This newspaper and I have been fairly deluged with letters since I wrote my harmless little comments on the Blessed Kateri and her alleged miracle, and I must admit those letters have made some arresting arguments.
The main ones are:
• I am a bigot and an atheist.
• You are not allowed to make fun of religion, especially in a newspaper.
• It’s called faith.
• If a lot of people believe something it must be true.
Also there was a column in this paper on Sunday written by a person from the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, in Auriesville, which made a strong case that Kateri Tekakwitha, (1656-1680) was a nice girl, but since it didn’t mention the miracle that is attributed to her but implied she is being made a saint simply because of her niceness, I won’t address it. It’s the miracle, or alleged miracle, that caused the trouble.
The last argument, that if a lot of people believe something it must be true, was advanced by a Catholic priest, among others, which made me wonder what kind of logic is taught in seminary these days.
I will simply point out, as politely as I can, that people of faith believe in lots of different things not necessarily consistent with each other.
A billion or so Hindus have faith that a half-boy, half-elephant named Ganesh helps them solve their problems. When I was in India a couple of years ago I saw statues of this curious god everywhere and people lighting incense and praying to him with as much fervor as Christians pray to Jesus.
A billion-plus Muslims have faith that God is alone in the heavens and consider it blasphemous that anyone should think he has a son.
In Mexico I clamber over ancient pyramids and temples built for the worship of such deities as Xipe Totec, Kulkucan and Huitzilopochtli, all of them long gone and forgotten but every bit as real to the Aztecs, Mayas and Zapotecs of another day as Jesus and Mary are to Christians today. Who can doubt it?
Years ago I rented a room in the Mekong Delta with a large framed picture of Quan Am, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, on the wall, which I was forbidden to move.
Yes, it’s true that people all over the world believe in supernatural beings and supernatural events, but they don’t necessarily believe in your supernatural beings or your supernatural events.
In fact, if you want to talk about atheism, isn’t it plain that everyone is an atheist as regards the other fellow’s gods? I think so.
These indignant Catholics who have been writing to me, I’ll bet you anything they are all atheists when it comes to Ganesh and Quan Am and Huitzilopochtli.
Myself, I can’t help thinking there is something amiss with the whole supernatural tribe. Look at the story of this latest Catholic miracle, which I have dared to lampoon. Think about it seriously, and ask yourself what would happen if a doctor had done what their great invisible man in the sky is supposed to have done.
What was that? Well, he created a deadly flesh-eating bacteria and set it loose in the world — it had to have been him, since he is the creator of everything.
He allowed it to enter a cut in the lip of a 6-year-old boy, a cut obtained in an innocent game of basketball.
He allowed it to spread so that the boy’s face was being eaten away and a team of doctors could barely keep the boy alive over several weeks in intensive care.
Despite having the power to save the boy, he didn’t lift a finger until a nice Indian girl from the Mohawk Valley visited him on his throne, tugged at his beard, and said please, please.
At that point he relented, waved a finger and stopped the infection from spreading any further — though he left the boy severely disfigured, something that, being all-powerful, he could have corrected if he had felt like it.
A doctor who acted like that would have his license revoked, wouldn’t he? But the invisible man gets hallelujahs for it, and the Indian girl gets sainthood.
I don’t find fault with the Indian girl, but I think the invisible man should be called before the Board of Regents and required to explain himself.
Another thing: One woman wrote and told me about two youngish family members of hers who were dying of cancer. She said she and others formed a prayer group and prayed for them fervently, but they died anyway. “Does the Vatican have any explanation for this?” she wrote. “I ask myself every day.”
Good question. Why does the invisible man favor some but not others? Does he require the right sort of saint to tug at his beard and get his attention?
What about other children, especially, who are afflicted with deadly infections, with genetic defects, with tumors, with fevers?
Why doesn’t he save all of them? Why does he pick out just one little boy in Seattle Children’s Hospital and ignore the rest?
Did the prayers not go to the right saint? Did the saint not say the right thing when he or she approached the heavenly throne? Was the invisible man in a bad mood?
The best you can get out of them is that the invisible man works in mysterious ways.
Well, he sure does. And so does Ganesh, and so does Quan Am, and so does Allah. Extremely mysterious.
So, no, ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, but try as I might, I cannot repent of my skepticism.