That is what this article on the New York Times web site (registration required) made me think of.
The article reports that more than 60 people died in a church in Peru during an earthquake. And yet despite this, the article quotes church member Rita Cabrera, as saying "The only thing we can do now is pray and give thanks to God." Give thanks for what?
The statue of Christ that stood at the entrance to the church was undamaged, and evidently the residents of the town interpret this as some kind of miracle. Gee, let's do the tally here. More than 60 people die when their church collapses on them, but it is a wonderful thing that a Jesus statue survived intact. Wouldn't it have been better if the statue was destroyed and all of the people inside survived unharmed? After all, Christians believe that Jesus died for the sins of humanity. Why not let a Jesus statue be destroyed to save the lives of his worshippers?
It isn't news to anybody that people who have survived some tragic event will often point to any positive bit of news as a miraculous sign. And it is certainly not just a Christian phenomenon. Muslims in Indonesia exhibited the same response to the mosques in Banda Aceh, Sumatra that withstood the tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people in the province. It is a classic example of "confirmation bias", with religious people interpreting the survival of religious buildings or icons from disasters natural or man made as evidence of God's intervention.
But anyone who looks at the world with a clear mind can plainly see that events unfold just as we would expect them to without the intervention or even existence of a divine being. Natural disasters, diseases, accidents, and other calamities strike all people regardless of whether they are good people or bad. That nearly one in five Zambian children succumbs to malaria before the age of five, as described in this National Geographic article, demonstrates that the universe is indifferent to us at best, or at worst hostile, as described by astrophysicist Neil De Grasse Tyson.
So, I imagine a Christian asking me, how exactly should the townsfolk in Peru react to the earthquake that destroyed their church and killed dozens of people who worshipped there? Would you deny them the right to seek solace in their deeply held religious faith? Of course I could deny them no such thing. But I would ask them to consider the following: If the government they lived under repeatedly failed to provide them with basic social services such as electricity, clean drinking water, an army to deter foreign invaders, and a police force to protect them from criminals, would they continue to have faith in that government? Likewise, if they were in a government building during the earthquake and the roof collapsed and killed dozens of the townsfolk inside, would the survival unscathed of a portrait of that country's president be considered a miracle from God? If the answer to both questions would be no, then why continue to retain a belief in a deity that apparently cannot protect their loved ones in a house of worship?