The Miracle Detective

Randall Sullivan. The Miracle Detective: An Investigation of Holy Visions. Little Brown, 2004.

Journalist Randall Sullivan, inspired by a piece about a glowing figure which appeared in a tacky picture in a hovel of a trailer home, sets out to investigate Roman Catholic miracles. The core of the book deals with the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje in Bosnia and Scottsdale in Arizona, and the author's reactions to them. It has to be said that Sullivan's presentation of himself at the start of this journey as a 'non Roman Catholic' and non-believer does not ring entirely true, and one suspects he was in fact a lapsed Catholic, and one with a guilt conscience over an involvement in two abortions. This makes him perhaps a less than objective witness.

Therefore, to some extent this book is seen through the eyes of at least a half-believer, it does provide some insight into classic cases of where apparently ordinary people report extraordinary experiences, which are interpreted in terms of the beliefs of their times and cultures. Like many varieties of anomalous personal experiences they seem to alternate between the truly puzzling, which might make even the mostt sceptical start thinking that something really spooky is going on, with the utterly absurd. It is perhaps of some comfort to find that the Roman Catholic Church's leading theologians find themselves as conflicted by all of this, as any ufologist or psychical researcher.

One of the problems with this book, as with so many similar ones, is that it never clear where the author's information comes from, and as much of what is related is hearsay, it is not possible to make any clear evaluation of the evidence. I get the impression that we would have to know a lot more about the personal and family backgrounds of the main participants before we could reach any sensible conclusion as to what happened.

Also, though there is reasonable coverage of the war in Bosnia and its antecedents, the book rather shys away from the background of theological politics involved. This comes out clearer in the Scottsdale saga, where the prophecies start to echo the beliefs of the supporters of Patrick Buchanan and the militias. The Marian messages are usually concerned with defending traditionalist Catholic viewpoints against modernist critics, something which has been the case since the nineteenth century onwards. It is true that one of the Medjugorje seers did produce a more inclusive message which did not go down terribly well with the neighbours, but that has to be balanced against the usual warnings of hideous chastisements if sinners don't repent, and the grand secrets for which the world is not yet ready, something which is more reminiscent of teenage petulance than anything else.

There are the usual side stories, the woman who claims to have been sexually abused by her wealthy satanist freemason father, the woman who interprets her husband's sleep paralysis episode as a demonic assault and then starts seeing demon dogs all over her house, and the husband's meetings with strange individuals, whom he interprets as demons, but whom Budd Hopkins or David Jacobs would regard as hybrids, and the rest of us as just those strange characters you meet all over the place.  -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 84, 2004

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