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.
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:
“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.