Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nothing Comes From Nothing

In the 1980s I worked for a company which manufactured business forms, including form letters for mass mailings. One of our customers was a faith healer by the name of Peter Popoff, who claimed to receive messages directly from God himself.
Peter’s shtick was to set up highly publicized public healing services in large cities. At these performances he would call out members of the audience by name, ailment, and sometimes even home address. The person so called would come on the stage, and Peter would miraculously heal whatever ailed him or her. Audience members were asked to throw their medicines on the stage, and did so by the thousands. I shudder to think how some must have suffered as a result.
Anyway, in addition to his performances, Peter would mail out letters by the tens of thousands, sometimes containing a napkin or some other small token. The recipient was supposed to carry the enclosure for a short time, then mail it back with a prayer request and, of course, a check.
For a while we printed 10,000 letters per week for Peter. His budget was $500K per month, and although we received only a small percentage of that, we did rather well. And we didn’t even need to have a salesperson call on him.
The whole thing came to a screeching halt one night on the Tonight Show, when the Amazing Randi, a professional magician and paranormal debunker, presented recordings containing many hours of Peter getting his transmissions from God at 39.17Mhz. And on these recordings God turned out to be Peter’s wife, Elizabeth. It seemed that after gleaning information from conversations and prayer request cards filled out by the incoming audience members, she would pass it on to Peter, who, in spite of being a healer, found it necessary to wear a “hearing aid.”
Many more of Peter’s shenanigans along with details of how his direct line was cut off can be found at For all his business was worth after that, Peter might as well have been a pregnant prostitute.
An apocryphal story is told about a man who was visited by a police officer, who told him that the river was rising, and that he should evacuate his house. The man declined, stating that, “God will take care of me.” Eventually the water came up to his front door, at which point a man came by in a motorboat and offered to take him to safety. Again he declined, saying, “God will take care of me.” Soon he had to climb unto the roof of his house. Then a helicopter came by, and the pilot offered to take him to safety. Again he declined, saying, “God will take care of me.”
Finally he drowned, and when he appeared before the heavenly throne, he asked, “Why didn’t you take care of me?” And  God said, “I sent a policemen, a motorboat and a helicopter for you, and you declined. What more could I do?”
The point is, if a miracle is going to happen, it is probably going to be through the actions of other people. God does not perform miracles by suspending His laws of physics.
Of course, unexpected and unexplainable physical events do happen, but not all of them turn out to be “good.” Nothing appears from nowhere; for every event there is always a line of events that we can trace backwards in time, although we did not understand or pay attention to them at the time.
When we judge an unexpected event to be “good,” we call it a miracle, and when we judge it to be “bad,” we call it fate, or God’s unfathomable plan. Whether it’s a physical event or a human event, we tend to remember the good ones, and just to accept the bad ones. And that’s probably a good thing.

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