Don’t Be A Catholic Shaman
With ugly regularity one reads of pious Catholics all too ready to give to simple facts a meaning that goes beyond the event, and that they take as unmistakable “God's special sign”; generally, these people do not resist the temptation to give voice to their own superstition, as if their strange theories were obvious for the world to see.
Let us take a couple of examples.
The day Pope Benedict resigned, a blizzard fell on St. Peter's dome. Countless Catholics were ready to read in it a sign of the wrath of heaven. They were ready to do it, of course, because they didn't agree with Pope Benedict's decision in the first place. If I don't like the decision, the reasoning goes, it follows that God must be displeased with it. If God is displeased with it, then let us look at something that corroborates my conviction.
If Pope Benedict had excommunicated Hans Kueng on the same day instead of resigning, I wonder whether the very same lightning would have been interpreted as a sign of God's wrath for the decision.
In those days, some went to even worse extremes: every natural phenomenon of some kind – there is always a storm somewhere, and the next earthquake can't be far away, either – was taken as a witness of what they were already persuaded of. It reminded me of Redskin shamans explaining to the uninitiated the wrath of Manitu.
I even read of someone having bad dreams, which left no doubt in her mind something very wrong had just happened. Hey, she had bad dreams. What else do you need to be persuaded.
But then during the 2013 conclave some bird took place on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, and the shamans were all in a flutter for the contrary reason adduced for the lightning. Ah, a bird stopped to rest over a chimney. What a miracle.
Or think of this: when an extremely strong earthquake and sea quake took the extremely Catholic Messina in, I think, 1908 and killed around 100,000 people, no one deduced from an earthquake and sea quake in a most Catholic city of a most Catholic Country with a most Catholic pope (St. Pius X, no less) that God must be angry at that particular papacy…
This “shaman” mentality extends to very trivial events; like predatory birds attacking the doves just freed by Bishop Francis The Peaceful Killer Of Clueless Birds. Ominous, they said. A sign of the times. Strangely, they never saw a sign of the times on the many occasions in which the doves went away peacefully (to be killed by some other bird shortly thereafter, surely…). Still, if one is prone to such coffee reading he is perfectly free to conclude that God protects the peaceful dove as it flies peacefully away from St. Peter's squares, showing God's support for the humble Pope Of Peace, Francis The Peaceful Protector Of Doves.
Look: birds attack birds. It happens all the time. It's part of the rich fabric of Creation.
The mentality that this implies is a very strange one indeed: God talks to us through events that can be deciphered only by those who already know what God wants to say. Funny world.
The simple truth of the matter is that natural disasters, diseases, and the like all happen because the Garden of Even is no more, and we must live in a world full of imperfections and troubles, and in which the disgraces and diseases are, as a whole, the fruit of our disobedience. Still, cancer will strike the good as well as the bad, earthquakes will destroy the most heathen or the most Catholic of cities, doves will be attacked or not attacked by predatory birds, and the lightning rods of the highest buildings of the surroundings will continue to attract lightnings more than the lightning rods of the surrounding buildings until the end of time.
I invite my readers to have a more reasonable approach to natural events; not only because it is the reasonable thing to do, but equally importantly because if one starts to take random facts as evidence that God is on his side he will rapidly blind itself to the falseness of the most outlandish theories, and will start to believe in whatever he pleases, certain of the reassurance of the next lightning, or earthquake, or comet, or storm, or anything else that may serve the purpose, anywhere on the entire planet.
If my Internet connection is not working, is God telling me I must stop blogging? If I opened my blog and the statistics reader says “666”, am I in the thrall of Satan? Pope Francis has a cold: surely, God is warning him! I got a cold: surely, God wants me to stay home today and blog like there's no tomorrow!
Do not give any heed to Catholic shamans. If you do, belief in daily apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, followed by a fax to the adoring crowds, cannot be far away.