Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Line-of-sight limited miraculous relics

A curious phenomena reported across many faiths and cultures is the solemnly held belief in the miraculous power of certain objects-- especially those objects believed to have been touched or held or used by the venerated religious figures of the faith. Modernly, many relics exist which are held by tradition (and in some cases, no small degree of chicanery) to have come in contact with, for example, Jesus, Mohammad, the Buddha -- a reporter debunking claims about one particular relic quipped not long ago that "There are enough pieces of the 'True Cross' in circulation to make a wooden aircraft carrier. And enough nails to put it together." And beyond that, there are countless relics claimed to have been connected with countless minor holy figures of these and other traditions, Prophets and Imams and Saints. And for every such object claimed as an artifact out there, there is some testimonial, maybe many, about the wondrous miraculous powers imbued in that artifact, most often expressed through the ambiguous healing of (non-amputation related) ailments, and the more generalised experience of good fortune.

Believers may be inclined to express as much certainty in the power of the artifacts of their own faiths as they are in the faith itself -- possibly even after the historical validity of a particular item claimed as such an artifact has been debunked. Presumably a correlary of this, though not one which I've seen much expressed, is a similarly active disbelief in the miraculous powers attributed to artifacts from competing and doctrinally exclusive religions. But in any event, there are two most curious thing about these artifacts, one being the seemingly haphazard incidence of their existence at all, and the other being the quizzically limited physical field of their effectiveness.

As to the first thing, why is it that every spot on the ground once stood upon by the Buddha, or Mohammad, or some especially pious Pope stood is not miraculous in its qualities? For the assertions of miraculous points of contact suggest that it is contact itself which makes holy that point, and so it remains to be explained why only some such points, and not all, have this characteristic. One would think that if a spot on the ground absorbed healing powers due to the passage there of a venerated figure, that all of the other spots which marked the path of this figure as it approached and then departed from that sacred spot ought to be, if not imbued with the same capacity, detectably holier than spots where the figure never tread. And so with every vessel drunk from by them and every article worn by them. Amongst the qualities oft attributed to such relics is that of staying power, of continuing to exist in much the same state for centuries onward from their sacredness-imbuing moment of use.

As to the second thing, why, if a thing is miraculous in itself, that its miraculous power is limited to affecting those who come to a close physical proximity to it? After all, there is a certain presupposition at play that metaphysical powers are not limited in the way in which forces which are simply physical are physically limited. Why are those with faith so strong as to believe indelibly in the power of the artifact of their religion unaffected by that power unless they draw within some proximity to it? Why is a person in Australia who believes in the healing power of a blessed stone in India not healed by that belief alone, but only by travelling to the site of the stone? Mohammad and Jesus and the Buddha all stood, or so it is reported, on the planet Earth; and so why is not 'the planet Earth' imbued with miraculous healing powers which present themselves to all who touch it? Were all of these figures so limited in their inherent power as to be unable to affect a physical reach beyond a few feet, to affect an object bigger than what might be conveniently carried about?

The obvious solution is, indeed, that if relics believed to have such limited range and power do possess any supernatural power at all, then such power is the product of supernatural forces themselves possessed of limited range and power. Naturally, those having especial fealty to any faith will insist on the infinitudes of power available to their favored deity, but will have at the ready any number of excuses as to why their deity only ever behaves entirely consistently with an entity of limited power. But such an explanation does nothing to satisfy the objection that other entities claiming the same essentially exclusive power share approximately equal or comparable limitations in the effective range of the relics with which they are associated. And, at last, it must be recalled that their are theological models -- pandeism leading them, but other ideations of pantheism and deism and panpsychism as well -- which account for all such phenomena occurring within all such faiths as notions of a single underlying power from which miraculous results are drawn, unwitting, from man's own predispositions.

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