Monday, November 3, 2008

Seeing Things

I was getting to ready to cut up a potato on Sunday, when I noticed a letter formed by the dark areas of the potato skin that looked just like a capital letter E.  Hmm, was it a sign, I wondered? And if so, of what or whom? Aha, Einstein, perhaps? Why not?

I was reminded of the devout or deluded souls out there who find evidence in nature or in common objects that they claim proves a certain belief, whether in ghosts, UFO's or Jesus, and I started wondering why. Why do they see Jesus on a slice of toast, the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich, faces on Mars, and angels in misty photographs? Why are there two YouTube videos of "Cheesus," little Jesus-shaped Cheetos that their owners are afraid to eat? Why do people flock to see Jesus in a rust stain, the Virgin on a garage door, or in a motorcyclist's road rash? 

I don't have a firm answer to the question. I am often baffled by the illogical ramblings of the village idiots. Here are my best guesses. And let me say, that I think that, except for those who are out to fool the rest, many of these people appear to genuinely believe. There's no lacking for sincerity here.

1. Attention. Clearly the people who find these things and tell their neighbors and call FOX news want attention. And a divine apparition is going to get attention, so can't rule this one out. The current modern stream of apparitions in various food items started in 1977 with New Mexico's Maria Rubio, who found a small image of Jesus on a tortilla she was fixing for her husband. This lead to a small shrine in a shed, visited, one assumes, by thousands. There were other competing Holy Tortillas that came out in the next year or two. Sadly, in 2005 the original Jesus tortilla was broken when Mrs. Rubio's granddaughter took it to school for Show and Tell and someone dropped it.  Tragedy or comedy? You decide.

2. Justification. Being able to produce something unexplained in a grainy photograph or video that justifies a belief, whether in E.T. or Bigfoot, may make the swampland of belief the believer is standing on seem a bit firmer. Visiting a shrine to one of these apparitions may be considered  proof of devotion, pennies in the heaven bank.

3. Boredom. Let's face it, many people lead desperate lives of tedious boredom. Having something to show everyone else may make them feel interesting for a while, or at the very least, less boring.

4. Inferiority Complex. Let the Jones's try to keep up with them for a change. How do you top Jesus in your neighbor's potato chip?

5. Spiritual High. Religious believers want to experience closeness with the divine. However, some people misconstrue an excess of emotion as spiritual experience. They work themselves into an emotional tizzy, like whirling dervishes (no offense to the dervishes). No dizzying rush = no spirit = no testimony. Don't want to be without one of those. Some may use apparitional objects as the focus of meditation in an effort to invoke a spiritual experience. I wouldn't be able to do it. Meditate on a tortilla with a thumb-sized Jesus burn mark? Not going to do it for me.

6. Mammon. Let's not forget the profit motive. There have been numerous items, some obviously faked and others produced by nature, sold on ebay. It's hard to associate pure motives to those.

You can see many of them here in this video. The song is by
The Bucky Burro Band.

There are a lot of things in this world that deserve attention, but these examples of wishful thinking are just sad. Long story short, the gullible will frequently be fooled by pareidolia, the random shapes that appear naturally, and seem to our eyes to contain faces or look like what they are not. There's a wonderful collection of them at this website: Things that look like other things.


  1. I couldn't have said it better myself. Bravo! Wow... you've left me without a witty remark. That's a first!

    "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being."
    -Carl Jung