A Bible-denying academic searches for comfort in quasi-spirituality

“Why Religion?: A Personal Story”
by Elaine Pagels
ECCO/HarperCollins, 2018, 235 pp.

1 Star

You may not be familiar with the author of this memoir, religious history professor, Elaine Pagels,* but she made a huge splash in 1979 with her book, “The Gnostic Gospels.” First, a little background:

A farmer by the name of Muhammed al-Samman discovered a collection of 52 ancient manuscripts, mostly Gnostic discourses, near the town of Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. The Gnostics were a first and second century AD heretical sect that propagated the divine potential within each person that could be released through the acquisition of ascending levels of secret knowledge. Sounds quite a lot like the advocates of today’s New Age philosophies. The manuscripts were eventually secured by museums, but not before several were haphazardly destroyed. Scholars began the task of translating and analyzing these Gnostic manuscripts and Pagels’ book brought them to the attention of the general public.

Elaine Pagels (b. 1943) was a bit of a celebrity following the publication of “The Gnostic Gospels.” I was increasingly interested in the Bible and spiritual matters at the time (although it would be a few more years before I accepted Christ), so I attended her guest lecture at the University of Rochester in 1979 or 1980. Pagels claimed that the early-church patriarchy persecuted the Gnostics and repressed their writings as part of a competitive power grab. Although the academic dismissed Christianity as just another set of ancient myths and fables, she somewhat admired the heterodox Gnostic writings because of a few allusions to God being a female. Pagels subsequently wrote several additional books, which continued to rationalize away the early-Christians as just another group of ancient, unsophisticated people attempting to explain the complicated world via religious myth.

Recently, I noticed Pagels’ “Why Religion?: A Personal Story” at the bookstore and discovered our library had a copy. Hmm. A personal story about religion? What’s Pagels up to now? In this memoir, Pagels describes events in her life that took place thirty-years ago. First, the Pagels’ son, Mark, died in 1987 at the age of six after a long illness, leaving the parents devastated. Only one year later, Pagels’ husband, Heinz, was killed in a hiking accident. Pagels attempted to cope with the horrific double-loss via, among other things, psychiatric consultations and long, silent meditation sessions with Trappist monks. She states that she also found comfort in the “divinity within” messages of the Gnostic writings. Pagels alleges that her dead child and her dead husband mystically contacted her to reassure her of their well-being.

So the bottom line to this book is that Pagels now believes in a quasi-spiritual, supernatural dimension, but still dismisses the Bible as ancient folklore. She urges the reader to get their “faith” and comfort, wherever they may find it, except in a personal faith in Jesus Christ and Biblical Christianity. Sounds like Oprah.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” – John 14:6

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:13-14

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.'” – 1 Corinthians 1:18-19

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” – Matthew 24:35

*Before starting her academic career, Pagels had briefly “dabbled” in evangelical Christianity as a teenager after attending a Billy Graham crusade in San Francisco in 1958 and claiming to have been born-again.

Elaine Pagels


Throwback Thursday: “Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism”

For today’s “Throwback Thursday” installment, we’re revisiting a slightly re-edited post that was first published back on August 15th, 2015.


Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism
by Scott and Kimberly Hahn
Ignatius Press, 1993, 182 pp.

1 Star

This memoir from conservative Catholic apologist, Scott Hahn, and his wife records a spiritual train wreck.

In this book, Hahn describes allegedly accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior as a teen, attending seminary, marrying, and becoming a Presbyterian minister. Although Hahn boasts that he started off fiercely anti-Catholic, both he and his wife admired and shared Rome’s strong stand against all forms of birth control. Hahn then slowly became enamored with formal liturgical worship. While studying the Bible, he became transfixed with “covenant” theology (referenced ad nauseam throughout), leading him to believe that sacraments and obedience to religious law were essential to salvation and remaining in God’s family. Hahn joined the Catholic church and pestered his wife until she did as well.

Hahn’s journey from an alleged “born-again” believer, supposedly trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone, to a works-righteousness Catholic is unfathomable. Did he ever genuinely grasp that salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone? Obviously not. For Hahn it was just head knowledge; words on paper. Like the emancipated Hebrews in Exodus who wished to return to Egypt, Hahn desired the “security” of legalism, ritualism, and spiritual chains over God’s free gift of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” – Galatians 2:21

Now Hahn and his family are “happily” attempting to earn their way to heaven. Hahn and his wife revealingly note that they often look around while at Sunday mass and observe the glum faces surrounding them and can’t fathom why their fellow-Catholics aren’t as bubbly as they are about the stultifying legalism of the “one true church.” Catholic research shows that only 20% of Catholics attend obligatory mass every Sunday. The other 80% would rather sleep in and pick up another “mortal” sin every week. After all, pope Francis has said even atheists will go to Heaven if they lead “good” lives, so who needs all of that dreary liturgical rigmarole? But God says there are none who are good and that all must repent of their sin and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone. Only 12% of Catholics go to confession at least once a year which means the other 88% may still somewhat identify as church members, but do not invest personally in their church’s salvation system: A [sacramental grace] + B [merit] might possibly = C [heaven].

Hahn has built quite a career as a Catholic apologist, but I feel sorry for him and his family and anyone who gives heed to Catholicism’s gospel of chains. Reading about Hahn enthusiastically carrying around an alleged “relic” of a Catholic “saint” in his pants pocket every day as a spiritual rabbit’s foot was a disturbingly illustrative passage in a disturbing book.

“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” – Romans 1:25

Top 25 most-viewed posts from the past twelve months

This blog broke ground on this date four years ago. Wow! Has it really been four years? I started the blog mainly for the purpose of reaching out to Roman Catholics with the Gospel of grace and also to warn evangelicals of the dangers of ecumenism with the Roman church. While I’m certainly not setting any blogging records in light of the “controversial” topics I cover, I do praise God for every visitor over the last four years. I’m also grateful to the Lord for my fellow bloggers in the Lord for their encouragement over the years and for their informative and uplifting posts.

As I do every anniversary, I’m listing the 25 most-viewed posts from the past 12 months (with hyperlinks). It’s amazing to me how some of the older posts continue to bounce around the internet. Why do some posts receive a lot of clicks and others others not so much? It’s somewhat amusing to me that the two highest-viewed posts by far in the last 12 months are about Jimmy Swaggart and clam dip!


The improbable “return” of Jimmy Swaggart – August 14, 2018 – 2085 views

Heluva Good New England Clam Dip Recipe – July 10, 2017 – 1615 views

Question: When George Harrison was singing, “My Sweet Lord,” who was he singing to? – August 31, 2017 – 946 views

Did Jesus or the apostles ever quote the Apocrypha? – May 22, 2017 – 912 views

All hail, Ganesha! Elephant god worshiped in a Catholic church. – August 30, 2017 – 564 views

“If I take off my scapular prior to surgery and die on the operating table, will I still go to Heaven?” – January 17, 2017 – 546 views

Catholicism’s “three-legged stool” – Broken for all the world to see! – December 8, 2017 – 476 views

Walter Martin was no admirer of Catholicism but dropped the ball in “Kingdom of the Cults” – October 7, 2015 – 384 views

The “churched,” the “unchurched,” the “dechurched,” and the believer – June 7, 2017 – 345 views

Rules about “holy water.” Who knew?!?! – June 16, 2016 – 311 views

Why did Jesus use mud salve to heal the blind man’s eyes? – May 3, 2017 – 300 views

James White: What goes through Ravi Zacharias’s head? – July 14, 2016 – 290 views

Don’t you dare try to correct me! I’m a priest!!! – April 18, 2017 – 261 views

Sorry, no unbaptized babies allowed! – December 17, 2015 – 256 views

Answering the alleged “Catholic verses” – #1: The Church is the Pillar of All Truth? – August 13, 2018 – 249 views

“Broadway Joe” Namath – An idol from my past – November 28, 2017 – 242 views

“Roman Catholicism” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones – January 23, 2018 – 239 views

What’s with all of those little candles at Catholic churches? – April 5, 2018 – 215 views

The Conversion Center: Still Reaching Out to Catholics after 65 years – April 28, 2017 – 214 views

Popular Evangelical, Joni Eareckson Tada, endorses ecumenical “First Things” – October 8, 2015 – 214 views

A Few Catholic Conundrums – Part 1: The Case of the Abused Altar Linens – May 14, 2019 – 212 views

Throwback Thursday: Next time you drive past a Catholic church on Sunday morning… – May 23, 2019 – 199 views

God, Donald Trump, and a Catholic mystic? Oy vey! – November 20, 2017 – 190 views

Beating the chest and other Catholic formalities – November 13, 2018 – 189 views

Whatever happened to St. Christopher medals? – October 2, 2015 – 188 views

A popular apologist stands up for the Gospel and calls a lie a lie

As an ex-Catholic who was and is saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, I am troubled by evangelical pastors and para-church leaders who succumb to ecumenical pressure and compromise and suggest to their followers that Roman Catholicism teaches a similar Gospel, even though Catholic priests, prelates, and apologists unapologetically proclaim that their church teaches salvation by sacramental grace and merit.

Several of the most popular evangelical apologists – men like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, and Lee Strobel – blur the irreconcilable differences between Catholicism and Biblical Christianity in an effort to advance ecumenical “unity.” Craig has acknowledged on his website (see here) and in friendly, ecumenical dialogue with Catholic bishop, Robert Barron (see here), that Catholicism teaches a heterodox version of justification, yet he still embraces the RCC as a Christian entity! Mind boggling! On Zacharias’ and Strobel’s websites, you won’t find ANY information critical of the Roman church, but in their books and media messages you will definitely see or hear glowingly favorable references to Roman Catholic saints, clergy, and theologians. The message to their audiences is clear and unmistakable.

When I first heard about J. Warner Wallace (photo above) and his Cold Case Christianity apologetics ministry, I was a little skeptical. I assumed Warner would be following the lead of compromising ecumenists like Craig, Zacharias, and Strobel.  How blessed I was to read the following recent article on Wallace’s web site:

What Does the Bible Say About Purgatory?
By J. Warner Wallace
May 24, 2019

“My mother was a cultural Catholic for many years, and although she was quick to identify herself with Catholicism, she had a limited knowledge of the Church’s teaching. Worse yet, she wasn’t yet a robust Bible reader. When I eventually became a Christian, I found myself examining several claims of Catholicism to see if they were true. Catholics believe in purgatory, ‘a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.’”

To continue reading this article, see here.

This is an excellent article, my friends. Purgatory is not Biblical, but is an essential component of Catholicism’s salvation system of sacramental grace and merit. I appreciate that Warner has taken an uncompromising stand against Catholicism’s doctrines of Purgatory and merited salvation.

I see that J. Warner Wallace is currently a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Interesting. The Colson Center, like its founder, Chuck Colson, is a strong supporter of ecumenism with Rome. Has the center’s president, John Stonestreet, or anyone else contacted Wallace yet regarding his critical article on Roman Catholicism? I’m curious how Wallace reconciles his Biblical views on Catholicism’s spiritually-deadly doctrinal errors with the Colson Center’s strong support of ecumenism with Rome? Such an incongruity is typical in today’s evangelical church. Let’s pray for J. Warner Wallace that he stays true to the Gospel of grace.

The forces of spiritual accommodation, compromise, and betrayal are all around us brothers and sisters and have even secured many of our pulpits and para-church ministries. We are all called, every one of us, to battle for Truth and fidelity to the genuine Gospel of grace in this era when plurality, tolerance, and relativism are worshiped as idols.

Chameleon Boy sadly sings, 🎵 The Wedding Bell Blues 🎵

Yes, friends, it’s time to once again climb into our fictional time machine and travel to the 30th-Century for another adventure from DC Comics’ Silver Age with the Legion of Super-Heroes in…

“The Execution of Chameleon Boy!”
Adventure Comics #376, January, 1969
Writer and layouts: Jim Shooter, Penciller: Win Mortimer, Cover: Neal Adams

4 Stars


Previously, in Adventure Comics #375, we learned that a mysterious entity had challenged the mightiest Legionnaire to combat, and the team subsequently used the search for the members of another super-hero-team-temporarily-gone-bad as a tournament to identify their champion, with Bouncing Boy improbably claiming the title. Just when the entity abducts Bouncing Boy via a transporter ray, the real BB appears. Let’s pick up the action…

The ersatz Bouncing Boy is transported to the planet, Nadir, which is ruled by King Artros and his mighty knights. Nadirian society appears to be similar to that of Medieval Europe, but technological advances are hidden beneath a veneer of antiquity.

The Nadirians reveal that an evil and mighty baron, Kodar, is claiming the right to marry Princess Elwinda, and become heir to the throne. They had summoned the Legion’s champion as their only hope in battling Kodar. After defeating the baron, the victorious Legionnaire would take the royal maiden’s hand in marriage, himself.

To their surprise, the Nadirans’ high-tech equipment reveals Bouncing Boy is actually Chameleon Boy in disguise, who had assumed his teammate’s identity in the hopes of winning the aforementioned tournament by stealth. The Nadirians are shocked by CB’s alien appearance and call a council to deliberate on this “disturbing” revelation. In the meantime, CB changes into a bird and leaves his guarded quarters to drop in on Princess Elwinda in her private gardens. Romance quickly ensues, but the council resoundingly decides against the possibility of an “orange-skinned, alien freak” marrying the princess.

The Nadirians opt to battle Kodar and his powerful army themselves, but are quickly subdued. Just when all appears lost, Chameleon Boy enters the fray and, using his unique powers, defeats the evil baron. Grateful for his saving-intervention, King Artros grants that CB may marry his daughter.

⚠️ Warning: Brace yourself for the very awkward ending.

During all the shenanigans on Nadir, the Legion had been desperately scanning a multitude of dimensions in search of Chameleon Boy. They were shocked when they discovered a dimensional portal to Nadir and observed Chameleon Boy with his head on a chopping block with two knights holding raised axes overhead (see cover illustration). Brainiac 5 immediately transported Cham back to Legion headquarters and permanently sealed the portal. A furious Chameleon Boy then explained that the raised axes were part of the traditional Nadirian marriage ceremony. Instead of rescuing CB, the Legion had permanently put an end to his dreams of wedded bliss with Princess Elwinda. Ach. I hate when that happens.


This was an interesting conclusion to the two-part saga with some entertaining twists and turns, although the abrupt and awkwardly contrived ending was an unfortunate example of ham-fisted, Silver Age writing. I’m guessing Shooter was using the Nadirians’ repugnance with Chameleon Boy’s alien appearance as a subtle commentary on the very strained race relations in 1969 America.

Welcome to the Weekend Roundup! – News & Views – 7/13/19

“God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies” by Benny Hinn’s (photo left) nephew, Costi Hinn (photo right), hit the bookstores this past Tuesday. My local library REALLY needs to purchase a copy of this. Order it from Amazon here. It grieves me that credulous souls hand over their money and their faith to these prosperity gospel shysters.

Speaking of “miracles,” now that the civil courts have settled the dispute between the Catholic dioceses of New York City and Peoria, Illinois over possession of the cadaver of Fulton J. Sheen, pope Francis has put the famous former media pioneer on the fast-track to canonization as predicted.

Last August, Catholic archbishop and former papal nuncio (Vatican ambassador) to the United States, Carlo Viganò, created a huge stir by accusing pope Francis of covering up for pedophile cardinal, Ted McCarrick. Now, Viganò is implicating Francis in the cover-up of another suspected predator, archbishop Peña Parra, the Vatican’s third most powerful prelate.

Members of the conservative Catholic media are caught in a Catch-22. One of their “prime directives” is absolute loyalty to the papacy, but many are convinced pope Francis is a heretic. So much for the age-old Catholic boast that popes are incapable of leading the RC church into error.

We’re seeing several of these wildcat, progressive “Catholic” churches springing up that ordain women as priests and boast of being “inclusive,” while at the same time conservative Catholics are reverting back to pre-conciliar militancy. The RCC is splitting right down the middle.

The Mormon church has announced that next year, 2020, will be the last for the Hill Cumorah Pageant, held annually in Palmyra, New York, about 23 miles east of Rochester. LDS leadership cites “time commitments, cost, security, and impact to church sites” as the reasons for shutting down the pageant. The Mormon church’s founder, Joseph Smith Jr., claimed God the Father and Jesus Christ visited him in Palmyra in 1820 when he was 14-years-old, which culminated in the incorporation of the LDS church in 1830. See my previous posts on Joseph Smith’s Mormonism scam here and here and here.

The JWs couldn’t get a price break from the new owners of the Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester, so they are relocating their regional summer conference to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, about 230 miles to the south. Pew Research reports that 1% of adults in New York State identify as Jehovah’s Witnesses and less than 1% identify as Mormons, but a whopping 31% identify as Roman Catholic. So why do the (c)hristian bookstore$ in the region carry materials warning of the dangers of Mormonism and the Watchtower, but nothing about the dangers of works-righteousness Roman Catholicism? Oh, that’s right, these alleged “evangelical Protestant” (c)hristian bookstore$ actually have “Catholic sections” stocked with rosaries, holy medals, prayer cards to saints, and religious statues!

Yet another satire from the Babylon Bee that’s not too far from reality.

Some good material, some bad material

Roman Catholicism & the Coming World Religion
By Pastor Billy Crone
Get A Life Media, 2019, 349 pp.

3 Stars

I’m always pleased to see new books published that critically examine Roman Catholicism, so I ordered “Roman Catholicism & the Coming World Religion” by Billy Crone as soon as I stumbled across it while browsing at Amazon.com. Billy Crone? He’s the pastor of an independent Baptist church in Las Vegas, NV and he has a slew of self-published book titles, most having to do with end-times eschatology, not my forte. The illustrations of the alien and UFO on the cover of this book had me a little worried because some eschatologists do get carried away.

This was an “interesting” book. It reads exactly like an extemporaneous Sunday School lecture and is chock full of colloquialisms. I strongly suspect Crone’s sermons/talks on various topics are transcribed almost directly into book form with very little editing.

There’s A LOT of really good information in this book for which Crone is to be commended, especially in regards to the evangelical church’s growing ecumenism with Rome. However, the author is also sometimes prone to overstatement, misstatement, exaggeration, and hyperbole. Catholic doctrine is not always presented as precisely as the RCC teaches it, allowing Catholic apologists to dismiss an otherwise decent effort. Some examples:

  • In regards to the dogma of papal infallibility, Crone writes, “They (Catholics) would have you believe their popes are always right 100% of the time” (p.190). The Roman church actually teaches its pope are infallible only when they declare a doctrine ex cathedra, i.e., from the chair of Peter, with the full authority of their alleged papal office. Catholic theologians are often at odds as to which papal declarations are actually infallible, but that’s another topic.
  • Crone chides pope Francis for criticizing president Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. He states that Vatican City has a wall around it, so Francis is a hypocrite for reprimanding Trump (p. 262). Well, the Vatican’s walls were erected in the ninth-century to protect it from the Saracen pirates, but the ancient walls are certainly not what they used to be. Of the six entrances into Vatican City, three are wide open to the public.
  • In the section on Purgatory, Crone states, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that the RCC kept Mother Teresa (d. 1997) waiting in Purgatory for nineteen years until they finally got around to canonizing her in 2016 (p. 301). A Catholic apologist would reply that canonization doesn’t send anyone to Heaven, it’s only a supposed confirmation that they’re already there.
  • Crone errs most egregiously by including and referencing the bogus “Jesuit Extreme Oath of Induction” (p.96-97). The alleged “secret oath” was first published in 1689 by Protestant, Robert Ware, in his book, “Foxes and Firebrands,” and has been repeated by careless Protestant polemicists and conspiracy theorists (e.g., Jack Chick Publications, Tony Alamo, etc.) for four centuries.

There are many other similar exaggerations and careless errors in this book. Catholicism has more than enough problems to answer for with its verifiable history and its doctrines as it presents them. Critics don’t need to exaggerate or misstate the facts to show the anti-Biblical teachings and history of Catholicism.

There are many more reliable rebuttals of Roman Catholicism available. One of the best is James G. McCarthy’s, “The Gospel According to Rome,” which I re-reviewed only yesterday. See here.

Postscript: Pastor Crone thankfully does not mention aliens or UFOs within the text.

Throwback Thursday: “The Gospel According to Rome: Comparing Catholic Tradition and the Word of God”

For today’s “Throwback Thursday” installment, we’re revisiting a slightly re-edited post that was first published back on August 13th, 2015.


The Gospel According to Rome: Comparing Catholic Tradition and the Word of God
by James G. McCarthy
Harvest House, 1995, 408 pp.

5 Stars

The Gospel According to Rome is a well-researched and well-written comparison of Catholic theology with Scripture. McCarthy, an evangelical Christian and ex-Catholic, uses Catholicism’s own source material including its official 1995 catechism to present the church’s position on various doctrinal issues and then responds with counter-arguments using relevant passages from the Bible.

Of course, the main disagreement between Catholics and evangelicals is in regards to the issue of justification and McCarthy expounds upon that disagreement thoroughly. Is a person saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as the Bible teaches and evangelicals believe, or does salvation come from the Catholic church through the dispensation of its sacraments and by merit? A Christian rests securely in Christ’s imputed perfect righteousness while a Catholic believes their salvation will ultimately depend on how well THEY “cooperate with (sacramental) grace” and obey their church’s rules and the Ten Commandments. Is that “Good News”? A person who adheres to a religious legal system like Catholicism could never possibly justify their standing before a Holy God according to how well they obeyed His commandments. The law teaches us we are all sinners (Galatians 3:24) and that we all need a Savior; justification doesn’t come from trying to obey the law. Christ came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15-17) NOT the self-righteous. Jesus Christ has made complete and final atonement for us, but we need to repent of our sin and accept Him as our Savior by faith alone. Pride in their religious system and its traditions and their false confidence in their ability to ultimately merit their salvation prevent Catholics from trusting in Christ by faith alone.

McCarthy examines the errors of many other Catholic doctrines including the sacerdotal priesthood, the sacrifice of the mass and transubstantiation, Mariolatry, the papacy, purgatory, sacred tradition, and baptismal regeneration. I’ve read many books which critically examine Catholicism and “The Gospel According to Rome” is easily one of the best. McCarthy’s tone is charitable yet uncompromising in his examinations of the Roman church’s fallacies. Order from Amazon here.

The following books were also written by McCarthy and published by Harvest House. They’re all available through Amazon.com:

*Roman Catholicism: What You Need to Know (Quick Reference Guides) (1995)
*What Every Catholic Should Ask (1999)
*Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical (2003)
*Talking with Catholic Friends and Family (2005)

Sociological forces that turned Lourdes into a national and continental phenomenon

The Happening at Lourdes: The Sociology of the Grotto
By Alan Neame
Simon and Schuster, 1967, 323 pp.

5 Stars

I recently submitted a post about the alleged Marian apparitions at the Massabielle Grotto in Lourdes, France in 1858 (see here), which prompted me to check our local library system to see if they had any books on the topic and found this fifty-two-year-old gem. Don’t let the age of the book dissuade you. Its revelations are still quite pertinent.

Author, Alan Neame, takes a very skeptical view of the Lourdes apparitions. Some of the cogent points include:

  • Fourteen-year-old Lourdes visionary, Bernadette Soubirous, had been thoroughly indoctrinated into Catholic Mariolatry and was quite familiar with the Marian myths that originated in the nearby towns of Bétharram and La Sallete, where Mary had allegedly appeared to two children just twelve years previous in 1846. The peasant folk of the French Pyranees region were steeped in religious superstition/cultism to a degree that would be shocking to a 21st century observer.
  • Devotees of the Lourdes cult often cite Bernadette’s claim that the apparition referred to herself as the “Immaculate Conception” during its sixteenth appearance as a proof of authenticity. Pope Pius IX had declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary as dogma only four years before in 1854 and they argue that Bernadette, an illiterate, could not possibly have learned of this dogma prior to the alleged visitation. The author points out that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception had been declared a Holy Day of Obligation one-hundred-and-fifty-years previous in 1708 by pope Clement XI and that all Catholics, especially those steeped in Mariolatry like the Soubirous family, were intimately aware of the doctrine.
  • French Catholic conservatives/traditionalists seized upon the Lourdes apparitions as a symbol of resistance to the militant secular state and the ongoing national political upheaval. The French National Pilgrimages (FNP) to Lourdes, which began in 1872, would become a rallying event for French political and religious conservatism. The rise of Lourdes as a national and European shrine coincided with the fall of the Papal States to the forces of Italian unification. Catholic conservatives from all across Europe would make the journey to Lourdes in symbolic support of the papacy and Roman Catholic traditionalism.
  • Interestingly, Bernadette Soubirous and all of the other Marian visionaries had contrasting versions of the apparition’s physical features and clothing.
  • After the apparitions were accepted as authentic by the church, the local parish priest, Dominique Peyramale, fought with the diocese to retain control of the grotto site. The apparition site eventually came under diocesan control and then the control of the French Catholic church. Credulous Lourdes devotees are oblivious to the “behind-the-scenes” ecclesiastical infighting among clerics over control of the apparition site that Neame examines with a good amount of detail.

Most evangelicals have no idea of just how popular pilgrimage destinations like Lourdes once were in Catholic-majority countries. In the small city (population: 13,946), there are still 200 souvenir shops and the second-highest number of hotel rooms in France after Paris. But the number of pilgrims has declined steeply in recent years. Lourdes used to boast of six million pilgrims per year only a decade ago, but the number is now half that.

“The Happening at Lourdes: The Sociology of the Grotto” is a revealing examination of the rampant cultic devotion to Mary that gripped Southwest France at the time of Bernadette’s alleged visions and of the forces that turned the Massabielle Grotto into a beloved symbol of religious and political traditionalism and conservatism in France and beyond. For anyone interested in the “back story” behind this “Mecca” of Marian cultism, this book is quite illuminating. Highly recommended.

This old aerial photo shows the massive railroad facilities that were installed at Lourdes to handle the 16,000 pilgrims who descended upon the humble town daily. Those are all passenger trains. The grandiose Marian shrine complex (123 acres) in the distance is circled in yellow.

Evaluating the 2019 San Diego Padres at the All-Star Break

This week marks Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game break, so let’s use this opportunity to evaluate how the San Diego Padres are doing at mid-season.


At the start of this special season, the San Diego Padres’ 50th anniversary campaign, fans finally had reason to hope. The ball club had uncharacteristically signed marquee free agent infielder, Manny Machado, to a ten-year, $300 million dollar contract. In addition, it was hoped that previous free agent pickups, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers, would finally produce. Young sluggers, Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes had shown a lot of promise in 2018. Young blue chipper, Fernando Tatis Jr, couldn’t be kept off the big league roster after an outstanding Spring Training, and veteran second baseman, Ian Kinsler, was brought in to anchor the young infield, while another blue-chipper, Luis Urias, continued to gain experience in Triple-A. I was hoping for a .500 season, which was admittedly optimistic after last year’s 66-96 debacle.

Well, here we are at the All-Star break, with the Padres’ record at 45-45 and sitting at third-place in the NL West. Not great, but not terrible. This is actually the first time the Padres are at .500 or above at the break since 2010. Let’s take a look at the individual players:

1B –Eric Hosmer (.287, 13 HRs, 62 RBIs) – After a lackluster season last year, Hosmer has rewarded the Padres’ 2018 free agent signing with a solid first half.

2B – Ian Kinsler (.217, 8 HRs, 19 RBIs) – Has been a disappointment offensively. Infield utility sub, Greg Garcia (.264, 3 HRs, 20 RBIs), now gets the nod against right-handed pitching. Young Luis Urias still has to figure out major league-level pitching, but is doing well at Triple-A El Paso.

SS – Fernando Tatis Jr. (.327, 14 HRs, 33 RBIs) – The 20-year-old phenom had a serious hamstring pull that kept him out of the lineup from April 29th to June 5th. The rest of the time, he’s played like the NL Rookie of the Year. An amazing talent at the plate and with the glove. I’ve been following the Padres for fifty years and I can very safely say the franchise has never had another rookie who played at this exceptional level.

3B – Manny Machado (.266, 20 HRs, 58 RBIs) – Manny started off with a cold bat, but he’s starting to heat up (.323 last 30 games). One of the game’s best defensive infielders.

RF – Franmil Reyes (.253, 25 HRs, 42 RBIs) – Affectionately nick-named, “Franimal,” the Dominican is power personified with 25 dingers at the break.

CF – Wil Myers and Manuel Margot – I don’t enjoy saying this, but the Myers (.217, 12 HRs, 27 RBIs, 104 SO) experiment is over. It’s time for the Padres to cut the cord. Margot (.242, 5 HRs, 18 RBIs) is merely serviceable in centerfield.

LF – Hunter Renfroe (.252, 27 HRs, 49 RBIs) – That’s not a typo, folks. Renfroe’s 27 dingers ranks #4 in the NL at the break. Other teams can only dream of having a young, power-duo like Renfroe and Reyes in the outfield.

C – Austin Hedges and Francisco MejiaHedges (.185, 6 HRs, 23 RBIs) has been a big disappointment offensively. Young Mejia (.211, 2 HRs, 6 RBIs) is getting more playing time, but is not quite ready to hit major league pitching.

Pitching – The starting rotation of Joey Lucchesi, Matt Strahm, Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, Eric Lauer, and Logan Allen , the youngest in MLB, has done surprisingly well given their overall lack of experience. Paddack is an exceptional young talent. However, the middle relievers are sub-mediocre. Closer Kirby Yates’ 30 saves leads all of MLB and he’s the Padres’ sole representative on the NL All-Star roster.

Bottom line: After a very disappointing 66-96 record last year, it was hoped the 2019 Padres, led by Manny Machado, would at least be competitive and building a foundation towards a 2020 or 2021 run at the NL pennant. So far so good. Props to Manager, Andy Green, for adroitly guiding MLB’s youngest roster. The Padres’ weaknesses (CF, RP) are starkly obvious and it’s up to General Manager A.J. Preller to address those needs.