Hoax Museum Blog: Religion

The Christian Side Hug: Real or Hoax? — Thanks to Peter for drawing our attention to this strange new concept. (Link to his forum post.) Apparently side hugging is gaining popularity in the land of conservative Christians. The idea is to avoid the dangerous risk of "two crotches touching." Therefore:

Instead of face to face, you go side to side, putting your arm around the person and your hip against their’s. Still having a hard time mastering it? Pretend you’re taking a photo and you’re both looking at the camera together. The side hug, or A frame as it is also called, is safe for the whole family, friendly and above all holy.

But upon closer examination, I think this is another example of Poe's Law. In other words, it's satire. The concept of the side hug traces back to the humor site Stuff Christians Like, where it's identified as satire.
Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2009.   Comments (21)

Boy suspended from school for drawing Jesus — Outrageous! A young boy was suspended from school for drawing a picture of Jesus on the cross! Let's all get worked up about this.

Oh, wait a second. Turns out the story was mostly b.s. cooked up by the boy's father. The boy wasn't suspended, though a teacher did order a psychological evaluation of the boy: "She said the drawing was seen as a potential cry for help when the student identified himself, rather than Jesus, on the cross, which prompted the teacher to alert the school’s principal and staff psychologist. As a result, the boy underwent a psychological evaluation."

Link: boston.com (Thanks, Bob!)
Posted: Thu Dec 17, 2009.   Comments (5)

Shroud of Turin back in the news — Earlier this year Barbara Frale made headlines by arguing that the Shroud of Turin was hidden for over 100 years by the Knights Templar. Now she's back, claiming to have found writing on the Shroud that identifies the figure as Jesus Christ. From startribune.com:

Frale, a researcher at the Vatican archives, said Friday that she used computers to enhance images of faintly written words in Greek, Latin and Aramaic scattered across the shroud.
She asserts the words include the name "Jesus Nazarene" in Greek, proving the text could not be of medieval origin because no Christian at the time, even a forger, would have labeled Jesus a Nazarene without referring to his divinity.

Thanks to Cranky Media Guy for forwarding me the link. I can't top his comment: "She also found a tag reading 'Dry Clean Only.'"
Posted: Fri Nov 20, 2009.   Comments (6)

Mass: We Pray — Mass: We Pray claims to be a new video game that allows you to simulate going to church, without ever leaving home. Shacknews.com reports receiving a press release from Prayer Works Interactive, the maker of this purported product. An excerpt follows:

Mass: We Pray is the first of many worship-themed games in development for Prayer Works Interactive. Just like with any videogame, families can use a television as a monitor to play. Then, they can use the CROSS, a proprietary, wireless, cross-shaped controller to participate in 24 unique and exhilarating rituals. Make the Sign of the Cross, sprinkle Holy Water, take Collection and even give Holy Communion. Every motion and nuance of a blessing or ritual is detected in three dimensions and replicated on-screen.

Can this be real? As often with claims of a religious nature, Poe's law rears its head. (The real religious stuff is often so crazy that it's indistinguishable from the spoof stuff). But let's review some of the typical signs that a website is a hoax:
  1. The site makes a claim that seems outrageous or absurd.
  2. It advertises a product, but doesn't actually allow you to buy it.
  3. It's registered anonymously, and no business address is provided.
  4. Although you can't buy the main product, you can buy a related t-shirt or mug.
  5. Google ads (or other unrelated ads) are posted to profit from traffic to the site.
An outrageous or absurd claim? Check. You can't buy Mass: We Pray, but the company claims that on Friday, Nov. 20 you'll be able to pre-order it. (Let's wait and see if they hold true to that promise.) The website is also registered anonymously through Domain Discreet, and Prayer Works Interactive offers no business address.

That's three signs of being a hoax. So my guess is that Mass: We Pray is probably fake. But the real test, of course, will be to wait and see if they ever offer this thing for sale.

Below is a video demonstration of the game.

Update: On November 20 Mass: We Pray was revealed to be a hoax. (No surprise there!) The pre-order link, which previously had been dead, became clickable, leading to an ad for the video game Dante's Inferno.

(Thanks, Bob!)
Posted: Thu Nov 19, 2009.   Comments (9)

Blessed Virgin Apparitions in Knock — Visions of the Virgin Mary have been predicted in Knock, Ireland. From the Irish Times:

some 5,000 people gathered [in Knock] in the hope of seeing an apparition of Our Lady, following the prediction by Dubliner Joe Coleman, who describes himself as “a visionary of our Blessed Mother and a spiritual healer under the energy of the Holy Spirit”. A video posted on YouTube of the sun breaking through the clouds at Knock on October 11th, with a voiceover by Coleman, has to date attracted almost 10,500 views.

Meanwhile, skeptics are pointing out, once again, that the original vision of the Virgin Mary in Knock in 1879 was probably a hoax:

Eoghan Harris in the Sunday Independent newspaper says his grandfather, a farmer from near the area, believed like many at the time that it was two local policemen with a magic lantern, a device that was widespread in the 19th century which allowed a small lightbox to project an image on a wall, who did it.
Others have suggested that a returning Irish American brought the magic lantern back, though magic lantern tours of rural Ireland and Britain were common at the time.

The Knock Shrine article on Wikipedia has more background info.
Posted: Mon Nov 02, 2009.   Comments (0)

Religious urban legends that refuse to die —
Even though the famous atheist’s body [Madalyn Murray O’Hair] was discovered in 1998 and positively identified in Texas -- and even though she apparently has been dead since she disappeared in 1995 -- patently false rumors about her alleged anti-Christian campaigns continue to spread. Credulous Christians who once forwarded these kinds of rumors in mimeographed chain letters or spread them on talk radio now can broadcast them around the world with the mere click of a mouse.

Link: apbnews.com
(Thanks, Big Gary!)
Posted: Tue Oct 20, 2009.   Comments (7)

Did Da Vinci create the shroud of turin? — A new theory about the Shroud of Turin: Lillian Schwartz, a graphic consultant at the School of Visual Arts in New York, thinks Leonardo da Vinci created it. Her reasoning is that "the face on the Turin Shroud and a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci share the same dimensions."

The self-portrait of da Vinci and the face on the shroud do look similar, but I thought it was pretty well established that the shroud dates back to at least 1355, which would make it too old for da Vinci to have created, since he was born in 1452. [Daily Mail]
Posted: Mon Jul 06, 2009.   Comments (11)

Knights Templar Turin Shroud — Shroud of Turin News: A Vatican historian says she's uncovered documents indicating that between 1204 and 1353 the Shroud of Turin was kept hidden by the Knights Templar, who worshipped it as a holy relic. Apparently they required their members to "venerate the image by kissing its feet three times." (Some of their other rituals may have involved spitting on the cross, stripping naked and kissing their superior on the buttocks, navel, and lips, and submitting to sodomy.) The Vatican is still remaining mum about whether they think it's the genuine shroud in which Christ was buried, or a forgery. [Times Online]
Posted: Mon Apr 06, 2009.   Comments (5)

Missing Women — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rest of his new government posed for an official photo in Jerusalem on April 1. But when the photo appeared in the ultra-orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman, all the women had been digitally removed from the photo. Apparently ultra-orthodox Jews don't like the idea of women in politics and seem to believe that if they can't see them, then they don't exist. [Suomen Kuvalehti]
Posted: Mon Apr 06, 2009.   Comments (4)

April 1st as an Atheist Holy Day — An urban legend has been circulating for a number of years that mockingly describes April Fool's Day as a holy day for atheists:

In Florida, an atheist created a case against the Easter & Passover holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians, Jews & observances of their holy days. The argument was, it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized day(s). The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer,the judge banged his gavel declaring, 'Case dismissed.'
The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, 'Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter & others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur & Hanukkah. Yet my client & all other atheists have no such holidays.'
The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, 'But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant.'
The lawyer said, 'Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists.'
The judge said, 'The calendar says April 1st is 'April Fools Day.' Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned.

This Florida court case never occurred in real life, and the point of the story is to brand atheists as fools. Nevertheless, the idea of designating April 1st as an "Atheist Holy Day" seems to be growing in popularity among atheists themselves. At least, I've seen an increasing number of blog posts in support of the idea.

From a historical perspective, April 1st is an interesting choice as an Atheist Holy Day, because the Christian church has had a complex, often antagonistic relationship with traditions of Foolery. Early christianity held the symbol of the Fool in high esteem. St. Paul described Christ as being like a Fool, and medieval monks aspired to be "Fools for Christ." There was also the Festus Fatuorum, or Feast of Fools -- a medieval Christian holiday observed around January 1. It was a day on which low-ranking clergy would symbolically usurp the roles of their superiors. A mock bishop or pope would be elected and paraded through the streets. The clergy would dress up as women, sing bawdy songs, play dice at the altar, and substitute stinking smoke for the incense. The historian Rogan Taylor described it as being "like a religious chimney sweeping, brushing away the year's repressed and hidden blasphemy, in a riot of filth and irreligion."

However, by the seventeenth century church officials had largely succeeded in suppressing the celebration of the Feast of Fools. The Church was uncomfortable with the symbolism of the Fool. After all, the Fool is usually embraced by opponents of the establishment, but the Church was itself the establishment.

So since the church exiled Foolery from its midst, it would be somehow fitting if atheists were to adopt April Fool's Day as their own. And why not? The values that the Fool represents (mischief, paradox, uncertainty) do seem to be more compatible with atheism than with modern mainstream Christianity.
Posted: Fri Mar 20, 2009.   Comments (12)

The stegosaurus on the temple — A carving on the ancient Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia has become a favorite of creationists, because it looks kinda like a stegosaurus. And, of course, if there's a carving of a stegosaurus on an ancient temple, that supports their belief that dinosaurs and humans once lived together.

However, as Brian Switek points out on the Smithsonian blog, two other explanations are more likely:

a) The carving is something other than a stegosaurus:
If viewed directly, the carving hardly looks Stegosaurus-like at all. The head is large and appears to have large ears and a horn. The “plates” along the back more closely resemble leaves, and the sculpture is a better match for a boar or rhinoceros against a leafy background.

b) The carving may be a stegosaurus, but it's not an ancient carving:
There are rumors that it was created recently, perhaps by a visiting movie crew (the temple is a favorite locale for filmmakers), and it is possible that someone created something Stegosaurus-like during the past few years as a joke.

Posted: Fri Mar 13, 2009.   Comments (19)

Pareidolia Roundup: December 2008 — It's been a while since I've done a pareidolia roundup, so a few of these are a couple months old.

Virgin Mary in Salsa Stain
"Elvia Alvarez was recently using her blender to make salsa in her kitchen. Some of the salsa splattered onto the wall, creating what Alvarez says is the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since this happened. Alvaraz says it's a sign that people need to be nicer to each other." Funny. I thought it was a sign she needs to be more careful when making salsa.

Jesus in Guitar
Employees at International Music and Sound in Ludington, Michigan are seeing the face of Jesus in the grain of a guitar. The guitar, which is made out of maple wood, is manufactured by the Washburn Company.

Jesus on Doggie Door
Roger Bowman was about to put his dogs down. But then he saw that the face of Jesus had formed on their doggie door, so he changed his mind. Now he's decided to sell the divine doggie door on eBay. Bidding is currently at $1185. No word on what will happen to the dogs once the door is gone.

Celestial Smiley Face
Astronomers have been abuzz about a rare alignment of Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon that creates a giant smiley face in the night sky. Is no one going to say it looks like Jesus?

Jesus Face in melted chocolate cookie
"Lois Preira, of Ullswater Road, was enjoying a cookie and a cup of tea when she noticed a face in the melted chocolate on the plate." Whose face could it be? Why Jesus, of course!

Obama on Toast
Some guy claimed that the face of Barack Obama "miraculously appeared" on a piece of wonder bread he was toasting, the day after Obama was elected president. Even more miraculous, he managed to sell the "Hope Toast" on eBay for $205.

Jesus or Shakespeare on Banana Peel
Theresa Smith writes: "I was at work getting ready to eat my banana... I peeled it and happened to look at it and noticed a face on the peel! But what I saw was just half the face.. once I put the peel back onto the banana I couldn't believe what I saw! It's Jesus on the banana! It could be Shakespeare too depending on your point of view."

Buddha in Wasp's Nest
Cambodian Buddhists in Rochester, Minnesota noticed that a wasp's nest built in the eaves of their temple looked like Buddha. One monk, Moeun Ngop, said that the wasps were trying to communicate Buddha's message. Would that message be, it's time to hire an exterminator?

Virgin Mary in Hospital Window
Back in September, crowds gathered outside Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts to see what looked like the image of the Virgin Mary in a second-story window. But one of the Sisters of Providence, who dropped by to check it out, was actually kinda skeptical. She said it might be nothing more than "the illusions which light and shadows can cause."
Posted: Wed Dec 03, 2008.   Comments (12)

Pareidolia Roundup: September 2008 — Coffee Stain Christ
Four years ago Sam Marinos had a cup of coffee with his wife. When he was done he turned the cup upside down to allow the grounds to run down the side of the cup -- which is some kind of tradition in his family. He was then "stunned" to see that the grounds had formed what looked to him like the face of Jesus. He's now considering selling the Jesus cup on eBay.

Drywall Jesus
Omar Craddock was doing some work in a client's kitchen when he spotted the image of a face in the drywall mud on an unfinished wall. He immediately thought: Jesus! His brother-in-law, who was with him, is remaining more skeptical, refusing to put a name to the image. But both agree that "For drywall finishing this was a pretty exciting day."

Virgin Mary Grape
Becky Ginn was about to throw away some rotten grapes, but before she did she turned one over and thought, "oh that looks like the Virgin Mary." The grape is now preserved in her freezer. She insists that she has no intention of trivializing the experience. I assume this means she won't be selling it on eBay.

Oyster Shell Jesus
An Orlando woman, while walking down the beach, found an oyster shell that appears to show the face of Jesus. She also found a shell showing the Virgin Mary. "The woman claimed she has had nothing but good luck since finding the shells." I'm not sure if the thumbnail shows the Jesus or Virgin Mary shell, because I can't make out anything in it.

Water Stain Jesus
Seen at a One Stop Body Shoppe in Arkansas City, Kansas. According to the manager: "A client was laying here looking up and told me, Michelle, you have Jesus on your ceiling. I just kind of looked at her, and she said you do, Jesus on the ceiling." The water-stained ceiling tile may soon be headed to eBay.

Thanks to Cranky Media Guy and Stannous Flouride!
Posted: Wed Oct 01, 2008.   Comments (29)

Is Roger Ebert a Creationist? — Yesterday the film critic Roger Ebert posted an article to his website that reads very much like an endorsement of creationism. It starts:

Questions and answers on Creationism, which should be discussed in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution:

Q. When was the earth created?
A. Archbishop James Usher, working out a chronology from the Bible, calculated in 1654 that the earth was created on the night of October 23, 4004 B.C. Other timetables reach back as far as 10,000 years.

The article contains nothing that would indicate satire, so it already has people scratching their heads, wondering what the deal is. Ebert was never known to have creationist leanings. In fact, he's openly criticized creationism before, such as in this article from 2005 in which he writes: "Evolution is indeed a theory. Creationism is a belief, not a theory."

I'm guessing it must be some kind of attempt to provoke debate. Either that or he's gone off his rocker. (Thanks, Bob!)

Update: Ebert has revealed that his creationism article was meant to be satirical. He scolds his readers for not realizing this, claiming that we as a culture are losing our sense of irony.

Ebert doesn't seem to appreciate what makes a good hoax, which is that people should fall for it at first, but recognize in hindsight how ridiculous it was. Ebert's hoax fails this test because even in hindsight his article doesn't seem ridiculous. Unfortunately, people really do believe that crap.
Posted: Mon Sep 22, 2008.   Comments (14)

Poe’s Law and TrueChristians.com — Poe's Law, coined by Nathan Poe on the Christian Forums site, states:

in general, it is hard to tell fake fundamentalism from the real thing, since they both sound equally ridiculous. The law also works in reverse: real fundamentalism can also be indistinguishable from parody fundamentalism.

Cranky Media Guy recently submitted an example: truechristian.com.

It contains passages such as:

So God put Adam to sleep and ripped out one of his ribs and behold, we find out that women originate from bones! So men come from dirt and women come from bone. Now that's real science in action and if you disagree you are going to Hell!

My b.s. meter says it's parody, but because of Poe's Law, I'm not totally certain.
Posted: Tue Sep 16, 2008.   Comments (5)

Pareidolia Roundup: August 2008 — It's time for the monthly pareidolia roundup:

Toronto Virgin Mary
Christopher Moreau was having a beer in his garden, when he realized that scarring on a tree limb in his yard looked kind of like the Virgin Mary. His neighbor is a bit skeptical, but doesn't really care as long as the religious sightseers stay out of her yard.

JC in Cell Phone
Pensacola resident Linda Square thinks an image stored on her cell phone shows her in silhouette with Jesus Christ beside her. She swears that no one sent her the photo, and she didn't take it herself. The phone created it! Congratulations to anyone who can see ANYTHING in this image.

Jesus Wood
Nadine Ostroff calls this round slab of sycamore her "Jesus Wood." She's had it for 12 years but only recently decided to go public with it. Back then people might have thought her a bit odd for having a Jesus Wood, but nowadays it's no big deal.

Rockwell Jesus
Members of Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Rockwell, North Carolina think there's an image of Jesus in a knot on an oak tree in front of their church.

Knotty Virgin Mary
Antonina Filipertis of Lockport, New York heard a voice in her head telling her to "Look in your tree." She did and, lo and behold, saw images of the Virgin Mary in the knotholes of the tree. She's still hearing the voices in her head. People tell her that she's blessed.

Basswood Jesus
At first David Reed of Birch Run, Michigan couldn't see the Jesus face in the tree in his front yard, though his girlfriend kept pointing it out to him. But now it's clear as day to him. He says, "If the price is right, I might be willing to part with it."
Posted: Wed Aug 27, 2008.   Comments (13)

Cursed By Allah — There was an interesting post on alt.folklore.urban discussing several examples of Muslim hoaxes alleging there have been people who were recently cursed by Allah, for one reason or another, and transformed into bizarre animals.

For instance, Arabic newspapers ran one story about a girl who threw the Quran at her mother and was transformed into a large, rat-like creature. (The story became a popular video as well.) An image (below) accompanied the story, showing what the girl had become.

In reality, the image of the rat-like creature was lifted from an art exhibit titled "Leather Landscape" by Patricia Piccinini. Piccinini posted a statement online disavowing any knowledge of how the 'cursed' story originated and expressing sympathy for anyone disturbed by it.

Leather Landscape by Patricia Piccinini

Piccinini's statement disavowing the hoax

A second story circulating in Arabic-language communities (via a youtube video) details the case of a girl who kicked the Quran and was transformed into an ugly mermaid-like creature. In reality, the creature shown is a guitar fish.

If the punishment for kicking or throwing the Quran is to be transformed into an animal, then what's the punishment for making bizarre stuff up to scare people?
Posted: Wed Aug 27, 2008.   Comments (41)

Shroud of Turin Update — The 1988 radiocarbon results that dated the Shroud of Turin to the Middle Ages have long been a thorn in the side to the True Believers. But they may get the chance to have new tests conducted, thanks to the efforts of John and Rebecca Jackson of Colorado. From the LA Times:

Jackson, 62, is getting his chance to challenge the radiocarbon dating. Oxford University, which participated in the original radiocarbon testing, has agreed to work with him in reconsidering the age of the shroud. If the challenge is successful, Jackson hopes to be allowed to reexamine the shroud, which is owned by the Vatican and stored in a protective chamber in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy.

Some facts about the Jacksons: 1) They own a styrofoam model of Jesus's corpse which they call "Roger"; 2) John once suspended himself from a cross in order to learn how blood flows from a crucified body; 3) Rebecca, who used to be Jewish but converted to Catholicism, became interested in the Shroud "when it occurred to her that the image of the man's face looked like her grandfather's."

I'd like to have "Roger" as an exhibit in the someday-to-be-real Museum of Hoaxes. He'd fit in perfectly alongside the Cardiff Giant. (Thanks to Joe Littrell)
Posted: Mon Aug 18, 2008.   Comments (20)

Pareidolia Roundup — Once again, it's time to play spot the blurry face resembling the iconic image of Jesus (or the Virgin Mary, or whatever).

Cat Fur Jesus
The Johnson family of Indiana recently adopted a kitten. To their surprise, they discovered that the fur on its side contains a pattern that looks like the face of Jesus. They admit that people who don't see it "might think we are weird crazy or something," but they're fine with that. I'd say they haven't quite reached the weird crazy stage yet. Maybe just a bit weird cuckoo.

Kelly Ramey of High Ridge, Missouri found Jesus in a bag of Cheetos. "I looked at that and I thought, 'Oh my that looks like Jesus on the cross.' It was just like wow," she says." Wow is right! Her friend, however, thinks it looks like a horse's head.

Virgin Mary in Sink
Found by a plumber working in a Salinas, California restaurant. "The new owner of the restaurant says the building has housed several different businesses and he sees the image as a blessing of hope for the new restaurant." I don't know about blessings, but they definitely need some bleach cleanser.

An Angelic Image
Recently an "angelic image" (left) was spotted in the window of a Color Tile store in Porterville, California. Huge crowds started turning out to see it, but within a few days the image was gone. Luckily, someone else spotted an image of Christ on the cross in a nearby palm tree (right). "To have two sightings in the same place — it confirms that the image on the window was not fake," said one onlooker. You can't argue with logic like that.

Allah Meat
A diner at a restaurant in northern Nigeria was about to sink his teeth into a piece of gristle, when he noticed the Arabic word for God in the meat. The restaurant then found three more pieces of gristle that also bore the name of Allah. The owner of the restaurant says, "When the writings were discovered there were some Islamic scholars who come and eat here and they all commented that it was a sign to show that Islam is the only true religion for mankind."
Posted: Thu Jul 31, 2008.   Comments (12)

The Fishing Lures of Faith — Not to be outdone by Christian fundamentalists, Islamic fundamentalists have come out with their own anti-evolution treatises. Among the most prominent of these is the Atlas of Creation by Harun Yahya. It's a long work (and more is on the way) consisting primarily of page after page of examples showing that modern-day species can be found in the fossil record. This is supposed to demonstrate that evolution hasn't occurred.

Volume 1 contains the example of the Caddis Fly. The illustration in the book shows the modern-day fly in the foreground. Circled in red in the background is the fossil analogue, preserved in amber. (No, they don't look similar to me either).

But look again at the modern fly. Skeptics noticed it had a steel hook coming out the bottom of it. In fact, it's not a Caddis fly at all. It's a fishing lure created by Graham Owen. Harun Yahya lifted the image (right) from Owen's site, apparently not realizing it wasn't a living creature, and pasted it into his book. Other fishing lures by Owen are scattered throughout the Atlas of Creation.

You can download the entire text of the Atlas of Creation, free of charge, from Yahya's site. So I did, but I couldn't find the Caddis fly in there. (It's supposed to be in Vol 1, p 244). I'm assuming Yahya must have removed it. However, I did notice that in Part 2 of the pdf (page 282 of the text) the Mayfly has a steel hook coming out of its belly. (Thanks, Jona!)
Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2008.   Comments (6)

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