Weeping Mary Statue Dupes my Dad

One night a few weeks ago, my dad came home from work late, as he often does, and strode up to my mother. “Smell my forehead. Smell anything?”

My mother sniffed. “No. Should I?”

“I’ve been blessed by a special oil,” he said. Apparently a priest from the church he attends on work days found out about a statue of Mary–Jesus’ supposedly virgin mother–that supposedly is miraculously leaking oil, but sometimes also blood and tears. The oil is blessed, the priest said, and the priest acquired some from the statue, which resides at a church in a neighboring state, for the purpose of blessing people. Yes. He is claiming that a statue is literally leaking magic oil.

Curious, I did some online research. I’d heard claims of statue-related miracles before, but this was the first time I’d heard of one crying. I couldn’t find anything that was definitely the same one my dad supposedly was blessed by, but look how many people really believe this shit! This blog post, for example, is absolutely nuts. A Mary statue exuding pearls and glitter? This quote is my favorite part:

We spent a couple hours in prayer, veneration and meditation before the healing service would begin that evening. During that time, we spoke with some lovely Christian ladies who had brought scotch tape. With it, we clumsily lifted a variety of colorful escarchas (a mysterious Gift of holy glitter) off our pews. It seemed, the more we lifted it, the more escarchas appeared.

It’s as if the writer never used glitter for art projects when he or she was a kid. Glitter gets everywhere. Seriously, it’s small, good at falling into crevices, and it sticks to things. I have no doubt that these people discovered glitter on the pews, however, I also have no doubt that said glitter was just the usual craft store type. For crying out loud, it might not even have been placed by anyone on purpose, but rather come off the outfit of a fashionable 8-year-old who attended an earlier mass.

The craziest thing about this weeping Mary statue phenomenon though, by far, is that the Catholic church, which is definitely not the most skeptical organization in the world, has rejected most supposed “crying statue” cases as hoaxes–but not all.

This (fairly long) “documentary,” for lack of a better word, on weeping religious icons, contains a fairly long list of them, some of which have been approved by the Catholic Church. The disclaimer at the beginning of the video reads:

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church makes all authoritative and final decisions regarding any individual or collective claims of personal apparitions of the Blessed Mother. The apparitions and/or lachrymations associated with La Salette, France; Fatima, Portugal; Akita, Japan; Syracuse, Sicily; Cochabama, Bolivia; and Civitavecchia, Italy; have been approved by the Church. Other sites and lachrymations cited in this program have not been formally approved.

What I get out of that is, yes, the Church does do some things to try to weed out the most obvious hoaxes. But as I watched the video, I kept noticing that while they used scientists to test the claims of the faithful about the religious icons, a step I definitely support, the scientists never seemed to be asking the right questions–the ones I, a person who is genuinely skeptical of these claims, would like to have answered. I almost wished they’d consulted Penn and Teller, or some other magician, because my main concern is not even so much that there needs to be a scientific answer to the situation. It’s such a bizarre one that I’m not even sure science is always useful except to maybe test the substance and see if it’s real. Really, my main question is, has a human being tampered with these statues and other icons to make them cry?

It wouldn’t be that difficult to take an icon, put it into a thick frame, and insert some sort of tube with olive oil in it right before the producers of the “documentary” came to view it. And I kept thinking, why blood and oil? Why are so many of these not actual tears? The first answer that comes to mind is that maybe those other substances are more dramatic (in the case of blood) or easier to come by (in the case of oil). It all seems so suspicious to me that I’m a bit disappointed in the people the documentary keeps bringing on to talk about it. Many of them go further than verifying that they believe the icons’ tears are real. They add interpretation to it, claiming that the tears are a sign that the religious figures depicted in the icons are sad, and concerned about some sort of horrible calamity to come. They see them as a “desperate call to holiness,” of course–but literally all they’re seeing are tears coming out of a religious icon. I’ve cried for reasons as silly as not being able to eat cheese when I thought I was lactose intolerant and as serious as being concerned because a loved one was in the hospital. Are these people really suggesting that they can interpret these tears? Because if a stranger told me they knew why I was crying, they’d probably guess wrong.

Also, concerning the ones involving blood, I’d like to see them test all the people who have regular contact with the statue–the priests, altar servers, what have you–and do a DNA test comparing the blood to each of those people. I’d be willing to bet that the blood from the statue belongs to one of them. There’s definitely a strong motive, especially for a pastor of a parish with an aging congregation, to fake a miracle. What better way to increase the number of your churchgoers?

Have any of you encountered miraculous claims? What are your thoughts on these?

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Correlation Generator Website

Chart generated through  http://tylervigen.com/

Chart generated through http://tylervigen.com/

A friend shared this link on Facebook, and since I have a lot of writing assignments to work on this weekend, I figured this was a great opportunity to share it with you. It shows through absurd examples that correlations don’t always mean that two things are even truly related, let alone causational. The video at the end of the page, however, discusses how finding correlations can lead to more  research that helps us discover the cause of a phenomenon–like smoking and lung cancer. Finding a link between two things can be quite telling. At other times, though, it can simply be coincidence.

We need to be skeptical of statistics and correlations that are presented to us, but we also need to acknowledge that at times, correlations can lead to a better understanding of the world we live in and the problems we face as humans. They aren’t the be all, end all of research, but they’re important. While it does make a point, this website is also fairly entertaining, and you can use it to generate more absurd correlation charts by clicking “discover a new correlation.” Enjoy!

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Evaluating Sources with My Parents

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yes, I did miss my usual post date (Sunday). I had a recital to play in, and my parents visited my school to hear me play. It went well, and we went out to eat together afterwards. Unsurprisingly however, I got a post topic out of the experience. During that meal I became increasingly aware of my parents’ tendency to fail to evaluate sources. Worse, they seem to not even have a clue how to do that, or why it’s important.

My parents are in their 50s, and they get a lot of advertisements for medical or pseudo-medical products. They tend to come in the form of dietary supplements, although other products do occasionally appear. “This will boost your memory,” says one advertisement. “This will increase your energy,” promises another. Some dietary supplements do genuinely help your body, though sometimes what they do and how frequently you should take them may be exaggerated. Fish oil, for example, is definitely good for you. Vitamin C is a good vitamin to make sure you have. Multivitamins help ensure that you’re getting certain vitamins your diet might not cover. With that being said, sometimes the claims made in these supplement advertisements are questionable, and they almost never cite the source of their purported facts.

If I’m reading an article about a scientific study that concludes that a certain type of food in your diet is bad for you, I’d like to be told who did that study so that I can look it up myself and make sure the author isn’t misreporting it. That also proves that the author isn’t lying and there actually was a study done in the first place.

Over the summer, I remember picking up what looked like a miniature magazine on my parents’ table. It stated that osteoporosis is being treated in a way that actually worsens the condition. It went on to explain that a doctor found the solution and it’s some dietary supplement that everyone with osteoporosis should take. I was willing to believe the part about the current treatment being wrong based on the explanation they gave (which seemed pretty detailed), but when they started to list a supplement that could be purchased–surprise surprise–through them, I realized this source needed to be evaluated. Who was publishing it? I couldn’t even find a clear affiliation. What studies did it cite to back up its claims? None. Who even wrote the damn thing? No author listed. I did some Googling using key words and found literally nothing on what I had just read. I turned to my parents and said, “Please recycle this garbage.”

“I don’t know,” my mom said. “I want to read it. It looks interesting.”

“I know it does, but I can’t find anything to verify that it’s a valid source. It looks like an advertisement for a scam to me.”

My parents read it before recycling it.

Flash forward to yesterday, when my parents started telling me about medical “facts” they’d learned from a chain e-mail. Worse, upon further questioning they revealed that it was a chain e-mail that contained not a link to a website that cited valid sources, but a video advertisement. You know, the kind that you can’t hit pause on that a lot of older people like to pass around in e-mails? I once sat through one that claimed that the Bible contains everything you ever need to know about your finances, and by buying someone’s book, you can glean that information from it too.

Or, I quickly realized, you could Google “Bible AND Money” and see what you get if you really think it will be helpful to you. The best part is, you can do that for free.

When I start talking about evaluating sources with my parents, it’s as if I hit a wall. The ideas they’ve already bought into, such as, for example, my mom’s belief that chiropractic neurology is practically a cure-all and will stop her migraines–something she’s believed and tried for YEARS without success–are beyond scrutiny. These ideas–beliefs–are treated the same way they treat religion. Do not put your god to the test! Do not call your chiropractic neurologist out on his hoax treatments!

This isn’t a healthy way to treat information, especially medical information, which can have a huge effect on our lives and livelihoods. Incorrect medical advice can lead to a range of bad outcomes, from obsession over something that’s not actually important to a belief that leads to bad decisions that harm your health. I recently read an article about Dr. Oz stating that only about 4 out of 10 of the “facts” on his show are actually true. That’s horrible! Women my mother’s age (and some other demographics) tune into his show expecting sound medical advice! What they get instead is no better than an infomercial. (Want to evaluate that article I just gave you? Some Googling led me to the study it mentions. Want to go further? The study comes from the bmj, a peer-reviewed source. Here’s their “about” page: http://www.bmj.com/about-bmj.)

Back when it was harder for someone without credentials to publish anything, evaluating sources wasn’t as important a skill for readers. Once upon a time, if something was in print, it was probably true. But we live in a world where publishing is getting easier and easier thanks to technology and the internet. On the one hand, that’s a very good thing; it means that there’s more information available than ever before. On the other hand, it also means that more people who have no idea what they’re talking about are able to spread false information. Just look at the “Vaccines Cause Autism” idea, which has been thoroughly debunked many times. My mom was the first person who told me about it, and she presented it as a very real possibility. Today, I’m afraid to ask her whether or not she still thinks it’s true.

Please, for the love of life, evaluate your sources! I don’t want to read an article about how cotton clothing causes cancer because some scam artist liked the alliteration.

Have you encountered any scams or faulty information, or had an experience with friends or family who just don’t know how to evaluate sources? Feel free to leave a comment. As always, all opinions are welcome, just be respectful of everyone and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

Spiritual Warfare: How it’s All in Your Head

Many religious belief systems involve a good vs. evil situation—you know, the good supernatural deity fighting an evil supernatural being. In Christianity, this situation is a fight between God and the devil, also known as Satan or Lucifer. The devil is believed to be cunning, powerful, and have a whole slew of people under his control. Psychics, witches, gay people, teenagers who play Dungeons and Dragons or listen to Rock music—you name it, Satan has it. Yet somehow, God is always believed to be winning.

Theists who believe in spiritual warfare often expect to see signs of it, mini spiritual battles, in their own lives—and they do. As a child growing up Catholic, I was raised to believe in spiritual warfare, but I wasn’t really convinced. I noticed at an early age that only the people who believed that everything was attacking them seemed to get “attacked,” and people like me who were super religious but didn’t look for signs of the devil at the grocery store, never seemed to have to face him. At first I was disappointed—I wanted to show my faith and face the devil. But I also had a skeptical bone in me that said, he’d better make it clear that he actually is the devil before I go all “prayer-warrior” on him (because that’s what you’re supposed to do). I was also skeptical about the so-called “power of prayer.” But that’s a topic for another post.

Witchcraft, and any other form of “magic” is perhaps the most common thing to associate with the devil. This is probably because there are so many Bible verses preaching against it. My dad’s personal favorite was Exodus 22:18, which says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” But there are plenty more. Leviticus 19:31 says, “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I [am] the LORD your God.” See this link to read more, and if this isn’t your favorite version of the Bible, by all means look up the verses in yours. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Bible-Verses-About-Witchcraft/ 

Having read Leviticus 19:31, it’s hardly surprising that Christians often freak out about the Harry Potter series–I mean, Harry Potter is a wizard, and the Bible says not to “seek after wizards,” therefore, wizards are against God, and anything against God is OF THE DEVIL! This is the kind of reasoning that got Harry Potter banned from my household and my reading lists for most of my young life, for fear that it might open up a door to the spirit world and taint my soul.

Luckily, either the panic about the Harry Potter books died down, or my parents gave into my pleading, because when I was around 12 or 13, they finally said yes and let me read the books–or rather, my mom said yes. My dad, who was and still is a very spiritual man to the point of ridiculousness, would never allow it, so my mom said, you can borrow the books from the library as long as you don’t let your dad see. And I did. And I got through most of the then 6 books before my dad caught on. Unfortunately though, one day I was careless and forgot to hide the book before he came home from work, and he had a fit. He said he felt extraordinary uneasiness and knew that evil had come into the house through that book, and I was to return it immediately. Instead, sensibly, I hid it again so that he couldn’t burn it in a fit of spiritual fervor (I didn’t want to lose my borrowing privileges). Then I thought about it, and I realized that the book had been in the house for several days, and the previous books had been in the house for days or even weeks at a time. I liked to borrow a book and read it, then read it again to remember it better, so I would keep them for the full length of the borrowing period when I could. I had even started reading the books to my younger brothers, so I sometimes had more than one Harry Potter book in the house at a time, and my dad never noticed “spiritually” that they were in the house until he saw the book. Even my middle school aged self thought, isn’t that funny? If it truly was the devil, and if the book were truly making him feel uneasy, shouldn’t the book have done that regardless of whether he consciously knew what was causing the uneasiness? I mean, if this was the same uneasiness that comes from Tarot cards, ouija boards, and playing Dungeons and Dragons, shouldn’t it not matter whether the person knows what’s there? Shouldn’t the spiritual person just feel the spiritual attack, and then have to tear through the house to find whatever’s the conduit of the evil?

Ironically, just last year I caught my dad watching reruns of the Harry Potter films on TV, and even tivoing them to watch later, so clearly his stance has changed. But as a child, that really got me thinking about the whole spiritual warfare thing again. I mean, it didn’t seem to affect people who didn’t believe, nor did it seem to affect people who believed in God but didn’t believe in spiritual warfare, so it seemed to me to be a self-perpetuating belief. And that seems to be the case for many things that theists freak out about.

Penn and Teller did a great episode on ouija boards, in which they did a great experiment that shows that it’s actually being controlled by the people using the board, not by a spirit. Long story short, if you blindfold participants and rotate the board 180 degrees without telling them, they will still move the board to where they think the “yes” and “no” options are, even though they can’t actually see them, and with the board rotated, they will be wrong every time. To see that experiment, go to this link and watch the video from about 2:00 in to 5:30. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA5uYhXpa-E

Then there are psychics. Growing up I was always told that, as was supposedly the case with Harry Potter, psychics could open the door to the devil and other demons. I was taught that even touching something a psychic has touched can lead to possession by a demon, and that if I were to consult with a psychic, or otherwise communicate with the spirits, I could be letting evil spirits into the world and into my life, which was a very dangerous thing to do. There is a whole Penn and Teller Bullshit episode on psychics, and I highly recommend checking it out, but now I’m going to use a different example. There’s an episode of the show “Trading Spouses” where they brought on this lady named Marguerite Perrin, who is an absolute psycho. Frighteningly enough, she reminds me of my brother’s godmother, who believes strongly in spiritual warfare and often talks about “putting on her spiritual armor” and other nonsense. Here’s a link to the video. Try to focus on how she reacts to meeting the guy in the suit before she finds out he’s a psychic, and then how she reacts AFTER she finds out.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q86VBFjeMtY

Basically, this lady is totally civil to the man when she meets him initially. Doesn’t freak out about him having demonic traits. But then, when she finds out what he does for a living, she throws a fit.

This lady is so funny, yet such a perfect example of so called spiritual warfare, that I have to point out another clip, where she goes ape shit over a dryer that she seems to think is possessed or something. Seriously, it’s a dryer for crying out loud. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlNUU43md4A

If the devil has in his control all of these people, as well as tons of ordinary, everyday objects like broken dryers, then we’re seriously screwed. It often makes me wonder why so many people think God is winning.

It all makes way more sense when you think about spiritual warfare as a product of an individual’s imagination. In fact, it explains a lot of things.

Happy thinking!