An act of God?

The regime of nonsense up in the Hebrides are demonstrating their fundamentalist side once again. The first Sunday ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool is scheduled to take place tomorrow, not due to aggressive new atheist reformists as the nutters would probably have you believe (or maybe they’re so backwards they refuse to believe that the new atheists exist), but due to popular demand instead. However, the ferry that was originally going to carry out the crossing, called The Isle of Lewis, yesterday broke down with exhaust problems, and now of course they’re all saying that it’s an act of God. One warned that bad things will happen, saying that God has the power to sink a ferry (really? I’ve never seen him do anything). Personally I put this at about the same level of fundamentalism as the Bishop of Carlisle who said the flooding a few years ago was a punishment from God for our moral decadence, or the Westboro Baptists who claim the deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are God’s punishment for the “fag-enablers” amongst the American people. Pretty much the same thing on a different scale of offensiveness.

But let’s take a closer look, shall we? If God really wanted to show us puny humans and stop the Sunday ferry service, why didn’t he sink the bugger? Why didn’t he burn the ferry station to the ground like he did with Sodom and Gomorrah? Why didn’t he cause a massive storm every Sunday so the ferry would have to be cancelled? Something a bit more obvious than, you know, something that could’ve happened anyway. More importantly, why couldn’t he get the day right?  If it broke down on Sunday itself, maybe they might have some kind of basis for claiming that God is angry, but two days earlier? That’s just sloppy workmanship! What’s the point in serving a God who doesn’t even know what day of the week it is? As it is, another ferry is just going to do the crossing. Mistakes like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being. I’m actually not surprised he got the day wrong, Christians can’t even get which day the Sabbath is right (hint: their stupid book says it’s Saturday).

If it was the work of God, well he’s certainly fucked up, hasn’t he? As one of the commenters on that story said, why didn’t he make one of the Somalian pirate ships break down? Why didn’t he do something useful? If he’s so concerned about keeping Sunday holy, why haven’t all the shops that are open on Sunday burnt down, or at least (seeing as he’s insistent on taking the lazy route and not doing much at all) come across a series of complications on Sunday that they don’t encounter for the rest of the week? (What happened to you God? You used to be cool. You used to be all about the fire.) It’s so stupid that these nutcases think they can interpret the mind of a nonexistent entity through the malfunctions of seabound public transport systems.

But I do find this line of reasoning a bit weird. It’s a perverse version of the kind of logic people try to use to justify their belief in God, similar to in this video. You’ve probably heard it before, something like “oh I believe in God because I prayed that I would get a new job/get better again and I did.”  But usually this is only used if good things happen, because otherwise bad things happening would be evidence that God didn’t exist, or that God was evil. They don’t normally mention the bad things because it works against their argument.  It’s kind of like a conscious recall bias. But here the bad things are evidence that God does exist and that he’s angry. Whatever happened to this all loving God who’s waiting to take me into his arms if I just say the word? When did this God turn to doing bad things to prove (or rather not prove) his existence? How does an omnibenevolent being even do bad things?

But like I say, the ferry’s going ahead, and a small amount of normality will return to people’s Sunday lives. Hey, here’s an idea? Why don’t we let people sign a contract saying they want to observe the Sabbath on Sunday, and then if their house burns down, or they need an air ambulance, we can just say no because that’s work. Or, even better, why don’t we charge the Sabbatarians with false imprisonment. They’ve been keeping people cooped up on their island one day a week for how long now? Hmm… food for thought.


14 Responses to An act of God?

  1. Stuart Ritchie says:

    Come on now. The answer to all the questions above is ‘God works in mysterious ways’. Why does that not satisfy you? We can’t know the mind of the Creator of the universe.

    God bless you.

  2. grammarking says:

    I think you mean Poseidon… duh.

  3. Marc Surtees says:


    I too was appalled by the “act of God” claims for the same reason that you were.

    But your arguments for the non-existence of God are not worthy of such an erudite person as yourself.

    I could point you to any number of Christians who have had really bad things happen to them and they are still Christians.

    You rightly dismiss “God does good to me therefore I believe” as a bad argument. But what about “terrible things happened to me and I still believe…” This is not so easy to explain. Unless you assume that they are masochists, which doesn’t engage with the evidence.

  4. cath says:


    I’ve just clicked through from Tim’s blog and feel a burning desire to correct the misapprehensions of your first paragraph 🙂

    Point #1 being the odd notion that the good people of Lewis and Harris are backward? Haven’t you met anyone from the Western Isles yet?

    Followed closely by the myth that Caledonian MacBrayne have introduced these sailings due to popular demand! You can’t have been following the local controversy, otherwise you would know that the majority of the population are not in favour of Sunday sailings, with the most vocal proponents of these sailings being particularly insistent that of all things there should be no referendum on the issue.

    Naturally, as a Lewis-raised fundamentalist nutter I can’t really sympathise with the misconceptions you air in the rest of the post about acts of God, but just sorting out the factual basics will do for now 🙂

  5. grammarking says:


    You’ll notice one of the categories this post is under is ‘Piss-Taking’. I’m not taking either point of view seriously here, a large proportion of this post is sarcastic/facetious. The point I was making is that the people who say they believe in God because good things have happened to them should also say God doesn’t exist because bad things have happened to them.

    It’s perfectly easy to explain, they see it as a test, especially when there’s a whole book in the Bible (Job) dedicated to it. Or they may see God as the type who doesn’t intervene for personal benefit.

    The problem of evil is a perfectly good reason for disbelieving in an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent being, but that’s for a different post.

  6. grammarking says:

    Cath, welcome.

    You’ll notice I didn’t call ALL people from Lewis and Harris backwards/nutters, just the religious fundamentalists calling this an act of God. I know plenty of people from the Western Isles. Working in a pub called ‘The Hebrides’ attracts that sort of person. Every single one I’ve spoken to about the Sabbatarians has spat on the floor at the sound of their name, and cited it as the main reason they left to come to the mainland. Except one old man, who said anyone who didn’t like it could leave for the mainland (ironically enough that was this past Sunday…). Looks like many of them have.

    Since when does popular demand mean that a majority are in favour? There is enough demand for the ferry to run (the article, written some days before, says there are 40 cars going on it already), which is all that matters. And absolutely right, there shouldn’t be a referendum because the opinion of the majority has absolutely no bearing on it! Unless you would be in favour of a tyranny of the majority?

    The Sabbatarians have absolutely no business trying to shut this down or impose their beliefs on any minority living amongst them. Noone is forcing them to work on a Sunday. Why can’t they just let everyone do as they please and be done with it? I fail to see why they even care. If you’re right and there isn’t any demand for it, then it’ll be forced to shut down the service.

  7. cath says:

    Ah, I see. Well, opinion in the islands is certainly divided, but alas for those who leave, they often tend to be remorseless in their repudiation of the heritage they came from – you may not have encountered the kind of balanced opinion which respects the staunch sabbatarians for their equally unquenchable kindliness and courteousness, for example.*

    Enough demand for the ferry to run … don’t know what that really means. 40 cars is nowhere near capacity, if that’s what you’re referring to. The referendum question is actually slightly more relevant than appears on first sight, because of how CalMac is wholly owned by the Scottish government. It’s really an abuse of power for this service to be imposed on the local population when it’s against the wishes of the majority. We’ve seen it before in other places in the Highlands and Islands (Raasay, Leverburgh) – ferries running to/from communities that had no wish for them, on the dictat of outside officials who should rather be respecting their preferences.

    And sadly many people are going to be, if not forced, at the least nudged, into work they would otherwise not need to have done on a Sunday. A crew will need to be on board to run the thing, staff will need to be on hand to open up the ferry terminal for when it reaches the harbour, petrol stations for these 40 cars, cafe facilities for the hungry vistors, people to open the tourist attractions, blah blah. The Sabbath being made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath, all sorts of undesirable side effects will eventually be involved, especially for people who have nothing to sell but their labour, quite apart from the sea change, if you’ll pardon the expression, in the whole atmosphere of the island.

    * Sabbatarian, godly, and possessed of theologically nuanced understandings of providential acts of God. But still not quite the right time to discuss this further.

  8. I had a chat with Cath today (in real life), and she mentioned something that (I think) is relevant. Many islanders, she says, are employed by the ferry company and by associated businesses. In a real sense, their livelihood and the economic well-being of the island depends on the ferry jobs.

    So Sunday sailings amount to economic coercion, forcing the islanders to violate their religious beliefs and work on a Sunday or lose the only jobs available to them.

    Which is problematic. I don’t think that makes it a strong case against Sunday sailings, but it certainly makes the case for Sunday sailings more legitimately problematic.

  9. grammarking says:

    The company has explicitly said that they’re not going to force anyone to work on a Sunday. There are ways around such problems, banning the ferry is hardly the most fair way to do it.

    Like I say, if there’s no demand, it’ll be forced to shut down all on its own. It’s not the place for religious groups to impose their beliefs on others. The ferry is hardly being imposed on them, noone is forcing them to take part.

  10. Tim Mills says:

    This seems quite relevant. Cath, I understand the desire of remote communities to remain separate. But if the company doesn’t coerce anyone into working on Sundays, then I really don’t see that the people of the island have a legitimate case against the Sunday sailings.

    Who do you think should be asked in a referendum? Just the people of the island? If the company is wholly under the Scottish government, then it seems any referendum should ask the opinions of the entire Scottish population.

  11. cath says:

    Well, there’s coercion and coercion, as we’ve just agreed. The company can’t (legally) literally force anyone to work on Sunday, but as I mentioned in my previous comment there are all sorts of ways that labour will need to be provided from somebody as a direct result of the ferry running.

    We’ve lost sight, as a society, i think, of the protection that a ring-fenced weekly day of rest provides for people who aren’t sufficiently well off financially to be able to decide for themselves when they want to work. They have nothing to sell but their labour, and so they are liable to be exploited – in this case, by relatively affluent incomers and local owners of small businesses, who are most vocal in support of the Sunday sailings and have vastly less to lose. [Exploited, obviously, not necessarily in the Third World sweatshop sense, but in the gentle, civilised, Western, sense we know so well.]

    This is not perhaps so obvious in the cities, or in places where Sunday hasn’t been “special” for a long time, but in the islands, these transport links have a prodigious capacity to affect people’s way of life, and the effect on the island way of life simply from running the ferry is massively disproportionate relative to what can be imagined in our urban context. The so-called “Lewis Sunday” (it would have simply been the “Scottish Sunday” until about a generation and a half ago) is not a day for trade or commerce – in the community, it is a thoroughly different day to the other six ordinary days of the week, in all sorts of ways, and, it’s worth adding, in a way that can be appreciated as beneficial from both a religious and a non-religious perspective. It’s embarrassingly unrealistic to think that it can be ignored by people who aren’t in favour of it, as if choosing not to use the service means they can simply avoid having anything to do with it and effects.

    The issue of a referendum, as far as I understand it, was only floated as a way of settling whether the local community really does overwhelmingly demand Sunday sailings. This has been one of the most often repeated, and least substantiated, claims of the pro-Sunday-sailing campaign since it ever began, but as I say, there was a striking lack of interest from the leaders of this campaign in holding a properly administered poll of local opinion. Either way, as Mike implies, whoever would have lost that poll would be unlikely to accept it as the final word, but at least it would have provided some hard evidence. The pro-Sunday-sailings folk just bottled it, that’s all.

  12. grammarking says:


    I hope you’re not trying to suggest that keeping Sunday separate is beneficial in a secular sense as well, because that’s a straw man. Noone is saying people should work 7 day weeks if they’re not affluent enough to be able to decide when to work (I am one of those people, I work when I’m told to). Keeping one day for rest probably is a good idea, but it doesn’t have to be the same day for everyone. What if, on my day of rest, I want to go and get an ice cream? I can’t, because the ice cream man is taking his day off as well, as is the bus driver, and the supermarket. I’ve heard from several tourists who didn’t know about the Lewis Sunday that they just went hungry because they hadn’t gathered enough manna to last the day. By having this day of rest all at the same time (in some cases imposed on people who may not want it) we are restricting freedom, so please don’t make out that the Sabbatarians are championing liberty for the people. This is a religious argument.

    “It’s embarrassingly unrealistic to think that it can be ignored by people who aren’t in favour of it, as if choosing not to use the service means they can simply avoid having anything to do with it and effects.”

    I don’t see how. If those people feel that strongly about it (and remember that it’s their beliefs that are making this an issue) then they can sit at home and read the Bible. Unless people doing things around them is a problem too?

    “Either way, as Mike implies, whoever would have lost that poll would be unlikely to accept it as the final word, but at least it would have provided some hard evidence.”

    It’s hardly ‘evidence’. My point was that it’s entirely irrelevant.

  13. cath says:

    Well, fair enough, the outcomes of all polls everywhere are always irrelevant in terms of deciding between right and wrong; it just so happens that in this particular situation a properly administered poll would have given hard evidence about whether or not there is, as has been claimed, overwhelming popular support for Sunday ferries. That’s all.

    Re the impact of the service on people who don’t use it. There will be, as I have tried twice to outline, massive changes on the way of life of the whole island, such that people will not be able avoid being affected by this change. Some (a minority, I believe, although of course there’s regrettably no hard evidence) will celebrate these changes, others will be deeply saddened, both from a non-religious nostalgic perspective and also from the religious viewpoint that sees people damaging their own spiritual interests by failing to make use of a divine provision for the good of their souls. These religious people will of course carry on reading their Bibles and, maybe not sitting at home but going to church and visiting the hospitalised and house-bound on Sundays, so from that point of view their activities won’t be hindered, but they’ll still be affected in what I’ll have to continue describing as this sea change for lack of inspiration about a better term.

    Keeping Sunday separate does have benefits from a secular point of view. It’s not clear why your right to get an icecream should really have to impinge on the right of the icecream van man to have a day off, unless you only object to him having a day off along with everybody else. For sure, the reasons for keeping specifically Sunday as society’s day of rest are drawn from Scripture, but it’s only for people whose presuppositions about religion (in general, or Christianity in particular) make them insist that nothing good can ever come of religion who will object to a practice simply because it’s religiously motivated.

    And there, I think, I’ll have to leave it. (I can rarely summon the energy to fight to the death on blog discussions!) It’s been nice to chat with you, and thanks for letting me comment.

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