One of the strangest phenomena of human behavior that I know of is the way in which experiencing a catastrophe causes people to become more superstitious. CNN is currently running an article regarding how the recent earthquake has caused many Haitians to become more religious that caused me to ponder on it.
“A lot of people who never prayed or believed – now they believe.”
“People don’t blame Jesus for all these things. They have faith. They believe that Jesus saved them and are thankful for that.”
Christina Bailey, a 24 year-old clerk.
“Thank you, God, because he saved my life. If I lose my feet, I always had my life.”
11 year-old Anaika Saint Louis, who later died from injuries to her legs
I find these quotes intriguing because of what it indicates about the way the catastrophe is interpreted as regards to faith. From an unbiased viewpoint an observer could just as easily (if not more easily) conclude that the devastating earthquake was evidence for the absence of an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent supernatural being. But these people who have just experienced this horrible calamity instead interpret their continued existence as evidence that Yahweh saved them. I believe this is purely due to myopia and confirmation bias. I say myopia because certainly the people who were killed by the earthquake could not claim to have been saved by Jesus, and it is the inability of the survivors to see the situation from the perspective of the deceased that allows them to see their own survival as a positive act of a benevolent deity. The confirmation bias part comes in with the identification of the deity responsible for their salvation. Clearly Vishnu or Chtulu wouldn’t be responsible for saving Christian/Voodoo hybrids. On second thought, it’s myopia that enables this confirmation bias anyway because it is the inability to view one’s own religion from the perspective of an adherent of any other religion that allows believers to be certain about their own beliefs at all.
The article does make a good point towards the bottom regarding the correlation between poverty/hopelessness and faith. This is clearly a strong aspect of faith in such an impoverished place as Haiti. There is no easy answer to the hypothetical question posed at the end of the story, “They leave everything in the hands of God. When you have so little, what else can you turn to?” Aside from turning to your fellow humans for support and empathy, you have to do it all yourself. This is just the nature of the human condition. Turning to imaginary super-friends never actually solved anything, but it may make a believer feel a little better about a situation and allow them to carry on when they might otherwise crack. It’s like an elaborate form of denial. Of course, while I’d like to see the diminution of blind religious faith world-wide, right now the Haitians need to use whatever techniques enable them to get through the day with a scrap of sanity intact, even if it includes praying to their imaginary super-friend. My heart weeps for the survivors… and the dead. More so for the survivors when I contemplate what their existence is likely to be for the foreseeable future. And yes, I did donate to relief efforts. Another godless donor.