Monday, 26 June 2006

Miracles, faith, and unusual events

Over at Pontifications, Mike Liccione offers a very thoughtful response to my recent post on miracles, and he points out my “characteristic ‘heretical’ error” of one-sidedness. Mike’s main argument is that “some events of grace are a lot more amazing than others,” and that miraculous events “have a significant role in eliciting faith.”

Naturally I agree with the former point: some events are more unusual than others. And I wouldn’t want to deny that a given miracle-story in the Bible has an unusual event as its historical basis. But my point is that such an event is a “miracle” not because of anything to do with “divine intervention” or the “laws of nature,” but because of this event’s interpreted place within a particular narrative.

As for Mike’s other point, though: is it true that miracles can “elicit faith”? The miracles of Moses did not seem to elicit faith (except among those who already believed). And the reactions to Jesus’ own miracles were remarkably ambivalent: some people responded in faith, but others concluded that he was demon-possessed. For me, this illustrates the real character of miracles: a specific event can be understood as a “miracle” only from within a particular narrative context; outside that context, the same event may be interpreted in all sorts of other ways, but never as a true “miracle.”

Anyway, let me give the last word to Dostoyevsky. In The Brothers Karamazov, the narrator remarks: “It is not miracles that make a realist turn to religion. A true realist will, if he is an unbeliever, will always find the strength and the ability not to believe in a miracle, and if faced with a miracle as an undeniable fact, he will sooner disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. And if he does admit it, he will admit it as a natural fact hitherto unknown to him. In a realist, faith does not arise from a miracle, but the miracle from faith.”


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