Days ago, Ted Williams was broke and homeless. Now, after a passenger gave him a dollar for a sample of his “God Given Voice” and it turned into a viral video, Ted Williams is an internet celebrity, has various high-paying job offers, and has reconnected with his mother. It’s an inspiring story: motivating, uplifting, tear-jerking. But is it Godly? Does Ted Williams turnaround give glory to God – can we find God in these stories of personal triumph? This post will argue for the impossibility of God’s presence in cases such as this, and why it matters.
Let me point out that this is not a post against God, nor a post against Ted Williams. Leave those two individuals out of it. This is a criticism of the common religious tendency of seeing God in any kind of miraculous turn around or sudden rags-to riches-story.
Like everyone else I saw the videos and news stories tracing Ted Williams’ meteoric rise to fame. I hadn’t planned on writing about it however, until I read a huffingtonpost.com post by Eugene Cho. I quote:
“Stories of redemption & encountering God never grow old. They are the most beautiful stories. We are created in the image of God. We are loved by God. This — in essence — is the definition of human dignity. Indeed, the Gospel matters …“
Unfortunately Eugene’s post probably resonates with millions of people; but there are serious faults with his claim on two counts. It implies:
1) That the needy are MORE deserving
2) That God only interferes, sometimes, to those who need him
The first problem with finding God in this story is that stories of inspiration like these appear miraculous because of the great turnaround. Only God could have done this, we think. But we only recognize these great turnarounds from people at the very lowest. Does God ONLY interfere in the lives of those who have massively screwed up, turned to drugs and alcohol, and otherwise ruined their own lives through bad choices?
What about the rest of us who work hard, who make smart choices, who don’t become homeless; we struggle day after day to be responsible, take care of our families and pay the bills. We also hope for our breakthrough moment, for God to Help Us – but he never does. Giving help to those who need it most, is a dangerously perverse system. Read Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead if you haven’t yet to understand the complex disadvantage to giving the most benefit to the most needy (rather than the most hard-working).
Further, assigning Ted’s Miracle to God creates some tough questions: does he only help those who are gonna give him the most media coverage? Is he that self-serving? What about the thousands of homeless people that will die hopeless: why didn’t God help them in the same way? Assigning this little miracle to God also makes God responsible for ignoring all those others. That’s the ugly consequence of interpreting stories like this as God’s magical finger.
Here’s what is true: It is possible that the idea of God or belief in God is instrumental in improving the lives of the ruined. In other words, humans who are weak, poor, lonely, and can’t seem to get a handle on things, may find a genuine spiritual transformation in religious belief: faith in God may be what they needed to turn their life around (this doesn’t make it true; but it may make it useful). In this sense, it is possible that Ted Williams’ new found Christian faith was what helped him begin to get control.
God may be that source of inspiration and personal wisdom that humans can find strength in. He cannot, however, be the deity that pokes his finger into our world and makes miracles happen; because if he is, he’s conscientiously choosing (based on merit? need?) some of us over others. Which makes him capricious, dangerous, totally unjust.
Imagine a football game where Obama was watching and could, whenever he wanted, for no reason (just for kicks) blow his whistle, pause the game and give the ball to the other team. Just because he thinks it’s more fair and he feels bad, or maybe because he’s bored. And then later he does the same to the other side. Doesn’t that actually make the game completely meaningless and not worth playing?
If life is really like this, what does it take for the rest of us relatively “successful” people to get noticed? Should this be our plea?:
Dear God – what is it going to take to get you to notice me? I work 12 hours a day, I devote my time to improving and educating myself, paying my rent and saving money so I can start a family. I’m disciplined, hard-working, and in control. I try to be a good person, be generous to strangers, give money to the poor. Why can’t you give me a little of the Love you gave Ted Williams? Do I need to be totally homeless or start abusing drugs and alcohol before I’m worth anything to you? Do I need to let myself drop into total ruination so that you can play the Hero and “save” me? Is that what gets you off? What’s so wrong about being responsible enough to manage my own life?
A final point: Did God take the short video of Ted Williams and post it on YouTube? Did he inspire 11 million people to decide to waste their time watching pointless and trivial garbage and catch Ted Williams in between their normal routine of Porn, Funny Advertisements, People Being Stupid and Cute Animal Videos? If you want to thank someone for Ted Williams miraculous turn around, thank YouTube founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim; who have revolutionized the way humans spend their time and interact with each other.
In conclusion, let me again say I have nothing against Ted and am happy for him; and I’m sure he’s a great guy who will continue to do good things in his life. What I’m against is people using Ted’s story as “Proof” that God is wonderful and offers real, tangible, miraculous benefits for those who believe in him.
As Eugene Cho points out: “And as we feel all tingly and mushy inside, know that when the media frenzy fades away: There are anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million homeless Americans.” God is not the finger that reaches from heaven. God is you – taking action right now, wherever you are, to improve the life of someone less off.