Rupert Murdoch’s National Geographic celebrates the Virgin Mary

November 29, 2015 • 10:00 am

Many of you probably know that in September Rupert Murdoch recent acquired the long-esteemed magazine National Geographic. And when he did so, he fired dozens of its employees, stirring up worries about what would happen to the magazine. As Reverb Press noted:

The National Geographic Society has long stood for science, research, and investigation. Murdoch’s companies have long stood against all three. The two positions would be in conflict, save Murdoch’s company is firmly in control. The editorial changes will therefore be severe, and erode the 127 years of publication excellence. For the men and women who brought National Geographic to worldwide prominence, the termination of employment is a tragic end both for hard-working people, and for National Geographic itself.

Well, the erosion seems to be beginning already, as the latest issue of the magazine has a pretty worshipful article on Christianity: “How the Virgin Mary became the world’s most powerful woman.”  It’s an article on Jesus’s mom and the many miracles and cures she’s supposedly wrought throughout the world—miracles that are described in detail and presented without criticism. Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and now a vision of Mary by children in the village of Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina—all of these and more make their appearance.
Now it’s entirely possible that this article was written well before Murdoch took over, as there’s a lag time in the process (some of the incidents reported by author Maureen Orth were from last December), so I can’t be sure that the new regime is responsible for a piece that’s pretty much of a travesty. Nevertheless, I can’t be sure, either, whether the new ownership didn’t approve the final article as well as this cover and the execrable video embedded in the online version (see below):

It’s also disturbing that the author, Maureen Orth, is a journalist (granted, an accomplished one) who appears to be religious, for the “About me” section of her website says this:

I feel blessed to have had faith and a loving and supportive family and friends. So far, it’s been a wonderful life.

(She was the wife of newsman Tim Russert, who died not long ago; Russert was also deeply religious.)  At any rate, the article, which appears to have been heavily influenced by “researcher” Michael O’Neill, by and large presents many of the Mary Miracles as real. Describing the miracle cure of a man whose cancer disappeared after he visited the shrine at Medjugorje, the article says this:

“Miracles transcend physical nature and physical laws,” says Robert Spitzer, a Jesuit priest who heads the Magis Center in California, which according to its website is dedicated to explaining faith, physics, and philosophy. As Spitzer says, “Science looks for physical laws in nature, so you’re up against a paradox. Can you get a scientific test for miracles? No. Science will only test for physical laws or physical results.” [JAC: I don’t believe that; after all, one can test for things like the effect of intercessory prayers or other things, like ESP, that don’t fall within the known ambit of materialism.]

Nonetheless, over the years, as part of the church’s investigative process, seers have been subjected to batteries of tests. There have been attempts to get the visionaries in Medjugorje to blink or react to loud noises while they experience apparitions. In 2001 the peer-reviewed Journal of Scientific Exploration reported on the visionaries’ “partial and variable disconnection from the outside world at the time of the apparitional experience.” The extreme sound and light sensations traveled normally to their brains, but “the cerebral cortex does not perceive the transmission of the auditory and visual neuronal stimuli.” So far, science has no explanation. [JAC: In some cases they do, as in brain stimulation causing religious visions, and at any rate the failure of science to explain something yet doesn’t constitute evidence for God.]

In the medical profession what you and I might call a miracle is often referred to as “spontaneous remission” or “regression to mean.” Frank McGovern, the Boston urologic surgeon who had done all he could for Arthur Boyle, told me that the cancer’s virtual disappearance was a “rare” but statistically possible happening. But, he added, “I also believe there are times in human life when we are way beyond what we ever expect.”

If that’s not a sop to the faithful, I don’t know what is. Yes, McGovern says the remissions are rare, but they happen, and, indeed, the proportion of vetted miracles that have been “approved” by the Catholic Church is quite low. There’s no reason to think that these phenomena defy physicality and materialism. But over and over again the article implies that there’s something numinous about it all.

The only notes of doubt are the one-sentence claim by a physicist that the “spinning suns” associated with visions of Mary could be caused by sunlight reflected through charged ice crystals, and the warning that we can’t be certain that the Bible gives us correct details of Mary’s life because it was written a few decades after the fact. But there’s also no caveat that Mary (and Jesus) might not have been real, and no skepticism that these miracles could either reflect false reporting (as in the case that led to the beatification of Mother Teresa) or are rare spontaneous remissions. As many doubters have noted, none of the miracles involve regrowing limbs or eyes—things that never under any circumstances, religious or not.

It’s telling that the three-minute video that accompanies the online article features “researcher” Michael O’Neill, who just happens to run the website The Miracle Hunter, a site that seems to buy those miracles vetted by the Catholic church. O’Neill also has an apparently Christian-oriented radio show.  In the video below, O’Neill (who I bet is a Catholic) seems overly credulous in accepting the reality of miracles that are officially approved by the Catholic Church. Get a load of it, and remember that it’s in National Geographic:

Naturally, Catholics have gone gaga over this new piece, seeing it as an official endorsement of their beliefs. National Geographic, after all, is widely respected (not for long!), and when I was younger nearly every family had a subscription. The Catholic News Agency says this:

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 8.08.39 AM

and this:

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“Hat tip to the Virgin Mary” is not out of line as a description!

I suppose it would be kosher for National Geographic to discuss the legend of Mary as a kind of sociological exploration, but that’s not what this article is about. It’s about the miracles produced by the legend, and about the veracity of those miracles. In other words, it’s a reprehensible osculation of faith by a formerly reputable magazine. The Catholic News Service certainly recognizes that.

I predict that we’ll see more of these soft and soppy articles in the future as Murdoch takes the magazine down the rabbit hole.

89 thoughts on “Rupert Murdoch’s National Geographic celebrates the Virgin Mary

            1. He’s a cafeteria Catholic – takes what he likes, ditches what he doesn’t, just like most US Catholics. Very easy for someone like that to ignore things like Lourdes-healing inconsistency.

  1. I like the way the speaker in the video explains that the Vatican’s very careful validation process for sanctifying an apparition depends upon whether they approve of the message delivered by the apparition.

    1. That “struck” me too.

      And the way he explained that the Church says miracles happen, therefore they do.

      And how the ONLY two possible explanations for multiple visions at Medjugore are a mass conspiracy, or that it actually happened.

      The whole thing is ridiculous and embarrassing. The phenomenon of Marian visions could have been written about objectively, and it would have been interesting. Now, there’s no way to trust NatGeo any more.

      However, it will likely sell well, and that’s what Murdoch wants.

      1. The RCC hasn’t yet accepted the apparitions at Medjugore as being “worthy of belief” — as the church phrases it. That determination is apparently in the final stage of the process and the verdict should be announced fairly soon. Based on past statements made by church officials that weren’t particularly supportive, it’s thought by many that they won’t be approved.

        If that turns out to be the case, then the church will need to explain how mass conspiracy explains Medjugore without it also explaining the approved apparitions of Lourdes and Fatima.

          1. By way of clarification, the church would most likely not officially speculate what caused unaccepted apparitions, but would most likely merely hold that they weren’t supernatural.

  2. As a long time subscriber to NG, I have grown increasingly concerned about the number of religious-themed articles passed off as archaeology. This issue was the last straw. I cancelled my subscription.

    1. Me too…I cancelled my subscription after I heard of Murdoch’s purchase and subsequent firing of the veteran staff. This issue was the last one I received, and I threw it into the recycle bin without opening a page.

      I’d be interested to know just how many people cancelled their subscriptions after this odious takeover.

        1. I wish letting it lapse was that easy. Murdoch’s NG renewed my subscription to my credit card without asking. I had to wait on a forever line to get it cancelled. This man is evil.

            1. Add us to the list of cancellees. Grew up with NatGeo, have subscribed for the past 5 decades as an adult, am saddened by its descent into mediocrity (maybe that’s too kind a descriptor?). Good time to vote with our dollars and leave the fold…

  3. Just today I’ve appeared to dozens of people, some of them even heard me speak. I may even have been caught on CCTV. This alone makes me more a powerful woman than the Virgin Mary. How much can she lift?

    It’s a strange article that at first states you can’t scientifically test for miracles and then relies on scientists to quote for testing miracles. They want to acknowledge that religious beliefs are not scientific but also want to use the authority of scientists to add to bolster the religious beliefs. Why bother?

    1. Yes, that sort of internal contradiction seems to pass among the faithful as the best way to have your cake and eat it too. What they’re really looking for is a sort of “low-level” scientific proof or confirmation of the supernatural. Science can’t find God — but it sure can point so strongly in that direction that people who fail to be convinced can just be considered unconvincible. Skeptics don’t believe because they don’t WANT it to be true. So no level of rigorous certainty would be enough for THEM. The evidence is strong enough for anyone who’s open. Looky!

      Testing for miracles is like measuring healing energy fields. It should only be attempted at the level of personal-experience — unless it looks like you’ve got something which will wheel in a larger forum of the susceptible. Then it’s good to go. Science all the way.

      1. I can turn filled wine bottles into empty ones. Today, I just proved it scientifically at one of our many regional Christmas fairs, and I plan to review it with my peers on the next three weekends. ~:)

  4. This does seem like a slide toward the numinous side. Another sign that N.G. is a fading institution for science and exploration would be where it has articles on evolution, and pointedly waffles on it being a fact.

    1. Nat Geo and History Channel (I am told) are both on the mend; and falling into a slippery slope to fast food education.

  5. This sentence really threw me: “There’s no reason to doubt that these phenomena defy physicality and materialism.”

    I can’t tell if you’re expressing the view of McGovern or if you’ve had a sudden conversion. 🙂

  6. When I was a kid, I used to thumb through stacks of old NatGeos looking for pictures of naked women. They all seemed like the worlds most powerful women.
    What are kids of the future going to look forward to?

  7. I guess that’s one less magazine I’ll need to continue my subscription of. Good things in life come, and good things go. For more than 70 years I have lo ved National Geographic’s photography. I still have loads of past issues to look over and enjoy again.

      1. I have an 80+ year-run of NG on my bookshelves, assembled by three generations of my family, from about 1923 to 2005. I cancelled my subscription a decade or so ago because I thought the magazine was getting too slick and glossy and “popular”.

        When I moved last year they were quite a burden. I don’t really want to keep them but I don’t want to get rid of them, either…

  8. There’s no reason to doubt that these phenomena defy physicality and materialism.

    I don’t think you mean this. I certainly doubt it.

  9. In August, when Murdoch’s takeover was announced, but hadn’t yet happened, NG published this:

    “Endless Summer: 16 Smoking-Hot Pictures of Sunbathing”

    It turned out not to be nearly as titillating as the headline would suggest, but it still seemed a bit ominous at the time.

    1. As long as they’re going all “National Theographic,” I would expect Jesus to be making appearances, too. How about carpentry tips that He invented? A nice WWJD Q&A advice column? I predict Murdoch is just getting started.

      1. How many cedar chests, cabinets, tables and chairs hand-crafted by Jesus Himself and varnished with sacred elements to prevent them ever rotting away are available for sale on eBay to gullible schnooks with more money than sense? I’ve got a huge stack of old National Geographics myself, going back to the ’70s, and a current “free” subscription offered when I bought over $50 worth of books, etc., at Books-a-Million. Looks like I’ll be letting that lapse. Usually when someone offers me free subscriptions, the selections rarely contain any of the magazines I routinely purchase.

  10. While secularists may no longer subscribe to the magazine, many more of the faithful probably will. Thus, this article may be a great marketing tool for the magazine. The article also demonstrates what I consider a tragedy: there are still so many millions who need to rely on blatant superstition to get through the day. Religion may or may not be on the decline, but it is certainly a sad fact that its baleful influence will be around for a long, long time.

    1. I agree it’s a good marketing strategy.

      I’ve long wondered about the idea of people needing religion though. I think they only need it because they’ve been lead to believe they do. When they get God-given strength to cope with a situation, for example, they are really finding that inside themselves. They just believe it’s coming from God.

        1. Yeah, but you can get those without religion too. It’s just that religion largely has better structures for them.

  11. The Journal of Scientific Exploration might not be the most reliable source. From Kendrick Frazier of CSICOP:

    The JSE, while presented as neutral and objective, appears to hold a hidden agenda. They seem to be interested in promoting fringe topics as real mysteries and they tend to ignore most evidence to the contrary. They publish ‘scholarly’ articles promoting the reality of dowsing, neo-astrology, ESP, and psychokinesis. Most of the prominent and active members are strong believers in the reality of such phenomena.

  12. We are NG subscribers and the latest thing we received was a “Holiday 2015 Catalog”, which I never remember receiving before. It contains “Products inspired by more than a century of exploration”, and “Bringing the world to you with hundreds of unique gifts” For some reason turns my stomach! Exploration taken over by marketing.

    1. I recall receiving something like that in the past, though I’m not currently a subscriber so I can’t compare whether it’s different to previous years. In the past it was mainly things like calendars and diaries that featured NatGeo photography. I recall a laptop bag too.

    2. I personally do not mind that. They have to find new ways to increase revenue, and this fading icon of science and exploration must turn a profit to keep going.

    3. They do the catalog every year. I bought a few items from it once as gifts, but they turned out to be of substandard quality for the price.

      1. I’m sure Angela Merkel does disagree, I’m sure she’s a realist.

        *Every* woman in the world is more powerful than a non-existent one.

        Whether VM is the most powerful myth in the world – now that would be an interesting topic.

        I think I’d vote for Santa Claus, at least in economic terms…


  13. I find this awful, Murdoch’s purchase of such an institution. I guess I am naive, I thought National Geo was in some way funded by the government. Oh, no, that would not work in a capitalist economy. Anyway, I am shocked.

  14. Just this summer I was impressed by an issue devoted to science denialism–evolution, climate, and I think quack medicine were the main topics. The articles were very forthright about what true science actually said. I wonder if this issue inspired Murdock to buy N.G. to prevent such pro-science articles from reaching the heartland?

  15. “…in the future as Murdoch takes the magazine down the rabbit hole.”

    I giggled reading a lot of this. I adore your bluntness, Jerry. With Deepak Chopra, with accomodationism, here… It’s very liberating.

  16. Can you get a scientific test for miracles? No. Science will only test for physical laws or physical results.”

    If Spitzer defines miracles as without any results, well yes, we can’t test them for results but for their absence against purported expectations. So that is no Hail Mary for religion.

    [Though I note the purported miracle *did* have a claimed effect, a cancer remission. Also, we can test against the null hypotheses of the spontaneous remission frequency vs visited locales.]

    1. Exactly so. The religious want the have it both ways. Miracles are outside science but sometimes they affect peoples lives…or something.

      “So that is no Hail Mary for religion.”

      Ha! Right.
      But, I’m sure religion itself is a long and persistent Hail Mary. But, then I’ve always thought of football as a sexual metaphor, which breeds thoughts of God as the ultimate passing quarterback.

  17. I hung in there – I’ve been subscribing for 40 years and read as a child, but this will definitely be my last year unless it becomes unrecognizable from past years. I don’t have a lot of time to read, but I re-upped my Smithsonian subscription and that will have to do! RIP Nat Geo!

  18. Fox News plays exactly this game that’s happening in the above video. Near (and on) Christmas and Easter we get pseudo-news documentaries — like “The Birth of Jesus” — that purport to investigate the life and times of Jesus while mixing in Biblical stories and miracles. It is done in an “objective”, “investigative” fashion with mystical music oozing onto the soundtrack. I think maybe Rupert is using his same team of “documentarians” to put together the National Geo’s vids.

  19. I hope for a miracle, Rupert Murdock becomes an enlightened secular atheist.
    A sure fire cure for religion and delusional thinking.
    Where would he go for such a miracle?
    I would have thought,the back issues of the NG might give him a few pointers for a start.
    Alas, his agenda for NG has now been set it seems, so much for that miracle.
    So much for National Geographic, which I’m sure will still pump out some good but true stories..
    but then again who wants to support someone who is going to issue more superstitious woolly woo on the population.
    I really want to swear now.

  20. An uncle gave me my first subscription to NG when I was 8 years old, more than 60 years ago, and I have kept it up since then. However I will not renew my subscrition for two reasons (1) the likely change in editorial policy as foreshadowed by the issue on the virgin Mary and (2) I have not wish to further enrich Mr Murdoch’s coffers. An end of an era….

  21. Remember what happened to MySpace as soon as Murdoch bought it? Well now it’s happening to National Geographic. What will be its Facebook? Only time will tell.

  22. Their issues are planned out at least 9 months in advance, so this would have had to already be in the works. I visited their offices once about 12 years ago, and saw their planning room, where they had prototypes of an issue 9 months in the future, which is their normal schedule.

    Nevertheless, I will sadly not renew my subscription. I won’t support any Murdoch publication.

    1. “issues are planned out at least 9 months in advance”
      That’s no guarantee Murdoch didn’t influence the final version.

  23. Nat Geo, the new, “Discovery Channel” of magazines! I’m interested in seeing their letters from readers page next month and even more interested in seeing the letters they WON’T print.

  24. OK, write off the Nat. Geog.

    It was quality reading when I was young (also with the added titillation of occasional African/South American porn, I must admit).

    But my view of it has been severely eroded recently with its TV programs, which seem to me to mainly involve cutesy animals or Nazis – tabloid documentary-making.

    Maybe that’s a superficial view of it.


    1. Come to think of it, given the Murdoch-driven urge for (a) more circulation at the expense of quality and (b) more religious readership, will that result in more pics of naked African women, or fewer?

      Inquiring minds want to know.

      (Or has the Internetz neutralised the novelty of bra-less ladies? 😉


      1. Old rutting Rupert seems intent on keeping the Faux News blondes in short skirts and stripper heels. So there’s always that.

  25. Over the years, NG has reliably produced sprawling, well-written and informative issues on human evolution (remember the mid-eighties issue with the hologram of the “Taung Child” on the cover)? Wonder if we will see the like again under the new regime.

  26. I’m not writing off NG just yet. Remember it was Murdoch’s organization (Fox) that was in cahoots with NG to air Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos”. I also remember in the past NG publishing articles about biblical (i.e. not necessarily real) figures or historical people from biblical times. No, I don’t trust Murdoch any farther than I could throw him, but I’m waiting to see further developments.

    I’ve also had my DNA tested with NG’s Genographic project that is ably headed up by geneticist & anthropologist Spencer Wells. I was concerned about this project and wrote to them regarding the Murdoch buy-out and they assured me that Genographic is not part of the Murdoch deal. I hope that is true.

  27. I understand the concern of the influence of the current owner, but I feel the remarks of cancellation seem knee jerk. I just received the ‘offending’ issue and it was accompanied by a flier showing previous religious themed articles from as far back as 1983. I did not see any comment on the previous issue (November) which was totally devoted to climate – its impact on various locale around the world, a plethora of data confirming scientific reports and a look at alternate forms of energy.

    1. I think at least one reader mentioned the climate issue. But to my taste there’s entirely too much religion in that magazine. Maybe Murdoch won’t change it, but really–the Virgin Mary, treated as if she were real?

  28. It was intriguing seeing Robert Spitzer pop up in the NG piece. While he was president of Gonzaga University here in Spokane, before his retirement around 5 years ago he delivered one of the most gobsmackingly obtuse lecture I’d ever heard (claiming that the conscious mind could not be reduced to brain chemistry and processes, solely by invoking quantum physics analogy and never once mentioning any actual brain chemistry or processes).

    NG RIP in the long term? I hope not, but fear so in Era Murdoch.

  29. Late to the game here, but it’s worth noting that within many Catholic circles, Medjugorje has long been considered a hoax or even Satanic! Official Church teaching: “We must suspect those apparitions that lack dignity or proper reserve, and above all, those that are ridiculous. This last charcteristic is a mark of human or diabolical machination.”

    So not only do we have National Geographic uncritically regurgitating religious drivel, we have them doing it with drivel that the religion itself doesn’t even officially support.

    I suppose if the Church deems this to be unreal, we can all look forward to the National Geographic followup report about the most powerful man on Earth.

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