So, it is official. The small shrine that a Belgian woman built 150 years ago outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin, has risen beyond mere landmark status. Why, do you ask? Well, the Roman Catholic Church said the apparition of the Virgin Mary that inspired the shrine is indeed, authentic. Other authorities on all things Christly are saying it is at least “worthy of belief”. Booyah!
Really? Because, I wasn’t sure if I should buy into this claim, being a batty notion and all. But, if Joey the Rat and his posse say it’s real, then well, it must be! He’s the Captain Picard of the Catholic Church. Make it so. Oh. Okay.
I have many questions. Where to start? Well, first off, why did this woman travel overseas from Belgium to that little patch of land? My guess is she was really tired and prone to irrational thought when she finally arrived. No matter, I guess that is beside the point. However, the more important question is raised: Says who? Were there witnesses (livestock does not count)? If so, does documentation exist? I can’t fathom someone would have the wherewithal to set up a camera obscura to capture the event for posterity. Just for a few giggles, I could go to any church and erupt in paroxysms of rapture and start fashioning a shrine out of twigs, stones, cigarette butts, etc., claiming I saw Mary Magdelene (might as well add some kink to this fantasy). Oh wait, then everyone would think I was crazy. Silly me.
Oh yeah, here’s another one: What was her name? Slightly to my chagrin, as I confess to relishing anything to vilify blind faith, she was actually identified. Her name was Adele Brise. Then, it must be true! What? She lost an eye in a childhood accident, you say? Perfect—a totally reliable witness to a holy sighting. Since there is a heavily visual-based theme going here, I really wanted to embed a photograph of the shrine in question. But, bloody Hell, I couldn’t find one that I was confident was indeed, THE shrine. There are just so many. What does that tell you? I found later photographs of Ms. Brise, who subsequently became Sister Brise. I’ll throw you a bone and include a pic of her:
Eek! She was a homely woman. Are they sure it wasn’t a man in drag? Sorry, must not get catty with the pious. Moving on.
Occam’s Razor is poking me in the back with this one. While imagining some immigrant from the 19th Century dropping acid puts a smile on my face, LSD was invented (created by a Hell-bound heathen, no doubt) about 80 years after the momentous occasion in question. My guess is that she was very hungry and picked a random ‘shroom to gnaw on in her travels, or perhaps ate some hinky rye bread and got ergot poisoning. Then, bammo! Instant hallucination. Or not. Insanity and other mental illnesses were cured with trepanation, blood-letting, and other torments disguised as legitimate medical practices. Perhaps she escaped that messed up fate, with delusions in tow, hopped a boat, and wound up in farm country to make dubious history.
This brings me to the title I chose for this post. I was tempted to pun the Hell out of it with something like “Zen and the Art of Moronic Manifestation” or something to that affect. I just wanted you to know that I considered it, but it seemed too contrived. Oh, kind of like . . . RELIGION (said in the Church Lady voice)! I wasn’t terribly impressed overall with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, as Robert M. Pirsig had a tendency towards tiresome circular discussions about the metaphysics of quality. It is probably why I am prone to keeping philosophical text at arm’s length. But, he is a fellow atheist, so the cockles of my heart warmed to him. There was one paragraph in there that really stood out and resonated as an astute observation with me. Paraphrased, he stated that people generally do not get fanatic about something they know to be true. His example was that we aren’t passionate about the sun rising every day, because we know it will happen regardless of the circumstances. Yet, we don’t know that a god exists, so there is fanaticism attached to that belief. Doubtful claims breed zealots.
There is definite validity to that observation. Some of the most horrific acts of violence can be traced back to religion. What was the origin of the Inquisition, causing the torture and death of hundreds of thousands of people? Religion. What inspired men to fly planes into buildings? Religion. What is the impetus for shunning homosexuals and stripping them of their humanity and reducing them to scapegoats for God’s wrath? Do you sense a theme here? The suspicion of witchcraft; the promise of 72 virgins in heaven; the Bible’s claim that homosexuality is a sin—all are outrageous claims that to be supported and defended require a fanatic devotion to the cause. Thankfully, while the majority of people vary in where they are in the different spectrums of faith, these ideas are viewed by many as specious, at best. However, enough believe them to be true to wreak wicked havoc on the world. While their mental and emotional states are considered stunted on the evolutionary scale, they are monkeys . . . with weapons of mass destruction.
Pirsig also wrote, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called a Religion.” I suppose if that Belgian woman was alone in her beliefs, she would have been institutionalized. Oh wait, she became a nun, so she kind of was. Religion has a way of enslaving those who are prone to its clutches. At best, it closes the mind while keeping the mouth free to spread the word; at worst, it lets the body stay unfettered to punish those who don’t abide.
This shrine isn’t necessarily about the more extreme consequences of religion. However, the delusion is still prevalent. It is with tremendous irony that I quote Father Thomas Rausch, a professor of theology in his response that the church should handle these decisions carefully, as there are many sightings reported (didn’t I just say that?). He said that “most Catholics are skeptical.” Get out. No, seriously, get out. You annoy me too much. This is the same group that believes all forms of birth control are murder, and incidentally, the ones who are claiming magical healing upon visiting this shrine. There are anecdotes of diseases cured, as well as abandoned canes, crutches, etc., from those who were freed from their disabilities, all for whatever time and cost it took to get to the place and sit there until they got what they wanted. I didn’t realize miracles were on blue light special.
Apparently, the life’s work of Sister Brise was enough to lend credibility to her vision. She helped build a church and an adjoining school. She also gathered people at her shrine when a forest fire broke out, and prayed to Our Lady of Good Help (all I did was copy and paste; I’m just as lost as you probably are). The fire stopped before it reached them. It’s a coinci . . . er, it’s a miracle! Her “moral fiber” was proven and her character left no reason for anyone to doubt her. Interesting. Well, I suppose since Mel Gibson is a great actor and director—he gave us Braveheart, dammit!—the Jewish and homosexual communities need to accept that they don’t deserve to live. Take that, Winona Ryder, you oven-dodger, you!