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Religion
Promoters of the Manoppello Image are hoping that it's soon going to be as popular as the Shroud of Turin. Like the Shroud, it's supposedly the actual face of Jesus miraculously imprinted onto a piece of cloth.

But I see a problem with their plan. The Shroud of Turin, say what you will about it, genuinely looks mysterious and creepy. But the Manoppello Image just looks like a bad painting.
U.S. Pilgrims Flock to Manoppello’s Shrine After Benedict XVI Visit
National Catholic Register

Pilgrims have flocked to see an image debated to be the veil of Veronica, the resurrection cloth of Christ or a centuries-old hoax...

Some believe the image is the storied "veil of Veronica," the cloth Veronica in the Gospel used to dry Christ's face as he carried the cross to his crucifixion. Others say it is the "Resurrection cloth," a sudarium that covered Christ's face in the tomb. Still others take it as a centuries-old hoax.
What is certain is that none of them can prove how the image — which is present on a fine mussel-silk cloth without the use of any pigments — was created.
Paul Badde, the German author of The Face of God, is convinced that the image is the one and only "Holy Sudarium," the "napkin" from Christ's sepulcher that St. John refers to in his Gospel. In revealing Christ's face at the moment of the Resurrection, he calls it "the first and authentic page of all the Gospels."
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 31, 2014
Comments (2)
A news story has been circulating recently about a west African preacher, Franck Kabele, who drowned while trying to show his congregation that he could walk on water just like Jesus Christ.


This story is almost certainly a hoax that media outlets are repeating as real news.

The Christian Post notes that this story about Franck Kabele was first reported in British papers back in August 2006. They say it first appeared in the Scottish Daily Record, but I found it printed a day earlier (Aug 29, 2006) in the London Evening Standard, as follows:
Priest drowns 'walking on water'
The Evening Standard (London) - Aug 29, 2006

A PRIEST in Gabon has drowned as he tried to demonstrate how Jesus walked on water.
Franck Kabele, 35, told churchgoers in the west African country's capital Libreville that after a revelation he realised that if he had enough faith he could walk on water like Jesus. "He took his congregation to the beach in Libreville saying he would walk across the Komo estuary, which takes 20 minutes by boat," said an onlooker. "He walked into the water, which soon passed over his head and he never came back."

The story had no byline. No details were provided about what church this priest belonged to. And further information never materialized. The story eventually ran in quite a few papers, but always with the exact same details and lack of sources. All of which raises red flags.


So where could this story have come from? Well, digging deeper back into news archives, I found a similar Reuters story that ran back in October 1993. Here's the version that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Minister, Students Drown Trying to Walk on Water
THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE - Friday, October 29, 1993

A group of Tanzanian students and a minister who tried to walk on water have drowned in Lake Victoria, police said yesterday.

The members of the Seventh-day Adventist church were traveling in a flotilla of canoes to a religious festival when they decided to make the walk on water .

"They decided to test their faith by walking on the water like Jesus, but they all drowned,'' a police spokesman said.

Other participants in the pilgrimage looked on helplessly from the shore as the victims drowned. Police are questioning four ministers who arranged the pilgrimage, but they said parents and relatives of the dead will not press charges.

This story had a lot more details, but it turned out to be a case of incorrect reporting. A week later the Seventh-day Adventist Church issued an official statement denying the report:
"Contrary to what Reuters reported, the fact is that on Sat., Oct. 23, a group of Pathfinders (a Scout-like organization) who had gone by boat to attend a Pathfinder rally on a nearby island met with a tragic accident on their way back. Their boat capsized. Of the 20 people in the boat, eight girls and two adults drowned. Ten other young people swam to safety... None of the church members involved was trying to 'walk on water'."

So here's my guess about what happened. The 1993 story about the Tanzanian students and minister drowning must have transformed into an urban legend that circulated in Africa. Details were changed. The students were omitted. The location shifted. But the key detail about a church leader drowning while trying to walk on water remained.

Until eventually, in 2006, the story was heard by a reporter, who wrote it up as a news story and sent it out via a news-wire service, from which it was picked up by British papers that never bothered to fact-check it.

And seven years later it's surfaced again. Proving that a good story never dies. It just gets recycled endlessly.

(Thanks to LaMa for first calling attention to this story in the Hoax Forum.)
Categories: Journalism, Religion
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 15, 2014
Comments (0)
The War on Christmas! Looks like some people are taking seriously this spoof National Report article about a 9-year-old kid being suspended for wishing his atheist teacher a Merry Christmas.


National Report is one of the many satirical news sites that are now online. Although you have to search its site for a while before finding its disclaimer ("National Report is a news and political satire web publication"), because they don't post it on the bottom of every page, which can easily lead people to believe its stories are real.
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 16, 2013
Comments (1)
As Bishop Bhekibandla was receiving an Honorary Doctorate Certificate at Moses Bible College of South Africa, a dove appeared out of nowhere inside the assembly hall and started flying around his head. Some people in the audience — most of whom were members of the Jericho Church — started crying, weeping hysterically, shouting amen, and calling out that it was a sign from God showing them who their rightful leader was.

Not so, says rival Bishop Khanyakwezwe, who insists that the sudden appearance of the dove was some kind of cheesy "propaganda stunt." He elaborates, "The dove came with some of Bhekibandla followers just to deceive the Jerichos that he is the rightful Jericho leader which is not the case." [Times of Swaziland]
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 02, 2013
Comments (0)
Glad they got this cleared up. Satanists on the loose might have scared away the tourists.

Pony 'killed by Satanists' died of natural causes
Plymouth Herald

A pony found mutilated on Dartmoor in what was claimed could be a Pagan ritual died of natural causes, according to Devon and Cornwall police. A pony was found near Plymouth with organs and features missing or placed outside its body in July this year - leading to fears it could have been deliberately killed and arranged as part of a ritual. Police say their investigation has concluded, and that the animal died of natural causes. They say the mutilation was down to wild animals.
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 22, 2013
Comments (0)
On Monday, a man calling himself "Basilius," wearing a cassock, black fedora and purple sash, tried to gain access to the pre-conclave meeting of cardinals at the Vatican. He made it through one level of security before being stopped by the Swiss Guard. Spiegel Online has a profile of the guy, whose real name is Ralph Napierski. Apparently Napierski has a history of posing as a Catholic bishop, though Spiegel isn't quite sure what to make of him, debating whether he's "a joker, a church critic or simply an eccentric with strong leanings toward esotericism."

Napierski's history includes: Claiming to be the leader of the "Catholic Order Corpus Dei" (a non-existent order, but perhaps a play on the real "Opus Dei"); conducting a fake auction on eBay that "drove the price of a small digital photo to €10 million" (he said he did it to highlight a security loophole); and attending Berlin's "Venus" erotic trade fair, dressed as a priest, in order, so he said, to promote the use of sex toys by Catholics.

In the thumbnail below, Napierski is the guy on the left. You can also check out Napierski's website.

Famous Fake Bishop: Germany's Mysterious Vatican Gatecrasher
spiegel.de

In Rome, Napierski looked almost convincing in his smart black trilby, violet sash, and crucifix on a chain. Maybe the sneakers gave him away. He strode up to various eminences, shaking hands and smiling into cameras, telling people his name was "Basilius" and he was a member of the "Italian Orthodox Church" -- which doesn't actually exist.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 07, 2013
Comments (0)
Columbian.com reports that there appears to have been a dramatic increase in Jewish prisoners at Washington State prisons, based on food requests at these institutions. The evidence: in 2011 approximately 1 percent of the inmates requested special kosher meals. But now, 2 years later, almost 11 percent of inmates are requesting them.

Federal law requires that the state honors religious dietary requests. The problem is that the kosher meals are more expensive than normal meals — $6.80 more expensive per day, for each request. However, "experts are dubious of some prisoners' sincerity." That is, they doubt all these prisoners really are Jewish.

Gary Friedman, a former Jewish corrections chaplain and "a leading authority on dietary rules and regulations in the United States corrections system," theorizes that the prisoners have figured out a way to get what they think is safer, better food:

"The primary motivation is, they think it's safer. I can't count how many times it's happened, how many times it has come up, that you hear stories how (jails) buy food that is out of date or how inmate workers are tainting the food. So they think (kosher meals) are safer and it is of better quality."

Prisons can't deny the requests outright. So what they're doing instead is monitoring the behavior of the prisoners outside of the food hall — observing what items they purchase from the prison store and what they barter for. If the prisoners are caught engaging in non-Jewish behavior, their kosher food privileges are revoked.

Categories: Food, Religion
Posted by Alex on Sun Jan 27, 2013
Comments (2)
Thousands of people in Cambodia are flocking to see a "magic log" that was found at the bottom of a pond earlier this month. It's a big log (42 feet long). But what makes it magical, in the eyes of the people journeying to see it, is that it appears so well preserved for a log that's been underwater for a while. From Sky News:

Battambang province local, Nem Nay, explained to Reuters why he believed the log was magical: 'What I think is, why does this log not rot, even though it stayed underground for over a hundred years? It is still in such good state, unlike some metals, which would have rusted if it stayed underground for that long. I have never seen such a well-preserved log before, so when I heard the news, a group of villagers and I came to see it straight away', he said.

Some of the log's visitors hope it can cure them of their illnesses. But the majority seem to be hoping that the log will reveal winning lottery numbers to them if they rub talcum powder on it.
Categories: Paranormal, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 31, 2012
Comments (7)
Interesting article in tehelka.com about Tarksheel, the Punjab Rationalist Society, which is a chapter of the larger Indian Rationalist Society. Its members try to combat superstition by using logic and skeptical inquiry. After reading the article, it sounds like they have an uphill struggle ahead of them. Some highlights:

The head of the Indian Rationalist Association, Sanal Edamaruku, spent close to 23 hours in a studio in New Delhi last year, while a sadhu invited by the news channel pranced around, muttering a curse that would supposedly end Edamaruku's life on air. This April, he faced the ire of the Organisation of Concerned Catholics when he unravelled a 'miracle' at a church in Mumbai. Edamaruku discovered that the droplets of water trickling from a statue of Jesus Christ in Vile Parle were, in fact, from a nearby drainage system, and is currently facing arrest for 'blasphemy'.

And also:

THE LION'S share of cases on Tarksheel's investigative roster involves 'possessed' women. Rora says the easiest way to discourage women from moving around freely or mingling with the opposite sex is to instill fear in the form of supernatural repercussions from an early age. The myths that proliferate in villages are centred on feminine virtue and its containment. Oft-repeated ones include djinns love women with open hair, or those who wear perfume, or new brides. Walking under a peepul tree at midnight or when everyone is asleep in the afternoon is a sure way to get possessed.
Categories: Paranormal, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 20, 2012
Comments (2)
Back in ninth-century Japan, there was a religious charlatan who earned the title bei-fun-hijiri or "saint of rice excrements". Before telling how he acquired this title, I should relate how I came across his story, which was in a rather roundabout way.

First, I came across a post on the Of Small Wonders & Great Wanders blog about the ancient art of self-mummification, developed by ascetic monks of the Shingon sect in northern Japan:

It was initiated by Kobo Daishi (774-835), who took the decision to end his days meditating in a cave. His disciples later found that his body was mummified, which was quite mystical! The Sokushinbutsu tradition developed from there and consisted on willingly becoming a mummy by having a special diet to dry your body.

This led me to wikipedia page about Sokushinbutsu, which further explains:

Sokushinbutsu were Buddhist monks or priests who caused their own deaths in a way that resulted in their mummification. This practice reportedly took place almost exclusively in northern Japan around the Yamagata Prefecture. It is believed that many hundreds of monks tried, but only between 16 and 24 such mummifications have been discovered to date. The practice is not advocated or practised today by any Buddhist sect...

For 1,000 days the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another thousand days and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls.

This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it made the body too poisonous to be eaten by maggots. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive.

When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed. After the tomb was sealed, the other monks in the temple would wait another 1,000 days, and open the tomb to see if the mummification was successful. If the monk had been successfully mummified, they were immediately seen as a Buddha and put in the temple for viewing. Usually, though, there was just a decomposed body. Although they were not viewed as a true Buddha if they were not mummified, they were still admired and revered for their dedication and spirit.


The self-mummified body of Chûkai Shônin

The wikipedia page, in turn, led me to a 1962 article in the Journal History of Religions: "Self-Mummified Buddhas in Japan," by Ichiro Hori. The article provides a great deal of information about the development of the art of self-mummification — much much detail than I'll go into here. The important point (since it leads us to the Saint of Rice Excrements) is that Hori argues that the self-mummification ritual emerged out of the practice of abstention from cereals (mokujiki-gyô). That is, the practice of not eating rice and subsisting only on fruits and nuts.

Abstention from cereals was considered an important training exercise for Shingon ascetics since a) it required a lot of willpower, and b) it was believed to give one superhuman powers. But of course, human nature being what it is, there were those on the no-cereal diet who cheated. Which leads us, finally, to the Saint of Rice Excrements. I'll let Ichiro Hori tell the rest of the story.

There is the case reported by the Montoku Jitsuroku (Official Record during the Reign of Emperor Montoku, 850-58) in which an upâsaka who came to Kyoto in 854 announced that he abstained from cereals. An imperial edict provided him with a lodging in the Imperial Garden named Shinsen-en, and he there became the object of worship by the citizens of Kyoto, who asked him to pray for them and the welfare of their private affairs. Many women especially were dazzled by the brilliance of his reputation. After about a month, however, someone claimed that he was eating rice at midnight and going to the toilet early every morning. Others then spied upon his doings and discovered high piles of rice excrement. As a result, public estimation for him rapidly declined, and he was dubbed a bei-fun-hijiri (saint of rice excrements).
Categories: Death, Food, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 17, 2012
Comments (0)
E.J. Gold describes himself as a "psychic cook". Or, at least, he briefly kept a blog on which he described himself in this way and offered various psychic recipes.


His recipe for a psychic omelette starts off in a pretty standard way, but once the eggs have begun to harden in the frying pan, the psychic part kicks in:

8. It's at this point that you begin chanting "OM MANI PADME HUM" until the omelette has cooked to your satisfaction on the topside. Then with a deft scoop of the spatula, send the omelette into the air slightly, just enough to flip it over, and get the pan under it to catch the turned-over omelette just right. This takes a bit of practice. The omelette will always have the same look to it at the exact right turning point...you need to observe it with your full attention to determine when that will be. There's a bubbling effect just before the turn point. Think like an alchemist to get this right.

9. When the omelette is firm, but not overcooked, and definitely NOT browned, it's time to turn it over again for a moment or two, add your internal ingredients such as cheese, yogurt, green peppers or whatever, then fold the omelette in half, slip it onto a prepared plate with all your other items already on it, add pepper or topping to taste, and serve. Now you can stop chanting "OM MANI PADME HUM". You have fulfilled your Way of Service for the moment. And that's how a psychic makes a great omelette.

I'm not totally sure whether he was being serious when he posted this blog (Poe's Law), but given the info in his wikipedia bio, I'm leaning toward the conclusion that he was.

Maybe I'll give this psychic cooking a try one of these days and see if it makes any difference.
Categories: Food, Religion
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 07, 2012
Comments (0)
This auction managed to generate some attention from the internet — enough to get it pulled from eBay. Try as anyone might, no one could see the image the seller claimed was there. And the guy wanted $88.40 just for shipping. Apparently the auction was really just a thinly veiled anti-Mormon diatribe. Link: gawker.com.

Categories: Pareidolia, Politics, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 19, 2012
Comments (1)
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