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A new theory about the Shroud of Turin: Lillian Schwartz, a graphic consultant at the School of Visual Arts in New York, thinks Leonardo da Vinci created it. Her reasoning is that "the face on the Turin Shroud and a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci share the same dimensions."

The self-portrait of da Vinci and the face on the shroud do look similar, but I thought it was pretty well established that the shroud dates back to at least 1355, which would make it too old for da Vinci to have created, since he was born in 1452. [Daily Mail]
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 06, 2009
Comments (11)
Shroud of Turin News: A Vatican historian says she's uncovered documents indicating that between 1204 and 1353 the Shroud of Turin was kept hidden by the Knights Templar, who worshipped it as a holy relic. Apparently they required their members to "venerate the image by kissing its feet three times." (Some of their other rituals may have involved spitting on the cross, stripping naked and kissing their superior on the buttocks, navel, and lips, and submitting to sodomy.) The Vatican is still remaining mum about whether they think it's the genuine shroud in which Christ was buried, or a forgery. [Times Online]
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (5)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rest of his new government posed for an official photo in Jerusalem on April 1. But when the photo appeared in the ultra-orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman, all the women had been digitally removed from the photo. Apparently ultra-orthodox Jews don't like the idea of women in politics and seem to believe that if they can't see them, then they don't exist. [Suomen Kuvalehti]
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (4)
An urban legend has been circulating for a number of years that mockingly describes April Fool's Day as a holy day for atheists:

In Florida, an atheist created a case against the Easter & Passover holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians, Jews & observances of their holy days. The argument was, it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized day(s). The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer,the judge banged his gavel declaring, 'Case dismissed.'
The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, 'Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter & others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur & Hanukkah. Yet my client & all other atheists have no such holidays.'
The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, 'But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant.'
The lawyer said, 'Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists.'
The judge said, 'The calendar says April 1st is 'April Fools Day.' Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned.

This Florida court case never occurred in real life, and the point of the story is to brand atheists as fools. Nevertheless, the idea of designating April 1st as an "Atheist Holy Day" seems to be growing in popularity among atheists themselves. At least, I've seen an increasing number of blog posts in support of the idea.

From a historical perspective, April 1st is an interesting choice as an Atheist Holy Day, because the Christian church has had a complex, often antagonistic relationship with traditions of Foolery. Early christianity held the symbol of the Fool in high esteem. St. Paul described Christ as being like a Fool, and medieval monks aspired to be "Fools for Christ." There was also the Festus Fatuorum, or Feast of Fools -- a medieval Christian holiday observed around January 1. It was a day on which low-ranking clergy would symbolically usurp the roles of their superiors. A mock bishop or pope would be elected and paraded through the streets. The clergy would dress up as women, sing bawdy songs, play dice at the altar, and substitute stinking smoke for the incense. The historian Rogan Taylor described it as being "like a religious chimney sweeping, brushing away the year's repressed and hidden blasphemy, in a riot of filth and irreligion."

However, by the seventeenth century church officials had largely succeeded in suppressing the celebration of the Feast of Fools. The Church was uncomfortable with the symbolism of the Fool. After all, the Fool is usually embraced by opponents of the establishment, but the Church was itself the establishment.

So since the church exiled Foolery from its midst, it would be somehow fitting if atheists were to adopt April Fool's Day as their own. And why not? The values that the Fool represents (mischief, paradox, uncertainty) do seem to be more compatible with atheism than with modern mainstream Christianity.
Categories: April Fools Day, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 20, 2009
Comments (12)
A carving on the ancient Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia has become a favorite of creationists, because it looks kinda like a stegosaurus. And, of course, if there's a carving of a stegosaurus on an ancient temple, that supports their belief that dinosaurs and humans once lived together.

However, as Brian Switek points out on the Smithsonian blog, two other explanations are more likely:

a) The carving is something other than a stegosaurus:
If viewed directly, the carving hardly looks Stegosaurus-like at all. The head is large and appears to have large ears and a horn. The “plates” along the back more closely resemble leaves, and the sculpture is a better match for a boar or rhinoceros against a leafy background.

b) The carving may be a stegosaurus, but it's not an ancient carving:
There are rumors that it was created recently, perhaps by a visiting movie crew (the temple is a favorite locale for filmmakers), and it is possible that someone created something Stegosaurus-like during the past few years as a joke.
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 13, 2009
Comments (19)
It's been a while since I've done a pareidolia roundup, so a few of these are a couple months old.

Virgin Mary in Salsa Stain
"Elvia Alvarez was recently using her blender to make salsa in her kitchen. Some of the salsa splattered onto the wall, creating what Alvarez says is the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since this happened. Alvaraz says it's a sign that people need to be nicer to each other." Funny. I thought it was a sign she needs to be more careful when making salsa.

Jesus in Guitar
Employees at International Music and Sound in Ludington, Michigan are seeing the face of Jesus in the grain of a guitar. The guitar, which is made out of maple wood, is manufactured by the Washburn Company.

Jesus on Doggie Door
Roger Bowman was about to put his dogs down. But then he saw that the face of Jesus had formed on their doggie door, so he changed his mind. Now he's decided to sell the divine doggie door on eBay. Bidding is currently at $1185. No word on what will happen to the dogs once the door is gone.

Celestial Smiley Face
Astronomers have been abuzz about a rare alignment of Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon that creates a giant smiley face in the night sky. Is no one going to say it looks like Jesus?

Jesus Face in melted chocolate cookie
"Lois Preira, of Ullswater Road, was enjoying a cookie and a cup of tea when she noticed a face in the melted chocolate on the plate." Whose face could it be? Why Jesus, of course!

Obama on Toast
Some guy claimed that the face of Barack Obama "miraculously appeared" on a piece of wonder bread he was toasting, the day after Obama was elected president. Even more miraculous, he managed to sell the "Hope Toast" on eBay for $205.

Jesus or Shakespeare on Banana Peel
Theresa Smith writes: "I was at work getting ready to eat my banana... I peeled it and happened to look at it and noticed a face on the peel! But what I saw was just half the face.. once I put the peel back onto the banana I couldn't believe what I saw! It's Jesus on the banana! It could be Shakespeare too depending on your point of view."

Buddha in Wasp's Nest
Cambodian Buddhists in Rochester, Minnesota noticed that a wasp's nest built in the eaves of their temple looked like Buddha. One monk, Moeun Ngop, said that the wasps were trying to communicate Buddha's message. Would that message be, it's time to hire an exterminator?

Virgin Mary in Hospital Window
Back in September, crowds gathered outside Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts to see what looked like the image of the Virgin Mary in a second-story window. But one of the Sisters of Providence, who dropped by to check it out, was actually kinda skeptical. She said it might be nothing more than "the illusions which light and shadows can cause."
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 03, 2008
Comments (12)
Coffee Stain Christ
Four years ago Sam Marinos had a cup of coffee with his wife. When he was done he turned the cup upside down to allow the grounds to run down the side of the cup -- which is some kind of tradition in his family. He was then "stunned" to see that the grounds had formed what looked to him like the face of Jesus. He's now considering selling the Jesus cup on eBay.

Drywall Jesus
Omar Craddock was doing some work in a client's kitchen when he spotted the image of a face in the drywall mud on an unfinished wall. He immediately thought: Jesus! His brother-in-law, who was with him, is remaining more skeptical, refusing to put a name to the image. But both agree that "For drywall finishing this was a pretty exciting day."

Virgin Mary Grape
Becky Ginn was about to throw away some rotten grapes, but before she did she turned one over and thought, "oh that looks like the Virgin Mary." The grape is now preserved in her freezer. She insists that she has no intention of trivializing the experience. I assume this means she won't be selling it on eBay.

Oyster Shell Jesus
An Orlando woman, while walking down the beach, found an oyster shell that appears to show the face of Jesus. She also found a shell showing the Virgin Mary. "The woman claimed she has had nothing but good luck since finding the shells." I'm not sure if the thumbnail shows the Jesus or Virgin Mary shell, because I can't make out anything in it.

Water Stain Jesus
Seen at a One Stop Body Shoppe in Arkansas City, Kansas. According to the manager: "A client was laying here looking up and told me, Michelle, you have Jesus on your ceiling. I just kind of looked at her, and she said you do, Jesus on the ceiling." The water-stained ceiling tile may soon be headed to eBay.

Thanks to Cranky Media Guy and Stannous Flouride!
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 01, 2008
Comments (29)
Yesterday the film critic Roger Ebert posted an article to his website that reads very much like an endorsement of creationism. It starts:

Questions and answers on Creationism, which should be discussed in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution:

Q. When was the earth created?
A. Archbishop James Usher, working out a chronology from the Bible, calculated in 1654 that the earth was created on the night of October 23, 4004 B.C. Other timetables reach back as far as 10,000 years.

The article contains nothing that would indicate satire, so it already has people scratching their heads, wondering what the deal is. Ebert was never known to have creationist leanings. In fact, he's openly criticized creationism before, such as in this article from 2005 in which he writes: "Evolution is indeed a theory. Creationism is a belief, not a theory."

I'm guessing it must be some kind of attempt to provoke debate. Either that or he's gone off his rocker. (Thanks, Bob!)

Update: Ebert has revealed that his creationism article was meant to be satirical. He scolds his readers for not realizing this, claiming that we as a culture are losing our sense of irony.

Ebert doesn't seem to appreciate what makes a good hoax, which is that people should fall for it at first, but recognize in hindsight how ridiculous it was. Ebert's hoax fails this test because even in hindsight his article doesn't seem ridiculous. Unfortunately, people really do believe that crap.
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 23, 2008
Comments (14)
Poe's Law, coined by Nathan Poe on the Christian Forums site, states:

in general, it is hard to tell fake fundamentalism from the real thing, since they both sound equally ridiculous. The law also works in reverse: real fundamentalism can also be indistinguishable from parody fundamentalism.

Cranky Media Guy recently submitted an example:

It contains passages such as:

So God put Adam to sleep and ripped out one of his ribs and behold, we find out that women originate from bones! So men come from dirt and women come from bone. Now that's real science in action and if you disagree you are going to Hell!

My b.s. meter says it's parody, but because of Poe's Law, I'm not totally certain.
Categories: Religion, Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 17, 2008
Comments (5)
It's time for the monthly pareidolia roundup:

Toronto Virgin Mary
Christopher Moreau was having a beer in his garden, when he realized that scarring on a tree limb in his yard looked kind of like the Virgin Mary. His neighbor is a bit skeptical, but doesn't really care as long as the religious sightseers stay out of her yard.

JC in Cell Phone
Pensacola resident Linda Square thinks an image stored on her cell phone shows her in silhouette with Jesus Christ beside her. She swears that no one sent her the photo, and she didn't take it herself. The phone created it! Congratulations to anyone who can see ANYTHING in this image.

Jesus Wood
Nadine Ostroff calls this round slab of sycamore her "Jesus Wood." She's had it for 12 years but only recently decided to go public with it. Back then people might have thought her a bit odd for having a Jesus Wood, but nowadays it's no big deal.

Rockwell Jesus
Members of Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Rockwell, North Carolina think there's an image of Jesus in a knot on an oak tree in front of their church.

Knotty Virgin Mary
Antonina Filipertis of Lockport, New York heard a voice in her head telling her to "Look in your tree." She did and, lo and behold, saw images of the Virgin Mary in the knotholes of the tree. She's still hearing the voices in her head. People tell her that she's blessed.

Basswood Jesus
At first David Reed of Birch Run, Michigan couldn't see the Jesus face in the tree in his front yard, though his girlfriend kept pointing it out to him. But now it's clear as day to him. He says, "If the price is right, I might be willing to part with it."
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 28, 2008
Comments (13)
There was an interesting post on alt.folklore.urban discussing several examples of Muslim hoaxes alleging there have been people who were recently cursed by Allah, for one reason or another, and transformed into bizarre animals.

For instance, Arabic newspapers ran one story about a girl who threw the Quran at her mother and was transformed into a large, rat-like creature. (The story became a popular video as well.) An image (below) accompanied the story, showing what the girl had become.

In reality, the image of the rat-like creature was lifted from an art exhibit titled "Leather Landscape" by Patricia Piccinini. Piccinini posted a statement online disavowing any knowledge of how the 'cursed' story originated and expressing sympathy for anyone disturbed by it.

Leather Landscape by Patricia Piccinini

Piccinini's statement disavowing the hoax

A second story circulating in Arabic-language communities (via a youtube video) details the case of a girl who kicked the Quran and was transformed into an ugly mermaid-like creature. In reality, the creature shown is a guitar fish.

If the punishment for kicking or throwing the Quran is to be transformed into an animal, then what's the punishment for making bizarre stuff up to scare people?
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 27, 2008
Comments (41)
The 1988 radiocarbon results that dated the Shroud of Turin to the Middle Ages have long been a thorn in the side to the True Believers. But they may get the chance to have new tests conducted, thanks to the efforts of John and Rebecca Jackson of Colorado. From the LA Times:

Jackson, 62, is getting his chance to challenge the radiocarbon dating. Oxford University, which participated in the original radiocarbon testing, has agreed to work with him in reconsidering the age of the shroud. If the challenge is successful, Jackson hopes to be allowed to reexamine the shroud, which is owned by the Vatican and stored in a protective chamber in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy.

Some facts about the Jacksons: 1) They own a styrofoam model of Jesus's corpse which they call "Roger"; 2) John once suspended himself from a cross in order to learn how blood flows from a crucified body; 3) Rebecca, who used to be Jewish but converted to Catholicism, became interested in the Shroud "when it occurred to her that the image of the man's face looked like her grandfather's."

I'd like to have "Roger" as an exhibit in the someday-to-be-real Museum of Hoaxes. He'd fit in perfectly alongside the Cardiff Giant. (Thanks to Joe Littrell)
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 18, 2008
Comments (20)
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