Thursday, July 17, 2008
An Expected Pattern on the Swirling Chaos
Surprise, surprise, another hard to see image of Jesus has shown up, this time on a wooden utility pole in Alice, Texas, according to this KRIS report. Steven Newlan first noticed the face as he pulled into his driveway. The report informs us that the “image is best viewed from the right side of the pole.” I’ve been swiveling my head around, but this one is really a stretch. Maybe it’s my monitor, as plenty of people have been showing up at the corner of 6th and Dickey to take a gander and add to the shrine of flowers and candles. Clearly, there are multiple people who have seen this image, accepting it at face value (zing!).
One of my Madonna of the Toast mantras is What do you see? My interest in these phenomena is their very existence and how these events often stir up all sorts of media and cultural attention. For me, that’s the story. I’ve never been particularly interested in dissecting people’s personal beliefs. But, lots of folks do, especially scientists who seem to take it as a personal affront when someone dismisses the notion of evolution.
Recently, I found one such example in this book review of Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. I haven’t read the book and I know nothing of this blog outside of this article, which caught my attention because it provides a riled up scientist’s take on religious pareidolia:
Where the pious see the Virgin Mary in a pita, we look and see cooked bread, random mottling, and a credulous brain that matches an irregular pattern to a familiar expectation. I think we have the more accurate and useful explanation; if the religious think they have a better explanation, then they're welcome to propose it and subject it to critical evaluation. If it's just nebulous, airy-fairy "you've got to believe" or "you've got to respect our faith" B.S., then they can go get in line with the dowsers and UFOlogists and Bigfoot fans.
I don't think Giberson sees universal spiritual truths in the Madonna-in-a-pita phenomenon (but maybe he does; I'll have to read his book to find out), but he does believe in something equivalent. He is not a literalist looking for a bearded man in the sky described in the bible, but instead has this vague metaphorical notion that if he melts down the bible in the philosophical flux of his personal beliefs, he'll be able to extract something ethereal and true from its words — a beautiful, loving, personal god who thinks he is really, really important and wants to give him eternal life in a paradise. That's his Madonna-in-a-pita, his credulous imposition of an expected pattern on the swirling chaos of generations of ravings and noise and poetry that is the Christian faith.
It is the very personal nature of these occurrences that appeals to me, but I found this passage to be a very concise gloss of why people do see these faces, no matter how hard it is to see them.