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Get Out the Woo-Woo Shovel PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

If you've any doubt that religion is superstition, consider the current condition of the real-estate market, and what a certain portion of Americans are resorting to. They may believe that religious faith can move mountains, but can a small piece of cheap plastic move a house? Yes, a lot of people think so, provided that the plastic is a figurine of Saint Joseph. As of the beginning of 2009, shops that sell religious charms, books, and various holy chachkas, are reporting booming sales of tiny statuettes of Joseph - the actual father of Jesus Christ and the patron saint of home and house sellers - both to real estate agents and to homeowners.

The proprietor of a Saint Jude Shop in Pennsylvania happily announced:

We have over 5,000 items in our store, and you know what the No. 1 item is? The St. Joseph statue!

Real estate agents purchase up to a dozen at a time, she said, and estimates that she's sold 6,000 to 8,000 of them in the last year. A two-inch figure sells for as little as $1.39, while "Home-selling kits," which have more ornate figurines, a prayer card, and a short history, sell for $5.95 and up. Proper superstition calls for planting the two-inch statuette on the property for sale, head down, feet pointing toward heaven - of course, and face pointed toward the house. If Joe faces the driveway, you may only get an offer on your car, so be careful. You must say the novena, the prayer that accompanies the statue, for nine days, too. Most importantly, you have to remember where you planted it so you can dig it up after the house sells. Only a fool would fail to do that, as we all know. And by the way, condo owners can use a flower-pot for the interment, since this is heavy-duty, top-silly stuff.

So we have burial location, orientation, chants and invocations, and relocation - a proper set of magical procedures. Yep, that's certainly religious.

Religious charm stores aren't the only purveyors. These miracle dolls can be found at hardware stores and gift shops, as well. This is an equal-opportunity scam, for not only Roman Catholics fall for it. No, people of other blind faiths also come to buy the charm you use to sell your home. But beware: this magic isn't officially condoned by the Roman Catholic Church, a fact which might put a chill on the faithful.

Does it work? Oh yes, say those who subsequently sell the property. Oh yes, say those who are still waiting. So we have a win/win situation, right?

No, just another sad and depressing superstition that our species is still saddled with...

I'll offer my own - amateur - suggestions. Save the $1.39, investigate the market and price the property appropriately, do a neat fix-up if needed, pay special attention to the kitchen and garage, think about smart moves like offering to pay the potential buyers' closing costs, and be sure that basic maintenance has been tended to. Yes, I admit that this doesn't call for kneeling, chanting, burying plastic, or burning incense, but somehow I suspect that the "for sale" sign has a better chance of hitting the trash...

But I'm an atheist, so what do I know?

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written by Alan3354, February 01, 2009
There's a BIG difference between religion and superstition. It's $$$$$$$$
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written by DZiemke, February 01, 2009
You're right, Mr. Randi. We atheists don't know anything except how not to waste our time and money on bunk like this. I guess they all believe it works because a house will eventually sell, someday, right? I'd consider it progress if these charlatans offered a conditional, money-back guarantee. Such as, if the house doesn't sell within 14 days, or doesn't sell for 95% or more of my listing price, I'd get my money back. Wishful thinking, though.
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written by Starthinker, February 01, 2009
Perhaps real estate agents shouldn't collect commission on homes sold this way, after all, they didn't do any work.
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You're begging the question.
written by Radwaste, February 01, 2009
"Joseph" hasn't been demonstrated to be the actual father of Jesus. However unpleasant it may be to contemplate, we humans reproduce exactly like other mammals, and the circumstances around Jesus' life, including his birth, are packed with errors as commonly related.
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written by Skeptigirl, February 01, 2009
Fox News did a piece on this a few months back. They left the listener with the impression God was pleased with such rituals.
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Mr. Randi's Inevitable Decline, Lowly rated comment [Show]
what's in a word ...
written by MadScientist, February 01, 2009
Personally I prefer "mysticism" and "mystic rituals" to "magic". I've always thought of magic as stage shows and party tricks; I don't want my delusions of magic damaged by association with superstition.

@skeptigirl: If you read the bible, it is not difficult at all to imagine that a god would love these silly rituals. Ah, the good old days when he could tell, say, Abraham to murder his child. How about ordering the massacre and rape of other tribes? You could argue that the Old Testament god is having a grand old time in parts of Africa. So burying someone upside down while alive is just the sort of thing god would call for (if they're nailed to a plank beforehand that's a bonus). I guess god was distracted and doesn't realize that "Joseph" is a lump of plastic, not a living human being. Don't worry, once god figures it out he'll be furious at being deprived of human suffering and he'll send in the plagues for a giggle.
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Jesus of Nazareth's Paternity
written by StarTrekLivz, February 01, 2009
ah, Caller X, it is true no one did a paternity test to verify whether Joseph was the biological father of Jesus of Nazareth -- but that makes more sense than the Christian Church's assertion that God the Holy Spirit impregnated the BVM (the normal abberviation: BVM = Blessed Virgin Mary).

In Jesus' lifetime he was purported to be "the son of the 'tekton' (a rough wood-worker & day laborer, not the skilled craft we call "carpentry")," who is referred to as Joseph in Matthew's birth narrative (after the birth stories Joseph is never named again).

Although I am coming to join the people who believe that there was no Jesus in any case (the Birth Narratives in Matthew & Luke describe 2 different people in different times, at minimum 1 decade of difference in time, but that's another whole, long issue), and that to support a "Jesus Movement" various gospels (some canonical, some not) were written to satisfy a need after the fact and without the person.
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PS on Joseph Statues
written by StarTrekLivz, February 01, 2009
I bought my house in 1991 -- it had been on the market for a long time, things were slow in Detroit at that time, and the price was marked down because the seller needed to move due to a new job. While doing some gardening the first summer, I found a little cheap plastic St Joseph statue in the garden in the backyard. I cleaned it up and still have it in the kitchen.

No doubt the sellers would say that the statue "worked" because after all I did buy the house -- but not in the time frame they wanted, and a lower price than they asked. [They had wanted to move 90 days before I made an offer; my offer was 10% below their reduced asking price, but they accepted it within 15 minutes of my realtor's phone call to them.) How does one evaluate "success" in this instance?
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written by gbeenie, February 01, 2009
The only difference between superstition and religion is that someone had a pen and paper handy when the letter was dreamed up.
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written by gbeenie, February 01, 2009
*latter. Sorry.
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written by BillyJoe, February 02, 2009
Don't you hate it when thet happens.
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The Power of Plastic?
written by Realitysage, February 02, 2009
How could Joseph be the saint of homeowners? Wasn't he wandering around the countryside with a pregnant wife homeless? Plus Christians don't consider Joseph as being the father of Jesus anyway. Apparently Mary was impregnated by a otherworldly godly invisible sperm cell somehow. Notice how the very woman Christians hold in the highest regard has to be a virgin? Men being intimidated by female sexuality seems to go back a long way. And for those folks who seem to think you can get fantastical protective results from a little plastic statue, I wonder how many of them would put it to a test with a plastic dashboard Jesus protecting them in a head on collision? I don't think even a true believer would be eager to give that one a try. But then again, I could be wrong.
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written by Cuddy Joe, February 02, 2009
George Carlin on plastic dashboard Jesus: "Shouldn't he being facing forward?"
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written by Careyp74, February 02, 2009
Startreklivz, That is soooo funny. I just bought a house in September. The first thing I had to do was move the mailbox from next to the front door out to the street. When digging up the post, I came across one of those figurines too. What did I do with that thing.........
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written by latsot, February 02, 2009
Wasn't he wandering around the countryside with a pregnant wife homeless?


No...it depends which of the mutually incompatible accounts you read in the bible, but none of them says he was homeless.
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written by Caller X, February 02, 2009

Clearly you didn't study Greek in high school.

from Strong's Greek Dictionary:
from the base of timoria; an artificer (as producer of fabrics), i.e. (specially), a craftsman in wood

carpenter.

written by StarTrekLivz, February 01, 2009
ah, Caller X, it is true no one did a paternity test to verify whether Joseph was the biological father of Jesus of Nazareth -- but that makes more sense than the Christian Church's assertion that God the Holy Spirit impregnated the BVM (the normal abberviation: BVM = Blessed Virgin Mary).


Since Joseph is reported to have denied paternity it makes MORE sense that TVM (I don't adhere to Catholic Church's acronyms) was handing it out to all and sundry.

In Jesus' lifetime he was purported to be "the son of the 'tekton' (a rough wood-worker & day laborer, not the skilled craft we call "carpentry")," who is referred to as Joseph in Matthew's birth narrative (after the birth stories Joseph is never named again).


How could he be purported to be anything in his lifetime, when you say, as quoted below, that you believe he never even existed? Hmmm?

Although I am coming to join the people who believe that there was no Jesus in any case (the Birth Narratives in Matthew & Luke describe 2 different people in different times, at minimum 1 decade of difference in time, but that's another whole, long issue), and that to support a "Jesus Movement" various gospels (some canonical, some not) were written to satisfy a need after the fact and without the person.

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written by BillyJoe, February 02, 2009
I wonder how many of them would put it to a test with a plastic dashboard Jesus

Well, for me...

It's got to be a chocolate jesus....

Dont go to church on sunday
Dont get on my knees to pray
Dont memorize the books of the bible
I got my own special way
Bit I know jesus loves me
Maybe just a little bit more

I fall on my knees every sunday
At zerelda lees candy store
Well its got to be a chocolate jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate jesus
Keep me satisfied

[Tom Waits]

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The Paternity of Jesus of Nazareth
written by Alencon, February 02, 2009
I hate to say it but Joseph is specifically noted to not have had relations with Mary prior to the birth of Jesus. This would mean that Joseph could not possibly be the father.

Keep in mind that Judea was the unwashed armpit of the empire, knee deep in bandits and patroled by auxilliary Roman troops that were only an eyelash above bandits themselves and that was when they were sober. When they were drunk, all bets were probably off.

I suspect what we had here was a case of assault and then possibly an act of charity on the part of Joseph to take the young victim in. Mary was very young, fourteen or fifteen would be a good guess. Joseph was quite likely much older which might explain his disappearance prior to the start of Jesus' ministry.

Granted this is pure speculation, but it makes more sense to me than the Holy Spirit theory and the idea that Joseph, in a sexually suppressed society where a bride's virginity was a major issue, would accept a pregnant wife without some mitigating circumstances. It's unlikley the Mary & Joseph marriage was anything like normal. If it had been, then Matthew and Luke wouldn't have had to jump through hoops to explain it.
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written by BillyJoe, February 02, 2009
Somebody doesn't like Tom Waits? smilies/sad.gif
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written by tctheunbeliever, February 03, 2009
To call this argument over Jesus' patrimony "going off on a tangent" seems a hefty understatement.
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written by Marty, February 05, 2009
The above reports of how the statues of St. Joseph are used don't tell the whole story. What you're supposed to do after burying the statue in the back yard, feet up, facing the house, is go inside and kneel and pray: "Dear Jesus, if you EVER want to see your father again . . ."
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written by Caller X, February 07, 2009
written by tctheunbeliever, February 03, 2009
To call this argument over Jesus' patrimony "going off on a tangent" seems a hefty understatement.


It's NEVER going off on a tangent to point out when Mr. Randi pulls something out of his amazing... as he did in this case. Caesar's wife and all that.
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