7.15.2011

Communion Wafer Turns 'Blood Red': When Miracles Aren't

The Greek philosopher Anaxagoras (500 BCE – 428 BCE) was onto something when he stated that the sun was not a god, but rather a red hot stone. (It's also worth noting that he was imprisoned for saying as much.) Granted, Anaxagoras was a little off on the physical properties of the sun, but he knew that there was a natural explanation for even the greatest mysteries of the cosmos.

Fast forward a few thousand years to St. Paul, MN where a communion wafer has turned "blood red" after being placed in a cup filled with water.

The Pioneer Press reports:
[Rev. John Echert of St. Augustine Church] said the host fell to the floor as a member of the laity who is appointed to assist priests was distributing Communion at the 7 a.m. Mass on June 19, the Feast of the Holy Trinity. It was put in a ciborium, a container for the Eucharist - which is typical practice - with the expectation that it would be poured in a sacraium, a kind of special sink where items are washed into the ground not into a sewer system.

When the Rev. Robert Grabner, the church's parochial vicar, next looked at the cup the following Sunday, Echert said, "he noted a red color in the ciborium." Normally, he added, the host would dissolve in water within a day or two.

Grabner asked Echert to examine it.

"The host was a very bright red," Echert said. "On one side, it was completely red, and on the other side, it was red around the perimeter and it looked almost like the white of the host tended to have an appearance of a cross."

Echert said he transferred it to a glass bowl the next day. A day later, he saw the blood-red color.

"It appeared to be like the blood red of tissue," he said. "If I had not known what it was, I would have thought that there was maybe a small bloody piece of tissue. It was striking enough that there was no way I could have disposed of the remains of the host at that time with good conscience."

Clearly, this was the stuff of miracles:
"It was notable enough that, clearly, it was some phenomenon and not the ordinary way in which a host would dissolve...that we're familiar with," Echert said.

The archdiocese, which now has the host, is taking a "very cautious stance on the matter," spokesman Dennis McGrath said.

"I make no claims, and the archdiocese makes no claims, as to the likelihood of this being supernatural," Echert said. "But it is enough of a phenomenon, or unusual, that we will continue to examine this host."

He added: "I've never in my 24 years as a priest seen or been aware of a phenomenon where a consecrated host placed in water turns to this bright-colored red and continues in what I would call the blood-red color."

Word of the wondrous wafer eventually landed on several Catholic websites and blogs, sparking discussion and conjecture by some that it resembles the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

Anyone with a knowledge of religion is sure to have noted that the supernatural claims and miracles associated with biblical writings were far more fantastical, and more frequent, than those of modern day. It also might be worth noting that we didn't have the scientific understanding in primitive times that we have today, nor the luxury of crowdsourcing.

In simpler times, news of this bloody wafer might have spread via telegraph or word of mouth, and soon enough, people would be making pilgrimages to lovely St. Paul to view the flesh of the Lord. But thanks to the Internet, and to science, many pilgrims have been saved the trouble.
One blogger has raised the red bacterium, Serratia marcescens, as a possible explanation for the communion wafer turning red.

According to Microbe Zoo, a website developed by the Center for Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University, the bacterium grows on bread and communion wafers that have been stored in a damp place.

The site goes so far as to cite Serratia marcescens as the probable cause of the bloodlike substance that a priest discovered on communion bread in 1263, referred to as "The Miracle of Bolsena."

More-recent incidents have pointed to bacterium contamination, including a highly publicized instance in 2006 when people flocked to a Dallas-area church after a host turned red in a glass.

According to a report on Texas Catholic Online, the Dallas Diocese had the host analyzed by two University of Dallas biology professors who concluded it was anything but a miracle.

In a letter to the parish priest, Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann wrote "... the object is a combination of fungal mycelia and bacterial colonies that have been incubated within the aquatic environment of the glass during the four-week period in which it was stored in the open air."

Archdiocese spokesman Daniel McGrath stated, "The Church does not presume supernatural causes for things that can have a natural explanation," an odd statement coming from the church, especially considering that whole Bible thing.

Belief in Evolution vs. National Wealth: Why Does The US Not Fit The Trend?

via Calamities of Nature:

The United States is an odd bird, clearly. This graph reminded me of a post on PZ Myers' Pharyngula blog in which he discussed an international poll showing the US as being near dead last in acceptance of evolution (just above Turkey, another country with a distinct fundamentalism/modernism issues).

What, pray tell, could cause the US to remain such an outlier?

Well, first there is religiosity:
The total effect of fundamentalist religious beliefs on attitude toward evolution (using a standardized metric) was nearly twice as much in the United States as in the nine European countries (path coefficients of -0.42 and -0.24, respectively), which indicates that individuals who hold a strong belief in a personal God and who pray frequently were significantly less likely to view evolution as probably or definitely true than adults with less conservative religious views.

And then there's this:
Second, the evolution issue has been politicized and incorporated into the current partisan division in the United States in a manner never seen in Europe or Japan. In the second half of the 20th century, the conservative wing of the Republican Party has adopted creationism as a part of a platform designed to consolidate their support in southern and Midwestern states—the "red" states. In the 1990s, the state Republican platforms in seven states included explicit demands for the teaching of "creation science". There is no major political party in Europe or Japan that uses opposition to evolution as a part of its political platform.

As Myers noted, the paper ends on a sad note:

The politicization of science in the name of religion and political partisanship is not new to the United States, but transformation of traditional geographically and economically based political parties into religiously oriented ideological coalitions marks the beginning of a new era for science policy. The broad public acceptance of the benefits of science and technology in the second half of the 20th century allowed science to develop a nonpartisan identification that largely protected it from overt partisanship. That era appears to have closed.

Nigel Barber, in Psychology Today, asks if Atheism will eventually replace religion, as research shows that atheism "blossoms amid affluence where most people feel economically secure."

He writes:
It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives. In social democracies, there is less fear and uncertainty about the future because social welfare programs provide a safety net and better health care means that fewer people can expect to die young. People who are less vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature feel more in control of their lives and less in need of religion. Hence my finding of belief in God being higher in countries with a heavy load of infectious diseases.

These findings are not surprising, but his piece does not acknowledge the fact that the US, a developed country where most have access to shelter, healthcare, and education, remains extremely religious (and relatively anti-evolution). Unfortunately, in the US, there appears to be no level of affluence and comfort capable of decoupling religion and politics, despite constitutional assurances explicitly requiring it.

7.14.2011

The Batshit Files: News Roundup | 7.14.11

Is it the heat, or the stupidity?
  • Michele Bachmann's church says the Pope is the anti-christ. (Raw Story)
  • Mike Bickle, official endorser of Rick Perry's The Response prayer rally, sees marriage equality as a sign of the End Times and is rooted "in the depths of Hell." (Right Wing Watch)
  • Fox News forgets that 9/11 took place on George Bush's watch, and Dana Perino, sitting right there, fails to correct them. (Raw Story)
  • Sarah Palin on debt ceiling: 'Reload,' don't 'retreat' (LA Times)
  • Michele Bachmann flubs her Jewish cred by mispronouncing “chutzpah” (News Hounds)
  • Tea Party Nation: President Obama is just like Casey Anthony (Right Wing Watch)
  • Rick Perry wants to leave government ‘in God’s hands,’ says ‘God, you’re gonna have to fix this.’ (Think Progress)
  • Wis. GOP state senate candidate: ‘Why not teach creationism’ and put a cross in school? (TPM)
  • Poor Rupert Murdoch is 'annoyed' with all these negative headlines about his company (allegedly) hacking 9/11 victims' private voicemails. (WSJ)
  • Michele Bachmann wants to make sure you know she's not pro-slavery. (Mediaite)


7.13.2011

Tim Pawlenty Wants To Tell You (For Six Minutes) That He's A Christian

Sometimes I think that the 2011 GOP presidential nomination is going to be one big Jesus-a-thon, with each potential candidate trying to outdo the other with their over-the-top Christian-ness. Some have gone so far that they may just have screwed the pooch (sorry, bad pun in the case of Santorum). Bachmann is praying the gay away. Perry, although not committed yet to running for the nomination, is presiding over a hate-filled Jesus-palooza. Gingrich and Cain can't stop publicly maligning Muslims. And Romney has made it clear that, although Mormons have some wacky beliefs, Jesus is just alright with him.

In the following video, Tim Pawlenty and his wife look lovingly into each other's eyes and declare their love for Jesus, and for each other, rejecting the separation of church and state and gay marriage along the way. All to the soundtrack of a Valtrex ad.



Jesus, protect me from your followers.

Illusion Turns Pretty Women Into Freaky Monsters

It's called the flashed face distortion effect, and it's one of the freakiest illusions you've likely seen.

The illusion was discovered accidentally by Sean C Murphy, along with colleagues Jason M Tangen and Matthew B Thompson.

According to the abstract:

We describe a novel face distortion effect resulting from the fast-paced presentation of eye-aligned faces. When cycling through the faces on a computer screen, each face seems to become a caricature of itself and some faces appear highly deformed, even grotesque. The degree of distortion is greatest for faces that deviate from the others in the set on a particular dimension (eg if a person has a large forehead, it looks particularly large). This new method of image presentation, based on alignment and speed, could provide a useful tool for investigating contrastive distortion effects and face adaptation.

Follow the instructions accompanying the video and see for yourself.



7.12.2011

Bachmann's 'Pray The Gay Away' Business: Undercover Video

Responding to accusations that his counseling service is in the business of 'praying the gay away,' Marcus Bachmann has stated, "If someone is interested in talking to us about their homosexuality, we are open to talking about that. But if someone comes in a homosexual and they want to stay homosexual, I don't have a problem with that."

The hidden video obtained by ABC News begs to differ.



The following health organizations have made statements critical of conversion therapy, claiming that the 'therapy' can be harmful, or even fatal, to patients: the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Spanish Priest Accused of Homosexuality: 'Measure My Anus'

Andrés García Torres, a priest in the Madrid dormitory town of Fuenlabrada, has been asked to step down after a photo surfaced of the priest in a shirtless embrace with a 28 year old Cuban seminarian.

According to a report, Torres has been ordered by the bishop to undergo psychiatric therapy to ‘cure’ his homosexuality, and to have an HIV test administered.

Torres claims that he and the seminarian are only friends, and has plans to go to Rome to challenge the claims.

"Let them measure my anus and see if it is dilated," said Torres.

Torres says that his mother has cried nonstop since the accusations. The locals of Fuenlabrada reportedly praise Torres as a dedicated and caring priest. He has gained over 1,000 signatures of support.

I'm not sure what is more maddening about this story: the fact that Torres has been labeled as gay based on a benign photo, the fact that being gay is considered to be an abomination by the church, or the fact that Torres thinks that measuring one's anus could confirm one's sexual orientation.

NOTE: There seems to be more to the story than can be gleaned by the English versions of this story (Spanish stories here), but I barely passed Spanish in college. Spanish-fluent readers, feel free to comment/elaborate.




7.11.2011

Herman Cain is Dropping Some Gospel Tracks on Your Asses

Herman Cain's gospel album leaked today, and, well, it's something.

According to a Cain spokesperson, the album is unfortunately not new, but is enjoying a bit of a resurgence on the Interwebs due to Cain being a presidential hopeful and all.

You can check out the tracks below. I mean, it ain't no John Ashcroft, but then again, what is?









The Supporters of Rick Perry's Prayer Rally, In Their Own Words

No commentary necessary.



Does The GOP Really Want A President Who Believes We Are In The Last Days?

Bachmann and homophobic BFF Bradlee Dean
For a party that seems to think Obama is out to destroy America, GOP voters seem to really like Michele Bachmann, who seems to believe the end days are upon us.

In 2008, Michele Bachmann served up an insane prayer for her homophobic heavy metal BFF's You Can Run But You Cannot Hide ministry. Remember him? Bradlee Dean? He's the one who said (during the opening prayer at the Minnesota House of Representatives) that Obama is a Muslim.

Anyway, in her prayer for his ministry, Bachmann says all kinds of wackiness, including, "We are in the last days" and "the Harvest is at hand," and how there's a "fire of the gospel" sweeping Minnesota and turning it into a "sweet-smelling incense of praise and sacrifice."

Click play, close your eyes (there is no accompanying video) and imagine this woman as the president of the United States.



What a freak show.