Miracle House

Posted By on May 19, 2009

Or
“Cody does not find a suitable apartment”

“I’m a very religious person. I probably should’ve told you that on the phone.”

.: So began a three hour conversation with a potential landlord/roommate. Some background: I start grad school in September, but I want to spend the summer here beforehand to get a feel for the place. I can only withstand so much culture shock, you see, and I’d rather not have it from both grad school and Jersey at the same time.

.: I researched some apartment listings online, but I also wandered around campus looking for fliers with those little tearable phone number slips. I found one that looked decent: $530/month in a shared household; I’d get my own room. I called the number on the slip, and the man answered with a distinct but not oppressive east coast accent. The house was far from campus, and I was without a car as well as ignorant of the bus routes, but he said I should go by foot because I probably needed the exercise. Likable enough.

.: I started in downtown and reached his house in just half a back of sweat later. Not bad time. He answered the door and immediately showed me a copy of the lease. “By the way,” he said, “I’m a very religious person. I probably should’ve told you that on the phone.”

.: I told him I just spent the last five years at Baylor; I was used to being around religious people. “Are you Baptist?” he asked. I must confess, I hadn’t anticipated this natural follow up to my statement, so I fumbled a “No…” and let the matter rest there, hoping he wouldn’t pursue it.

.: He asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was going into plant biology. “I was real big into plants a long time ago,” he said. “So peaceful.”

“Well,” I said, “not always.”

.: In what I thought was a continuation of the topic, he said he wanted to show me something special when I was done reading the leasing information. I figured something was up when I got to the last line in the handwritten section on house rules: “This is a Christian household. If you hate God do not move in!!!”

.: That’s when the crazy started. The “something” he wanted to show me was two statues — one of Mary and one of some saint — that wept. He keeps them in his room, right next to other iconography and, for some reason, this poster of the fundamental particles of the universe.

.: The babble came fast and furious. “Cody” — for I made the mistake of telling him my name — “This right here is proof of God’s majesty. These are actual tears — unexplainable tears. And they came from nowhere. Matter, from nowhere. I didn’t put them there. Nobody put them there. It’s not like somebody came by and sprayed water on them. I’ve heard people say it’s humidity and condensation, but that doesn’t make any sense. God directly broke the second law of thermodynamics. So the big bang theory has another headache. But that’s what they still teach in school.”

.: I may have received only a B+ in physical chemistry, but I know damn well that’s not what the second law of thermodynamics says. In fact, I told him as much. I also told him that the big bang theory was first postulated by a catholic priest. He dismissed both facts without much consideration and bemoaned once again the current “gospel” being taught in schools.

.: His attention returned to the statues. He pointed to the places of the miracles — namely, the faces — and mentioned how they are without blemish or dust, unlike the tops of the heads and shoulders. This was strong evidence because, as we all know, miracles of God are kept clean. He then took the opportunity, since I mentioned my Baptist environment, to alleviate my fears by explaining that Catholics don’t worship icons. “These are objects.”

.: He then asked me if I liked photography. I knew where this was going. He pulled out a well-worn binder of photographs and placed it atop the glass casing of an old record player (the house scored massive retro points, if nothing else). He flipped across page after page of excruciatingly detailed photographs from disposable cameras until he found the one that he, presumably, thought most impressive. It was a picture of a man standing in a parking lot at night. Stripped of the important details (as we shall soon see), it looked pretty much like this:

layer1

.: But this was no ordinary picture my ordinary eyes were gazing upon! There was something else to behold, something that (according to the testimony of Mr. Miracle) the eye didn’t see at the time the picture was taken — because the human eye and cameras work exactly the same, so when they don’t record a phenomenon the exact same way, we should get all worked up about it.

.: No, when this picture was developed, there was magic smoke everywhere. What’s more, I had a handy guide right next to me who could interpret the significance of every whirl and twirl of said magic smoke. The billow to the left of the guy, see, was clearly God’s guiding hand giving a thumbs up (I am not making this up; he is):

layer2

.: Let me assure you (though you have no reason to trust my artistic ability) that I am accurately representing the contents of the photograph with my renditions. (The fingers, I confess, are an embellishment.)

.: Then, right next to the guy, you can see a seated Jesus Christ with His right hand raised in the air. No outline distinguished God’s hand from Jesus’, obviously — it’s smoke. But he assured me the two were separate:

layer3

.: But the next one is truly astounding. To the right of the man you can see, as clear as day, the beak and two wings of the holy spirit (who is, I did not know, a bird):

layer4

.: So there’s the Trinity right there. But you know catholics aren’t content with just The Big Three; naturally, they have to bring along Mom, who you can plainly see praying in profile:

layer5

.: You can kind of make it all out too, can’t you? Even though it’s just my poor drawing (from memory!) of an equally nebulous apparition caught on film, you can kind of see a godly thumbs up, an angel bird, and a burrito-shaped Virgin Mary. But like I said, I had a handy guide right there telling me what I should see. He had picked out all the important details to highlight and ignored everything else. In reality, the photo looked much more like this:

layer6

“Cody, you wouldn’t believe it, but some people once they look at this tell me they don’t see anything.” This anomaly (their negative reaction to the miracle, not the miracle itself) is explained by a lack of grace from God. That’s not what he said, of course. What he really said was God’s grace towards him allowed him to see the otherwise clear as mud miracle in the image; I’m only assuming that the logically consistent converse also applies.

.: I still hadn’t said much by this point to challenge any of his assertions. As gently as possible, I asked him if he had ever shown the picture to other people without first explaining what they should be seeing. He said he hadn’t, and he seemed confused as to why he should.

.: I tried to illustrate by analogy with double-blind tests in medicine: neither the patients nor the doctors know who’s receiving the medicine and who’s receiving the placebo until after the results are recorded. Likewise, a simple test for the anomaly in the photograph would be to give people two photos (the “miracle” and an ordinary photograph) and ask them to point out the one with the miracle in it. Unsurprisingly, he felt no need up until now to perform any such test, but he did happily offer me the task.

.: I didn’t get a chance to tell him that it’s not my burden, because he liked to move from topic to topic. He returned once more to his statues, and I couldn’t resist offering another test concerning the perennial cleanliness of the their faces: the parts that accumulate dust all happen to be horizontal surfaces; the weeping faces are both vertical. A simple test would be to lay the statues on their backs, face up, and see if dusts accumulates.

.: He objected, “That part isn’t really that relevant.”

“Well if it isn’t relevant, why would you tell me in the first place?” Subject change.

.: There were several annoying refrains throughout the conversation. “I used to be a skeptic like you when I was younger” popped up more than once, as did “I’m a scientist by training too.” (Electrical engineering, in case you’re collecting data points for the Salem Hypothesis.) For some reason, maybe because I have a bad habit of nodding my head when somebody talks to me at length, he assumed I was religious, even though the only information I offered on the matter was that I was not a Baptist. Far be it from me to correct him. Maybe, I thought, he’d listen a little more closely to what I said if he weren’t immediately prejudiced by my renunciation of belief in God (a folly strategy, I realize, but whatever).

.: The last miracle he thought worthy to mention had to do with some old lady who allegedly lives on nothing but the wafer used in the Eucharist. I pointed out that there are those who can one-up that claim, and his youthful skepticism returned! I also offered a simple test for the old lady’s claim: ipecac. We would expect the stomach of someone who lives on only a meager wafer to hold nothing more substantial than acid and mucus. A single kernel of corn would give the game away. Unfortunately for him, the test is one-way: nothing but mucus and acid could simply mean she hadn’t eaten anything that day, not that she eats nothing else ever.

.: Mr. Miracle demurred. “What could be more simple than just watching her?” Indeed. What could be more simple than maintaining constant surveillance of an elderly woman for weeks on end, never letting her out of your sights for a moment, recording her presence on camera and having others review the hours and hours of footage? He’s right: one sip of ipecac is too complicated.

.: He wants it both ways: he wants the real-world validity miracles offer, but he immediately rejects the use of any real-world methods of verification. What gets me is that he shouldn’t be afraid of such investigations, because when push comes to shove he always has an ace card up his sleeve: Satan.

.: Satan, I’ve learned, is the Great Unfalsifier. So the lady took some ipecac and barfed up tuna salad? Satan put it there. He’s capable of miracles too, I was told. And as near as I can tell, his role is to render all religious claims unfalsifiable. Can’t see God’s presence in the picture? Satan’s messing with your grace. You can see God’s presence in the picture? Congratulations, you’ve bested Satan!

.: I’m sure some thoughtful Catholic reading this will correct me and tell me that’s not how Satan really acts, according to church doctrine. Thing is, I’m not the one who needs to be told that. This wackaloon is the one claiming to be an adherent to doctrine. But there are more simple Catholics than there are thoughtful Catholics (his words, not mine, so spare me the griping), and for them miracles and cartoonish visions of Satan are more important than philosophy and reason. Unfortunately, the childish superstitions this man holds are unlikely to be repudiated from behind the pulpit any time soon, and until they are I am free and right to criticize any religion that tolerates them.

.: Damn shame, too, because the house was a pretty nice place. Decent sized room, serviceable kitchen, and nice location, plus the cheapest rent I could find. Of course, overnight visitors were forbidden — he does not abide fornication in his residence. (This kind of moral steadfastness did not preclude him from describing the balcony as “a nice place to look at all the cute girls passing by.”) He described a previous female tenant in more than flattering terms but was quick to point out that he doesn’t take in tenants to date them. “Phew,” I said, placing my hand on my chest, “I sure am relieved.” He squirmed a little and said, in all seriousness, “No, I don’t do that kind of thing.”

.: We said our goodbyes and I left. I never told him what I really thought. In fact, I told him quite a few things that I didn’t think. I’m a little ashamed of that, too. I wish I were more open about my beliefs, if not for integrity’s sake then for pragmatism’s:

“I’m a very religious person. I probably should’ve told you that on the phone.”

“That’s nice. I’m not a religious person.”

“Oh. On your way, then. No need to talk to you for three hours.”

“Very good. See you never.”

[Exit]

.: There is one redeeming aspect to this story: on the way back to my motel room I hailed a taxi cab. Before driving off, the driver had a short conversation with a fellow cabbie. Apparently somebody had committed suicide by throwing themselves on the train tracks, and this had caused several delays and considerable loss of business for the taxis by the station. The friend said something about this being a reason why people should go to church:

“That’s what happens when you don’t believe in God — you commit suicide.”

My cabbie vehemently agreed:

“People who don’t believe in God are fucked up.”

.: I sat the whole ride in silence. When we finally arrived, I reached for my money and said, “You know, concerning that conversation you had with your friend, I just wanted to say that I don’t believe in God and I love my life. Here’s your fare.”

.: He paused for a second, genuinely, I believe, bemused. “You don’t believe in God?” he asked incredulously.

“I don’t,” I said, gently closing the door and walking away.

About The Author

Comments

30 Responses to “Miracle House”

  1. Newscat says:

    Thank you for your moving personal testimony.

    I know that I enjoyed reading your entertaining memory of that fateful night a great deal more than you endured what must have seemed an eternity.

    I’m quite certain I will never see a thumbs up again, without thinking of the holy smoke vision. Just be glad he wasn’t a member of a snake handling band of believers!

  2. Anonymous says:

    You know, at a certain point, you could have just said, “Sir, I have decided not to rent here. Good day.” And walk out.

    But I see where you’re going with this. Because there is this religious guy who lives half-a-back-sweat from downtown who is c-r-a-z-y, that means that all religion is definitely just plain wrong.

    Do you think that logic would get you a very high grade while climbing the ivory tower? If not, why should it get you a high grade while slumming in the blogosphere? Do you evaluate theories based on their worst supporting arguments, or their best?

    Finally, for bonus points, let’s consider not telling someone what your opinion is of their opinion, despite listening to them go on and on, except later on in a semi-anonymous fashion when you attack his opinion on the Internet. Do you think you are helping? If you really wanted to help the chap, maybe you could just be honest with him and tell him you think he’s off his rocker. Maybe so few people have done that in his life, that fantasy has taken over, and a man who once was rational has become irrational. If you really want this man to see the light, shouldn’t you show him a ray of it?

  3. Kyle says:

    A good read. If not simply entertaining, it provided some good reading material with links to related content and a viewpoint that provides insightful perspective.

    Also, it gets harder to hold your point of view when your mother and extended family are almost entirely introduced as Reverend.

  4. Cody says:

    ” If you really wanted to help the chap, maybe you could just be honest with him and tell him you think he’s off his rocker.”

    Christ, Anonymous, the man thought Obama was possessed by a literal demon. What makes you think telling him the core of his identity is a falsehood would make him any more receptive to what I had to say?

    I’ve already made note of my inconsistencies and contradictions. I’m human and fully capable of doing wrong and feeling shame for it. You would’ve gotten that had you read the parts that explicitly said it.

  5. Please don’t invoke philosophy that way. There’s no philosophy here of any form, and philosophy not only does not exclude, but indeed deeply embraces, religion.

    Mind you, I’m an agnostic. This isn’t a shrouded defense of religion; I would have behaved much in parallel to how you did, except without any of the grace or patience.

    But there isn’t a lick of philosophy here, and it’s time for people to stop dropping that word every time they want to bring a seeming of education to what they’re writing. Granted it’s not as offensive as the people who say “my personal philosophy”, but it’s pretty close.

    One wonders if you can even take a stuttering attempt at defining the word without looking it up first. Don’t tell me you can; I won’t believe you. It’s a gendankenschrifte, meant to help you understand why it is that people don’t use words they can’t define.

    Oh, and if you can define it, and if afterwards you can’t see any riotously inappropriacy to how you used the word here, it’s probably time to go ask a Phi professor at your new school. Don’t bother with the Wikipedia definition of Philosophy; it was written by people who agree with Alanis that a variety of things were ironic.

    Seriously, dude, what part of this seems like epistemology, ethics, ontology, semantics, et cetera, to you?

    And dude, do yourself the service of not pretending to yourself that pointing out the fundamentals of null hypothesis mindset is in any way metaphysics.

    Seriously. It gets old. Take (or, if appropriate, pay attention to and pass) a freshman philosophy class before you use that word again.

  6. Cody says:

    John,

    That was very thoughtful of you to dismiss my entire post on the basis of one word’s use in passing. [Edit: see comments below.] Pity for you, you seem to have misread what I have written. I’m not surprised, seeing as you could only focus on a single word. A bit of context:

    “But there are more simple Catholics than there are thoughtful Catholics [...], and for them miracles and cartoonish visions of Satan are more important than philosophy and reason.”

    So you see what we have here is a dichotomy. On the one hand we have simple Catholics who use miracles and other superstitions, and on the hand we have thoughtful Catholics who use philosophy and reason.

    What else do we have? Well, there’s an ellipsis. Let’s go back and see what was in it:

    “(his words, not mine, so spare me the griping)”

    So not only did I not invoke that word, but you proceeded to do precisely what I asked you not to do. [Edit: I thought I'd anticipate a response and take the opportunity here to say "cartoonish" is my own editorializing; everything else was his words.]

    Now I realize reading all of this extra comment is a lot to ask for, since you’re so used to focusing on just one word. But even if all of this is too much, I want to ask you to broaden your vocabulary by just two more words so you can appreciate the following message: fuck you. [Edit: see comments below.]

  7. Nick B says:

    This is to John Haugeland.

    Wow, you have absolutely no idea what Philosophy is. You probably took a in a few Philosophy 101 classes at a community college and then dropped out because you couldn’t handle the subject matter.

    Maybe you’re the one that needs to go do some book reading, eh?

  8. FiRez says:

    Nice story and props for being honest, I can’t even imagine how bizarre was your experience

  9. Chris says:

    Hahaha I found this story rather funny. I too believe that you should be strong for your beliefs! If you don’t believe in Christianity or Buddhism or whatever, then that is a BELIEF! In the end, no side can prove whether God or Buddha or Zeus exists or not. We are all stuck with the null hypothesis, that there is simply not enough evidence at this point to prove our educated guess.

    I strongly agree with you that the landlord/roommate was seeing only what he wanted to see. I think all of his claims are absolutely ridiculous.

    I am a Christian (as you might be able to make out? I dunno) but I do not believe in what that man was trying to convince you of. In fact, he goes against logic by trying to PROVE to you God exists when there is simply NO evidence PROVING for certain that this is true. If this were the case Christians would not need faith, they would only need facts.

    I realize that the general consensus is that Christians are blind fools that believe ridiculous claims and I also believe that there are some Christians that fit that category; however, there is also another category, that there are educated Christians with common sense.

    In the end I just want to apologize on behalf of those men for their ignorance. I don’t know them but if they truly are Christians, then they are my brothers.

  10. Chris says:

    To clarify what I mean with the men, I am referring to the Taxi cab drivers.

    Your other experience with the landlord though is just funny hahaha

  11. Robin Z says:

    It’s a tough situation to be in – it sounds like you made a reasonable compromise between being frank and being polite, though. It’s not your job to educate some just because you find yourself in a conversation with them.

    And thank you for the (heh) testemony on the taxi.

  12. Chris says:

    From your description I would say that the person you met was mentally ill and therefore not a good candidate for representing the religious beliefs of most people. I am by the way atheist and do not support religious beliefs, but I feel people have a right to believe what they want as long as it doesn’t harm others. That being said your article comes off as insensitive if indeed this person is mentally ill (likely) you should have thanked him for his time and left.

    I have experience with mental illness (family and friends) bipolar and schizophrenia sufferers often exhibit poor social skills and intense and sometimes bizarre religious beliefs.

    Overall your story telling is very good.

  13. “That was very thoughtful of you to dismiss my entire post on the basis of one word’s use in passing.”

    I haven’t dismissed your entire post. That was just the thing I wanted to talk to you about. As I said in my comment, I would have done nearly exactly the same thing you did, except without the grace.

    Don’t get confused: just because I wish you did one detail differently doesn’t mean I’ve in any way dismissed your post (although you seem to be entirely too happy to dismiss my comment based on a single false observation theretowards.)

    How’s that phrase go again? We hate most in others what we hate most in ourselves?

    I actually enjoyed the post. I just didn’t have anything to add to it, and had only one thing to say in contrary. Nothing was dismissed (by me at least.)

    The remainder of what you’ve said to me seems to be attempting to invent criticisms into my speech which I didn’t actually make. At no point did I criticize anything you had to say or any position you took; I simply pointed out that what you’re discussing has nothing to do with the work of philosophers.

    It’s a pity you’re so unnecessarily defensive that you’re willing to invent attacks on yourself to feel villainized about.

    NickB:

    “You probably took a in a few Philosophy 101 classes at a community college and then dropped out because you couldn’t handle the subject matter.”

    Try googling my name. Argument by speculation is laughable.

  14. bpbuddha says:

    Hilarious. The pictures brought it to a whole new level. I understand why you acted the way you did. Most of the times its easier to leave people to their delusions and just go about your life.

    @ John – you read this story and all you can do is bitch about a word used out of context? you must have no sense of humor at all. MY PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY is to laugh as much as possible.

    BRAVO on the story.

  15. Cody says:

    John,

    Fair enough. You haven’t dismissed my entire post. That was an unfounded overreach on my part. Let it be stricken, and let me offer an apology for my ill-founded conclusion and baseless vitriol.

    You still have not, I must point out, addressed the main purpose of my response. You said I used the word “philosophy” incorrectly. In fact, I used it so incorrectly that you had to write 269 words explaining just how badly I misused it. (I hope you English majors out there will forgive me for using “so” as an intensifier. I didn’t mean it. Honest.)

    I am dismissing your entire comment, and rightfully so, because those 269 words concern themselves with nothing more than a misreading of what I had written. I didn’t say thoughtful catholics use reason and philosophy (whatever that means) — he did. I am reporting what I observed. So if the word was indeed used incorrectly — and you seem to be the right person to make that judgment call, based on a cursory googling of your name — then your gripe is with him, not me.

    (Just for kicks, here’s my two-word working definition of philosophy: formal argumentation.)

    And Nick B is a troll. Ignore him.

  16. Cody says:

    Anonymous,

    That made my day. Bravo, sir, bravo.

  17. Oscar says:

    So the moral of the story is that PhDs in philosophy throw unnecessary hissy fits when people use the name of their awe-inspiring, blessed and humanity advancing field in vain.

    Cody, I hope you learned to always insert a (sic) when you might hurt someone’s psychology.

  18. Cody says:

    Oscar, please don’t invoke psychology that way. There’s no psychology here in any form. What you were talking about has nothing to do with what psychology really is. I was nodding my head in agreement throughout your comment until you used that word.

    Do you even know what psychology is? Don’t look at a dictionary. I want you to hem and haw and try to think of a definition first — it’s probably wrong, whatever it is. You should go ask your advisor to tell you what psychology is. You probably don’t even know.

    Seriously, dude, what part of this looks it has anything to do with perception, behavior, cognition, emotion, or personality?

    Why would you ruin an otherwise fine comment by using a word whose definition escapes you? God.

  19. bpbuddha says:

    i just saw the pic that Anonymous posted. i almost got busted by my boss because i was laughing so loud. Awsome pic.

  20. Oscar says:

    Cody, I can look past your sanctimonious ejaculate on the topic of psychology. But the way you “used” the word “hem” is tantamount to finding the bones of cancer victims, grinding them, then using the powder as a filler in Tamoxifen.

    No where in this website have you ever mentioned tailoring or
    at the bare minimum, the altering of pant leg length.

    Do you even wear pants?

    Have you no shame?!

  21. Cody says:

    Oscar, are you a licensed medical doctor? Then by what right can you discourse at length over the proper use and distribution of the estrogen receptor antagonist known by its generic name Tamoxifen? Moreover, by what right can you object to my idiosyncratic preparation of said Tamoxifen?

    Never mind that I have never mentioned — not once in the history of this website — how I choose to prepare and distribute Tamoxifen. That is something you have assumed.

    You, sir, are a plebeian of the lowest class.

  22. Oscar says:

    Cody, a cursory google search of my real name, William Worrall Mayo, will answer your question.

    Aside from being dead for 98 years, I have spent the majority of my time reveling in literature. You sir, have no right to speak of antagonists. In your previous comment, you made no reference to foes or villains. What sort of abattoir of knowledge did you receive your “education” from?

    I, have been a witness to many things, but your brute manner of conversing is a new low in humanity.

  23. Cody says:

    Really, Oscar, an abattoir? The only butchery we’re dealing with here is your butchery of logic, which is a branch of philosophy (if I may risk the invocation of such contentious word). I ask you, both as a googleable doctor and a member of the living dead, what things have you witnessed that could possibly be less humane than the ghastly visage of your own reflection in the mirror, especially following a night of words misused and abused?

    You are a disgrace to both your profession and race of rotting mobile flesh.

    Furthermore, the mass of your mother well exceeds average capacity.

  24. Oscar says:

    Cunt.

  25. Anonymous Coward says:

    Boring as fuck. Jesus Christ you’re a windy bastard. At least have a fucking point or something.

  26. PB says:

    Nice story and props for being honest, I can’t even imagine how bizarre was your experience

  27. DrTravia says:

    @ John H.

    Definitions of, you guessed it, philosophy.

    1. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
    2. Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
    3. A system of thought based on or involving such inquiry: the philosophy of Hume.
    4. The critical analysis of fundamental assumptions or beliefs.
    5. The disciplines presented in university curriculums of science and the liberal arts, except medicine, law, and theology.
    6. The discipline comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology.
    7. A set of ideas or beliefs relating to a particular field or activity; an underlying theory: an original philosophy of advertising.
    8. A system of values by which one lives: has an unusual philosophy of life.

    These are the immediate definitions I found, although a couple of these weren’t in my textbook I’ll add them anyways since they are in the online websters dictionary.

    Notice that the only mention of theology is to specifically EXCLUDE it from the field of philosophy.

    Also I decided to copy your style of reading, look for one thing and then tear it apart, this type of exclusion of the rest of what you said as a reason would be considered a logical fallacy but I don’t really mind if you don’t.

    You made a mistake, therefore your argument is invalid.

    They used to burn people at the stake for inquiring about religion, just think, your mistake would have gotten you killed in any number of unpleasant ways during any of the times when religion ruled as the main power in an either small or large society.

  28. Dave Millar-Haskell says:

    Cody,
    Interesting read. I lived in New Jersey for years and don’t think of it as a religious place. Hopefully your experiences were not typical. Anyway it’s a great place to live IMHO. Try to avoid mentally ill people, though.

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