Magazine article Free Inquiry

Less Than Miraculous

Magazine article Free Inquiry

Less Than Miraculous

Article excerpt

During the month of October, 2003, I must have been called several times a day by media outlets wishing to know what I thought about the "canonization" of "Mother" Teresa. I had been, as far as I know, the only witness called by the Vatican to give evidence against her. (The present pope, in his feverish campaign to make as many saints as possible, has abolished the traditional office of "Devil's Advocate," so I drew the job of representing the Evil One, as it were, pro bono. Fine by me--I don't believe in Satan either.) I told my journalistic inquirers what I had told the panel of priests and monsignors before whom I testified: it's really none of my business who is beatified or canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. I am not a Catholic. Its rituals and observances are less than nothing to me. I object only when the mass media, report a propaganda event as if it were to be taken at its own face value. Reading the papers or glancing at the television, one could have got the impression that His Holiness the Pope was the accepted moral tutor for the entire world, instead of the leader of a traditionalist sect that calls its ostensibly celibate and virginal officials by parental names like "Father" and "Mother" and opposes almost every kind of sexual expression while making allowances and excuses for adult-infant penetration.

One of the features of this cult is its belief in miracles, and one of the conditions that must be met by its candidates for sainthood is their supposed ability to intervene, from beyond the grave, to cure earthly diseases. Just as the Virgin Mary seems to appear only to believing Catholics, so miracles tend to occur only when a requirement for them is specified. In order for "Mother" Teresa to be "beatified"--the technical first stage of full canonization--a miracle attributable to her posthumous efforts had to be certified. And a Bengali girl was duly found to claim that her cancerous tumor had vanished after a ray of light emanated from a picture of the departed nun. (You will not fail to observe that the girl already had such a photograph in her home and was praying to it.)

Any doctor will tell you that inexplicable or "miraculous" recoveries occur almost every day in major hospitals. This doesn't happen as often as, say, the discovery of a clot or a malignancy in an apparently healthy person (no divinity yet invented will claim the responsibility for that), but it does occur. The test of a "miracle," whether we employ the term either in its secular or its religious sense, is that there is no evident medical or scientific explanation for it. And since the Bible itself tells us that Pharoah's conjurors and magicians could work miracles (which I bet they couldn't), we have at least biblical authority for saying that the occurrence of a miracle does not prove the truth of any religion. …

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