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Examples of misinformation and disinformation in religious web sites

"Curb your Enthusiasm" episode of 2009-NOV-02

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The theme of the episode:

A new episode of HBO's "Curb your Enthusiasm" titled "The Bare Midriff," was broadcast on 2009-OCT-25 (2009-NOV-02 in Canada). 1 As with all episodes, it concentrates on the life of the lead star, an elderly man Larry David. In this episode, he was having a urination problem. Unlike the difficulty that many older men face with a low stream velocity and volume, he had the opposite problem. He had begun to take medication that  produced an enormously high stream velocity and volume that was uncontrollable.

In one scene, he urinated into a toilet with such force that water from the toilet, probably mixed with some urine, splashed in all directions. One splash, by accident, ended up on a painting of Jesus Christ -- portrayed as a Caucasian. It left a large drop of liquid behind. It would appear to an observer as if the image's right eye was crying. The rest of the episode was built around this apparently miraculous event. A devout Roman Catholic woman and her mother decided to take the painting across the country, displaying it as a true miracle. 2

While watching the episode, I interpreted the the episode as poking gentle fun at devout folks who see the image of an angel on a water stain on a wall, or an image of the Virgin Mary on a cheese pizza, and treat the object as being of special holy significance. But apparently others consider the episode blasphemous.

A 5.5 minute sampling of scenes from the episode is available on You Tube:

About America Needs Fatima (ANF):

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP). It is a Roman Catholic organization that "... adheres to the traditional teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Founded in 1973, it is one of many "Tradition, Family, Property" groups (TFPs) worldwide, all of which were inspired by the work of the Brazilian Plinio Corr? de Oliveira. ... The group has protested:

"... against films and plays that it views as blasphemous, including Goddard's 1985 film Hail Mary, Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ, McNally's 1998 play Corpus Christi, the 1999 movie Dogma, and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

In October 1999, TFP local coordinators carried out 300 protests at movie theaters against Dogma, and have mobilized 17,000 volunteers to hand out over 5 million protest fliers. In 2006 it organized over 2000 protests across the U.S.A. against The Da Vinci Code.." 3

The TFP has mounted a special campaign called "America Needs Fatima" (ANF) to spread the message of Fatima across the United States. ANF is a non-profit Roman Catholic group whose goal is: "To win the heart and soul of America for Mary, our Blessed Mother." This is done by "... spreading Our Lady's Fatima message and promoting devotion to Her Immaculate Heart." 4

Fatima is a township in Portugal where many Roman Catholics believe that miraculous events occurred. Three children, Lucia de Jesus dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, believe that they saw an apparition of an angel on three occasions in 1916. 5 They also believe that they saw subsequent apparitions ofMary, the mother of Jesus, during 1917, who asked them to return monthly for six consecutive months. Crowds grew in size until the last event involved a group of about 70,000 witnesses. 6

America Needs Fatima distributes Email:

On 2009-NOV-02, ANF sent an Email to its list of followers titled: " 'Urinating on Jesus' blasphemy ? protest NOW."

This title creates an image of Larry David intentionally urinating directly on a picture of Jesus. One gets the impression that Larry David placed the picture on a horizontal surface and urinated directly on it.

This is an inflammatory statement of an event that simply did not happen. Whether it was intentionally worded in a way that deviated from reality in order to incense and enrage readers, or whether it was written out of ignorance of the actual events in the story, the end result would be the same: many readers would be deeply offended.

Not explained was that Larry David had urinated in a toilet with considerable force due to the medication, and some water from the toilet -- possibly mixed with urine -- splashed in all directions. A small quantity of water accidentally splashed on a picture of Jesus that was hanging on the wall. It was beyond David's control.

As explanation, HBO sent a statement to that said in part:

"Anyone who follows Curb Your Enthusiasm knows that the show is full of parody and satire. Larry David makes fun of everyone, most especially himself.  The humor is always playful and certainly never malicious."

ANF's Email title was: "Battle against blasphemy heats up in America."

America Needs Fatima

Battle against blasphemy heats up in America

Send your instant e-protest message against the HBO show where Larry David urinates on a picture of Jesus!

November 3, 2009

Dear John Doe,

Ask HBO to apologize for the blasphemous and crude episode in the HBO show "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in which Larry David urinates on a picture of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

I know this is simply beyond the pale. But you and I cannot hide in a cave and make believe this type of blasphemy is not happening, or simply wish it away. More?

According to press reports, in the show, while in a Catholic home, Larry David visits the men's room and dirties a picture of Jesus in the process.

Next, a Catholic woman uses the restroom. She sees the wet picture and thinks it is a miracle: the picture has shed tears. Impressed, she calls her mother and shows her the picture. Both mother and daughter fall in prayer to their knees.

In another vulgar moment, when asked if he had ever seen a miracle, David answers, "every e r e c t i o n is a miracle."

Take Action
? Send your instant e-protest message NOW to HBO Chairman and CEO, Bill Nelson.
? Join America Needs Fatima in a national Rosary of Reparation on Friday, November at 7PM EST. Take the Rosary pledge here.
? Pass this message on to your friends. It's urgent that more Catholics wake up and stand up to those who injure Our Lord and Our Lady with vile insults and impure blasphemy.

Thank you for defending Our Lord Jesus Christ when so many Catholics hide in the comfort-zone and refuse to speak out for what is pure, true and sacred.

Sincerely in Jesu et Maria

Robert Ritchie... 7

There are some inaccuracies expressed in the Email:

bullet From the Email title and heading: Larry David did not urinate on a picture of Jesus; he urinated into a toilet. An unintended splash beyond his awareness and control landed on a picture of Jesus. He only noted the water deposit later.
bullet The text of the Email said that they were relying on "press reports." This implies that they had not actually view the episode. It would seem that a responsiblt group that distributes an Email widely on the Internet in the hopes of mounting a national protest would have investigate the triggering event carefully. The place to begin would have been to actually view the sitcom.
bullet Larry David did not visit the men's room. It was a bathroom in a private home used by persons of both genders.
bullet The comment that "every erection is a miracle" is a sincere statement when said by many many men of Larry David's age.

America Needs Fatima's website protest:

Later in 2009-NOV, the ANF web site featured a color image of Jesus' bloody corpse on the cross with the caption:

"Protest and Reparation... Outrageous BLASPHEMY against Jesus on HBO: Enough is enough! Protest Now!"

Clicking on the hyperlink arrives at a "take action" page that states:

America Needs Fatima is promoting a national protest and rosary in reparation for the blasphemous and crude episode in the HBO show ?Curb Your Enthusiasm? in which Larry David urinates on a picture of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

According to press reports, the episode takes place in a Catholic home, where Larry David visits the men?s room and dirties a picture of Jesus in the process.

Next, a Catholic woman uses the restroom.  She sees the wet picture and thinks it is a miracle: the picture has shed tears.  Impressed, she calls her mother and shows her the picture.  Both mother and daughter fall in prayer to their knees.

In another vulgar moment, when asked if he had ever seen a miracle, David answers, "every erection is a miracle." 8

Again, Larry David did not urinate on a picture of Jesus nor did he dirty the picture. Water from the toilet splashed on the picture in an event beyond his control.

Other reactions to the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode:

Anne Godlasky of USA TODAY said:

"In past episodes, David has offended Orthodox Jews on at least two occasions, made inappropriate comments about a woman playing Mary in a Nativity scene, and even slipped Benadryl into a Christian Scientist's brownie. This season, he has made jokes at the expense of someone who is mentally ill, of women in wheelchairs and of a girlfriend with cancer."

"In the context of the show's general outlandishness, did the Jesus storyline go too far?" 9

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights reinforced the misunderstanding that David urinated on the picture. He says:

"Was Larry David always this crude? Would he think it comedic if someone urinated on a picture of his mother? This might be fun to watch, but since HBO only likes to dump on Catholics (it was just a couple of weeks ago that Sarah Silverman insulted Catholics on Real Time with Bill Maher), and David is Jewish, we'll never know." 9

I am an avid watcher of the program and do not recall another incident that poked fun at Catholics. I recall many episodes involving other religions.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also asked HBO for an apology.

"It is beyond tasteless to insult the religious sensibilities of billions of people in America and around the world with such a cheap and vulgar publicity stunt." 9

The USA TODAY article received 126 feedback and comment postings in the 7.5 days after the article was published:

bullet "David B" wrote:
"Making fun of religion is part and parcel with almost all comedy. Its standard operating procedure. And, in some respects, South Park has gone way farther. However, normally when they do it, there is a satiric point to be made. If the point is to make fun of people who see Jesus in their mashed potatoes, or Hindus who say they've got statues of ganesha that have tears, there are more subtle ways to do it than to be offensive for offensiveness sake."

"The point of a comedian is to hold up a mirror to reality and poke holes in it. That's their job. A great comedian makes you see through the veil, and you might not necessarily like what you see."

"That is why good comedy is always right on the edge. But there is a difference between being on the edge and being stupid." 9
bullet "TheBigBlueFrog" wrote:
"This is horrible, and blasphemous. Does HBO have an embassy somewhere that we ban burn? Is there someone we can burn in effigy, if they don't? There should be something we can destroy to bring attention to this outrage!"

"Seriously, if you don't want people laughing at your beliefs, stop believing silly things. All humor has a grain of truth, and the massive grain in this joke is that a weeping portrait of Jesus is totally believable to some people. The dichotomy of the urine mistaken for tears is what drives the message home."
bullet "bmilo56" wrote:
"I watched the episode when it aired, and I thought it was funny, and I'm Catholic. I thought it poked more fun at those who see religious images in grease stains, potato chips, burnt toast and oddly shaped fruit than Christianity itself. The show pokes fun at Jewish customs and tradition all of the time. The comment that HBO only likes to dump on Catholics is nonsense. God gave us our sense of humor, and their is a time and a place for everything. I'm more worried about those religions and customs that can't laugh at themselves now and again, than those that can." 9

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Battle against blasphemy heats up in America," Email, America Needs Fatima, 2009-NOV-02.
  2. Based on the author's recollections after watching the episode.
  3. "American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property," Wikipedia, last updated 2009-OCT-31, at:
  4. "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about America Needs Fatima," ANF, undated, at
  5. "Part I: The Apparitions of the Angel of Portugal," ANF, undated, at:
  6. "Part II: The apparitions of Our Lady," Question 1, ANF, undated, at:
  7. "Protest and Reparation...",  America Needs Fatima home page, at:
  8. "ANF protests and offers reparation for blasphemous episode on HBO's show: "Curb your enthusiasm," America Needs Fatima, at:

How you got here:

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Copyright 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2009-NOV-02
Latest update: 2009-NOV-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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