’ve been under the bridge or in the water. It makes me feel lucky I’m still alive,” said Elfego Vences Jr., 16, who was on the bus with his 13-year-old brother and 12-year-old sister…

The Rev. Jim Barnett said that the church considers the survival of its children a miracle, and that the service was designed in part to help them heal.

The superstitious part is obvious: a bridge collapses, and some people die, but others survive. Once it’s over, believers retroactively give God credit for deciding to save the children on the school bus that fell (and thus implying that He also decided not to have the same kind of mercy on those who died). Notice there was no miraculous intervention here. The bus was caught in traffic, and stayed where it was. It didn’t magically poof a few feet ahead just before the bridge fell, nor did it magically zap back far enough to be out of harm’s way. It happened to be where it was, and it stayed there. The circumstances allowed its passengers to survive, and the Christians retroactively gave God credit for their survival, and arbitrarily decided not to blame Him for the deaths of those that did not survive.

I think the more important story here, however, is that Christians also decided to use this church service “in part to help [the children] heal” from the trauma of their experiences. That’s a good thing and it’s also a very human thing. There’s nothing in the Bible about “here’s a service you can hold that will help young victims recover from emotional trauma.” People have made this sort of thing up, based on their experiences. They framed it in the context of a superstitious ritual, true, but their goal is certainly respectable. I hope those kids do recover quickly from the shock and distress they’ve experienced.