North Korea’s godless miracles mean nothing

The miracles reported upon the death of Kim Jong-il are various. Ice cracked on a lake in the mountain where he is supposed to have been born; his name glowed in letters of fire on the sunset; on a freezing midnight a Manchurian crane descended to one of his statues and remained there in an attitude of mourning.

Apart from being obvious fakes, these stories have little in common with Christian or Muslim miracles. They resemble more the kind of things reported when Roman emperors died.

When Stalin died, his cabinet ministers said things like this:

“Our teacher and leader, the great genius of mankind, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin has come to the end of his glorious life-path. In these sorrowful days, the deep sorrow of the Soviet people is shared by all advanced and progressive humanity. Stalin’s name is infinitely dear to the Soviet people and the broadest masses of the people in all parts of the globe. Boundless are the grandeur and significance of Comrade Stalin’s activities for the Soviet people and for the working people of all lands, Stalin’s cause will live for ever, and grateful posterity, in common with us, will praise Stalin’s name.”

They did not, so far as I know, report miracles. Perhaps that is because all the official propaganda of Stalinism was so grotesquely untrue that nothing could have added to it – and it is important, for some kinds of power, to force people to say things they know are untrue, just as it is important to be able to bore them. Both are simple and direct affronts to the dignity of the sufferer.

Popular, bottom-up miracles are rather different. I don’t mean they are more likely, but they are far more widely believed. Take two apparitions of the Virgin Mary – at Fatima, in Portugal, in 1917, and in Cairo, 1968. In both cases there is a great deal of eyewitness testimony which we have to disregard as a hallucination because the alternative explanation would be that an even larger number of people were hallucinating when they noticed nothing out of the ordinary. I’m thinking particularly here of the apparition of the sun, or suns, zooming around in the sky, as reported by many of the Fatima eyewitnesses. [more]


The Guardian UK