“There are no atheists on a falling plane.”
You may have heard that cliché or similar ones — hello, foxholes — from religious apologists eager to show that non-believers still resort to faith in times of great distress. Well, that may have happened when a plane-full of passengers fearing for their lives were repeatedly asked to pray as the aircraft “vibrated like a washing machine.”
According to CNN, the pilot of the Malaysia-bound AirAsia X flight “asked passengers to pray twice” when he noticed shaking caused by what the airline said was an engine problem.
I could only find a recording of the secular portion of the captain’s speech, but he reportedly prayed and asked the passengers to do the same multiple times.
“Please pay attention… and also please… uh… listen to everything. Our survival depends on you co-operating.”
Ultimately, the flight landed safely (and smoothly), and at least one passenger naturally thanked “God” for the guidance.
While most people on the plane were likely appreciative of — and even calmed by — the prayer, others have criticized the move. I can certainly imagine being alarmed by a pilot who seems to be leaving things in the hands of some higher power. It doesn’t inspire much confidence.
Not what you want to hear your pilot say to his passengers after landing: "Thank god we managed to land this plane." @AirAsia
— Robyn Eckhardt (@EatingAsia) May 18, 2017
No matter what is happening… It's NEVER okay for a pilot to get on the mic and use the words "say a prayer". #airasia
— Age Conte (@AgeC) June 25, 2017
However, that’s not what the pilot here did. He didn’t let Jesus take the wheel… or joystick… or whatever. Instead, he focused and followed his training. It’s unclear if the passengers appreciated the words of faith, and to whichever God the pilot wanted everyone to pray, but can we admit it was the pilot and not a Higher Power who guided everyone to safety? It was his training, and not any deity, that saved the day.
It’s entirely possible that the captain’s words were only meant to ease everyone’s fears, but it’s also important to note that they could have the opposite effect on some people, including most atheists. It was certainly an unusual (and potentially unnerving) move.
And if you, as an atheist, do turn to desperate prayer in what you think are your final moments, just remember it’s probably because our reasoning faculties aren’t at their peak performance during moments of impending doom.
(Image via Shutterstock)