When I was a very young child in rural Texas, a strange annual event would happen each summer during the hottest time of the year. A large white tent would be set up in a park near my grandparent’s church, and lots of little metal chairs would be set up around a small raised platform with a microphone. For several nights in a row my grandparents would take me to this event they called a “tent revival” and we would listen to a rather portly sweaty man tell us colorful stories from the New Testament, and warn us in theatrical tones about the evil of brimstone and fire. (All Baptists are very familiar with this concept.) I would sit in my metal chair fanning myself against the humidity with a paper fan and watch as people around me swayed back and forth, moaning “amen” in time with the sweaty preacher’s vocal undulations. Inevitably, as the crescendo of preaching neared, someone would fall onto the sawdust covered floor and begin writhing around while speaking gibberish (Speaking in Tongues).
The first time this happened it scared me so awfully that my grandfather had to take me outside where he explained something very important. He told me I didn’t need to worry, because, he explained with disgust, some people just liked to make themselves the center of attention. The concept that those people writhing on the floor looking like they were having an epileptic fit were actually faking to get attention was a concept a small child could easily understand. The sad part, I learned later, was that they didn’t think they were faking, they really believed the “holy spirit” had entered their bodies and spoke through them. (Though why he didn’t speak English if he was God, after all, I never understood.)
People continually look for signs of a mythic God that doesn’t exist, and because they can’t find any, they must create the occasional miracle, sometimes with horrible consequence. When I was skipping around the various forum threads on www.Richard.Dawkins.net, I came across a topic discussing 50 people losing their vision after staring at the sun in Thiruvananthapuram, India trying to see a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary.
It all started, apparently, when a local hotelier claimed his statues of Mother Mary started “crying honey and bleeding oil and perfumes” (Daily News Analysis). Rumor ensued “that a solar image of the Virgin Mary appeared to the believers,” and the faithful swarmed like bees to honey. Now one might wonder what motivates a local hotelier to claim such a miracle taking place at his establishment, but we can hypotheses that he did it, as my grandfather once said, “To get attention.” Maybe he craved attention for himself, or his business or for his faith, in any event he got plenty.
According to Daily News and Analysis:
“St Joseph’s ENT and Eye Hospital has recorded 48 cases of vision loss due to photochemical burns on the retina. “The patients show varying degrees of severity. They are mostly girls in 12-26 age groups. Our youngest patient is 12 and the oldest 60. Most of them were looking at the sun between 2 and 4 pm, when UV1 and UV2 rays are harshest,” Dr James Isaac said.
“The health department has now put up a signboard at the hotelier’s house near Erumeli, where the divine image is said to have appeared, warning people against exposing their eyes to sunlight. Even the churches in the vicinity disowned the miracle during Sunday mass after health officers and doctors approached the clergy. “
I know it is easy to laugh at this article or dismiss it as the antics of “those crazy cult of Mary worshippers”; it is worth noticing, however, that the majority of those injured are young females. Once again the martyrs of religion are the weakest members of society, who are trying to seek blessing from a God they have been trained to believe exists. While the Catholic Church has cooperated in this specific matter: it has shown little concern for the burden placed on female believers/martyrs in the past. Catholic women who must produce a multitude of children because their church prohibits the use of birth control, or must risk getting HIV or AIDS because they can’t use condoms, or are required to allow their husbands to abuse them because divorce is a sin. The list of burdens goes on and on.
If the church really wanted to help these women it would advice them to quit looking for a miracle where none exists, but at the very least it could teach them that the image of Saints can always be seen through sunglasses.