Saturday, October 27, 2007

Very brief TV appearance

I appeared on KTVK-TV 3 News last night, as the token skeptic for a story about a photograph of the painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe that supposedly weeps. It was FedEx'd to St. Anthony's Church in downtown Phoenix. I didn't have all the details when they interviewed me (they reported it as a weeping statue), so I had fairly generic answers and they used only part of one of my sentences. I was filmed in front of our own copy of the Virgin of Guadalupe--ours is cooler than the original, since it's an Octavio Ocampo metamorphic print ("Los Dones de La Virgen"). I also put a copy of Joe Nickell's Looking for a Miracle in the background.

In the parts they didn't use, I pointed out that weeping icons tend to create large crowds for a church, and then be followed by copycats at other churches, and they tend to exhibit weeping behavior associated with particular individuals (like Rev. James Bruse in Virginia, who had multiple weeping statues). I also said, drawing from Nickell's book, that the usual explanations are condensation, deliberate hoax, illusion, or imagination (the latter referring to cases of pareidolia, a word I knew would be pointless to use in a TV news interview).


Rob said...

"And so when you were in the presence of the Virgin Mary, did you feel anything special Marissa?"

"Er... you know, I don't know."

What a handover.

You can rest in the knowledge that you are the only person in the entire clip who looks even vaguely sane.

Einzige said...

" reporters I think we're skeptical by nature..."

Would that that were actually true.

Lippard said...

Rob: Thanks! I'll have to add "appears vaguely sane" to my CV.

Einzige: At least they put a skeptic in the story...

olvlzl said...

Most of the Catholics I know are deeply embarrassed by this kind of thing.

What I'd like to know is how many of the people who go to look at these things go away more likely to support housing for the homeless, nutrition programs for the hungry, health care for those without insurance and more humane prison conditions. I suspect few to none. That is almost certainly the most effective refutation, they don't follow the precepts of the religion they are allegedly observing.

I also wondered why the BVM, when she appeared in Croatia before the recent Balkan wars didn't include warnings about that along with those that girls were wearing their skirts too short.

Lippard said...

olvlzl: Oh, thank you for reminding me of another point I made in my interview--I was asked whether I thought there was any harm to such things. My answer was that when people give money to a church because it has a weeping icon, rather than giving to charities that provide food, clothing, and housing to the poor, that's a harm.

Unknown said...

so much for 15 minutes of fame, that wasn't even 15 seconds! I hope you get more air time next time. :-)

As for the money that people give to a church not going to charity, I'm sure that's not entirely accurate. Back when I was a christian, I was president of the youth group at our church, and as such I was invited to sit on the church board meetings and was able to review the church budget. The contributions of the congregation covered much more than the expenses needed to run the church, and I seem to remember as much as 50% of the total income being donated to charities such as the world hunger fund, habitat for humanity, and other charities. I also remember that the donation envelopes had little checkboxes where you could earmark your funds specifically for one of the charities rather than having it go into the churches general fund.

Obviously there is no way to know for sure how money given to that church will be handled, but it may very well make it's way to charities.

Lippard said...

While I'm sure that many churches are responsible with their funds, a study of Catholic dioceses found that 85% of them have had embezzlement in the last five years.

And I think churches that exhibit bogus weeping icons are probably more likely to be irresponsible with their funds...

(I could also mention that Catholic Churches spend lots of money on maintaining some impressive quantities of real estate, architecture, and art, as well as paying out settlements to victims of child molestation.)

olvlzl said...

Jim Lippard, there are some Catholic charities that do some pretty impressive work. The Medical Missionaries of Mary, Maryknoll, Catholic Relief Services. When talking about "The Catholic Church" it's necessary to give more detail because it isn't any one thing and it covers a lot of different groups.

You wouldn't like to be judged by the financial record of "skeptics" or atheist organizations unrelated to your activities. One of the worst problems with diocesan administration is that bishops are generally pretty incompetent, especially those put into office under JPII and Ratzinger. They were intent to appoint yes-men who would never oppose them or say anything they didn't want to hear. Under them I'm surprised the figures of financial mismanagement and theft aren't far higher. One of the problems, they hate to pay enough to get competent staff and contractors. Bishops and, to some extent, priests are dead cheap.

Einzige said...


Correct me if I'm wrong (I'm not a Catholic, and so have a good measure of ignorance in this area), but isn't the Catholic Church one giant hierarchical organization, with the Pope at the top?

Rob said...

Er, olvlzl, I think you missed the point. Of course some Catholic charities are doing good things. That's what 100% of them are SUPPOSED to be doing in fact.

However, if 85% of Catholic charities are embezzling funds, the chances are that the ones with weeping statues are amongst them. You said yourself that it embarrasses your Catholic friends.

That's the point Jim was making. He was agreeing with you, and I don't think that it was a gross generalisation.

And as it is, bloggers, atheists and skeptics are all judged as groups regularly by Catholics, Americans and Republicans. They're just labels.

The ones who do good stand out, they don't blend in to the general crowd and make do. Jim stands out, and stands up, on the tv, and tells it like he sees it. If more people did this, the world might be a more tolerant place.

olvlzl said...

einzige, in a word, no. Catholics, in general are not answerable to the Pope, some religious and clergy are but Catholics in general, no. They are answerable to their conscience.

In practice large parts of the church, even some organizations run by religious and clergy go for long stretches of time paying very little attention to the pope or his Vatican lackies. Most of the Catholics I've known have more of an attachment to their local parish than they do the Vatican. A lot of Catholics have a more skeptical attitude towards the pope than I've found is generally true of atheists and the current atheist hero of the Best Seller's List. Look at how Christopher Hitchens is held up on atheist blogs as if he isn't a piece of self-serving slime.

The last two popes have tried to centralize power in the Vatican after the previous two popes decentralized it. But they haven't had much success except among some of the farthest reaches of conservatives and reactionaries and the American media that makes believe on their behalf. Look at the figures on how many Catholics agree with the pope on issues of sexual morality and abortion.

Rob, you think I didn't know that Catholic charities are supposed to be doing good work? Where do you come up with that from what I wrote?

Were you guilty of the financial irregularities of the American Atheists? I'd suspect the answer is no, if you weren't responsible for them. Well, why should Catholics in general be answerable for the thefts done by other people? Of their own money? That would include clergy and hierarchy who haven't done anything wrong.

olvlzl said...

rob, I suspect you think that these oily statues are in some way an official part of Catholic practice. They aren't. Catholics aren't required to believe in any of the alleged apparitions of Mary or weeping statues or any of that other stuff. It used to be the most typical way for them to be handled by the church by suppressing them.

I have the feeling that a lot of you are ex-protestants who carry a lot of the anti-papist mythology into this. As a very ex-Catholic, most of that is horse feathers.

Einzige said...

Look at how Christopher Hitchens is held up on atheist blogs as if he isn't a piece of self-serving slime.

I'm not a regular reader of atheist blogs (frankly it gets pretty boring fairly quickly), so I'm not familiar with what you're describing. I'm curious, though, if you truly mean that people are holding up the person of Christopher Hitchens. That strikes me as less likely than that they might instead be simply agreeing with something he has said.

olvlzl said...

Einzige, having criticized Hitchens on a number of blogs, both atheist and apathetic in such matters on matters both religious and political and having the atheist choir come done on me like a bunch of harpies is an experience that can be frightening. I'd imagine. I'd imagine because I found it to be both interesting and rather fun.

If he had never written God is Not Great or Missionary Position I'll bet at least three quarters wouldn't have ever heard of the ex-trot, ex-leftist, and, since his rabid advocacy of Bush War II isn't doing much for his career, soon to be ex-Bushite. The atheist blogs are centers of hero worship. I do agree with you that almost all of them are boring. Atheists who have some kind of life of the mind don't seem to be very interested in them. Still, they are a cultural phenomenon right now, though not as influential as most of the subjects of the check-out tabs. So I look into it. The fad will pass, though it will live on in the minds of the middle-brow consumers of the best sellers, like the meme does.

Einzige said...

I first heard of Hitchens when I saw a video of a debate between him and George Galloway back a couple years ago. Although I find his (or anyone's) support of the war dismaying, I have to admit that it's at least the most well reasoned support I've come across (I also think he comes off better than Galloway in that debate, sadly). Because if his war-mongering I never had much interest in reading his books.

Recently, I saw this debate between Hitchens and Alister McGrath and I found much to agree with in what Hitchens said (and I think he wiped the floor with McGrath).

Having said all that, I wonder if I would qualify as a Hitchens-worshipper, in your mind, olvlzl.

The atheist blogs are centers of hero worship.

Now, I've known more than a few unthinking atheists in my time, but I strongly suspect that you're engaging in a little bit of hyperbole, here, olvlzl. Hero worship?

Lippard said...

olvlzl: If you think atheist blogs are all or mostly engaged in hero-worship of Hitchens, your attention is selective. It appears to me that opinions are quite well mixed, and if there's anything close to consensus it's that he speaks well but is often unreliable.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: he's responsible for a misrepresentation of Thomas Jefferson repeated by Dawkins, and a misrepresentation of Ben Franklin, also repeated by Dawkins.

Evolving Thoughts (a philosopher): Links to and expresses agreement with a critical review of Hitchens' book.

Pharyngula: Hitchens wrong and irrational about the war in Iraq (but also see Chris Hallquist, who argues that there's some misrepresentation here).

Smooth Pebbles: Hitchens more like "a boorish drunk" on war in Iraq and claim that women aren't funny. BTW, I've posted a comment here about why one might think, on the basis of the availability heuristic, that women don't make good comedians or film directors. It's a lot easier to bring to mind five good well-known male standup comics than five good well-known female standup comics. (Also note Sarah Dasher's comment here.)

Lippard said...

olvlzl: I think this Hitchens fest would have been more appropriate on this blog post about Hitchens.

And note that my post is another counter-example to your "hero worship" claim.

Einzige said...

And note that my post is another counter-example to your "hero worship" claim.

Jim, even if you had said "I agree with everything Hitchens says in this clip" I contend that it still wouldn't constitute "hero worship."

To get that far I think you'd have to venture into "Hitchens' shit doesn't stink" territory.

Olvlzl seems to be saying that "the atheist bloggers", wholesale, are engaging in a form of the ad hominem fallacy --"Hitchens is right because he's Hitchens!!"

Is that not in fact what you are saying, olvlzl? What else could you mean when you say that Hitchens is "being held up on atheist blogs"?

Hume's Ghost said...

I used to have the Hitchens website (links to about everything he writes anywhere) in my blogroll. I removed it because his attrocious mental gymnastics in defending the War On Terror make me question to what extent he has employed such gymnastic in his other writings.

Still, I admire a lot of what he has written. Not least of which his biography of Jefferson (the bit with Jefferson's deism is only a minor blip in it) and his book on Orwell. And I look forward to reading his biography of Paine's Rights of Man.

Oh, and here's another member of the nefarious Paul Kurtz atheist fundamentalist McCarthyist plot who isn't hero worshipping Hitchens. Incidentally, here's the same member of the Kurtz cult (writer for both Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer) critiquing Dawkins.

olvlzl said...

And note that my post is another counter-example to your "hero worship" claim.

Did you think I meant you, Jim Lippard? No. You don't tend to hero worship here. You have found several mentions of Hitchens on a few blogs. Go in disguise and make a substantial criticism of his dishonesty and perfidy on a number of atheist blogs and see what happens. I'd be curious to see if what you find matches my experience.

Having recently compared his Vanity Fair spa shots in the almost altogether to "spotted dick" I don't think I'd care to fest on him.

Einzige, I've been reading Hitchens for decades and have watched his ever morphing positions, ever following some twisted and twisting road to self-aggrandizement.

Hume's Ghost, Hitchens was featured in one of the recent sensationalist, tabloid style, come-ons I got from Skeptical Inquirer or Curious Inquirer or one other of the Kurtzian-quirers. Perhaps the old man isn't keeping up with his creations these days.

I'll point out that if you wait a while Hitchens eventually turns on the people who thought he was their friend. The guy is a backstabber of the first water.