Wanted: Someone to Thank

Ad in Saturday’s edition of The Age:

Atheist seeks “Someone to thank”. Deities need not apply. Angels will be considered on merit.

You think I’m joking, don’t you? Well, this is what German paraglider Ewa Wisnierska said after (unintentionally) breaking the human altitude record on Wednesday:

“I don’t know who to thank. I thanked the angels, but I don’t believe in God.”

Ms Wisnierska and her paraglider was sucked up into a storm cell, carried to an altitude of 9946 metres, frozen over with ice and lost consciousness, before being returned to earth safely and in one piece 60km from where she took off from Mount Borah north of Tamworth. Yes, well might she want someone to thank.

God knows (if you believe in him) what Richard Dawkins would make of this need to thank someone, but there is in this small instance an indication of exactly what it is that leads people to faith in divine power(s). It is an almost universal “inbuilt” need in human nature, and could indicate that human beings are indeed “wired for faith”. Whether this inbuilt “need” corresponds to external reality is a subject for the “existence of God” debate. The Romans knew the need to thank someone for unexpected good providence–they coined the name “Fortuna” for the Goddess of Fortune. But they also knew that Fortuna could be a capricious god, with her “favourites”. A Chinese paraglider caught in the same storm as Ms Wisnierska was found dead on Thursday. Of course, Dawkins would blame it on the “religion meme”.

Still, there is something a little sad about Ewa Wisnierska’s plight of being such a convinced atheist that in her time of thankfulness she could only turn to the heavenly “help” rather than to the Heavenly Master to express her thanks. And you have to wonder about a spirituality that claims atheism yet is happy to admit the existence of angelic powers.

As Obelix the Gaul would have said in the times of the Romans: “These Germans are crazy

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