WTF Fun Fact 13740 – The Vatican Regulates the Divine

The Vatican introduced a new set of guidelines aimed at scrutinizing claims of supernatural phenomena more rigorously. From weeping statues to miraculous healings, the Catholic Church is setting the bar high for what passes as a divine occurrence.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, responsible for promoting and safeguarding doctrine, has crafted these rules. They replace the older guidelines from 1978, marking a significant update in how the Church handles these mysterious claims.

A Call for Rigor and Rationality at the Vatican

At a media briefing last Friday, the Vatican made its stance clear: supernatural claims must undergo a thorough investigation to prevent fraud and exploitation. The Church aims to protect its credibility and unity, steering clear of scandals that could tarnish its image.

In an era where viral news can spread falsehoods in an instant, the guidelines stress the importance of careful validation. Reports of supernatural events have surged, propelled by the rapid spread of information online. The new protocol includes issuing a “nihil obstat,” meaning “no obstacle,” for unverified but harmless claims, allowing worship without formal recognition of the supernatural.

The Vatican’s Verdicts

Under the updated rules, bishops can make one of six decisions regarding supernatural claims. These range from outright rejection to prohibiting the worship associated with certain phenomena. To ensure consistency, bishops must seek approval from the Vatican before going public with any supernatural endorsements, with the Pope stepping in for exceptional cases.

This rigorous approach is not about stifling faith but about safeguarding it from the distortions of modern myth-making. The Vatican recognizes the powerful draw of pilgrimage sites, like Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal, where millions visit annually, drawn by tales of Marian apparitions and miracles recognized by the Church decades ago.

The Challenge of Modern Miracles

Not all supernatural claims make the cut. Take the 2016 incident in Italy, where a woman claimed regular visions of Jesus and Mary. It took eight years for the Church to investigate and dismiss the claims, which included contentious messages on social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. This case underscores the challenges the Church faces in distinguishing genuine spiritual phenomena from well-crafted hoaxes.

The new guidelines aim to streamline this process, ensuring that any claim of a heavenly apparition or miraculous event receives the scrutiny it deserves before being accepted or rejected.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Vatican tightens rules on supernatural phenomena” — BBC News

WTF Fun Fact 13661 – Faith and Risk Taking

A recent study from York University’s Faculty of Health reveals an intriguing link between faith and risk-taking. The research, led by Assistant Professor Cindel White, looked into how beliefs about a protective God influence Christians’ willingness to take risks.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggests that the belief in a benevolent deity can boost confidence in pursuing uncertain or potentially dangerous activities.

Findings About Faith and Risk Taking

White, along with collaborators Chloe Dean and Kristin Laurin from The University of British Columbia, focused on Christian Americans known for their belief in a protective God. The study avoided risks with moral connotations, like drug use, and instead examined ‘morally neutral’ risks.

These included recreational activities like mountain climbing and life decisions such as relocating for a job. The research revealed a reliable connection between these beliefs and an increased willingness to take such risks.

The findings do not necessarily suggest that religious individuals are more inclined to take risks than non-religious people. However, they highlight the role of religious beliefs in creating a sense of safety and positivity. Belief in a protective God appears to help believers cope with life’s uncertainties and stressors. This sense of security and positive outlook may encourage them to seize opportunities they might otherwise avoid.

Understanding the Psychological Safety Net

The study provides insights into how religious beliefs function as coping mechanisms. For many believers, the idea of a protective God offers a psychological safety net.

This belief may empower them to face challenges and uncertainties with more confidence. It’s not just about risk-taking; it’s about how faith shapes the approach to life’s varied situations.

The research has significant implications for understanding the decision-making process of religious individuals. It suggests that their faith could subtly influence choices in everyday life, from career moves to leisure activities.

This understanding could be crucial for psychologists, counselors, and even employers in recognizing the factors that drive the actions and choices of religious individuals.

Broader Perspective on Religious Beliefs

These findings open up a broader perspective on the role of religious beliefs in modern society. They shed light on the nuanced ways faith intersects with daily life, influencing not just moral decisions but also personal and professional risks.

As society becomes increasingly aware of diverse belief systems, such insights are vital for fostering understanding and respect across different cultural and religious backgrounds.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Thinking about God inspires risk-taking for believers, study finds” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 13185 – Non-Religious and Atheist People

There are roughly 2.38 billion Christians,1.91 billion Muslims, and 1.16 billion Hindus in the world. But a growing number of people identify as non-religious and atheist. In other words, they don’t affiliate with any specific religion, though their range of beliefs is still quite wide.

It’s interesting to see that 85% of the world still does identify with some organized religious group.

Defining non-religious and atheist people

Of course, religion is complicated. You may identify as a Christian but believe the person sitting next to you in a Church pew is not. However, what matters is how they identify, not whether they act according to a religion’s belief system.

People often associate religion with someone’s morals. But it’s not true that non-religious and atheist people don’t have a set of morals and virtues they abide by. Those “rules” or guidelines simply don’t come from a single, organized religion. And non-religious people and atheists may not even have much in common.

Non-religious people may be agnostic or spiritual. In other words, they may believe in the eternal or an afterlife, but not a deity that controls it). Atheists are a diverse group, though they tend to be defined as those who do not believe any kind of god exists. However, there are generally two types of atheists – those who reject the idea that gods exist and those who aren’t as explicit in their rejection of deities but still don’t believe in any.

While there are famous atheists who have tried to define the word to the world and construct a system of thinking around the world. But atheists are free to reject these words and still call themselves atheists.

Atheists in the world

The number of atheists has always been difficult to measure. Some have posited that the number of atheists is declining because the birth rates in religious countries have gone up. But that implies that those children will not someday identify as atheists (at least on a survey when asked privately!). Others have suggested that there are far more non-religious and atheists in the world who still identify as religious out of social pressure. And since many people incorrectly associate atheism with anti-religious beliefs or fringe beliefs (like Satanism), they may be reluctant to identify as such.

The countries with the most “convinced atheists” (at least in a 2012 survey) were China, Japan, the Czech Republic, France, South Korea, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Iceland, and Australia (10%).  WTF fun facts

Source: “Religion by Country 2023” — World Population Review

WTF Fun Fact 13141 – Making Champagne Secular

As you likely know, champagne production for the masses started with a Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon. And while it might seem odd that we have a French Abbey to thank for our New Year’s bubbles (after all, he made it so they could be mass-produced and shipped worldwide), it actually took time for the drink to lose its religion and to make champagne secular.

How champagne became secular

Fr. Dom wasn’t the reason champagne was associated with religion, to begin with. In fact, he’s one of the reasons it became a worldwide phenomenon.

You see, bubbly was not only difficult but dangerous to produce because bottles would explode. For a long time, sparkling wine was confined within the walls of the institution that made it. That is until the French kings got involved. Eventually, it became a celebratory drink for things like baptisms and coronations.

As VinePair (cited below) puts it:

“Before the abolition of the French monarchy, France’s royal family had longstanding ties to the Champagne region. The multi-century connection began in 496, when reigning monarch Clovis I was baptized in a small church in Reims. The city and that exact spot (which was eventually replaced by a grand cathedral) went on to become the traditional location for French coronations, and cemented the link between region and royalty.”

In other words, wine from Champagne (pre-bubbles) started out as a holy wine.

Of course, red Burgundian wine was long the official celebratory wine of France. But when secondary fermentation was discovered by Dom Perignon in 1668, things changed…slowly.

Rise of the champagne industry

In the 18th century, King Louis XV became a champagne lover, making it very fashionable. It was also chic because he made sure it was the only wine that could be sold in glass bottles (which also made it dangerous because of all the exploding glass, but that’s not really a matter for kings to care about).

Eventually, if you wanted to be cool in France, you had to buy wine from Champagne.

At this point, champagne had made it out of the Abbey walls and into castles. However, this is all pre-French Revolution, in a time when kings and Catholics ruled.

Then came the Revolution. Heads came off, heads of state were replaced, and people became far more skeptical of powerful institutions, including the church.

There’s no one moment (that we know of) when champagne became untangled from production by religious workers, but the Revolution certainly changed the nature of all things elite.

Marketing secular champagne

By 1796, George Washington was serving champagne at a state dinner.

And, according to VinePair, “Within a century, one didn’t even have to hold office to toast with Champagne. In the latter half of the 1800s, increasing supply and better worldwide distribution channels made Champagne a commodity most middle-class families could afford…The period also saw significant marketing efforts from Champagne houses to place their bubbles as the celebratory beverage. The images and language on many bottle labels targeted newly engaged couples and soon-to-be parents…”

It was no longer associated with religion, but with any kind of celebration.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Religion, Royalty, and Bubbles: How Champagne Became the Go-To Drink for Celebrating” — VinePair

WTF Fun Fact 12996 – Swami Vivekananda

Anyone who practices yoga in the West today does so because a Hindu monk named Swami Vivekananda traveled to Chicago from India in 1893 to crash the World’s Columbian Exposition.

This world’s fair was held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World but gave him an enormous audience at its Parliament of Religions, which was originally meant to celebrate the glories of Protestantism.

Who was Swami Vivekananda?

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below), things didn’t get off to a great start for Swami Vivekananda since he hadn’t actually been invited to speak at the event:

“One morning in September 1893, a 30-year-old Indian man sat on a curb on Chicago’s Dearborn Street wearing an orange turban and a rumpled scarlet robe. He had come to the United States to speak at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, part of the famous World Columbian Exposition. The trouble was, he hadn’t actually been invited. Now he was spending nights in a boxcar and days wandering around a foreign city. Unknown in America, the young Hindu man, named Vivekananda, was a revered spiritual teacher back home. By the time he left Chicago, he had accomplished his mission: to present Indian culture as broader, deeper and more sophisticated than anyone in the U.S. realized.”

Recognizing Indian culture

No one at the time thought of India as a vibrant-yet-ancient culture. It was a conquered place, considered backward and largely irrelevant from a cultural standpoint. “So the audience was astonished when Vivekananda, a representative of the world’s oldest religion, seemed anything but primitive—the highly educated son of an attorney in Calcutta’s high court who spoke elegant English. He presented a paternal, all-inclusive vision of India that made America seem young and provincial.”

It turns out Swami Vivekananda was the perfect person to bring Indian culture, including the practice of yoga (which looked quite different at the time), to America. He had attended Christian schools and knew the Bible and was an expert in European philosophy.

While Swami Vivekananda died early, at age 39, he traveled to major cities in the U.S. and shared Indian culture and knowledge about the Hindu religion, opening the door to the practice of yoga (as a spiritual practice at the time) in America.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Indian Guru Who Brought Eastern Spirituality to the West” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12954 – Is the Soul Weighing 21 Grams a Lie?

There’s no reliable way to weigh the human “soul,” though one person has tried. Still, the myth that the soul weighs 21 grams and that scientists have confirmed it still persists. And that’s because of a movie.

The weight of the soul

“21 Grams” is a 2003 film starring Sean Penn in which he plays a mathematician who experiments to find the weight of the human soul. It’s based on a story about a scientist, to some small extent, but the movie is pure fiction.

The man who attempted to weigh the human soul was a physician named Duncan MacDougall from Dorchester, MA. He assumed that if humans had souls in their bodies, those souls must weigh something. Therefore, upon death, the soul leaves the body and a person’s corpse should therefore be lighter.

In 1907, he wrote about his effort: “Since … the substance considered in our hypothesis is linked organically with the body until death takes place, it appears to me more reasonable to think that it must be some form of gravitative matter, and therefore capable of being detected at death by weighing a human being in the act of death.”

A flawed experiment

According to LiveScience, “MacDougall teamed up with Dorchester’s Consumptives’ Home, a charitable hospital for late-stage tuberculosis, which at that time was incurable. MacDougall built a large scale, capable of holding a cot and a dying tuberculosis patient. Tuberculosis was a convenient disease for this experiment, MacDougall explained in his paper, because patients died in ‘great exhaustion’ and without any movement that would jiggle his scale.”

We’re already on shaky ground here, but it gets worse.

“MacDougall’s first patient, a man, died on April 10, 1901, with a sudden drop in the scale of 0.75 ounce (21.2 grams). And in that moment, the legend was born. It didn’t matter much that MacDougall’s next patient lost 0.5 ounce (14 grams) 15 minutes after he stopped breathing, or that his third case showed an inexplicable two-step loss of 0.5 ounce and then 1 ounce (28.3 g) a minute later. MacDougall threw out Case 4, a woman dying of diabetes, because the scale wasn’t well calibrated, in part due to a ‘good deal of interference by people opposed to our work,’ which raises a few questions that MacDougall did not seem eager to answer in his write-up. Case 5 lost 0.375 ounce (10.6 grams), but the scale malfunctioned afterward, raising questions about those numbers, too. Case 6 got thrown out because the patient died while MacDougall was still adjusting his scale. MacDougall then repeated the experiments on 15 dogs and found no loss of weight — indicating, to his mind, that all dogs definitely do not go to heaven.”

Despite being a poor experiment with few samples in which his own first result was undermined by everything that came after it, he sent in his write-up to the journals American Medicine and the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, and his results were also reported in the New York Times.

No one except a sheep rancher in Oregon has ever tried to replicate the experiment, for ethical reasons.

So science has neither determined the existence of a soul nor its weight.  WTF fun facts

Source: “How much does the soul weigh?” — LiveScience