Friday, August 25, 2006

Jesus Is Real - Oh, And Buy My Book

Andrew Denton's guest on Enough Rope this week was Mike Willesee. Mr Willesee spruiked his belief in god (well, a specific Roman Catholic god, rather than, possibly, Yog-Sothoth), his claims to have rational scientific evidence of his beliefs and, oh coincidentally, he's got a new book all about this gibberish coming out real soon now.

The incident that "returned him to God" (though, reading between the lines, he appears to have been a believer all along) was a light plane crash:

I had this very strong premonition, so strong as I believed it was going to happen, that this plane was going to crash, and I didn't believe in premonitions. I thought, "What do I do about this? What do I say to Greg? He's going to think I've lost it, I've lost my nerve or whatever". So I thought, "Well, that's it, we're going to crash." So I stayed on the plane, but I said a prayer, which was unusual for me. I'd got to the stage of thinking "What's it all about?" But I hadn't done anything about it, but I did say, believing the plane was going to crash, "Okay, Father, I put Greg and myself in your hands." We took off and flew for a little while and the plane fell out of the air. The only thought that occurred to me was, "Yes, I was right."

EoR can't quite work that out. If the Flying Spaghetti Monster had answered Mr Willesee's personal request and prevented the plane crash he could see how that could be interpreted as proof of divine intervention by the FSM... After spending some time going over Mr Willesee's career, Mr Denton returns to his newfound conversion experiences.

I had the rational belief that God was there, by proving some supernatural things to be true, by reading the writings of this woman Katya Rivas, by seeing a stigmata, which was seeing the wounds of Christ re-enacted. I mean I had all the reasons you needed to believe in God, but somehow that wasn't my conversion. My conversion was a gift.

Katya Rivas is the star of a documentary called "Signs from God" that Mr Willesee made, and which was seen by some 20 million people in the US (it seems to have been shown in Australia as well, but EoR obviously missed it - he was probably busy searching for thistles that day). This was before his "conversion", while he claims to have still been an "investigator". His gullibility levels appear to have been fairly high though. He believes this was the real stigmatic epiphany. No faking. No way.

I don't believe there was any possibility. I mean, master magicians can do things that really fool you, but it's hard to fool a camera. Magicians use movement, illusion and distraction. She didn't use any of those - she was lying still. There was certainly no one that jumped between me and her and did it.

Mr Willesee should know from his decades of experience in television that it's very easy to fool a camera (especially when you're editing something that is supposed to have taken hours to take place down to the length of a documentary, and when you want to believe it's real). Of course, EoR could be mistaken, and "The Lord of the Rings" could be all true.

Mr Willesee's current vocation is to prove the existence of the blood of Christ:

We started thinking about the blood of Christ because there's the shroud which wrapped the body of Christ, which has blood on it. Parts of it have been examined - it's type AB. There's the Sudarium, which is a very little-known cloth which covered the face of Jesus, which also has blood on it. We found that in a place called Oviedo in Spain. That blood's been tested and it's AB also. If you take pictures of the two - and the small cloth only covered part of Jesus' head while he was still on the cross, so it doesn't go all the way around - but if you take that part which coincides with the same part of the shroud, which covered all of his body, there are more than 120 wounds of coincidence when you put the two pictures one over the other. So there's a very strong case already to say that these two cloths were the two cloths mentioned in John's Gospel. So we thought, "Well if the blood's there and science is advancing, why don't we take the same scientific approach, and instead of people arguing about the story of Christianity and the story of Jesus Christ, let's, if the shroud is true and the Sudarium is true, then that gives a very strong rational basis for believing the whole story and gives a much stronger argument for believing the Resurrection, that Christ rose from the dead".

Mr Denton raises a couple of questions here about medical conditions that appear to be stigmata, and problems dating the Turin Shroud (though they were fairly tentative questions and not followed through). Sadly, the transcript doesn't include the excerpt from "Signs from God" where an image of Katya's eye is enlarged, showing some reflections in one corner. "Could this be a reflection of Jesus?" we are asked. Actually, EoR thought they might just be the reflections of studio lights, but that would be an incredible coincidence in the context of a film crew making a documentary. No, a reflection of Jesus is so much more likely.

Mr Denton mentions a certain $1,000,000 prize available to people proving the paranormal, but Mr Willesee could see that one coming, and has the ultimate answer to that, easily cutting Mr Denton down to size:

James Randy is a phoney.

And you're not, Mr Willesee? By this stage, even though Mr Denton's questions were pretty open, and only very mildly critical, Mr Willesee was becoming defensive. Earlier, he had promised to forward Mr Denton a copy of his book when it was published, but that seemed less likely now.

ANDREW DENTON: I can't wait to read your book.

MIKE WILLESEE: I'm not sure you're going to. At the start of the interview I thought you might, but...

ANDREW DENTON: What? You're not going to send me a copy anymore? You cheapskate.

MIKE WILLESEE: Maybe I'll just Photostat a couple of the relevant pages and send them over.

ANDREW DENTON: But are you surprised that I'm taking this line of questioning? Because I'm trying to ask rational questions, in the same way that you are.

Of course, Mr Willesee is on a mission, and rational examination is the last thing on his mind. He wants anything that he can fit into his already predetermined conclusions.

Reading the responses on the guestbook, EoR felt Brother Justin's flock had come out in droves ("Praise Michael! Praise Jaysus!"). The responses clearly fell between two groups: the majority who praised Mr Willesee with lots of talk of end times and retribution and holy revelation (and lots of people with spooky stories beginning "I was just questioning my faith the night before and then I saw your program"). There was lots of talk of a "profound" and "inspiring" interview, and scathing comments about Mr Denton's harsh and skeptical and disbelieving questions. The minority response felt Mr Denton could have gone in a lot harder. Maureen was typical:

My cat had a funny reflection in her eye this morning, could it be Buddha? Can I go on Denton for an entire
program to talk about it? This had to be the worst and most boring Denton yet to air. Andrew seemed afraid to point out the many nonsensical arguments yet even the slightest query got Willessee offside. I am not against hearing about people's life changing experiences but this was just a promo for a book I won't be reading.


  1. Everytime I fly I've had a premonition the plane will crash. Now I'm disappointed.

  2. Which is worse - an honest attempt to find out what's up with these alleged supernatural events or sneering, adolescent mindless denunciation?

  3. False dichotomy really. Even if I accept that EoR was just sneering, I can't see where Willesee is embarking on "an honest attempt to find out what's up". It seems his mind is made up as to the cause of all sorts of supposedly paranormal events.

    And since when did plane crashes become paranormal anyway?

    Here's his account from elsewhere...

    "I was in Nairobi flying north in a light aircraft and I had a premonition we were going to crash.There is nothing like a little bit of fear to empower you to pray so I prayed and my prayer basically was Well, God it's in your hands. And the plane crashed and was written off but we all got out.

    "So that made me stop and think about God. It doesn't prove anything but you've got to be pretty empty to pray to God to have a prayer answered and then say it was fine for then but I don't need you now. I thought on balance there probably was a God otherwise this world doesn't make much sense."

    So let's see, he was getting on a plane and thought it might crash. Pretty common I'd suspect. Hardly paranormal. He prayed but the plane crashed anyway. Also not paranormal.

    Planes crash, people survive. Nothing special there. You'd have to be pretty vain to assume some god was giving you special treatment just because you begged for it - and that you picked the right god to plead with. And even that requires an assumption that crashing your plane for you is special treatment. What sort of god does that to people?


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