Monday, March 30, 2009

In Which I Take Hillary Clinton's Side

Okay, so lately, I confess I have been on a personal journey learning more about the saints and exploring Christian mysticism and having some remarkable experiences of my own...but on the other hand, let's get real.

"The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted by Mary on the tilma, or cloak, of St. Juan Diego in 1531."

And the pope is infallible and condoms spread HIV.

50 comments:

kr said...

I'm sorry, as a Catholic I had to laugh out loud at the wry sarcasm of ending that with the Margaret Sanger dig.

African nations with traditions of abstinence except within marriage or, in one case, a new cultural imposed version of that, do not have high HIV rates, and the one with the imposed teaching had a significant decrease in what was a high rate.

African nations with condom distribution as the main effort, not so much.

Condoms fail--through user error or factory error.

I can tell you, as a woman, a condom isn't "real" protection if I'm in my fertile week. Any failure rate is too much failure rate. A condom plus spermicide might be, maybe (although as fertile as I am, maybe not!). Last time I checked, spermicide doesn't kill HIV and sexual partners are always fertile ground for STDs (unlike pregnancy).

People who depend on condoms are in fact merely fooling themselves--making themselves feel safe when in fact they are merely slightly enhancing their odds on a losing game.

I'm glad you have been having some spiritual excitement lately :).

I can loan you a couple of good books on the Shroud of Turin if you'd like, to show the kind of stuff the Church goes through on these things nowadays. (One for one against, but if you take them together they provide a VERY interesting set of information.)

Like the image on Shroud, the Guadelupe image is one that the hierarchy has often preferred to downplay ... but it is ignorant of you to simply reject it as ridiculous without at least some examination of the case, Andy.

Some of the best minds in the world have been Catholic. Many scientists and doctors--and artists and art restorers. This idea HAS occurred to SOME of them before, and I'm sure that there have been studies off and on over the centuries as new techniques develop, to test the "miraculous" artifacts the Church has. Even in Mexico, which is less technologically oriented and more medieval than Europe.

You are making the same error so many do--assuming that because some people have blind faith in something, only blind faith can justify it.

Andy said...

KR: No one is saying that abstinence isn't THE ONLY 100% fool-proof way to prevent unintended pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases. And no one is claiming that condoms are 100% effective. But for the Pope to openly state that condoms contribute to the spread of HIV...well, that's just nuts. I mean, we are talking about cultures here where people believe that having sex with a virgin female can cure one of HIV infection (or that rape can "cure" a lesbian). By all means, let's emphasize that the only risk-free strategy is abstinence. No argument here. But let's also be realistic. Let's empower people to make informed, rational decisions -- calculated risks, even. The pope's ideology in this instance is no more helpful than local superstition.

And as for La Virgen...let me tell you a story about a well-known American soprano who was engaged to sing a Wagner role at the San Francisco Opera. According to her, she took ill and was unable to perform and went home, but God took her form and went out and sang it for her. (I'm not kidding.) At the next performance, the general director came by prior to curtain and said, "Good job the other night." To which the soprano replied, "Oh, that wasn't me...that was God."

And the General Director said, "Well...it wasn't *that* good."

kr said...

Heh ;).

I'm sure condoms do make each instance of sex less risky ... I'm also sure that the condoms provided to African nations by aid groups are not the highest quality ones, and the ones provided by their own governments (if any) are probably worse, unless the whole widespread graft situation has changed.

(Funny how we end up with cheap crap because we demand cost savings of our government, and third world nations end up with cheap crap because people think they can, but it all ends up the same.)

I feel the need to admit that I definitely reacted with "What the hell 'newspaper' is 'reporting' this when I got to the "The image was created" statement ... but for the Catholic News Agency, alright. They at least have legitimate reason to understand the phenomena as 'already cross-checked' and a reasonable expectation that their readership with also so understand it. Definitely an article aimed at a specific audience. This kind of reporting on the one hand bothers me as a Catholic, because people then do what you did ("well, THESE folks are idiots"), but on the other hand, sometimes it's nice to see it so straight-up, without all the apologetics.

Now, I haven't done all the reading about the Tilma that I have about the Shroud. But I assume that someone (probably many someones) have examined it for brushstrokes (just as a starter). However much you might wish to discount the stories of the image's creation, the point that cannot be argued away is that the image was specifically designed to comfort (and convert one assumes) the indiginous population in ways that it is doubtful the church heirarchy (and all skilled painters of the time) would have been aware of, since they were more the "beat all alternative religion out of people" types ... the colors of the clothes, the stars on the blue cloak ... I think there was something about the feet but this image doesn't show them so I can't remember ... anyhow, they are all related to the native female diety or dieties (I think singular). People argue that her features are native rather than Spanish (I am remarkably ethnicity-blind); I think that that was part of the fight-back at the time, actually, that it couldn't be The Virgin because it was clearly a Native image. I've been told it is fact that a native population in the area that was not converting (didn't see any point, the Church couldn't gain any foothold with them), converted pretty much completely in the next 100 years, due to this image.

Her appearance in personae of the native population is normal, whether she is appearing to people who know her (Lourdes) or who don't figure out until later who she is (Fatima) or who have never been exposed to the idea of her at all (I think that applied to this Mexico situation, there was also at least one in Africa in ... oh, the 80s ... too recently for it to have undergone the scrutinies of the Church, I was in one of Those Crowds that heard about such things--also about a Florida woman "receiveing messages" that was roundly rejected, repeatedly, by the heirarchy).

Anyhow, the Tilma is an interesting story, you should read a sympathetic version.

Like the crucifixion and resurrection, it is a story that looks Completely Ridiculous from this long time later (the second Shroud book really communicated that ... the point of the book was actually to "disprove" the Obviously Ridiculous How Could ANYONE Believe In It "resurrection"). Within its cultural and historical context, it was exactly what would best communicate to those people at that time. That by itself lends it veracity.

Seriously, though. The thing took a tour of the US about 10 years ago; stopped in Beaverton as I recall. Don't you think a lot of doubters who had a point to prove went to see it? I'm sure that at least a few anti-Church organizations sent people to see if there were obvious things like brush strokes.

With the precision of the work, with clear color breaks, it shouldn't be hard to see that.

Just because something is ridiculous, doesn't mean it's not true.

(I've also seen miraculous healings and have friends who've experienced miraculous increases, like the fish and loaves, and of course I hope you remember that I had two rosaries turn gold in front of my eyes and others' (including one strong agnostic) eyes ... I think you were in the room the second time, although I don't remember you being near enough to see ... so ... my level of "unbelievable" is ... well, actually, my level of unbelievable is pretty much zero, especially now that I've read that Holographic Universe book.

images of Truth appearing in unexpected places, just don't bother me. Really, is it simpler for that to happen, or for a broken leg to be instantly mended? Food for two to be multiplied for the thousands? Blindness cured? "Mountains moved"? (I always wonder why He used that phrase--I've heard of some spectacular physical changes tot he environment related to faith, but "mountains"? That takes a leap of faith that apparently noone has managed yet ;). Or those with deep enough faith have examined the problem and realized God has a way with mountains and perhaps they shouldn't muck about with it ;). )

In any case, it's a bit odd to believe in one set of ridiculous events/meanings and then dismiss as laughable another set that supports/is coherent with the first set, without apparently really looking into it.

Myself, I'm deeply irritated that noone at State CLUED MS. CLINTON IN as to what she was walking into. That is a diplomatic stupidity--Mexico, I think from top to bottom, is pretty Catholic and reveres this image. Ignoring the religiousity of a nation--and then "honoring" it by paying a clearly careless, uninformed visit--does not impress me as a piece of political wisdom, and rather sends some negative messages about America's outlook in general.

Apparently we've gone from ignoring other people except as they are useful to us, to ignoring them except as they are useful to us, but making an effort to LOOK like we are interested. (Splinter the Rat holds up the newspaper and says, "Try Harder.")

Andy said...

KR: Your criticism of my skepticism is a point well-taken. It's not that I categorically reject that such a thing is possible; it's that I think this kind of reaction, e.g., GOD PAINTED IT, YOU STUPID WOMAN! is really not good for evangelism in the 21st century. A better response would have been, "Well, that's an interesting question Madame Secretary. The painting has a mysterious origin and the tradition is that it miraculously appeared on the saint's cloak." At the least, it would have been a more diplomatic response to an innocent and perfectly reasonable (if unfortunate) question, and I think it would have had the effect of inviting further interest. As it is, the church just looks panicky and ridiculous...it was very much a DON'T LOOK BEHIND THE CURTAIN! response.

I am very much in favor of the phrase, "According to tradition...". I have a wonderful new icon of St. Clare of Assisi holding a cat. (Yes, I bought it because she's holding a cat.) Now, the story behind it is that in her old age she was working on a piece of cloth but in her infirmity dropped it and wasn't able to reach it from her sickbed. The abbey cat picked up the cloth in its mouth and brought it back to her. Now, did anyone witness this? Is this documented history? Must I absolutely believe in my heart with 100% certainty that this is a historical event in order for it to have any resonance for me? Absolutely not. It's a wonderful story, and the fact that I think it is an open possibility (after all Starbuck walks around with my Medic-Alert necklace in her mouth, though usually she is hiding it from me...should I read into that? hmm) is great and everything, but it's that mystical connection that is more meaningful. Similarly with St. Thomas -- tradition holds that he brought Christianity to India. There is zero evidence that the historical apostle went to India, but I am enamored and inspired by the story...and to call it a story is not necessarily to discount it. However, to insist, without any evidence, that YES ABSOLUTELY THOMAS WENT TO INDIA doesn't make me a more faithful Christian, it makes me a scary fanatic.

kr said...

:).

I really have missed you :).

Yes, but see, the Tilma being a human-created or other-created image is something that CAN have evidence. It can be reasonably tested to find out if any possible then-contemporary human art method was used (and of course the cloth could be tested for age, historical accuracy of the weave and material type ... heck, at this point we might be able to test for local sheep(?) genetics, see if it was of local origin or came from (say) Europe. The other thing they tested on the Shroud was bits of plant debris (prevalence of plants of course being a decent indicator of locality). And I can't IMAGINE noone has done at least some of these things. I hesitate to add carbon dating, but if it were done openly and honestly (unlike with the shroud) that might be useful, although the Tilma has always been in observable existence since its presentation and so probably is its declared age unless one wants to get into Big Time conspiracy theories.

I mean, OK, it's a holy image and whatever, but in Europe they have let people test some of the Eucharistic miracle artifacts (a set of miracles encompassing the bread bleeding, the wine turning to real blood, these sort of things) ... and some of them have been shown to be clever hoaxes, and some of them have not to this time been disproven. (Again, I am open to believing that some of these things are true--they are just different versions of images of truth appearing.)

As for your assertion that the priest oughtn't have so spoken, the way the article quoted him, I'd say he was primarily sharing his understanding of the Good News, in a way that doesn't resonate with our post-modern American minds. Again, I wince ... but I also enjoy the straight-up-ness of the presentation. Having faith so simple it doesn't occur to you you need to hem and haw is beautiful in its own way, and I suspect (deeply suspect) that it is your own intellectual leaning that read "stupid woman" into the situation. Sharing their national joy with someone who doesn't know it yet does not (except perhaps in America or mid-and-northern-Europe) require including the implication that the person who doesn't know it already is stupid.

'Might also be, though, that I've been around more religious Mexicans than you have? Up until a generation back, they seem to be very 'simple' in their faith--not weak or anything, just they don't have the instinct to intellectualize it and doubt it as much as we do. And the priests come from the people: the Church actually formally realized ... oh, 20 years ago maybe now ... that Mexico might be very "Catholic," but that almost noone had any doctrine, including the majority of priests, and the Church began a campaign (I assume still rolling) to try to catechize Mexico. The faith there is more the emotional (/superstitious) kind ... as any faith must be without intellectual ballast.

All of which rather adds credence to my assertion that "stupid" wouldn't have been among the judgments the host levied onto the Clinton situation ... "stupid" wouldn't even apply.

Except to the Department of State. I still think ignoring this easily known set of information was immediately stupid and trying to make it look like we were paying homage to something important to them that we clearly didn't actually care about was long-term stupid.

Sending Ms. Clinton to Mother Theresa's funeral actually bothered me more, though.

(And just to bring the circle 'round with some connect-the-dots trivia ;) ... my second rosary that turned gold was from Medjugore(?sp), where the most active "Marian apparitions" were?/are?--like I said, I was in Those Circles for a while--and it had been additionally in-person blessed by Mother Theresa, whom the woman who gave me the rosary met on one of her flights home from Medjugore. I think MT was just visiting the States, not Medjugore.)

PS the St. Claire story is so St. Claire ... how cute. (Of course, that sort of image is never claimed to be divinely created, nor an accurate historical record, so you were a bit obnoxious ;) to bring it up--apples and oranges and all that--but it's very sweet.)

PPS Did you hear about when the Church declared St. Christopher probably merely legend (despite the millions of images and broad cultism) and removed him from the calendar of Saints? My goodness the uproar (tempest in a teapot of course, only Catholics maybe heard it)! Although we have a lot(!) of backlog, the Church does take seriously its reexamination of historical faith traditions and declarations. (Galileo was redeclared about that same time.)

Andy said...

KR, I find this wholly unpersuasive. God couldn't have used a brush and locally available materials and contemporary techniques to paint the Tilma? Why not? I am really flabbergasted that you, of all people, seem to be adopting the fundamentalist refrain of "What science can't presently explain is best explained by God." Whereas my response is, "Everything is explained by God."* It's like 2 Timothy 3:16 -- all scripture is inspired by God and useful for instruction. I don't care if someone painted the Tilma by hand in the dark of night, it is, whatever scientists may or may not be able to learn about it, a work of divine inspiration and therefore of divine origin, regardless of the medium of its revelation. Having a Manichaean debate over IF it was painted by a human THEN it is not/less miraculous is silly.

I DO agree, however, that this is a major FAIL on the part of the State Department. Secretary Clinton is a brilliant and extremely well-educated person, so I think this is no reflection whatsoever on her. But yes, it seems to me that if the US Secretary of State is going to visit a religious shrine somewhere, her pre-visit briefing by her aides ought to include basic background and history of what she's looking at so that she doesn't inadvertently cause a ruckus like this.

* With caveats. Velveeta, Pepsi and the Jonas Brothers are not, I believe, attributable to God.

kr said...

;).

I'm not saying it couldn't have been painted--but as far as I know there is no evidence that suggests it was besides people's unwillingness to believe.

Which of course is no proof at all.

No, of course God is involved in the painting of sacred images (the process Orthodox iconographers go through is quite amazing, I've heard, as the most obvious modern example). Undoubtably He is also involved in the profane ones, as something the 'artist' is fighting against.

I am not assuming all things not yet explained by science are best explained as miracles. I am saying, perhaps some things are, and it is inconsistent for a Christian to speak as if a belief in one or another is stupid.

Miracles do happen. I'm all about believing that people cause more 'miracles' than most of us are comfortable admitting, but I do think some of them come from outside of humanity, and specifically from the single Divine Truth, Who is and always has been directly active.

Miracles that turn history and are just bizarre, seem particularly likely candidates for true miracles ;).

A farm laborer showing up to talk to the bishop, with roses in the middle of winter, with a cloak printed with an image that spoke more directly to the non-converted than to the Christians (who as I recall were more persuaded by the roses) ... upon which an entire nation still rests their faith ... it's a subtlety of presentation that I don't credit the conquering Renaissance Spanish with, and a social change all out of proportion to the locality of the event.

Rather like the Resurrection ;).

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is andy back?

hope so.

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