I should have known that my remarks last week about the miracle attributed to the Indian girl Kateri from the Mohawk Valley would not be received with universal joy.
True, one reader said I had made her day and a few others thanked me for the entertainment, but the others, oh, the others.
One accused me of “bigotry” and said I had “used the freedom of the press to mock the right of others including Catholics to worship and believe as they see fit,” though I had done no such thing. I had mocked the beliefs themselves, maybe, but not anyone’s right to hold them. People can believe what they want.
It’s funny, anyway, that religious people have no compunction about trumpeting their beliefs to the world but get their backs up when anyone dares to question those beliefs.
Another, whose letter was published in this paper, claimed my column was “mean-spirited and misdirected,” which it was not — it was lighthearted and aimed frankly at the target — and further that I have “absolutely no idea why people believe in God the way they do,” that everything I write on matters religious is “pure conjecture,” which is a falsehood. I may not know why people believe as they do, but most of what I write is simple fact, like my summary of the alleged miracle performed by the long-dead Blessed Kateri.
I think religious people often don’t like to read simple facts. One rebuked me by telephone just yesterday, saying, “It’s called faith,” and told me that’s what I need, meaning, I guess, that I need the gullibility to believe that a long-dead Indian girl could have a private word with an invisible man in the sky and prevail on him to cure a little boy in a hospital bed in Seattle. To which I say, no thanks, I’ll do without it.
Another dared me to use my freedom of speech to mock Allah, but when I offered to dig up copies for her of the columns I have written on the Koran and the Hadith, declined and told me to leave them buried. She didn’t really want them.
Yet another said by telephone message, “Given the fact of the holy season, you are really a mean, miserable s.o.b.,” but since he said he had read my column in the Times Union, I didn’t give it much weight. Besides, I don’t control when the Vatican makes its announcements.
Only one critic was gracious, objecting to my skepticism while proposing that there might still be a mysterious “More” behind the physical universe, which I have noticed is the last recourse of thoughtful religious people, and to which I say yes, there might be — how would I know? — but that “More” is unlikely to take the shape of a half-boy, half-elephant named Ganesh, as proposed by Hindus, or an all-powerful invisible man who traffics in cheap miracles as proposed by many Christians, or any other anthropomorphic fantasy left over from the ages of ignorance.
Everyone else was downright angry and downright rude — though I must say I’ve grown accustomed to that sort of thing and don’t really take it to heart. I understand that reducing religious beliefs to plain English is like striking a nerve in a tooth. The patient invariably hollers.
But I’ll tell you something no one was angry about. No one was angry that the mighty Roman Catholic Church, with its billion-plus followers, failed to acknowledge the power of hard science and the dedication of teams of doctors in the saving of that 6-year-old boy in Seattle.
The boy had cut his lip playing basketball, a rare bacteria had entered the exposed tissue and spread so quickly that the doctor I spoke to, one of the hospital’s team leaders tending the boy, said they could actually see it moving. They worked on that boy day and night for almost three weeks, administering antibiotics, removing dead tissue, keeping his blood pressure up, helping him breathe — in other words, applying knowledge gained by the application of reason over three centuries or so beginning with what historians call the Enlightenment.
And the Catholic Church explained it by means of a fairy tale, a fairy tale on the same level as Jack and the Beanstalk, and used it to promote itself.
The pope signed off on the fairy tale, and the bishop of the Albany Diocese declared himself thrilled.
Isn’t that something to be at least moderately disgusted with?
I think so.
They broadcast their medieval nonsense just as if the last few hundred years of human progress had never happened, and the press, I’m sorry to say, reports it with a straight face.
Well, I refuse to play along, ladies and gentlemen.
I propose a resolution thanking and congratulating the staff of Seattle Children’s Hospital and saluting the researchers who made that little boy’s treatment possible. I’ll make a copy and send it to the pope, maybe, and see if I can get him to endorse it, and we’ll see what happens.