Miracles in the Bark

The Virgin Mary is visiting a strip mall in Newark, New Jersey.

OK, it is not Mary herself, though I really think she needs to go to the GAP for some new outfits, but something that kinda almost looks like the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

USA Today reported that “People have been praying, crying and leaving flowers and candles as they look at the small opening where the bark was stripped away.”

However skeptics, and in this case that would include the Newark Archdiocese, know that a miracle has not occurred. Jim Goodness (yes, that is really his name), spokesperson for the Archdiocese, admits it is just a discoloration in the trunk of the tree.

This did not keep  news professionals away from reporting the story, from the New York Magazine to the San Francisco Bee to CBS News. Here is news video…

So why do the faithful flock from far and wide to see a “miracle?” I believe there are two very strong reasons.

First, the faithful are looking for something that will validate their faith. This is not limited to Christians or the western religions, but to those of all faiths. They look at images like this, ignoring the causation and the fact it took someone’s imagination for first “see” the miracle, and to able to say, “See? I told you that God and the Virgin exist.”

Can you see Reagan?

Facial recognition is a necessary tool for survival. Science Daily suggests that studies show this need for facial recognition is also important to our cousins, the macaque monkeys, who need to recognize others of the same or different troops or kinds.

The studies of facial recognition are endless, including research done at the University of Victoria, Canada, and an exceptional study by Dr. Charles Nelson of the University of Minnesota, as featured in a Duke University online text.

The National Institute of Health has conducted studies on facial recognition stating that we tend to recognize faces and objects not only when presented, but also in other objects like clouds and, in this case, a tree.

When faith becomes “blind” and our imagination is allowed to free form associations with people or objects of importance. Individuals, especially those seeking a “why did this occur answer, will leave the natural explanations and allow the supernatural or paranormal to take command.

A study published by the New School of the University of New York City says in its abstract, “In the tradition of visual information, religious symbols have gained a status of both an ‘ancient modern’ nexus and as a dependable medium retaining cultural identity.”

Though their research looks specifically at such imagery in the Islamic faith, there is no barrier in human cognitive development that limits such imagery with one religion.

The paper’s authors, Verinika Tzankova and Thecla Schiphorst, Ph.D., state that their study is “based on the assumption that a great many sacred representations seem to constitute the “visual morphology” of design by inducing a subconscious framework of contextualized information.” Fancy talk meaning our imaginations do a wonderful job of seeing religious imagery is not there.

So we know the reason why we see faces and objects in clouds, trees and almost everywhere else we look. It does not answer the reason why those of faith turn their now blind sight towards a religious and supernatural explanation rather than the natural sciences.

That explanation may be explained by a response in a threaded conversation concerning another IVC blog posting concerning science versus religion. When talking about the idea of “first occurrence,” the correspondent suggested that “when science cannot find an answer then they turn to the supernatural.” I find this a false statement based on its premise alone. Science, when faced with no answer keeps looking.

But it is the sentiment alone that may be the cause of “blind faith” and the need for visual clues to verify that that is not there.

I do not to ridicule those who have made or will make their pilgrimage to Newark to see this “miracle,” or to Mecca to throw stones or Jerusalem to put paper in a wall. If those efforts to be comforted by their individual faith makes the one feel good, let them be. We have all experienced a time or two when our own imagination has taken control of our cognitive process.

This is a statement on how and why our brains do what they do and why we tend to see things where they do not truly exist.

Now please excuse me, I have clouds to look at.


David Rosman’s book, “A Christian Nation? An examination of Christian nation theories and proofs,” is now available through Amazon.com in paperback or eBook versions.

His second book, “The Clobber Passages: The biblical denouncement of homosexuality examined,” in which the nine biblical passages used to denounce homosexuality are reviewed, is due for release on September 1 as an eBook and September 15 in paperback.

David is an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and preforms weddings as well as divorce and unbaptismal ceremonies

You can contact David to speak to your group or organization, or to officiate your wedding, divorce or unbaptism by writing him at Info@InkandVoice.com

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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