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Revelations, Visitations and All That

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In the mid-1800s, an imprisoned Persian allegedly saw a vision of a "heavenly maiden" who informed him of his holy status. Later he declared that he was Baha'u'llah, the Promised One of All Religions. In effect, he said he was Jesus returning for Christians, the Messiah coming for Jews, Lord Krishna coming for Hindus, a long-awaited divine imam coming for Muslims, etc. He drew thousands of followers, called Baha'i. Surrounding Shi'ite Muslims massacred them, but they persisted. The Persian's brother tried to poison him and declared himself, instead, the Promised One of All Religions. But the brother's attempt fizzled. Baha'is slowly grew to seven million around the world today, although they remain cruelly persecuted in Iran.

In 1935, according to the Unification Church, Jesus appeared to Sun Myung Moon in Korea and commanded him to finish the "incomplete" work that Christ started 2,000 years earlier. Moon began evangelizing and slowly created the "Moonie" faith that spread worldwide.

In the mid-1800s, a Chinese man read Christian missionary tracts and said he experienced a vision in which God told him he was a divine younger brother of Jesus. God commanded him to "destroy demons." The vision-receiver drew followers, launched the Taiping religion and a Taiping army that conquered much of China, causing an estimated 20 million deaths.

In the 1970s, a French racecar driver called Rael said he was visited by ancient extraterrestrials called the Elohim, who originally created all life on Earth. Rael wrote books and launched a religion that consists mostly of naked assemblies, casual sex, and efforts to bring the Elohim back to the planet. Estimates of the number of Raelians range from 50,000 to 90,000.

In the mid-1800s, a much-arrested mystic named Joseph Smith said he was visited by an angel named Moroni who showed him golden tablets buried on a New York state hill. The angel allegedly gave him magic stones that enabled him to translate ancient writing on the tablets. It became the Book of Mormon, describing a North American civilization that was visited by Jesus. But nobody could see the golden tablets and magic stones as proof, because the angel supposedly took them back to heaven. Today, the Mormon faith numbers 15 million worldwide.

Mary Baker Eddy said she heard supernatural voices as a child, and she later became devoted to a hypnotist healer, then she claimed that divine inspiration led her to write a faith-healing book and launch the Church of Christ Scientist in the 1870s. But critics claimed that she lifted most of her spiritual healing ideas from the hypnotist and from Eastern religions.

And, as everyone knows, the Prophet Muhammad claimed in the seventh century that the Angel Gabriel visited him repeatedly for 23 years, dictating the Qur'an. Muhammad was illiterate, but supposedly relayed the angel's words to others and scribes, who put them on paper. This launched the Muslim faith, which now has 1.5 billion adherents.

You get the picture. Time after time throughout history, various people have claimed miraculous visitations. The visionaries began preaching and spawned religions. They drew great numbers of followers showing a remarkable human craving for miracle tales.

Alleged communication from gods and godlings goes back to the earliest known writings. Greek King Agamemnon supposedly offended the goddess Artemis, who calmed winds when the king's army tried to sail for Troy. The goddess supposedly told the prophet Calchas that she would relent only if Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia, and it was done.

The Bible reports many angel visitations. Genesis 6 implies that fallen angels came to Earth, impregnated women and bred giants.

The all-time champion of holy appearances is the Virgin Mary, who often makes herself visible to believers in 1531 at Guadalupe, Mexico; in 1858 at Lourdes, France; in 1917 at Fatima, Portugal; in 1981 at Medjugorje, Bosnia; in 1983 at a farm in Georgia; etc. Vast multitudes of worshipers flock to these sites. It's odd that Mary doesn't appear to Jews, Buddhists, Protestants or atheists. As a wag said, "Some things must be believed to be seen."

Troy Taylor, a collector of ghost tales, wrote that the Virgin made numerous appearances in Illinois. A retired railroader, praying by a crucifix at Queen of Heaven Cemetery at Hillsdale in 1990, was visited by Mary, St. Michael and three angels, he said. Swarms of believers rushed to the spot and made miracle reports of their own.

At Belleville in 1993, a man said a voice told him to visit the Lady of the Snows shrine, where Mary appeared from a bright light and gave him messages. Meanwhile, various Orthodox churches around Illinois reported weeping or bleeding statues or paintings of the Virgin. And a family at Hanover Park said Mary appeared in 1997 in shadows on an apartment wall, drawing crowds of the faithful.

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight (more...)

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