There was an interesting story in Humanist Life recently about an experience at Lourdes in France. While still part of the Catholic church, a young Gregory Jameson took the opportunity to guide blind and autistic kids around that supposed miraculous locale.
The first thing I noticed was that Lourdes is a racket. My expectation that a holy place would be above the corrupting reality of moneymaking and tourist traps, remaining a place of unalloyed beauty, was instantly dispatched by a view out of the coach window. Soon, there was no divorcing pious faith and the expectation of miracle from the corollary of rabid commerciality. From the streets lined with tawdry shops selling everything from plaster cast Virgin Marys of all sizes; cardboard pictures of the Pope surrounded by flashing LEDs, to millions of frilly water bottles for collecting the aqueous panacea, the town itself is sub-Blackpool in its miles of identical tat-shops. It’s also very busy, as pilgrims descend en masse (pardon the unintentional pun, which, now that I’ve noticed it, must stand) from all over the world, eagerly parting with their money to perpetuate the demand for trinkets and thus swell the Vatican coffers.
And many of those who part with their money part with their sense, too, because the number of people who go seeking a miracle far outnumber those who claim they’ve gotten one. It’s also sad that these parents pay so much money sending their kids away for a miracle cure that won’t work.
I found an article from a Trinidad paper regarding other miraculous money makers of the human kind. Courtenay Bartholomew mentions Lourdes first (which is what reminded me of Jameson’s story):
the recognition of a cure or miracle requires submission to an examination by an international medical committee. The doctors include medical men of all faiths and no faith, and the cure has to be immediate without convalescence, complete, and lasting.
Bartholomew then points at the greedy underbelly of Miracle Crusades, the con artists masquerading as faith healers. Usually they’ll have some helpers who’ll carefully weed out the people who are too far beyond fake miracles for any audience to be fooled. One was known to give wheelchairs to people who are capable of limited walking already. Those people would be invited onto the stage, rolled on in the chairs and told to walk. Huzzah! A miracle! Praise the Lord!
Now, evangelical pastors worldwide are performing more ’miracles’ in one month than Jesus himself did in his three-year ministry on Earth and certainly more than the Prophet Muhammad, who Islam teaches performed no miracles. But as the first professor of medicine of Trinidadian birth, I cannot stay silent about all this as I detest medical fraud whether it be among doctors or pastors.
Scientific advancements have made mincemeat out of a lot of holy water cures. Vaccines, penicillin, radiation therapies, bypass surgery, laser eye treatments. If the fix is readily available, and the money is attainable, then people who can be fixed can choose to be fixed. The stuff medical science still can’t do, holy water never could do anyway. Neither can help a person grow a new arm, but at least people have gone through the trouble of designing sufficient (and sometimes superior) replacements.
Miracles are nice things to wish for, but it’d be better to put that money and effort towards more medical research. Those hucksters and the Vatican have more than enough money already.