A Theist Moment

6 February, 2008

Have any atheists out there had an experience which was too perfect for it to seem like chance?  A moment when, in the face of disaster (or impending disaster), things suddenly went your way?

 My family and I enjoy vacations.  My wife’s parents are retired to Florida, mine are retired in Maine.  Our favourite place on earth is Yellowstone National Park and, in order to hit other neat places in between here and there, we generally drive.

 A few years ago, we made plans for trip out west.  Day one, to Bettendorf, Iowa.  Day two, Greeley, Colorado.  Yes, we drove long and fast.  We then spent a day at Rocky Mountain National Park and drove back to Greeley (from thence to Dinosaur, Fossil Butte, through Grand Tetons to Yellowstone).  The day was great.  We saw elk, marmots, mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, snow (mid-June), and got to drive through a thunderstorm at 11,000 feet.  As we went down the mountains, the clouds had the most perfectly formed mammatus cloud formations.  Beautiful.

 Along the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a Black Eyed Peas restaurant (still about a half-hour from our lodging).  I spent enough time in the Cumberland Valley of Maryland to get a taste for southern food.  I had pintos with country ham, collard greens, biscuits, and country ham.  It was, well, good.  Not great, but good.

Now, every time we go on vacation, I experience, at least once, what I can best describe as ‘vacation troubles.’  It starts with a rumbling and, if I don’t find a ‘facility’ quickly, I’m in trouble.  The problem was, we hit rush hour traffic heading into Greeley.  I was in trouble.

I spotted a strip mall, and made a quick right turn.  And missed the entrance.  Luckily, behind the strip mall was a construction area.  Even if I can’t find a rest room, it’ll be deserted this late in the day, right?  Wrong.  It was a half-finished, half-occupied housing development.  As I made left and right turns, hoping for some way to save, if not my dignity, at least the upholstery in my wife’s car, I saw it. 

 Lit by a single shaft of sunlight out of the west, illuminated by a ray of sunshine, was a porta-potty.  I was saved (and my wife’s mini-van was saved).

Now, I have been around for forty-two years.  This episode is the closest I have ever come to experiencing even the possibility of the existence of god.  I know that finding the facility was not a miracle.  It was not an impossibility which manifested itself physically.  It was merely an improbability.  That damn porta-potty most likely took my one bit of luck which might have won PowerBall (just kidding).

So.  Have any other atheists experienced an extremely unlikely event, experienced an improbability, a moment when, seconds from disaster, chance intervened?  And would a theist interpret that porta-potty as proof of the existence of god?



  1. Give a theist a mildly unlikely event, event a predictable event, and he’ll turn it into an act of god. God’s in charge of everything, doncha know.

    I had the porta potty miracle myself, while I was in Norther Arizona, on the Navajo reservation heading towards the Four Corners area,(I was trying to get a feel for the locale of the Tony Hillerman novels) when something in the environment decided it did not agree with me. That area is pretty desolate, but we made it to the spot where the four states meet, and as luck would have it (OK, crass commercialism mixed with indigenous poverty) the local Navajo people had set up a whole shit load (please excuse the pun) of gift teepees, and behind them was a slew of porta potties. Just in the nick of time.

  2. Let’s see, shall I save the world from famine, or war, or disease, or global warming, or natural catastrophes today? In what way shall I show my most beloved creation my divine love?

    I know! A porta-potty for (((Billy)))! And just in the nick of time, too! (Didn’t I do this once for SI? Have one of the archangels look that up.)

  3. Ex: I never thought about it that way. I wonder how many people died horrible deaths just to deliver that unserviced porta-potty?

  4. Well Billy, you know for every porta-potty miracle, there’s some poor holiday-maker pebble-dashing the inside of his or her underpants. Probably more. I think you should be assessing the probability of there being a public toilet in any given site, and taking into account that you’re likely to drive towards an area where the chances of finding a public toilet are even greater.

    There’s a wonderful bit in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where Arthur Dent squeals “But that’s impossible!”, to which Trillian replies “No, just very very improbable”.

    So, at what odds does something that’s a wonderful coincidence, or a stroke of luck, become a miracle? I am also reminded of the Onion story Miracle of birth occurs for 83 billionth time. Always makes me chuckle.

    Nice blog by the way – you’ve hit the ground running.

  5. Holy Shit???? (sorry)

    I agree that if you give fundamentalists any bit of chance they will take it to mean miracle. But on the flip side, nothing bad is his fault.

    Back in Feb 2000 my husband and I were headed to Denver so my uncle could do my husbands tattoo. We were driving our truck. We hit a horrible snow storm in Rock Springs WY. As we were getting back on the freeway after breakfast, we were coming up the on ramp and just happened to hit a patch of ice on I-80 that was covered by the snow blows the wind was covering the freeway with. We were only going about 20mph but it was enough to send us skidding across all lanes of our side of the freeway. We went into the median. That was when we both looked up to decide if we could continue our momentum into the oncoming lanes or if we needed to probably roll the truck to avoid hitting anything headed west. Luckily, there wasn’t anything at all coming in the other direction. We slid across the westbound lanes and down into the gully on that side. We got away with just a dented bed, and 2 flat tires. We were towed back to town got new tires and went on to Denver.

    In May 2001 my husband was taking that same truck to pick up his mom at about 5 am on a Saturday morning. He picked her up and they were headed to her church to get some tables for a fund raiser her catholic church was doing that day. He was going through a green light when a guy driving on a suspended license for repeat DUI without insurance ran a red light, t-boned the truck and flipped it on it’s side. It gave my husband horrible road rash and paralyzed his mom.

    So, apparently god doesn’t hate two people dumb enough to drive to Denver in February to get a tattoo for my husband from my Uncle, but he does hate my very catholic MIL who was on her way to do fundraising work for said god.


  6. Julia: I know that, as I made desperate turn after desperate turn, desperate decision after desperate decision, I was aiming towards what I hoped would be, if not a restroom, a porta-potty. If not a porta-potty, a deserted place. What had my whole family in an stitches, though, was that the only spot of sunshine in the entire area was on that providential porta-potty.

    Poodles: Been to Rock Springs (same vacation as the Providential Porta-Potty). Spent the night there and had dinner in a Taco Johns (why do they put potatoes in EVERYTHING?). I can imagine that area in a snowstorm — I thought it was bleak in June.

  7. I must say though… I LOVE TACO JOHNS. We used to have them in Salt Lake but they all closed down. A few years ago my husband and I went to Montana and they had a Taco Johns, I squealed like a little girl and made us eat there several times before we left. 🙂

  8. If only you (or more likely your wife, given your state) had been able to take a photo of this beam of light shining down on the porta-potty. That would have won awards!

  9. My wife did get a photo of it. Film camera. I should probably find it and post it. I’ll talk to my wife tonight. She knows where everything is.

  10. Improbable shit happens all the time. If that’s god or the holy spirit then that’s proof it’s a woman. I mean, fuck, why the mind games? Was that a sign of god? Or that? Maybe this? How do I know? Out with it woman! I don’t have all day. Clearly if god were a man he’d just pop out and be like, “hey” and that would be that. No games. 😉

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