Stories about Christian leaders that never happened
This essay describes CULs that we have uncovered from Internet mailing lists, Emails from conservative
Christians, Urban Legend web sites, etc:
The crucified Santa Claus: In 1993, a
rumor began to circulate that a Japanese department store in Tokyo or
Kyoto had on display a smiling Santa Claus
being crucified on a cross. The display was alleged to have been shown
just after World War II, or in the '50s, '60s, or just recently. In
1995, A Motorola executive was quoted in the Washington Post as
attributing the statue to a shopkeeper's knowledge that "...there
was this guy in a white beard and a red suit, and they knew
there was a [Christian] religious angle...The result was little Santa
Clauses on crucifixes." Various descriptions had Santa
appearing in miniature or life-sized. Christianity Today in
1996 described an "enormous effigy." None of this
Encounter between Dr. Paul Tillich and a preacher: The legend
involves an annual observance at the University of Chicago:
Baptist Day. A famous theologian is invited each year to speak on
religion. One year, Dr. Paul Tillich delivered a speech in which he
concluded that the physical resurrection of
Jesus was not an actual event. During question period, a dark-skinned
preacher in the audience asked a surprising question: was the apple that
he was munching on was bitter or sweet. Dr. Tillich responded: "I
cannot possibly answer that question, for I haven't tasted your apple."
The preacher responded calmly: "Neither have you tasted my Jesus."
The audience exploded with applause and cheers. This makes for an
interesting story. Dr. Tillich did teach at the University from 1962
until his death in 1965. But a spokesperson at the university's Divinity
School has stated that there is no evidence that the exchange took
place. The school never has celebrated "Baptist Day."
George W. Bush evangelizing young man: This legend started
during Bush's campaign for the presidency in the year 2000. It alleges
that George Bush interrupted his activity at a political rally to
discuss salvation with a teenager. This resulted in Bush leading the
young man in the sinner's prayer. Bill Koenig of Koenig's
International News was one of the information services that
distributed the hoax. After publishing the story, Koenig did some
digging and found out that the story was fictional. In his 2001-JAN-15
commentary, he issued an apology and retraction. He said in part:
"Without doubt, the excitement of this story, whether it be a
'hoax' or whether it actually has some basis in fact, has happened for
a reason. We do know that God is in charge, and we pray for His will
to be done." 2
Jesus porno film: This legend appears to have started with a 1977
news item in Modern People, a weekly magazine. It reported that some
Europeans were planning to produce a porn film about Jesus. A later
announcement in the magazine said that the film project had been terminated.
In 1980 a legend spread across the U.S. that Modern People News was
producing a film about the sex life of Jesus. The part of Mary Magdalene was
going to be played by a famous prostitute from France. Jesus was going to be
shown as either a bisexual or homosexual. No such film was ever produced.
Emotional support by Jesus: This story apparently originated
among Mormons in the American West, and was very popular in the late
1980's and early 1990's. An abusive father -- different versions
described him as alcoholic, a drug abuser, mentally ill, or just plain
violent -- killed his wife in the presence of their small child. The
daughter was so traumatized that she could not speak. She was placed
in a foster family, who later took her to church and enrolled her in a
Sunday School. During the lesson, the teacher showed a large picture
of Jesus to the children and asked them if anyone knew who it was. The
child raised her hand and spoke her first words since the incident:
"That was the man who held me in his arms the night my Daddy
killed my Mommy." There are quite a few variations on the
story; some have the child looked after by Roman Catholic foster
parents. The event was said to have happened in many places: rural UT;
Mesa, AZ; Oklahoma City, OK; Southern California, even Mexico City.
The Vanishing hitchhiker: This story has been circulating since the
1800s and thus has many variations. One of the most recent appearances
allegedly happened in Austin TX. A motorist picked up a hitchhiker on a
country road. The hitchhiker says "The Lord is coming back soon"
and then disappears. The motorist reports the event to the police, who tell
him that he was the fifth person that day to report the same experience.
This is probably the most widespread and long-lasting Christian urban
legends. There is no truth to the story.
Mother Teresa's divine light: A BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.)
made-for-television documentary movie "Something Beautiful for God"
first brought Mother Teresa to public attention. During the filming of the movie, the film
crew attempted to photograph the inside of the Home for the Dying in Calcutta,
India. The task looked hopeless, because the movie crew only had one small light at their
disposal to supplement the very dim by natural light. But the photographers tried
anyway. When they developed the film, they were amazed to find that the movie showed the
interior to be bathed in a beautiful soft light. Every detail was clear. This was
attributed to a miracle of "kindly light" or "divine light"
much like the luminous halos that artists have drawn around the heads of saints. The rumor
has been spreading ever since that a miracle happened in Calcutta.
In reality, the camera crew realized that photography inside the darkened room was
quite impossible, using regular film. Fortunately, they had brought a new type of high
sensitivity Kodak film. They did not have time to test it before they went on location,
but they decided to try it anyway. The film was a miracle; but it was a
"miracle" engineered by Kodak research and development. 3
Cannibals eat missionary and family: This story won
the 1999 Darwin Award for one of
the finest urban legends of the year. Rev. Newton Day of the Blessed
children Church was a missionary in New Guinea. He attempted to convert
the Tuoari tribe to Christianity. The tribe's current religion is described as
"Satanic," which simply means, in this context, "Aboriginal"
or "Non-Christian." Local inhabitants "tried to
tell him that Tuoaris don't want missionaries. They are perfectly happy
worshiping the devil and eating any juicy white man who comes along."
Detective Ike C. Doka reported that: "Neighboring tribes say that
the preacher and his family were in the stewpot before he ever got his Bible
out of his duffel bag. The Tuoaris ate like kings and danced all night long."
A scary story. However, with the possible exception of ritual eating of
enemies after battles, cannibalism does not currently exist in New
Guinea. There is strong evidence that some cannibalism was practiced among
the Fore tribe and others in the New Guinea highlands early in the 20th
century in response to a famine. However, people were not murdered in order
to provide food for the tribe; only people who died of natural causes were
Luther and the 95 theses: It is a very
widely held belief that Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the
Reformation, had 95 theses printed up and that he subsequently nailed
them to the cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany on 1517-OCT-31.
(Halloween). This triggered the Protestant Reformation and the eventual division of
a more-or-less unified western Christianity
into thousands of individual faith groups. It is now celebrated by many
as Reformation Sunday. Some have suggested that the nailing of the theses
apparently never happened. The first account of the event did not
appear until after Luther's death. Luther himself never mentioned it. Luther is
known to have written a letter to his superiors on that day. In it, he
denounced the sale of indulgences, asked that the believers receive
their money back.
He attached to the letter 95 theses which he suggested as the basis for a discussion
of the proposal. 4 One person who has thoroughly investigated
the nailing suggested that it did happen; but "What he never did but
everyone attributes was him saying in court, 'Here I stand and can do no
Luther throwing the inkwell at Satan: Luther, like most
of his religious contemporaries and like many conservative Christians today,
lived in an environment in which Satan was seen as a very important
living entity with supernatural powers. He was visualized as a raging lion, roaming
the world looking for people to devour. A legend grew up that Satan had
woken up Luther in the middle of the night, and that Luther had thrown
an inkwell at him, in self defense. A stain on the wall of his room,
visible up to the 19th century, was associated with this event. His
actual statement was that he had "driven the devil away with ink."
This is generally attributed to his efforts at translating the Bible.
Apparently the stain was painted on the wall after Luther's death. 5
Pope Leo X (1513-1521): Some
believe that he considered Jesus to be a mere legend.
Barbara Walker in her Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Page 471,
quotes him as as having said "What
profit has not that fable of Christ brought us!"
Rev. Taylor, in The Diegesis, Page 35, has a slightly different quote
well known how profitable this fable of Christ has been to us."
The Catholic Encyclopedia refers to a widely circulated
remark: "How much we and our family have profited by the legend
of Christ, is sufficiently evident to all ages."
These quotes appear fraudulent, and unrelated to any actual statement
by Pope Leo X. They have the flavor of folktales. One evidence of this is than
they have appeared in so many different versions with slightly altered wordings. Their origin appears
to have been in a fictional work by John Bale. The Catholic Encyclopedia
refers to him as an: "...apostate English Carmelite, the first to
give currency to these words in the time of Queen Elizabeth" (1533 -
1603). 8 Even if Leo X said
something like one of these "quotes" the meaning is not clear. He may
have been referring to legends, myths, and fables about the life of
Jesus which accumulated after his death.