God, Captain Scott O'Grady,
and the Atlanta Braves
By Farell Till
(The Skeptical Review)
In an earlier issue (Autumn 1994), we discussed some public attitudes concerning God and O. J. Simpson, and now it seems appropriate to discuss the special relationship with God that Captain Scott O'Grady apparently thinks that he enjoys. Captain O'Grady, as most readers will remember, was the American pilot whose plane was shot down during a mission over Bosnia. He parachuted to safety and, after eluding capture for several days, was finally plucked out of Serbian-occupied territory in a daring rescue mission. O'Grady had no sooner set foot on friendly territory (in this case the deck of a U. S. aircraft carrier) when he began to attribute his survival and rescue to God. Since then he has incessantly praised God for his dramatic rescue.
Through all of the publicity that the various news media have given O'Grady and his rescue, not once did any reporter or interviewer ever ask O'Grady an obvious question that must have been on the minds of all freethinkers who heard the captain thanking God for bringing him safely back. It would have been so gratifying if just once a reporter had said something like this: "Captain O'Grady, each day on television, we see pictures of Bosnian civilians, many of them children, who have been killed by sniper fire or blown apart by mortar shells. Many of these casualties, which now number in the thousands, are people whose faith in God is just as strong as yours, so why do you think that God would have such a special interest in you that he would protect you from just being captured when apparently he has no interest in keeping children from being maimed and slaughtered in the daily carnage occurring throughout Bosnia?"
We might also add that if O'Grady is right in this matter, then God apparently likes American pilots better than those of other nations, for after O'Grady's rescue, a French fighter plane was shot down over Bosnia and, although its two crewmen were seen parachuting to safety, God hasn't yet seen fit to rescue them. We have to wonder why this disparity in divine providence continues to go unnoticed by journalists who say nothing about it as Captain O'Grady continues his praise-God-for-saving-me rhetoric.
The reason for this journalistic silence, of course, is no mystery. Even if any reporters have had such thoughts, they probably understand that they had better not express them, because there is a "religion good/skepticism bad" mentality in this country that could harm a reporter's career if he dared to challenge it too openly. So undoubtedly some reporters go along with the game out of professional necessity.
Another likely reason why God-saved-me remarks like Captain O'Grady's receive so much media fanfare is that reporters know that such comments are exactly what the American public wants to hear. Writing on this same subject, Tim Gorski, editor of *The Freethought Exchange*, said this about O'Grady's comment:
- "I'm just sorry that the downed airman hadn't instead been Captain Moshe Goldstein who might have said, "The God of Abraham and Isaac saved me from the Serbs! Only because I wore my yarmulke and prayed with my prayer shawl was I saved!" Or how would Americans have reacted if Captain Mohammed Faisal had been the hero who proceeded to tell Americans that "Allah alone is responsible for my rescue! Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!" Or [choke] just think of the entertainment value we would have had if it had been *an atheist* who, upon being rescued, said, "I certainly didn't waste my time praying to nonexistent god(s); I'm here today because of the bravery and determination of the well-trained people of the U. S. military, among whom I proudly count myself" (July/ August 1995, p. 137). In the event of the latter scenario, this matter would have been shushed up long ago. As it is, Captain O'Grady continues to exploit the situation. Recent news reports indicate that he plans to leave the air force and is considering book and movie offers. Ah, yes, there is money to be made in the God-was-with-me business. Skeptics and atheists just haven't yet learned which side their bread is buttered on."
If these comments seem unduly cynical, just stop and consider how often comments like O'Grady's are made. When a hurricane or a tornado strikes an area, some people's property inevitably escapes serious damage. So what do we see during the news coverage? Reporters will thrust their microphones in the face of someone standing in front of his relatively undamaged house with chaos and destruction all around him, and the guy will say, "The Lord was with me." When an airplane crashes, if any passengers survive, sooner or later we will see them on TV thanking God for saving them. Apparently, it never occurs to these people that if God is to be thanked for saving one house from destruction, then he must be blamed for all of the houses that were destroyed. If an omnipotent God saved one or two from death in a plane crash, then he could have saved all of the passengers, or, even better, he could have kept the plane from crashing. So if there is any truth to the survivors' claims that God saved them, then friends and relatives of the victims of tragedy should curse God for showing a flagrantly unbenevolent partiality.
One of the absurdest examples of this kind of reasoning (or rather lack of the same) occurred after the Atlanta Braves had defeated the Cincinnati Reds to win the National League pennant. Reporters and TV cameras were in the dressing room to record the pandemonium as the Braves celebrated. While a player was being interviewed with trite questions about his reaction to the victory, a voice in the background was heard to say, "The Lord sure works in mysterious ways." Yeah, sure, we are supposed to believe that the creator of the universe so wanted some of the World Series games to be played in Atlanta that he intervened to have the Braves beat the Reds. Apparently, God just doesn't care anything about the feelings of baseball fans in Cincinnati. Perhaps they should repent and turn to God so that the World Series can be played in Cincinnati next year.
Did the reporter holding the microphone turn to the player who had made this comment and ask him to explain why he thought that God had favored the Atlanta Braves? No, he didn't. Did the reporter ask the player who had said this if he thought it was fair of an omnipotent, omniscient God to put himself on the side of one of the teams and pull strings in such a way as to enable it to win? No, he didn't. Reporters who record comments like these just never seem to have the perception or the courage to put people like this on the spot and demand that they justify their extraordinary claims of having an omnipotent deity watching over them.
Journalists are supposed to be professionals, and a true professional would want to get the whole story, but as long as reporters allow statements like these to go unchallenged and unexplained, they are not getting the whole story. They are selling out to popular opinion.
Meanwhile, we have to pity the poor Indians. They didn't have a chance to win the World Series with God on the side of the Braves. They did, however, prove themselves to be the better team by winning two games with God playing for the other side.
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