Woman Who Died 331 Years Ago Is Responsible for Boy’s Surprise Survival, Says Deluded Pope December 21, 2011

Woman Who Died 331 Years Ago Is Responsible for Boy’s Surprise Survival, Says Deluded Pope

Cartoon by M J Shepherd

Here’s the whole story in a nutshell: Back in 2006, 11-year-old Jake Finkbonner had a bad case of flesh-eating bacteria. Really bad. The prognosis for his survival wasn’t good. And the pictures are pretty disturbing.

After many surgeries and more than a week spent in a hospital, Jake started to get better. Today, he’s doing just fine.

Who should get the credit for his recovery? The family knows who they’re thanking and the Pope is taking that a step further:

At the urging of [priest Fr. Tim] Sauer, they began praying for the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to intercede on Jake’s behalf. Friends, neighbors, community members and strangers joined them.

On Monday, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI formally recognized the miracle attributed to Tekakwitha –- the last step on her way to canonization.

Tekakwitha died in 1680.

So, yeah, that makes perfect sense…

No need to give credit to the doctors who kept him alive, who no doubt tried a variety of remedies, and who worked on him during his surgeries. They obviously had nothing to do with it. Instead, we’ll thank the woman who (probably) has no idea what bacteria are, has never seen a hospital, and who ceased to live centuries ago.

Even if we can’t point to a particular reason for how or why Jake got better, there’s no reason to jump to the ridiculous conclusion that a person who died 331 years ago has any direct impact on someone’s health today.

MSNBC has a poll at the end of the article asking whether readers believe in miracles:

The results are exactly what you would expect — skewed toward the surreal:

Let’s change that.

***Update***: Jake Finkbonner, the boy at the center of all of this, has this somewhat-more-sensible statement on his website:

There’s been a lot of media around me lately especially with the announcement of Blessed Kateri becoming a Saint based on my story. Please don’t confuse the issue which is that my survival is a miracle. We thank the doctors at Children’s Hospital for all that they did to save my life. I wouldn’t be here without them. I also thank all the people that prayed for me. Obviously, God heard their prayers. This decision to canonize Blessed Kateri is something that the Vatican and the Pope declared, not us. Although we are a part of this story, we did not have any influence on this decision. Congratulations to the Catholic Church and the Native American culture in the canonizing of the now Saint Kateri.



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  • It doesn’t help that “miracle” has such a fuzzy definition. For example it seems quite normal to say “Giffords made a miraculous recovery from a bullet to the head” even though obviously there was no divine intervention- just enormous odds against her. The poll question fails to differentiate between “miracle” in the sense of literal divine intervention and “miracle” in the sense of incredibly good luck, which seems to me to be the more everyday usage.

  • Justin Hanger

    Noticed this comment on the “YES” column. Apparently 50-50 odds mean you should swing to the miracle side.

  • EJC

    Dumbasses. That is the only word that comes to mind. 

    Dumbasses.

  • I’m gonna need reimbursement for all the brain circuits you just blew.

  • Anonymous

    What’s the point of changing the percentages? 

  • Anonymous

    So wait… given any yes-no question, the odds are 50-50 therefore we should “not overlook it?”

  • Bob

    Wow, that person sucks at math and theology. Two choices do not mean that there is a 50/50 chance of one of them happening. If I’m driving my car I can remain seated or miraculously take flight. I think the odds of me taking flight are significantly lower than my remaining seated.

    Also, a miracle can’t be in the 50% probability range otherwise it really isn’t a miracle at all. A miracle needs to defy the odds to the point of needing divine intervention. Beating the flesh eating bacteria defied the odds but didn’t need divine intervention. Living in outer space for a few years without protection or oxygen is beating the odds using divine intervention.

    Theologians suck at math and theology.

  • Thank goodness we have all those saints interceding on the behalf of those who, by coincidence, have access to topnotch medical care.

    Man, how easy is to cure a disease. The people in Africa must not be praying hard enough, that’s  all.

  • EJC

    This makes me think of the book section in Barnes and Noble “Christian Fiction”. Everytime I see that, I think “How oxymoronic”…

    I’ll try and get a picture of it next time I head to the B&N. Cracks me up every, and I mean EVERY time!

  • Berlie Parks

    Statistical analysis as taught at Liberty U.

  • T-Rex

    I prefer Fu–tards, but that may be offensive to some Fu–tards.

  • The comments defending the claims of miracles are about as vacuous and uninspired as they come. We as a species really do have no grasp of probability.

  • Brian Utterback

    Their priest suggested praying to Kateri Tekakwitha, who happens to be one miracle away from fulfilling the requirements of canonization? So, what I want to know is, do priests have a list of candidates for sainthood, sorted by number of miracles, or is there an app for that? What a perfect system. Take the top name on the list, tell everyone in all the hospitals to pray to that person. Then, when 1 out of 1000 of them beats the 1 out of 1000 odds the doctors gave for recovery, declare a miracle, canonize, cross that name off the list and go on to the next name. Of course the other 999 out of 1000 died, but so it goes. As long as you get that miracle!

  • Spencer

    Yeah — before I can vote, I need to know how they’re defining ‘miracle’. Obviously unexpected, great things that are still bounded by the laws of nature happen often.

  • MICHAEL BONIFACE

    Here lies the problem, read #3 & 4: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/miracle

  • I think you meant tautology, not oxymoron.

  • Xeon2000

    Be careful… You might end up in a flying car and go off to have crazy time travel adventures with Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

  • How is “Christian Fiction” oxymoronic? Did you mean “Nonfiction”? Or “redundant” instead of oxymoronic?

  • The Pope himself employs the very best doctors and medical specialists available to him.  But never mind that.  He’ll dismiss them all and rely on praying to the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha … someday.

  • Anonymous

    As of right now, the Noes are at 9.9% so we’re losing but frankly, who cares.  Believers will believe and nonbelievers won’t.  Nothing short of a miracle will change that… see what I did there?  🙂

  • Quote Bob: “Theologians suck at math….”

    Not to worry, Bob!  I’ll pray to the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha that she miraculously instills in the world’s theologians a knowledge of mathematics.  That’ll solve the problem!

  • Anonymous

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

  • SJH

    Contrary to the implications of your column, the family actually credited the doctors with helping the child and were very grateful to them. The doctors themselves could not explain the improvement that the boy experienced. It seems that the Catholic church takes every precaution to rule out all other things that might have cured a person when they are investigating a miracle. In fact, it is my understanding that they do not use Catholic investigators/doctors/scientists. This, obviously, is not proof that miracle actually occurred but can you really prove that anyway. One could always argue that there may have been a natural cause and perhaps there was in this case, who knows? Of course, many atheists would respond to this with the question; which is more plausible, a magic guy in the sky magically heals or that the boy was healed through natural means. As a believer I would say that (not knowing much about this “miracle”) that it is a 50/50 chance. If I knew more I might even say that it is a greater probability that God somehow intervened.
    If God exists then the logic seems consistent that he would intervene occasionally to help out.

  • SJH

    You are saying that you must change the fact that many people believe in miracles. Given that miracles and belief in God are logically consistent, in order to do that, you must first prove to those that believe that there is no God. Not so easy.

  • SJH

    Also, why are you so interested in discrediting a miracle. What is wrong with people believing in miracles? If a person has hope, even if it is false, why kill it if it is not harming anyone? It seems to me that the world is better off because people believe that there is an afterlife and that there are people there that love us and want to help us through our problems.

  • EJC

    ox·y·mo·ron
     [ok-si-mawr-on, -mohr-]  Show IPAnoun, plural ox·y·mo·ron[ok-si-mawr-uh, -mohr-uh] Show IPA, ox·y·mor·ons. Rhetoric .a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous,seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in “cruel kindness” or “tomake haste slowly.”No, I meant oxymoronic. The idea the christianity is anything but fiction being the underlying cause of confusion here. But thank you grammar nazis…

  • Gabriel

    This is what the Catholic Church has done very well for a long time. They find a character or a holiday that they can co-opt and then they co-opt it. Christmas for example. The Catholics obviously felt that they needed a native American saint so they came up with one.

  • “If God exists then the logic seems consistent that he would intervene occasionally to help out.”

    No, no the logic does not “seem consistent” that a god would intervene occasionally. You’re making a whole lot of assumptions for which you have no evidence.

  • “If God exists then the logic seems consistent that he would intervene occasionally to help out.”

    No, no the logic does not “seem consistent” that a god would intervene occasionally. You’re making a whole lot of assumptions for which you have no evidence.

  • “What is wrong with people believing in miracles?”

    For one, there are people that think that their AIDS was cured by miraculous faith healing. Extrapolate from there.

  • Stogoe

    I, too, wondered why the priest picked Tekakwitha.  I’m wondering what you have to do to get put on the list of Potential Saintlings, and whose palm do you grease in this life to make sure you’re near the top posthumously?

  • Heidi

    Two words: Faith Healing

    Magical thinking DOES harm people, and the world is not better off for it.

  • Pete084

    So where the fuck was Tekakwitha when the poor kid was struck down with this god awful disease, hasn’t the blessed bitch heard that prevention is better than cure?

  • Kristi

    “What is wrong with people believing in miracles?”

    Did you seriously ask this? I hope your being sarcastic. 

    This false hope DOES harm people. Specifically children whose parents believe in this bullshit.  Ask Ava Worthington….. oh wait. You can’t because she’s DEAD as a toddler whose parents left her medical condition untreated because they “believed in miracles”.

    The world is not a better place because people think other people in the afterlife are there to help them.  Could you please cite a source on this enormous elephant of a claim?

  • NorDog

    You’re confusing Catholics with the fundie Protestant sects that refuse actual treatment in favor of praying only.  Catholics don’t do that.  They are taught by the Church that grace builds upon nature, and that is the nature of the thing to get the best medical treatment you can.

  • I think it would be good to pin down what one intends to describe when they say miracles. When I think of what are commonly branded as such, they are usually statistically unlikely events. 

    I believe that statistically unlikely events occur. I don’t believe there is any magic to them or any way to encourage them to happen. If there were a way to make the odds better, I’m not sure it would still classify as statistically unlikely.

    Branding something we really wanted to happen which had a low chance of happening and happened anyway as a “miracle” is simply wishful thinking. We see what we want to see.

    On a random note, I was thinking that if I could have a biological child, it would be a  statistically unlikely event which spells out SUE. So I’d have to name it Sue.

  • Thanks for the correction, NorDog!  I appreciate it!

  • Anonymous

    I’d have to go with “maybe,” honestly.  I don’t believe in any supernatural beings, but if a burning bush started telling me to lead my people out of Egypt, I’d have to revise a few core beliefs.  After I check my medication, of course.

  • TheG

    “There is no doubt in me or my husband’s mind that a miracle definitely took place,” Jake’s mother, Elsa Finkbonner, told msnbc.com on Tuesday. “There were far too many things that could have and should have gone wrong with his illness. The doctors went through every avenue they could to save his life and he survived. It’s a miracle that all of the other things that could have gone wrong, didn’t.”

    If she is maintaining that the doctors were probably going to screw up, but it was her god that made everything turn out smoothly, she is shitting on the doctors!

    If her god was going to intervene due to this new saint doing some nepotism thingie, she could have just taken her son to a vet, an acupuncturist, or the ATM at the 7-Eleven in Fairbanks, Alaska.

    I wonder if the doctors knew about the praying and just decided, “Hey, I can phone this one in. The Big Man has this one!

  • Michael Appleman

    The comments on that article are…I dunno. It makes me angry and sad at the same time.

  • Newavocation

    I keep coming back to a Robert Ingersoll quote that might help you understand your beliefs in the supernatural. 
    “Love was the first to dream of immortality, — not Religion, not Revelation. We love, therefore we wish to live. The hope of immortality is the great oak ’round which have climbed the poisonous

    vines of superstition. The vines have not supported the oak, the oak has supported the vines. As long as men live and love and die, this hope will blossom in the human heart.”

  • Charles Black

    My guess is that most of the yes votes are because people think of miracles as just sheer good luck even against heavy odds.

  • SphericalBunny

    What is wrong with people believing in miracles?

    Look up ‘Christian science dead children’. It’s morbidly fascinating. It does harm people (mostly children, coz their parents tend to ‘forget’ their principles when they’re ill).

    Also;

    …there are people there that love us and want to help us through our problems.

    Actual people? Yeah, since when has there been a religious monopoly on that?

    Your post reminds me, I must stop using the phrase ‘terminal stupidity’. Thank you for pointing out it’s an oxymoron.

  • Claims of divine intervention-type “miracles” for recovery from diseases are usually made when the statistical odds of recovery through medical treatment are very low. If a disease is cured in 99% of the medical attempts, not many people will call it a divine intervention-type miracle. If a disease is cured by some kind of medical treatment only 1% of the time, many people will call it a miracle.

    So somewhere between 1% failure rate and 99% failure rate is a line many people draw, and it’s apparently different for each person. On one side of that line, a cure is as uninteresting as an aspirin for a headache.  On the other side it’s a special, custom-made, just-this-case-only, temporary suspension of the laws of chemistry and physics by the Almighty and Perfect Master of the Universe, the Eternal, Omnipotent, and Omniscient One of Ones Throughout All Space and Time, the Uncreated Creator, Uncaused Cause, Beginningless Fount of All Being. (whew)

    According to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation:

    The statistics vary, and are not entirely accurate. A 1996 CDC report estimates from 500 to 1500 cases per year of necrotizing fasciitis of which 20% die. In 1998 the NNFF estimates the figure to be higher (based on cases reported to us measured against the general population with access to the Internet, which is how all of the cases we get are reported)

    And according to Wikipedia:

    Mortality rates have been noted as high as 73 percent if left untreated.

    So if these stats are correct, then 27% survive if they are untreated, and 80% survive if they get medical treatment.

    There may be other factors that made the doctors characterize the boy’s chances of survival as being poor, but going from this data, he wasn’t actually going up against terrible odds.

  • SphericalBunny

    Given that miracles and belief in God are logically consistent

    What the…I don’t even…

  • SphericalBunny

    If God exists then the logic seems consistent that he would intervene occasionally to help out.

    If you’re arguing that your god is an amoral monster capable of only arbitery decisions that favour those primarily in the wealthy world who also have access to decent healthcare…then, I would have to cede my agreement to your delusions.

    Logic – you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • Dmacabre

    Actually, you basically just proved yourself wrong.  If you are supposing that christianity is fiction, then basically we can change the phrase “Christian Fiction” to “Fictional fiction” – that is not self-contradictory.  Now if you said that “Christian Nonfiction” was an oxymoron, then I think we would all understand.

    So yes, tautology or redundancy is what you meant.

  • I believe you mean “how redundant”. If it’s Christian, by definition, it is also fiction.

  • Curlersrock

    The problem I have is that by attributing this to a miricle, it might stop someone from doing a proper investigation into the real cause of his recovery. How many premature deaths could be prevented if we really knew?
    There is a real cost to declaring this a miracle.

  • SJH

    This represents a very small percentage, which could be solved by educating people about their religion. Teach them that miracles can occur but God still expects us to be responsible. Very simple.

  • SJH

    See my response above. Belief in miracles does not necessarily equate to people committing such actions you have suggested. I believe in miracles but am still responsible with medical care as are the people represented in Hemant’s post. If you want to solve the problem of faith healings then simply educate those that are ignorant regarding such matters.

  • SJH

    Why are you assuming that the decisions are arbitrary. Is it because you do not understand the relationships or patterns between the occasions in which he chooses to involve himself? Just because you do not understand it does not make it arbitrary.

    Also, why do you say he only helps in primarily wealthy countries? Are there no claims to miracles in poor countries?

  • SJH

    What assumptions am I making? I am simply saying that if God exists and he desires a relationship with us (as Christianity teaches) and he is capable of intervening then he is likely does so. Is this line of reasoning flawed in some way?

  • SJH

    I think you are over thinking her comments. I don’t interpret her them as you do. I think she is speaking emotionally and she is simply saying that the odds were against them and their doctors. Though it is probably not wise for us to try and assume what she was thinking.

  • You start here: “As a believer[…]”

  • “Are there no claims to miracles in poor countries?”

    Actually, there are claims that faith healers have made the dead come back to life.

  • “Teach them that miracles can occur but God still expects us to be responsible.”

    Or that medical science has progressed passed the time that the Bible was written and we’ve wiped such diseases as smallpox off the face of the Earth; and sometimes our bodies, with the help of the best of modern medicine, can fight off cancers and flesh-eating bacterias.

    Whichever fits.

  • Pro Reason

    Another saint… Another revenue stream for the church. They’ve learned that variety works. It’s why we don’t just have one type of Oreos, it’s why we have many different favors of Cheerios, etc. the more different flavors available, the more consumers you reach. I was astonished when I’d heard tht more people in Italy pray to Padre Pio than to Jesus. That’s a whole other revenue stream what with the Padre Pio cards, amulets, mini-statues, etc.

    I have to ask: do the Pope and the other higher-ups really, REALLY believe that this woman was more than mortal? Really?!?

  • SphericalBunny

    Arbitrary;  1. subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one’s discretion. You might want to look up the other meanings too, I ‘ve never heard a Christian try to argue before that their God is subject to external rules and conditions. Kinda takes (him/her/it) out of the ‘god’ league, no?I don’t see any patterns to what is/isn’t claimed ‘miraculous’ other than human interpretation of what they think sounds like a plus point (it will not surprise you to find that I don’t agree with most xtians on those). I’m glad you understand the mind of your god though, and I look forward to the consolidation of the 33,000+ forms of xtianity now that they have a direct line thru you to dictate the right way to do it.Funny, miraculous claims from poorer countries where xtianity is not the majority religion tend to be touted as ‘proof’ for their particular flavour of the supernatural/divine. And yes, I find it amazing how many ‘miraculous’ recoveries are claimed by those who also have access to decent healthcare. It’s almost like modern medicine has an excellent track record, and that ‘miracles’ are incredibly indistinguishable from statistical ‘luck’.

  • SphericalBunny

    I have no idea why the enter key had a fail moment, sorry.

  • SJH

    Exactly, whichever fits. Maybe our bodies do not have the ability to fight off some bacteria and sometimes modern medicine is inadequate and maybe it was a miracle. Seems to fit either way, I agree.

  • SJH

    In reading your original post, I felt that you were suggesting that God randomly makes decisions. I should not have replaced the word arbitrary with random. I do, however think that by using the word arbitrary it implies that God does not have a reason for his decisions. If that is not what you meant then I apologize for misrepresenting your statement.

    I do not understand the mind of God but I do not think that you need to understand his mind in order to understand some of his actions.

    If something miraculous occurred to a non-christian then of course they would attribute it to God as they understand him. Are you suggesting that this is a problem? Does this show that a miracle did not occur or that we simply have a different understanding of God’s nature and he participates in all of our lives regardless.

  • SphericalBunny

    Communication error, no worries. It was actually close to what I meant tho, in that there is no discernible rhyme or pattern to those supposed miracles; thus the obvious explanation is arbitrary, or ‘when he wills it’ kinda thing. That I find a problem, since it flies in the face of other claims made about this god; omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent now comes with fine print of ‘when he feels like it’! – capricious at best, utterly amoral at worst.

    The people who claim miraculous intervention obviously feel that their god is capable of interfering with daily reality, yet will vehemently deny that the same being supposedly possessed of this power either allows or creates flesh eating bacteria and disfigured children, let alone rape, murder, natural disasters, etc.

    I’m not sure I understood your last paragraph – are you saying you’re using ‘proof’ for other religions as ‘proof’ for yours now? Coz if so, I’m really not sure how to respond to that except to ask that if you ever go to argue that point on, e.g., a muslim site, can you please link so I can watch the fun? And no, again, the fact that some people luck out statistically does not mean that a ‘miracle’ has occurred.

  • Using this logic, there are about a dozen miracles that happen in my neighborhood everyday!  lol