Writing the Backwash with R. H. Sheldon
Lourdes Vs. Fatima: And the Winner Is…
I’ve been working on a new guide for my 5-Spot ebook travel series, this one about Portland. The book describes places such as Forest Park, Powell’s City of Books, and The Grotto, a Catholic shrine with a stone altar and a full-size replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà and enough candles to light the Vatican.
When I first visited The Grotto, it reminded me of the 1943 film The Song of Bernadette, which chronicles the visionary adventures of Bernadette Soubirous and her numerous visits to a Lourdes cave in 1858. The cave, as it turns out, also doubled as the town dump, which was one of several reasons why many at the time questioned the authenticity of Bernadette’s visions. They also thought the girl might be a bit touched and should be taken away to an asylum. Despite these naysayers, Bernadette insisted that she had had numerous conversations with a woman who wore a blue girdle, a while veil, and a yellow rose on each foot, a woman who eventually identified herself as the Immaculate Conception—the Holy Blessed Virgin Mary, for those out of the Catholic loop.
Having been reminded of the film about Bernadette, I updated my Netflix queue to include the movie, which friends and I watched over the Thanksgiving weekend. It turned out we had all been raised Catholic, some of us much more loosely than others, and had watched the movie regularly on our black-and-white TV sets when growing up. The film provided us with a nostalgic glimpse into our pasts, a time, from our adult perspectives, that seemed far simpler and easier to negotiate, if for no other reason than as kids we knew no better.
In fact, it was such a treat to see The Song of Bernadette after all these years that I returned to Netflix and ordered the 1952 film The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, another must-see for all good Catholic boys and girls of that era. The movie, however, was not nearly as much fun as the first one. Perhaps it was the strong and somewhat simplistic anti-socialist propaganda at the beginning of the film that set me on edge—or maybe it was the overabundance of bad writing and acting in general. For whatever reasons, I returned the movie unimpressed and ended any further journeys back to my childhood.
I did, however, decide to google Fatima to learn the latest scuttlebutt on the goings on there. I was not disappointed. The first link returned by the mysterious and wondrous and powerful search engine pointed me to the Fatima Network, which is packed full of information about the children, the visions, and the warnings.
One thing I discovered is that the Holy Mother—or whoever the woman was in the Fatima visions—placed a great deal of importance on Russia being consecrated by the Church. I don’t know why Russia was singled out, but the website warns that many nations will be “enslaved by the Russian militant atheists” if this consecration does not occur. I also don’t know whether these words can be attributed directly to the Holy Mother or whether they come from the site’s somewhat enthusiastic web master.
But what’s more frightening than the Russian renegades is the Fatima Network’s insistence that we have clearly failed to heed Mother Mary’s warnings, as evidenced by the numerous wars around the world and the 600 million abortions that have occurred in the past 14 years, a trend that, like Communism and vodka, apparently has its roots in Russia—not unlike a cold virus spreading through a kindergarten classroom on an icy February day. But that’s nothing compared to the legalization of “mercy killings” and “homosexual acts,” which prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’ve failed the Virgin big time.
So there you have it. If the Fatima Network is correct, the Holy Mother in October 1917 came down from heaven to warn us about queers. That’s right, Our Lady of Fatima chose that moment in history to appear before three small children and regale them with the evils of gay sex.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising she’d show up then. First Walt Whitman comes along and suggests that we take pleasure in the body. Then Oscar Wilde comes along and talks about the beauty of the body. And finally Gertrude Stein comes along and tells us the body is not what we think it is, while parading around Paris with the likes of Alice B. Toklas. Obviously, the Virgin, along with all the other heavenly hosts, understood what was coming and sought to put an end to it then and there. Screw that nonjudgmental loving shit Jesus used to preach about. This was out-and-out war.
And Christians around the world have heeded the Fatima call and have been carrying their anti-gay banners into battle. Last year, for example, when Pope Benedict XVI was in Fatima (of all places), he celebrated mass before an estimated 400,000 people before announcing that gay marriage was an insidious and dangerous threat. Rick Santorum, another proud and righteous member of the Church, says that gay marriage would lead to our country’s failure. Then there’s Pat Robertson, who has it on good authority that God plans to punish the US because the White House wants to stand up for gay rights abroad. Christian metal rocker Bradlee Dean claims that homosexuals molest an average of 117 people before they’re found out. And now Linda Harvey, founder of Mission America, is telling folks there’s no proof LGBT people even exist.
Wow. The Lady of Fatima would have loved that one.
Indeed, given her social and political wherewithal, she would have been enthralled by all these true-blue Christians lining up to spread hate and prejudice and fear in her name—and in the names of her ever-popular son and his omniscient dad.
Bernadette’s Holy Mother wasn’t nearly so colorful. She seemed more concerned with prayer and penance, with faith and devotion, with building a chapel, with healing the sick, than with all these worldly affairs. But don’t forget, she preceded the Fatima Mother by nearly 60 years, when the ink had barely dried on Leaves of Grass.
Perhaps it was her lack of political and social wherewithal that made the Lady of Lourdes turn out to be less of an anti-gay rallying point than her Fatima counterpart. After all, the Fatima Mary was threatening war and famine and the ravages of hell. All the Lourdes Mary seemed to be offering was eternal salvation.
But a lot of religious folks like their punishments. And they like their scapegoats. And they like their revenge. And if gays and lesbians happen to be the victims du joir, so be it. There’s plenty of hate to go around. And there are plenty of ways to justify that hate, Fatima being merely one of them.
It’s a great system, when you think about it—a way in which prejudice can be codified without assuming blame. Merely point to visions or scriptures or the word of God, and you can do or say whatever you want. It all boils down to the same thing—a convenient method for ensuring that we don’t have to take responsibility for how we act or speak or treat our neighbors. A surefire way, in fact, to absolve ourselves of all responsibility altogether. In fact, you’d almost think that’s what religion is all about.
Tags: Alice B. Toklas, anti-gay, Bernadette Soubirous, Blessed Mary, Bradlee Dean, Catholic Church, Fatima, Fatima Network, Gertrude Stein, Holy Mary, homophobia, Linda Harvey, Lourdes, Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, Mother Mary, Oscar Wilde, Pat Robertson, Pope Benedict XVI, Rick Santorum, Song of Bernadette, Virgin Mary, Walt Whitman