A disappointing anointing
February 27, 2020 6:06 AM   Subscribe

"He opened his Bible to Psalm 39—an uneasy poem of both praise and gloom that includes the words “every man at his best state is but vapor”—and noticed a small spot of oil. Joyce assured him the grandkids hadn’t been near the book. It could only have come from God." Ruth Graham writes about a "modern miracle", the Bible flowing with oil.
posted by clawsoon (29 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Oil's Well that Ends Well.
posted by Schadenfreude at 6:10 AM on February 27 [4 favorites]

Reminds me of the monastery in the Texas Hill Country that faked a weeping Mary icon (in addition to child molestation) to get pilgrim traffic.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:19 AM on February 27

A good place to link to this wiki article: Ganesha drinking milk miracle
“The Ganesha drinking milk miracle was a phenomenon which occurred on 21 September 1995, in which statues of the Hindu deity Ganesha were thought to be drinking milk offerings. The news spread very quickly in various Indian and American cities, as Indians everywhere tried to "feed" idols of Ganesha with milk and spread the news through telephones and word of mouth, mostly in large cities and towns. It attracted great attention from people and the media particularly in India. The scientific explanation for the incident, attested by Indian academics, was that the material was pulled up from the offering bowls by capillary action. However, in most cases, it appeared to have been caused by a mix of surface tension, capillary effect, confirmation bias wherein people believed what they wanted to believe, in addition to what is termed group think.”
posted by Fizz at 6:31 AM on February 27

Oh shit, it's always a emotional roller coaster when a Tractor Supply store appears in a story.

*keeps reading*

posted by RolandOfEld at 6:31 AM on February 27 [13 favorites]

At Grace 251 on the day I left Dalton, I looked down and saw that my notebook had a splotch of oil on it. For a split second, my jaw hung open. Then I felt ridiculous. I’d been shaking hands with people whose fingers were doused in oil. But I’ll admit I was still, for that one instant, weirdly energized. The store was homey and bustling with people who had found each other because they believed in the same wildly improbable phenomenon, which brought them community and hope.

I dunno, I appreciate that people want to write with sincerity and kindness about this kind of phenomenon and to situate it in the world rather than just make fun, but it matters what people believe in. You can get homey and fun situations of shared belief out of all kinds of beliefs - homey and fun groups of knitters, homey and fun groups of people who run needle exchanges, homey and fun groups of LARPers...homey and fun groups of QAnon types, homey and fun groups of people who urge women to avoid medical care during birth. All the anti-vaxxers I've ever met (hippies, basically) have been nice, caring, warm people.

Fellowship is good, but it's not contentless or good in itself. The fellowship obtained here was apparently in the service of Trumpism, which means at the bare minimum the pointed exclusion of lots of people.
posted by Frowner at 6:34 AM on February 27 [42 favorites]

Dang, no one needs to enumerate the lessons here---the connections are all too obvious. But ok: 1) When economic inequality grows, exacerbated by the cost of health care, it is very easy for people on the have-not side to slip into the feeling that a higher power is withholding a blessing. 2) The oil stories in the Bible are directly connected to healing and financial well-being. 3) Trump's promise to the lower middle class was not education or fair distribution of wealth; it was renewed prosperity through the return of mining and manufacturing, and oil pipelines. 4) There is a big overlap between the prosperity gospel and Trump's base of support.
posted by TreeRooster at 6:35 AM on February 27 [8 favorites]

“Even if it’s a lie, it made me feel good so it’s OK.”

That about sums everything up, doesn’t it?
posted by Big Al 8000 at 6:45 AM on February 27 [15 favorites]

Ruth Graham seems to have generally warm memories of her Evangelical upbringing, and I'm sure she experienced the magic as a child that some Evangelical preachers were very good at creating. I'm not surprised if she felt a bit of that magic again when she saw the drop of oil, like an adult feeling a touch of the magic of Christmas long after you've realized that all of Santa's toys are actually built in exploitative sweatshops where the doors are locked so that no-one can escape a fire.

As she said about Billy Graham:
I can’t defend Graham’s tone-deaf forays into LGBTQ issues, though he wasn’t nearly as concerned with the issue as many of his peers. He was arguably ahead of most white pastors on the racial conflicts of the 1950s and 1960s, but certainly no crusader. He was caught on tape denigrating Jews in the Oval Office during the Nixon administration. Ninety-nine years on Earth provides a lot of time for growth and self-reflection, and Graham eventually apologized for these moral errors. But he never flipped around and became an activist with sustained attention to social justice. No one is obligated to forgive him.
posted by clawsoon at 6:49 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]

“Even if it’s a lie, it made me feel good so it’s OK.”

That about sums everything up, doesn’t it?

That was what struck me as well, though I think it was more about people's unwillingness to admit they'd been lied to. Denial works miracles as well.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:51 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

I mean, I think it's worthwhile trying to look at this type of phenomenon the way we'd look at an example from another time - there's lots of religious fraud in US history, and it is a bit easier to situate/view sympathetically when it's in, like, 1903 or something. If we can see the social determinants of 1903, we can also try to envision those of 2020.

But I do think that there's a difference between "this has social causes which include good things like fellowship and naturally attractive things like reassurance in a time of fear" and "I almost wish I could join in, what's wrong with fellowship?"

I appreciate that we as a society seem to be moving past the "lol skywizards" response to religion, but it shouldn't tip us over into warm-to-be-nice.
posted by Frowner at 6:52 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

Well, I guess that someone had to replace the Nun Bun, sooner or later.

Also, if there was any place that begged to be turned into a sex store, it would have to be the Wink Theatre.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:56 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

What a perfect illustration of the entire evangelicals for Trump apostasy.
posted by blue shadows at 7:12 AM on February 27 [3 favorites]

Psalm 42 has my favorite bit of Biblical poetry:

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

(I did read the story, just thought I'd add something in a different direction.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:15 AM on February 27 [6 favorites]

Actually upon reflection, a perfect illustration of the dupes and fakery in right wing religious support for trumpism, but they seem more sincere and nicer than your average Bible-influenced maga - but then as pointed out, what does that matter when your raison d'tre is supporting someone antithetical to your professed values.
posted by blue shadows at 7:23 AM on February 27

It's crappy Hannukah.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:39 AM on February 27 [7 favorites]

I never understood why the scene in The Fifth Element as oil pours spontaneously down Gary Oldman's forehead as he speaks to Mr Shadow felt so sinister. Now I do.
posted by Molesome at 7:44 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

“It’s not the dirt that makes the miracles!” the Rev. Casimiro Roca said with exasperation. A similar story from Chimayo, where the dirt floor of the little church there is believed to heal people. Except the religious man in the middle of that miracle isn't lying about the source of the magic substance. He literally replaces the dirt every week with some dug up from the back yard.

As I get older I experience a real dissonance about these kinds of stories of faith. On one hand, I'm a pretty strict rationalist and believe in reality and science, not fairy tales from old books. OTOH I've met a lot of people of quiet and profound faith who have benefited from it, and it seems pretty clear to me that human psychology is hard-wired to look to a divine or supernatural explanation for things they don't understand. Sometimes it's just reveling in ignorance and superstition, sometimes it's a solace and a structure for finding meaning in life. Occasionally I envy people of faith. (If this tension interests you too, I can highly recommend the TV show The Leftovers.)

The bright line that is drawn is when religious people use their belief in magic to profit or harm people. This article went out of its way to say that the magic oil huckster wasn't taking money. Except well, he was, just not so aggressively it was obvious. Also then he uses his fake miracle to justify the abomination of the Trump presidency. Fuck that. Meanwhile we have a real live Christian Warrior as vice president, someone who thinks prayer is more powerful than medicine. He's in charge of our nation's response to COVID-19. Expect your prayer battalion assignment soon.
posted by Nelson at 7:45 AM on February 27 [4 favorites]

I've met a lot of people of quiet and profound faith who have benefited from it

I've been listening to Songs in the Key of Life quite a bit lately because reasons. The second track is "Have A Talk With God" and features the lyric, "When you feel your life's too hard, just go have a talk with God." Every time I listen to this I am struck with the thought that it must be comforting for those who genuinely believe in a personal deity that they are able to "talk with God" when they are experiencing tough times and loneliness and feelings that no one else cares for them. I'm almost sorry I don't share this kind of faith, because there are times when it would really come in handy.
posted by slkinsey at 8:01 AM on February 27 [4 favorites]

Is this really the end of the story? I was so infuriated reading this I had to speed-read to the end, assuming it was going to end in the frauds getting in trouble or exposed. Man, I'm worked up right now. I wish there was a hell for Johnny Taylor to rot in.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:08 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

...assuming it was going to end in the frauds getting in trouble or exposed.

I think that's why they didn't let the reporter see the donations being collected.

...which brought them community and hope.

We need a cynical children's book on euphemism, featuring two opposed pages with images of the same smiling people doing normal things: Community or Lynch Mob? Hope or Denial?
posted by Brian B. at 8:12 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

A greasy book for slimy people. Seems about right.
posted by wakannai at 9:23 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]

I feel the same way about this as I do about the resurgence of astrology, which is that when you feel powerless you look for things that make you feel in control any way you can.

Reducing economic inequality might do a lot to reduce this sort of exploitation, and then if you want to be religious, at least it isn't because it would take a literal miracle for you to succeed in life.
posted by emjaybee at 9:39 AM on February 27 [4 favorites]

Ireland has had a couple of different miracles mostly related to statues (e.g. moving statues in 1985) but the one I find most interesting were the Bleeding Statues of Templemore. This was in 1920, in the middle of the Irish War of Independence, in Templemore just after a reprisal raid by the Northamptonshire Regiment of the British Army.

It involves Michael Collins himself, as well as surprising alleged opinions from the Virgin Mary:
Walsh told Leahy that when he had conversed with the Virgin Mary she had indicated her approval of guerrilla tactics, including the shooting of Black and Tans, and wished to see the campaign intensified.
posted by scorbet at 9:58 AM on February 27

While not a deliberate hoax, this reminded of the weeping Jesus statue that turned out to be dripping with water from nearby clogged toilet pipes.

People drank that water. *shudder*
posted by ananci at 11:00 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.
posted by pyramid termite at 11:18 AM on February 27 [4 favorites]

If it were true that he was refilling the oil himself, she would be sad and afraid for him. “That’s not the Jerry I’ve known in the past at all,” she said, her voice quavering. “If it’s true, then the enemy has gotten a hook in him somehow.”

Y'all out here using the name of God to shield and justify Donald fucking Trump. Bit late to worry about getting hooked when you're already being plated.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 11:18 AM on February 27 [7 favorites]

God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and all-loving. Lately He’s been pissing about with putting oil in a Bible.
posted by Segundus at 1:32 PM on February 27 [8 favorites]

I love GB Shaw's comment on the cast-off crutches lining the walls at Lourdes, "All those canes, braces and crutches, and not a single glass eye, wooden leg or toupee."
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:35 AM on February 29 [3 favorites]

From the Salon article:
...Less than a week after I left Dalton, that story changed. First, Leslie posted a notice to the ministry’s website, announcing that the Bible had stopped producing oil on Jan. 10, weeks before I arrived. Because there was no new supply of oil to hand out, the last weekly service at the Wink Theatre would take place on Feb. 11. Then, on Feb. 13—Jerry’s 77th birthday—the same Chattanooga Times Free Press writer who had covered the oil Bible in November published another report: An anonymous source told the writer that Jerry Pearce was a regular customer at a nearby Tractor Supply store. And he’d been seen purchasing large containers of clear oil.

Two managers at the store “visually identified” Jerry to the reporter and confirmed that he bought “gallons of mineral oil.” This time, a chemical analysis performed for the paper by the University of Tennessee–Chattanooga found that Jerry’s oil was indeed nearly identical in chemical structure to the brand of mineral oil sold at Tractor Supply. When Wyatt Massey, the Times Free Press reporter, questioned Jerry about the evidence after a prayer service in January, Jerry “got pretty upset pretty quickly,” Massey told me. “He scoffed, like, ‘This is crazy, this is stupid.’”
Tractor Supply sells Ideal Animal Health Mineral Oil Light, SKU: 220981299, 1 gallon, $19.99. It’s a laxative suitable for poultry, cattle, pigs, horses, goats, and sheep (no religious slur intended). It’s not human food grade, so let’s hope no one licked their fingers or drank a vial hoping for a sudden cure.

If you truly need a divinely inspired potion, submit a request for Peter Popoff’s Miracle Spring Water. It’s a legacy scam that continues to work wonders for him.
posted by cenoxo at 2:12 PM on February 29

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