Rising number of people say they believe in miracles
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
12/25/12 at 6:59 AM
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In his 20s and barely out of seminary, the Rev. James Buskirk was going blind.
Five specialists said no cure existed for his eye disease.
"A woman in the church who prayed for people to be healed came to my office," said Buskirk, now retired pastor of First United Methodist Church downtown and former dean of the Oral Roberts University seminary.
"She came straight to the question: 'Brother Jimmy, what is the matter with you? If the Lord is going to wake me up at nights to pray for you, I have a right to know what I'm to pray for!'
"I have an eye disease and I will be blind in six months," he told her.
"She said quietly, 'That's not going to happen. Let's pray, believing .' "
Over time, he went from being unable to read to having 20-20 vision in both eyes, he said.
Buskirk is among a growing number of Americans who are certain miracles still occur.
The number of people who definitely believe in miracles has increased to 55 percent from 45 percent over the last two decades, even as church affiliation has dropped over that period.
Overall, 79 percent of Americans believe miracles probably or definitely occur, according to the Pew Research Center.
People who attend church regularly are more likely to believe in miracles, but belief in miracles is growing faster among people who do not regularly attend church.
Evangelical and black Protestant church members are more likely to believe in miracles than other religious groups.
Kevin Dougherty, Baylor University sociologist who specializes in American religion, said the increasing belief in miracles is evidence that American society is not moving toward the secularism that has dominated Europe in recent decades.
"Spirituality is alive and well in the United States," he said. "A high percentage of Americans claim some kind of miraculous experience."
A 2007 Baylor Religion Survey found that 55 percent of Americans believe they have been protected from harm by a guardian angel, and 23 percent have witnessed a miraculous, physical healing.
"Miracles are a very important part of the Christian story," said the Rev. Thomson Mathew, dean of the Oral Roberts University graduate seminary.
"There is no Christian story if one does not believe in miracles," he said.
"The birth of Jesus was a miracle. The resurrection was a miracle. The Christian story is a story of miracles."
Thomson said miracles in the Old Testament - ax heads that float, the dead raised to life, the parting of the waters of the Red Sea - supply plenty of background upon which to build the story of Jesus.
Why is belief in miracles increasing?
He said the current generation, people in the post-modern world, are more open to mystery and to miracles.
"They are not as rigid as in the enlightenment.
"People like Oral Roberts and charismatics have always believed in miracles. Our theme at ORU is 'Expect a miracle.' It's a belief that God is at work in the world," he said.
Catholics, too, have a strong belief in miracles, said Monsignor Patrick Brankin with the Diocese of Tulsa.
"A miracle for us is an astounding event. If a miracle occurs, the laws of nature have been suspended. Only God can do that," he said.
"A miracle is always a sign, a vehicle that conveys meaning and invites a response: faith, conversion.
"When someone says they have experienced a miracle, they recognize that God has entered into their life and manifested his power.
"It's not extraordinary because it's rare; miracles are part of the fabric of daily life," he said. "It's extraordinary because it involves a breach of the natural order."
A recent request published in the Tulsa World asking for people to submit miracle stories produced stories of a stalled pickup truck with locked steering wheel suddenly turning right and moving off the roadway and out of danger; a dying cancer victim waking from a coma to smile at her loved ones before departing; gasoline being added to an empty gas tank enabling a car to make it many miles to the next open station on an empty desert highway; money found just before the electricity was about to be cut off for nonpayment; a large conveyer belt suddenly stopping just before it carried a trapped man into the rock crushers; miracles of healing; and more.
Most non-Christian faith traditions make room for miracles.
Rabbi Yehuda Weg, with Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Tulsa, said Orthodox Jews believe that the supernatural things in the Bible actually happened, and that miracles still occur today.
"Miracles don't necessarily come in the same form. There are miracles that defy the rules of nature, and miracles that work within the rules of nature," he said.
Rabbi Charles Sherman, Temple Israel, a Reform Jewish congregation, said that Jews come down on all sides of the miracle issue.
"I think God does work miracles in this world," he said. "I think the birth of a child is definitely a miracle. ... a 'wow' moment, a wonder-filled moment."
Rabbi Marc Fitzerman of Congregation B'nai Emunah said Jewish literature is "alive with miracles."
"I try to keep an open mind about all things, and these episodes always contain some poetic truth. The universe hums with unknown forces, and it would be arrogant to say that we can begin to understand them all," he said.
Sheryl Siddiqui, with the Islamic Council of Oklahoma, said that in general, Muslims believe in miracles, both historically and in modern times.
"Jesus was given miracles so that people would know he brought the word of God, and there were miracles in the life in the Prophet Muhammad," she said.
Many Muslims have experienced medical miracles, she said.
Jackie Roemer, with Bodhicharya Oklahoma, a Buddhist organization, said Buddhists believe that prayer can produce healing and other positive results, "but it's only a miracle if you don't understand how it works."
Hari Musapeta, spokesman for the Tulsa Hindu community, said Hindus believe God has the power to heal and do miracles.
Original Print Headline: Miracles
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
The Rev. James B. Buskirk stands in his home. He said he was going blind when he was younger, but miraculously regained perfect vision. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World