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Meditation 608
Coincidence or God?

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There's an interesting bit of dialogue towards the end of Ed McBain's Fat Ollie's Book.[1] Two old friends, both streetwalkers, one of them a transvestite, are sitting in a bar talking.

"So you think some Irish babe you ran into on the street is her?"

"Because she was coming out of the very building!" Emilio said. "Otherwise it would be too much of a coincidence!"

"The world is full of coincidence," Aine said wisely.

"I don't believe in coincidence," Emilio said. "You believe in coincidence, then you don't believe in God. It's God that makes things happen, not coincidence."

"Oh, okay. Then it was God that made me a junkie and a whore, right?"

Emilio looked at her.
"What are you, some kind of atheist?"

"That's what I am, yes" Aine said.

"Since when?"

"Since I was twelve years old and a priest felt me up in the rectory."

"That never happened."

"Oh no?"

"And anyway, you can't blame God for some horny priest."

The dramatic purpose of this exchange is to lead into a series of coincidences which bring the novel to its climax. But, of itself, the passage does illustrate a difference between believers and non-believers. Aine cannot reconcile being abused by a priest with the characteristics of a God she has been taught exists. For her, the logical answer is that God does not exist. She sees there is a discrepancy, and she resolves it.

Emilio, on the other hand, is blind to the discrepancy. He does not see the contradiction inherent in "It's God that makes things happen" and "you can't blame God for some horny priest." He holds these two conflicting beliefs simultaneously and is apparently untroubled by them.

I don't think there is any religion in which contradictions do not exist. And they are not deep hidden contradictions. They are there, right on the surface. Non-believers see them, and it is one of the things that lead us to reject religion. Believers either just don't see the contradictions, or they explain them away with something like "God is beyond human understanding."

Given a choice between coincidence or God as a reason for an occurence, I'll pick coincidence every time.


  1. Fat Ollie's Book, Ed McBain Simon and Shuster 2002