Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible prepositions. – Thomas Jefferson
Where questions of religion are concerned, people are guilty of every possible sort of dishonesty or intellectual misdemeanour. – Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion
How much vanity must be concealed – not too effectively at that – in order to pretend that one is the personal object of a divine plan? How much self-respect must be sacrificed in order that one may squirm continually in an awareness of one’s own sin? How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required, to receive every new insight of science and then manipulate it so as to ‘fit’ with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities? How many saints and miracles and councils and conclaves are required first in order to be able to establish a dogma and then – after infinite pain and loss and absurdity and cruelty – to be forced to rescind one of those dogmas? God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was the other way around….. – Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great
Having started out with three captivating quotes from three great men, it seems extravagant to quote another one. But it is necessary before I delve into the subject matter of this article. Michail Bakunin once said if God did not exist, it would be necessary to create him. To some extent, I agree with him. Not necessarily that we needed a god as that we had no choice but to create him. The natural world had so many disturbing questions that could only be explained by a prime mover. I acknowledge that it will be near impossible to persuade a staunch Catholic that no pope or saint is infallible, and also to convince a Muslim that Muhammad was a flawed imperfect fallible human, if their belief is based on faith alone, and not on rationalism and critical thinking.
My aim here is not to kill God, because I recognize some people have a deep psychological need for him, but to show people how marvelous and miraculous the natural (or materialistic) world is. Yes, the natural world performs miracles more wonderful, more awe-inspiring, more honest,more aesthetically pleasing than any fraudulent slight of hand that priests and mullahs and rabbis and modern evangelicals are capable of. One wonders, as one studies religious revelations and miracles and in general violation of natural laws, why they took place in highly superstitious, ancient, premodern, primitive societies or in isolated places and witnessed by isolated people and why the modern world with cameras and computers and high resolution telescopes and microscopes for the unaided eye is devoid of these alleged proofs of divinity.
Back to the article. Incorruptibility, is best defined simply as the belief that one’s body doesn’t decompose after death, if one was a righteous Catholic. So easy, isn’t it? Incorruptibility vindicates Catholicism and exposes other religions with no comparable miracles as false. Another definition is it’s a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox belief that divine intervention allows certain bodies to avoid decomposition after death as a sign of holiness (Source: Wikipedia). A fairly well thought definition, I think. But then there’s an instant twist. The article goes on to assert claims outside this specific definition. It says bodies that undergo little or no decomposition or delayed decomposition are sometimes regarded as incorruptible. To what extent do we judge decomposition? How do we know if it’s little or a bit much? If the body decomposes slowly and in 200000 years, it’s turned to dust, does it count as incorruptible still? So many questions follow, so few answered.
The Catholics generally regard incorruptibility to be a miracle. We shall call a miracle any event in which the laws of the natural world appear to have been suspended or tweaked and we can’t find a scientific explanation for it. Many believers sincerely believe saints can have incorruptible corpses, popes are infallible, Jesus was their saviour, and that prayer works. I read somewhere a few days back about a Catholic who appeared to claim that the embalmed incorruptibles were so due to divine intervention in embalming them. Embalming is a process of preserving dead bodies from decomposition or rotting. Now his claim can’t be proved or disproved for it’s paradoxical nature. He makes more assumptions than are necessary to get to the truth. The less assumptions means the nearer we stay to factual premises.
Bernadette Soubirous, commonly known as St. Bernadette of Lourdes, grew up in Lourdes, France in an impoverished family of which she was the eldest daughter of a miller. At about age 14, she began to have visions and apparitions of a lady she claimed was demanding for a church to be built in the area where these apparitions took place and also directed her to spring waters with healing effects. The stories spread about her Marian apparitions and the church was skeptical in the beginning. After a swift investigation, Bernadette’s apparitions were declared authentic by the church. Bernadette Soubirous soon relocated to a convent in Nevers where she lived until she died of tuberculosis. When the canonisation process began, there were several miracles happening or had happened in Lourdes which were investigated and many were found to be temporary fixes or false. Many others were found to be true. In 1909, her body was exhumed for the first time and found to be incorruptible. In 1919 and 1925, the process was repeated and then moved into a crystalline casket. The church declared her dead corpse to be officially incorruptible. Was it really? In the 1919 exhuming, the present doctor wrote in a report, “The body is practically mummified, covered with patches of mildew and quite a notable layer of salts, which appear to be calcium salts… The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body.”. Later, when she was to be displayed in public at the Sisters of Charity (her order in Nevers), her face had a blackish colour about it that would have been unsettling to pilgrims. So a certain Pierre Imans, a Parisian mannequin designer for God’s sake, was brought in to solve the imperfections of the rotting corpse. A “light wax” mask and new hands were devised and put in place by the talented designer. Even up to this day, people still claim that St. Bernadette performs wonders for them.
This is not an isolated incident. There are several cases just like these as I’m about to show. But first, I want to clarify that I don’t think the Catholic Church is colluding as a whole, to deceive the world. The sainthood has a lot of allusions to make anyone suspect a sinister campaign of lies and conscious deceit. I think there has been a bit of craft here and there, now and then. But it is not enough to make it look credible. A lot of honest sincere propagandists had to be sold the idea to make it work. And so it evolved with the church and the church embraced it. In a time of ignorance, it was as good an explanation as any evolved human was expected to come up with, pending modern chemistry and physics.
A less recognised saint is St. Silvan, who allegedly died in 350 CE in Rome, and is in a Church tomb in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The body looks perfect and smooth from afar. But upon close examination, the skin is covered with wax. A common method of hiding decaying flesh. It is claimed Silvan’s body arrived from Rome in 1847, but there’s no mention of where it had been before that, or who had been in contact with it. Another one is St. Victoria whose corpse appears to be a wax effigy as well. Her severed fingers and palm shows bones underneath the wax.
In the church of San Crisogono, the dead body of Blessed Anna Maria Taigi rests in a glass casket. It appears incorruptible at first but closer scrutiny shows the body is too good to be true. The wrinkles on her face are made of wax and there are black hair strands on her scalp of blond hair. This is an obvious skeleton coated with wax.
An intriguing case is St. Cecilia, who is considered the first saint and said to have been martyred in 177 CE. Having buried the remains of two beheaded brothers, she was punished by bestowing the same fate on her. The executor, having tried to decapitate her three times unsuccessfully, fled leaving her with a severe injury and heavy loss of blood that she crawled about for three days before she was found dead; albeit allegedly with 3 fingers protruding on her right hand and one on the left to signify the Holy Trinity. She is the patron saint of musicians. Old accounts allude to her body having been washed and embalmed and the viscera removed. A sweet floral odour emanating from the coffin could indicate the usage of burial spices like resin and myrrh which aided in preservation and was Jewish practice at the time, and was coincidentally used in Egyptian mummification. She was locked in a cypress casket, a type of wood that was standard for, you guessed it, mummification. John Delaney, the author of Dictionary of Saints, claims the whole story has been “constructed from legends, many of which are trustworthy” and John Coulson goes further when he says it’s a “fabrication devoid of any historical truth”.
It’s actually surprising how people are so oblivious to such fraudulent desecration of dead humans. If you’re a saint, do you really rest in peace after death? People go to these churches without any knowledge of these bodies being wax effigies or preserved bodies in perfect environments. I think if one is a devout believer, one has to choose between this whole fiasco being a legitimate doctrine or it being a conspiracy, an evil one even. If one chooses to call it an honest endeavour, one must explain why the need for all these wax effigies. The burden of proof weighs a ton for the pious here.
Thus when the sincere believer, who has been misled to believe these rotting corpses are the same as they were on the day they were buried, is forced to face the facts, he/she looks for an explanation to fit the narrative. One of these is a redefining of incorruptibility as slowly or partially decayed corpses. This is based on the gullible notion that delayed decomposition happens as a sign from God. An assertion that can only be made by the uninformed Catholic. Nevertheless, I’ve heard it as an argument for wax effigies and embalmed bodies. As I did research for this article, I came across another secular blogger who was told that the wax and preservation is added intentionally so that people may notice it and so that a genuine impression of the corpse may be preserved as it was at the exhumation. It is stunningly shocking when I discovered that incorruptibility isn’t taken as a requirement of sainthood anymore officially by the church. This raises some disturbing questions. Like should we still consider saints who were canonised on the basis of their incorruptible bodies as saints anymore, or we await further inquiry? What about the credulous faithful who, the overwhelming majority, hardly know this new Catholic doctrine and consider incorruptibility to be a sign from God? What was the motive behind this change? Does this change show the man-made nature of Catholic doctrine and law, and thus the Catholic Church as well?
The obscurantist nature of the church has stood in the way of scientific progress and research for several decades. From Aristotle, to Galileo, to Copernicus, to Giordano Bruno, to Charles Darwin, there’s a long trail and pattern of inhumane behaviour and conscious obscurantism towards revolutionary scientific ideas stretching even up to now in the 21st century and showing no signs of halting. The incorruptible bodies haven’t been subjected to any modern research tools to authenticate since the turn of the century. The church, for once, outsourced a group of pathologists and chemists to investigate the incorruptibles. It was discovered and there was substantial evidence that “many (if not all) incorruptibles had human assistance”. Disconcertingly, the team also “encountered many cases in which saints had clearly been mummified, often by their followers, in an attempt to preserve (or help preserve) their bodies.”. Most notably Saint Margaret of Cortona. The small voice of reason had penetrated the walls of the Vatican and the irrationality of faith was being put to the test.
The naivety of believers is the main reason why they believe ridiculous nonsense. Let me demonstrate this with a simple insinuation from the doctrine of incorruptibility. It follows that if God delays or suspends decay of human flesh, that such a phenomenon only happens in the church and to holistic pious individuals. I did a quick survey of ten Catholics I knew, three of whom are connoisseurs of church doctrine, and I got 90% saying incorruptibility only and only happens in the church. The odd man out suspected I was setting a trap for him, hence his skepticism, but couldn’t tell me where else it happens. However, he was sharp enough to tell me that God sometimes performs miracles in other religions. When I asked him why God does it, he replied with the age-old proverb “God works in mysterious ways”. That cannot be proved or disproved. Karl Popper’s common sense reformation of the scientific method should be enough to dispose of such obscurantism.
The evil fascist Bishop Alfredo Schuster, who was the Archbishop of Milan from 1929-1954 and a Benedictine monk and supported Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, was found to be incorruptible after 31 years. Another article mentions Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, and how her body was found in a perfect state of preservation 1782 after 250 years in a sealed coffin. She was reburied shortly after and later exhumed in 1817 only to find a skeleton. St. Joseph Calasanctius, who was part of a clerical campaign of the Piarist order and knowingly covered up Child Abuse cases against small boys to protect the reputation of the order, and even had the guts to document all these evil crimes by fellow priests while callously doing nothing to protect the boys, was canonised after his body was found to be incorruptible. The evil power hungry monster, Benedetto Caetani, known as Pope Boniface XVII, who sought to mobilise all European powers under him, and hence create a theocratic Catholic-fascist Jew-hating continent, and was also depicted in the Eighth Circle of Hell in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, was exhumed after 300 years and his body looked perfectly preserved. He was lodged back in the grave and re-exhumed to find only bones remaining in his coffin in the 1830s. In every case I’ve mentioned in this paragraph, we see a flawed human being bestowed with the miracle of incorruptibility. One would wonder what kind of God makes evil people incorruptible.
Probably the best preserved corpse is that of Xin Zhui, discovered in China in 1971. The article narrates, “Her death is dated to 178–145 BC. She seems to have been about 50. An autopsy found that she seemed to be only a short time dead. They found her organs were intact. Her blood was still red in her veins. Nobody knows for sure what was responsible for such a remarkable preservation. Her airtight coffin is thought to have contributed to it. A liquid in the coffin in a shade of red may explain the mystery but nobody knows what it is. The bodies of her neighbours Sui Xiaoyuan and Ling Huiping are similarly well preserved. Xin’s body is kept in the Hunan Provincial Museum. She proves that bodies can be inexplicably preserved without accounting for it with the supernatural.“.
In the Tarim Basin desert of China, mummified corpses, dating to 4000 years ago (way before Christianity came along), were found to be so well preserved that centuries-old incorruptible Catholic saints couldn’t compare. In August 1952, Time magazine ran a story of a Hindu guru Paramahansa Yogananda, whose body was found to be incorruptible years after his death. Harry T. Rowe, Los Angeles Mortuary Director of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California where Yogananda’s body is interred, stated in a notarized letter:
“The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience…. No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death…. No indication of mold was visible on his skin, and no visible drying up took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one…. No odor of decay emanated from his body at any time….”
There are several other cases of Tibetan and Buddhist monks who are incorruptible and in some cases, no one can explain what exactly caused it. But that’s no reason to conclude it’s God who intervened to starve microbes to death by the billions in the guise of pleasing impressionable humans. Hambo Lama Itigelov, a Buddhist monk who died in 1927 and was exhumed in 2002, was found to have been preserved by bromide salts.
King Tut, the Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who ruled between c. 1332-1323 BC, has been so well preserved for over 3300 years against all odds that his body is in a perfect state far from decay. Note that he existed before the Catholic Church and probably believed in Egyptian gods.
What is religion better at than hoodwinking the gullible people? What is religion if it doesn’t claim or revere ignorance? What sane person would consciously believe such a preposterous idea as incorruptibility? Prosper Lambertini who became Pope Benedict XIV categorically denied that any corpse that has been treated in any way to keep it fresh should be thought of as miraculously incorrupt. Yet the church continues to display embalmed popes and saints and priests. What kind of corrupted institution is this? The short answer is it’s a man-made institution made in the image of those who created it. That’s why it has so many flaws. Let’s sit back, await future examinations of saints corpses to expose the sinister fraud going on in the background. Watch Christians who struggle to believe fantasies, who seem to think a miracle vindicates their religion and is a necessary precept for them to believe. In other words, it’s too ridiculous they need a miracle to validate their beliefs. But this world, this universe, is amazing and miraculous, in that it creates these miracles for the faithful to believe, and cares not if they are misled. It allows other protagonists to recreate the same miracles over and over again. The universe works like that. It only offers you a strict range of natural laws to work in. It is always, and it has always, and will always, be up to you or to the prevailing discourse to decide which side of the argument is honest, is fraudulent, is truly worthy of your spirit. I hope critical thinking and freethinking will always reign supreme.