One could feel the disdain that Emma Jane Kirby felt toward Catholicism in a recent travel piece by BBC News. Her disgust and utter dismissal of the Catholic holy site at Lourdes, France was so thick it verged on hatred. Knocking the sentiment behind Lourdes, slamming the “fusty” feel to the place, mocking its religious sincerity and, finally, ending in condescension, Kirby was so disturbed by her visit that she exclaimed “Good God!” and did so “not in any laudatory way,” as she points out. Her piece was a pure hit job on Lourdes in particular and Catholicism in general and provides another great example of European’s hatred for religion and the BBC’s campaign against traditional culture.

In “The challenge of finding peace in Lourdes,” Kirby first negatively describes the holy city as a musty attic.

Lourdes is a massive Roman Catholic pilgrimage site with more hotels than any other French city, except Paris… It reminded me of my father’s attic – small, overcrowded, fusty, and so stuffed full of junk that the minute I entered I used to panic, desperate to get out again.

It’s easy to see that Kirby’s attic comparison serves more as a metaphor for her feelings of being trapped in her religion as opposed to any feeling that Lourdes gave her. After all, what self-respecting European wants to be known as a person of religious conviction? It’s just unseemly, uncivilized… archaic, even. I am sure that Kirby feels her religion is as “small” as she imagined Lourdes to be and that she is as “desperate to get out” of her religion as she was to leave the holy site she was tasked with writing about.

Kirby attacks the tourist trap-like aspects of the place. With souvenir shops and “very tired-looking” hotels abound, Kirby looks down her oh, so sophisticated nose at the place.

So, when I arrived at my very tired-looking hotel, which appeared to be perfumed by the socks of last season’s pilgrims and saw its lobby, packed full of gaudy Virgin Mary memorabilia, you will forgive me when the words “Good God!” escaped my lips, and not in any laudatory way.

Kirby then claims she “recovered from my temporary crisis of faith” and then set off to find the shrine itself. Again, the tenor of this piece belies any “temporary” state of the writer’s crisis of faith, for sure.

After belittling the souvenir shops, hotels and appearance of the area, Kirby hones in on the apparent sham of the religious claims behind the shrine. She also seems to reveal that even the Catholic workers and priests there are non-believers.

I was quite taken aback by the usage of a novelist’s trick of the omnipotent descriptions by an all-knowing narrator explaining the feelings and motivations of the characters in a novel. Kirby used this convention to ascribe feelings to the folks she interviewed for this travel piece, but she does not follow up with any hint that those interviewed really told her that this is what they felt.

For instance, she quotes doctor Patrick Thellier as to his capacity to “verify so-called miracle cures.” But, before she quote him, she prefaces his words with this line:

He rubbed his temples vigorously in the manner of a man who is relentlessly tortured by his own brain activity.

What could he be tortured by but his deep-seated knowledge that the truth of Lourdes is all a scam? Yet, his actual quote does not quite show “torture” of conscious, but perhaps more wonder at the unexplained.

“It is a constant balancing act between faith and science for me,” he said.

“I know that I see patients to whom something inexplicable and remarkable has happened, but how can I prove scientifically to other doctors that a miracle has been performed?

“You cannot prove a miracle and, in this day and age, everyone needs proof to believe.”

About the only “torture” I see in the good doctor’s words is his sadness that people today have lost their ability to believe. Yet, Kirby wants to present his words as if he himself is having a crisis of faith, or even that he is a scam artist who knows that Lourdes is all a lie.

Kirby then recounts how she witnessed several sick and needy people wandering about the church praying for a miracle. It obviously made her quite disturbed to witness these people. Apparently the sick should be neither seen nor heard in Kirby’s world.

I told one of the visiting British priests, Father Bob – who had come with Peggy, one of his elderly and terminally ill parishioners – how uncomfortable I felt witnessing such scenes of despair.

Father Bob had the right thing to say and it appears to have been something that perhaps shamed Miss Kirby if just a little. “This is their home,” Father Bob said, “Lourdes is a place where the sick don’t just count. They come first.”

Unfortunately, Kirby ends her piece on a note of condescension.

So, that night, I sat quietly for a while before the shrine and thought about miracles.

Before I left I lit a candle for the sick Austrian woman.

You just never know.

Apparently, she bows to mere superstition as opposed to conviction at the end of her visit to Lourdes. Instead of a sincere prayer to God that he help the sick Austrian Woman, Kirby simply lights a candle as a blindly, dogmatic paean to superstition and goes about her way, trusting to the luck that the act of lighting a candle in and of itself is enough to satisfy the sentiment of “what if there really is a God.” A candle lit just in case is no expression of faith and is a fitting end to the offhanded, dismissive treatment she gives the holy site in her travel piece.

Now, I am no Catholic. I have no expectation that “miracles” occur now, or ever have occurred in Lourdes nor do I believe the Catholic Church has any capacity to declare them as such. However, what Kirby has written, presented as travelogue, is far from mere description but reads more like an indictment on the veracity of the Holy site and, perhaps, the entire religion.

Such a piece as Kirby’s seems more at home in a publication of essays and social commentary than it does as a product of a “news” organization like the BBC. But, then again, the BBC has been confusing commentary for “news” for quite sometime. And the Beeb’s penchant for attacking traditional western mores and culture runs apace with their tendency to present opinion as news.

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