Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What is the Why?

From Springfield, Massachusetts, a Virgin Mary on a window of a Catholic hospital. Reported by the Boston Herald, this faint iconic shape on the second-floor window of an empty office has attracted hundreds of people, prompting the hospital to up security, according to a spokesperson for Mercy Medical Center.

Mark Dupont of the Springfield Diocese had this to say: “The way the colors cascade would give the outline of a very common artistic impression of the Blessed Virgin . . . It’s understandable how people would see an image in it.” As always when it comes to church officials addressing these events, Dupont was careful not to claim divine intervention, rather choosing to revel in the crowds’ supplications marked by tears, prayers, rosaries and candles.

So, another example of a Virgin Mary appearance garnering the attention of the faithful, and the media. What to make of it?

Recently on the New York Times blog By the Numbers, Charles M. Blow posed the question “Why is America so religious?” His question is rooted in “a study entitled ‘Unfavorable views of Jews and Muslims on the Increase in Europe’ (which is quite disturbing). The report is part of the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.” Part of the report reveals, statistically, that poorer countries tend to contain more religious populations, with one major exception: the United States. From the study:

Despite its wealth, the United States is in the middle of the global pack when it comes to the importance of religion. Indeed, on this question, the U.S. is closer to considerably less developed nations such as India, Brazil and Lebanon than to other western nations.

See, there's the United States, there "in the middle of the global pack."

By virtue of how religion plays into politics and culture, we know this already. The frequency of these Madonna of the Toast-type sightings also backs up what these statistics suggest. But what does it really mean? What is the why?

I haven’t seen it yet (though I blogged about it last year), but I bet Bill Maher’s new movie, Religulous, touches on this question. I’m aiming to see it this weekend and will report back. In the meantime, the Times has published a review.

Lots of folks don’t like Maher, and I can understand where his detractors are coming from. I like him though because he’s not afraid to ask tough, sometimes unanswerable, questions, knowing they will irritate people. Doubtless he would have plenty to say about the Virgin Mary window and the Pew report.

Bill, feel free to drop me a line. We should talk.

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