I think Lynn Beisner is quite right to question what people are thinking when they thank God for being spared from harm. But I still think thanking Honda, not God, as she advocates in the Washington Post, is a pretty poor trade-off. Thanking God may have implications many people don’t want to face, but it is still the right thing to do.
Her headline: “When my son survived a serious accident, I didn’t thank God. I thanked Honda.”
Last Friday night, a semi-trailer pushed the car my son was driving into a Jersey barrier. The trailer’s back wheel landed on the hood of the car, less than six inches from my son’s head. Every window shattered, throwing glass inches from his face.
But my son has not a scratch on him.
I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that I wrote a letter to Honda praising the expertly engineered safety features that saved his life. I explained that I had been in an equally serious accident 18 years earlier and had suffered a serious brain injury and broken bones all over the right side of my body, requiring countless surgeries.
I posted the letter on Facebook, and closed it with this:
I want to extend my thanks to the engineers who used their intelligence and skill to create a car that safe, to the crash test dummies who have died a thousand horrible deaths and to your executives who did not scrimp on safety.
Thank you, Honda.
That last line rubbed some people the wrong way. While many who left comments on my post were just glad that my son was alive and well, others wanted to know why I had thanked Honda for that outcome. The entity that deserved my thanks, they said, was God. One commenter wrote: “I am thankful that God held your son in His embrace and I am curious why you thanked Honda rather than Him.”
Her first argument is that we tend to thank God and then forget to thank the humans that have blessed us—much like those Honda employees.
But this isn’t a real conflict. The thing about God is that he is omniscient and omnipresent. That means he couldn’t pay more attention to you if you were the only being he had made. The workers at Honda, however, don’t personally know the people who are relying on their work. They have a sense of pride in their craft, hopefully. They have a general wish to do good for all, hopefully. But they don’t know Beisner’s son any better than I do.
And what about motives? The people at Honda may simply want to get paid and make sure they work according to specifications in order to maintain their employment. Hopefully there is more to it than that, but it is hard to know. Also, Beisner herself is a big advocate of regulations that require safer automobiles. So she is basically thanking Honda for respecting the threats that government makes if they don’t engineer their cars safely enough. Not exactly the same as gracious intent. Of course, there may be a more positive motive: Honda wants to make a profit and believes that certain safety features will attract consumers. Then the advertising department spins this motive as if it was really an aching love for each and every person who will ever step into one of their vehicles.
Thanking Honda is really strange. It almost implies that Honda is a person, something that many have vociferously denied when the Supreme Court allowed that freedom of speech could not be restricted for them.
Beisner has another argument that is implicit in her last paragraph:
Accidents also are not an act of God. No matter what you believe about a divine creator, I think most would agree that an all-powerful and all-loving being would not need encouragement to do the right thing. Unlike people, God does not require regulations and oversight – or even thanks – to be sure that human beings are never sacrificed for profit. The truth is, we cannot make our roads and our cars safer if we ignore what makes them that way: science, regulations and corporations that prioritize safety.
This is an atheist declaration. Denying God is omnipotent means denying God exists. But she does make a good implicit argument that more people need to grasp. Thanking God for good things that happen in normal life means also realizing that nothing bad has ever happened to us that He has not personally decided to allow in our lives. You can’t have it both ways. If God is to be thanked because your son is alive, he is also to be personally involved in every death and disaster.
I don’t understand why God has made the decisions he has made about what good to bring forth and what evil to allow, but there is no way to believe in God, or thank him for blessings, and not realize he has allowed everything else as well.
Beisner’s alternative, she says, is to thank Honda. But really it boils down to thanking herself. Her own advocacy is front and center in her piece as the means by which the omnipotent government harnesses the powers of science to bring about the car constructed to protect her son. Just like Honda’s advertisers take the company’s profit motive and portray it as disinterested love, so Beisner’s thank-you note to Honda turns out to be an opportunity to give herself praise and even partial credit for her son’s survival.
But couldn’t an all-powerful and all-loving creator want and even bless the human race to advance through challenges and find ways to protect human life? I don’t know how any one of us mortals has a way to calculate the value of allowing people to learn to protect themselves, as opposed to being kept in a completely save environment where nothing bad is possible. But God has obviously decided not to be a helicopter parent even though he has to be behind all events good or bad.
Of course, if God is not so controlling that he prevents all bad from happening, maybe we are supposed to learn a lesson. Are cars safer now? Yes! But are they more expensive? Are consumers being denied options that would allow them to travel for economic reasons because the costs of vehicles are being driven higher by all these regulations that Beisner praises?
Before you agree with Beisner you might read about the General Motors vehicle that costs $9,800 to buy—except that it is illegal to buy it in the United States. See also here.
Fatal car accidents are not inevitable. We have the ability to prevent them and the amount of injury they cause.
Absolutely true. We could make vehicular travel illegal tomorrow and there would be no more vehicle deaths or injuries. Presumably, Beisner doesn’t think the costs would be worth the benefit.
She should let other consumers make up their own minds.