Are Jesus and Mary Appearing Today?

Posted: 26 July 2015

Virgin Mary Image Appears On Chicago Expressway Underpass

Believers crowd around an alleged apparition of the Virgin Mary located on a wall of an underpass in Chicago, Illinois. 18 April 2005.

The mainstream media in Sydney was recently abuzz at the report of a number of parishioners from a local Catholic church claiming to have witnessed the lips on an icon of the Virgin Mary moving during Mass. The video, which was filmed on a mobile phone camera by a worshipper, has since been seen hundreds of thousands of times and has attracted, understandably, very mixed commentary. The parish priest came out at the time and clearly stated that if anything did occur it was “a personal experience” not to be misunderstood as a public miracle.

This incident of course is not the first time that a miracle or apparition has been alleged to have taken place. Just a few suburbs over from the above mentioned church is a regular suburban house that has supposedly been weeping oil from the walls for close to ten years following the premature death of the resident family’s teenage son. While the family stills lives in the house it has become a virtual shrine adorned with images of Jesus, Mary and the saints; there have even been reports of the oil curing those who make pilgrimage to the house.

Yet topping both of these in the contentious miracle stakes is without a doubt the alleged apparitions which began in 1981, with six children from the small town of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina claiming to see the Virgin Mary, not once or twice, but continuously for the past thirty four years. The messages have been seemingly worthy ones, calling for people to undertake more prayer, fasting and penance. And while the site attracts more than one million visitors a year – putting it just behind the Church-approved apparition sites of Fatima and Lourdes – it seems that after many years of investigation the Vatican is set to reach the conclusion that the apparitions of Medjugorje are inauthentic.

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Are You a Gossip?

Posted: 2 February 2014

GossipIf there is one thing human beings like to do it is talk. We talk about ideas, we talk about facts, we talk about ourselves and we talk about others. But arguably, many of us seem most interested in talking about others. Listen to a casual conversation around the office or your favourite pub and it doesn’t take long before it transforms from chit chat to gossip about the personal affairs of others. Gossip is much bigger than that though. The New York Times claimed recently that the celebrity gossip industry tops more than $3 billion per year; covering internationally important news, such as that of Justin Bieber throwing eggs at a neighbour’s house, right through to your everyday celebrity gossip about who is dating/ marrying/ divorcing who.

There is plenty of speculative commentary available claiming that gossip is part of the human condition and that far from being a negative, it can be good for people in that gossip creates group solidarity and shows that people accept one another as they are able to have a laugh at the expense of someone considered an outsider. It is considered valuable currency to know about the inner news of our superiors or when the next transfer, promotion or dismissal is about to take place. All of us have likely gossiped at some time or another, and most of us have probably been the subject of gossip. Of course not every conversation about another person behind their back is severely problematic, but as a society we have far too much interest in observing and commenting on the faults of others (as we perceive them anyway). Read the rest of this entry »

The Myth of Overpopulation

Posted: 5 June 2013

overpopulation PicAustralia recently welcomed its 23 millionth citizen. Of course we do not know who this person is exactly but they are out there somewhere. The person may have been a new born baby or possibly an immigrant who relocated to call Australia home. The news reports generally seemed to have been positive, or at least neutral, about our growing population numbers, which are still rather small compared to other nations. The same positivity was certainly not present when the global population ticked over to seven billion in early 2012. At that time there were renewed warnings from some quarters that earth could no longer continue with so many humans moving in.

Talk of overpopulation is nothing new. One of the foundational works on the subject was published in 1798 by an English Vicar named Thomas Malthus. Malthus believed that unchecked population growth would lead to a reduced standard of living and he actually advocated the death of poorer members of society so that those of a higher social status would not starve. Malthus predicted that society was about to reach a point where the planet would no longer be able to produce enough food causing worldwide starvation. Although his predictions of a global meltdown never came true, Malthus is still cited as an authoritative reference for those who advocate the forced curbing of population growth. Read the rest of this entry »

There is only one morality…is it yours?

Posted: 2 March 2013

Morality2I was having a conversation with someone the other day and the topic turned briefly to politics. In discussing the various political parties I made the comment that while I don’t have any favoured political party, I would vote for a party on the basis of their stance on moral issues e.g. abortion, same-sex ‘marriage’ etc. After all, if a political party doesn’t understand the nature of marriage or respect the value of human life, I don’t really care how wonderful their economic policy might be. The person I was speaking with, who was also a person of the Christian faith, thought that to vote that way might be good for me, but it was not something that could or should be practiced by those who have no faith. This person believed it was better to encourage people to focus on issues we held in common such as the value of education and the importance of good healthcare.

This got me thinking, are moral issues private issues? Are my beliefs in particular key issues of morality dependent on my belief in a Supreme Being and adherence to a religious system? There are plenty of faithful and well meaning people out there who live by a strong moral code and are probably unable to annunciate any reason for their choices apart from their religion. Of course if someone decides to live an upright life because their faith encourages them to do so that is fantastic. However, it seems to me that we really need to be able to give better reason for living a certain way than because ‘God says’. I am not meaning to lessen the importance of God, but in a secular state God does not feature highly, and there is a growing secular movement hinging its success on telling people that certain aspects of morality are specific to religion and therefore not applicable to a large portion of society. If they are correct, if abortion is only a problem for the Pope, and if marriage between a man and a woman is just a venerable tradition, then it is true that believers have no right to encourage their chosen morality upon those who do not share their faith. But what if they are wrong? Read the rest of this entry »

Is truth possible?

Posted: 5 August 2012

I was filling in an online form recently and the security question at the end was “2+9=” and I had to type in the answer to submit the page. I found it interesting that this very mainstream form on the website of this very mainstream company was not only telling me that there was objective truth but that they actually knew what it was! If I had tried to type in that 2+9=5 I would have been told I was wrong. No message was going to appear and tell me that while they respected my freedom to believe that 2+9=5 they preferred the response to be eleven. The message would very simply say, ‘Incorrect, try again’.

I found this small incident amusing because for the most part we exist in a ‘truth free’ society where definitive statements are not welcome. Our society does of course acknowledge right and wrong but these are mostly understood to be established by the Parliament and upheld by the police. Something that is ‘right’ today can be declared ‘wrong’ tomorrow by a simple legislative adjustment. People have lost the idea that there is a genuine reality that is bigger than the law. To declare that something is right or wrong is very different to stating that something is true or untrue. Read the rest of this entry »

Science vs Religion…Why the Battle?

Posted: 29 January 2012

The other night I was watching a TV documentary on the ‘debate’ between intelligent design and evolution. The program captured the turmoil in 2005 that tore apart the community of Dover, Pennsylvania in a battle over teaching evolution in public schools. A pointless debate if ever I heard one…allow me to explain.

The debate around creation vs evolution did not begin in Dover, Pennsylvania; in part we could trace it back to Rene Descartes, the 17th century French philosopher who is famous for his phrase “I think therefore I am”. Descartes posited that all we could really know was in the mind and his legacy was a split between the physical world and the spiritual world. Prior to this type of thinking, people understood the supernatural to be more real than the physical space they inhabited.

The other split that began just before Descartes was the Protestant Reformation. The reformers who objected to the doctrines and structure of the Catholic Church held as their foundation principle that of sola scriptura – Bible alone. No longer would all of Christianity believe that the bible should be interpreted by the Church (which actually compiled the book) but rather it would become something that could allegedly be perfectly interpreted by anyone who wanted to read it. This individualistic reading of the bible divorced from Sacred Tradition led to a literal fundamentalism among some of the Protestant denominations (and this is where the good people of Dover fit in). Read the rest of this entry »

Consultation did Marriage no good at all

Posted: 25 September 2011

Late last year Greens MP Adam Bandt put a motion into Federal Parliament that politicians seek out the views of their constituents in regards same-sex marriage. That motion was passed and MPs spent this year in “consultation mode” until last month when the period of official consultation ended. The position of Bandt and the Greens party in relation to same-sex marriage is of course well known. The consolation was really designed to create a bit of a smoke screen and advance the cause of same-sex marriage one step further. Besides the fact that numerous MPs disliked the idea of being told by the new kid on the parliamentary block how to do their jobs (as if they never consulted their constituents), in my mind the “consultation” process was a floored one from the beginning.

We live in a democratic nation and while that is a great blessing, it can lead us as citizens in that democracy to believe that our ability to decide on questions of ethics and morality is also a democratic right. If you walk outside now and ask the first ten people you see if the aforementioned consolation process was a good idea (regardless of their position on the issue) you would without a doubt get a very high ‘yes’ rating. If you pushed further about why those people believed it was a good idea you would likely get responses revolving around the ideas of democracy, freedom, listening to all opinions, majority consensus etc. Now that is all good and well if we are deciding on day-to-day matters of regulation and law, but for us to think that we can vote in the meaning of marriage in the same way that we vote in the Prime Minister is a misunderstanding of the “freedom” of true democracy. Read the rest of this entry »

Un-married – There’s no Such Thing

Posted: 25 September 2011

It was recently reported that Hollywood actress Liz Hurley had been granted a divorce from her husband, Arun Nayar. The report stated that the divorce was number 17 on a list of 28 couples being granted “quickie divorces” that day. We have become so used to our near 50% divorce rate, and celebrities who have made divorce and remarriage an art form, that sometimes it needs to be stated quite clearly: divorce makes a mockery of marriage and it actually makes no sense.

Divorce is an unnatural reality that has been sold as a normal and necessary part of life. I must emphasise here that this is not a criticism of any person who has sought a divorce but rather a brief consideration of the concept of divorce. Marriage, the commitment of one man and one woman united as husband and wife, is as old as humanity. Marriage is not the invention or the property of Church or State. The Church, following Christ, raised marriage to the level of a Sacrament. The State, desiring good social cohesion, regulates marriage. Neither can control what marriage is. Marriage can no more be adjusted to unite two men than it could be adjusted to exclude fidelity from the vows. What makes marriage something is that it is not everything, it has parameters. Read the rest of this entry »

Choosing Religion, Buffet-style

Posted: 22 September 2011

I recently went away to a monastery for a time of silent retreat. As there were a few other people staying at the same time, there were brief conversations shared during meals.

On one of the evenings we were having dinner, Darren, who had just arrived for a “getaway”, was proceeding to tell us a little about himself. Darren was a young man in his mid-30s, the sort of guy you would not want to get on the wrong side of, well built with tattoos down both arms but a genuinely kind man. He was sharing how he was fascinated by different religions and loved to learn about what different faiths believe.

One of my fellow retreatants asked Darren what religion he was, to which he replied that he was a “Buddhist Jew”. Now, of course, there is no official religion of Jewish Buddhists and I would be willing to wager that Darren was officially neither a Jew nor a Buddhist. It was far more likely that his name was scribed into the baptismal register of the local Protestant denomination as a child but that he was not actively raised in any faith. Read the rest of this entry »