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The title is that of an article published by Catholic Communications, Archdiocese of Sydney, February 18, 2011. It concerns the “remarkable recovery” of three-year-old Clare, daughter of Peter Hill, who in his 20-seater bus accidentally “ran over” the youngest of his eleven (!) children on February 15, 2011, on the coast south of Sydney, trapping her under the bus’ rear-wheels.

“At one point doctors (at the Royal Children’s Hospital at Randwick) were convinced her shin had a fracture and her leg was put in plaster, but the next day the plaster was removed for treatment. The doctors were stunned : there was no sign of a break … Along with the prayer-chain that encircled the globe, (eldest son) Daniel’s family also believes the Miraculous Medal the little girl was wearing also played a part, as did the blessing and kiss she received as a one-year-old from Pope Benedict XVI during World Youth Day’s open-air Mass at Randwick in July 2008.” (Take your pick !)

An open-and-shut case, proof of the power of prayer and the magic of the Miraculous Medal ? It amazes me that believers, and even scientists who turn off their left brain, can be so blind as to miss the point here, as they do at Lourdes, Fatima and all those places of pilgrimage which attract miracle-seekers.

In “From Illusions to Illumination”, pages 172-173, under “Fast Cars and Speeding Bullets”, I ridiculed the “miracles” which saved the lives of a Formula 1 driver and a Polish Pope. In the telling of all these stories and in attributing protection and survival to the name of Pope John Paul 2 on the driver’s helmet, or the Pope’s own survival from an assassination attempt because it took place on the anniversary of one of Mary’s apparitions in Fatima, there is an irrational, unfounded, gratuitous, superstitious attribution of a supposedly divine cause to an admittedly extraordinary effect, that is literally stupefying.

Let’s go back to Sydney’s South Coast, the site of the accident. I know why she recovered : because her name was Clare, saintly consoeur of St Francis of Assisi; or because it took place on February 15 (15 being the sum of the twelve Apostles and the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity); or because the child’s father bore the name of the first Pope. Logic, rationality, to say nothing of science, demand proof of causal connection. But if people want to believe that prayer or a bit of metal become a “Precious Medal” (my nasty, sarcastic heading in my chapter on “Superstitions and Fetishes”, p. 166) is the “cause” of the “miracle”, they will. After all, it’s not much comfort to be told that we don’t know how it happened. Isn’t it obvious that the Lourdes water did it, or the Miraculous Medal did it, or those heartfelt prayers did it ? “Unexplained”, dear blind believers, does not mean “unexplainable”.

Primitive man in his cave was impressed by and terrified of thunder and lightning. He knew what, or rather who, caused it : God, who was reminding His puny, godfearing creatures of His power, or perhaps using the electricity they would never hear of to scare, and on occasion kill, his disobedient children.

I survived my heart-attack. I learned later that it was because a dear, deluded friend had been praying for me. The causal connection, for her, was clear and unquestioned, though I prefer to thank the French Emergency Ambulance service and my brilliant heart-surgeon. Take your pick.

You’re a lucky lass, Clare. But then, we’re both from the Lucky Country.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

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