“Good Lourdes, No” (River healing)

MW

The 19th Century featured its allotment of 14-year-olds whose purported visions ignited prominent religious undertakings. Joseph Smith founded Mormonism as a result, while Bernadette Soubirous transformed the River Gave near Lourden, France, into a Catholic holy site after saying that the Virgin Mary had appeared to her many times there.

The Roman Catholic Church credulously and uncritically swallowed this claim and has put its stamp of blessing on 67 specific miracles that supposedly have taken place near the shores. There is no independent verification of these cures, no experiments, no controls, and no winning of the James Randi Challenge.

Furthermore, the miracles have been of the relatively modest variety and are mostly explicable through medicine or human physiology. No one has regained sight, regrown a limb, or risen from the dead.

Curiously, Soubirous claimed only that Mary had appeared to her and made a few announcements. The teen never asserted that she was on the receiving end of a miracle or that the apparition promised future divine interventions on the riverbed.

Still, Catholic believers flock each year to the site. The steady stream of claims that flow from there is as uninterrupted as the river itself. And they are comparable to those made from persons who undertake secular pilgrimages to Loch Ness.

Cognitive dissonance and the desire to believe combine to make the observer impervious to reality. No one wants to admit the traveled all this way for nothing. They saw a beast or received some godly blessing, con sarn it!

Very few of these putative miracles are considered as such even by the Church. The Vatican has criteria for what it considers to be miraculous. The gist of it is that a group comprising nearly two dozen medical doctors must acknowledge that an ailment could not have been cured by means known to science. If a treatment or product could have been the reason, no miracle is proclaimed.

But even when no explanations emerge, it is appealing to ignorance to conclude that the Christian deity, working through magic water, was responsible. Indeed, why would an all-powerful, omnipresent force induce someone with a serious illness to undertake arduous travel to another country or continent to receive healing?

Even when a genuine improvement has taken place, it is post hoc reasoning to attribute this to Lourdes, by way of a supernatural conduit. Many illnesses are cyclical, and the improvement may have taken place if one had gone to the Nile or stayed home. There also may have been other medicine or treatments taking place before, during, and after the trip.

The last Lourdes miracle claimed by the Church was 20 years ago, when the Church insisted that a man was freed of his multiple sclerosis after 12 years. Less fortunate was Soubirous. For being the embodiment of miraculous healing, she made out poorly. She suffered from lingering cases of tuberculosis and asthma and died at the not-so-ripe-old age of 35.

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