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Spiderman Versus the Vanishing Hitch Hiker!

Back in the days of the wide open wheeling and dealing of the Roman marketplace, the smart consumer would enter into the chaos with two Latin words firmly placed in the front of the mind –

“Caveat emptor”

Let the buyer beware.

The bottom line?

If something seems too good to be true, it’s usually because it is.

This same sense of healthy skepticism that can keep us out of trouble

in used car lots

or at special-secret-invitation-only-once- in-a-life-time-investment-opportunity meetings,

is also one that we have to apply when we fire up the computer, open the newspaper, or turn on the television.

In the SRL files under “Just ’cause they said it, don’t mean it’s so” consider the widely circulated story we could call “The Blessing of the Brown Recluse”.

Spider Bite Cures Paralyzed Man: Miracle or Bad


Here’s the full story as sort-of reported: A man named David Blancarte of either Modesto or Manteca, Calif. (reports vary), who was either paralyzed or confined to a wheelchair (reports vary) after a motorcycle accident either 20 or 21 years ago (reports vary), was bitten by a brown recluse spider two years ago and sought treatment in a hospital. An unnamed nurse there noticed muscle spasms; concluded his nerves were just “asleep”; ordered tests; got him to rehab; and got him walking again.

Although the story was dutifully reported on ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, the notion that spider venom was the key to the healing raised eyebrows among scientists.

Christopher Wanjek, Live Science’s Bad Medicine columnist, issues this wake up call.

It sounds like something out of the pages of The Weekly World News, right next to an alien abduction story: Paralyzed California man bit by brown recluse spider walks again. Only it was reported for real last week on CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS.

Yes, a miracle – a miracle this could make the evening news, for this was a phenomenally poorly reported story bereft of the simplest of fact-checking. Of the three basic facts reported by these apparently professional journalists – paralyzed man, brown recluse spider, and walking – two are surely false.

Yet more than just another example of lousy broadcast journalism, such stories bring false hopes and even danger to those desperate enough to experiment with venom to cure their paralysis.

Talk to a doctor

Wanjek points out that not only are brown recluse spiders not found in California, but that a far more plausible explanation is that David Blancarte was not completely paralyzed as he believed.

The bite merely served to get him to a hospital where an observant medical professional determined he needed physical therapy to walk again.

Let’s hope Blancarte isn’t inspired to try some Peter Parker like wall crawling.

So ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN got the story wrong.

They failed to fact check, or even interview a doctor or an expert on spiders before running the story.

Just because a story makes the media doesn’t make it true.

And a true story will stand up under examination.

So remember the magic words “Caveat emptor”

when you fire up the computer,

open the news paper,

or turn on the television.

Or dare I add,

when you go to church.

Or when you turn on Christian media.

Or when you read the latest best seller that is moving briskly off the shelves at the Christian bookstore.

Unfortunately, I have heard sermons, watched segments on Christian television and read supposedly Christian books that are just as shaky as our “Brown recluse blessing”.

Consider the story of the “Vanishing Hitch Hiker”.

You’ve probably heard it before.

A person picks up a starnger looking for a ride.

The conversation turns to the Second Coming of Christ.

The hitch hiker tells the driver, “Get ready! Jesus is coming very soon!”

And then vanishes.

I have heard this one shared to collective “Ooohs” and “Aahhhs” in more than one church setting.

There’s only one problem with the story of the “Vanishing Hitch Hiker”.

It’s an urban legend.

In fact there are all kinds of variations of the story that will have the mysterious hitch hiker telling the driver to pray the rosary, read the Koran or go on a Mormon mission before he makes his spooky exit.

The dead give away of an urban legend?

It always is something that the speaker has heard from a friend of a cousin.

The bottom line is this – sensationalistic claims get made all the time.

Some may even be true.

Most are not.

The truth stands up under examination.

Yes, even Biblical truth.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (I John 4:1)

Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (I Thessalonians 5:21-22)

So what’s the big deal about buying into “too good to be true” personal stories without checking them out biblically or personally?

In a word, it’s about credibility.

It has been said we only get one shot at personal integrity.

If we are sharing wild stories that end up being disproven, who will believe us when we are telling the truth about Jesus?

So let’s be people who check out the latest rumor or “revelation” or book guaranteed to revolutionize our lives before we buy into it or share it with others.

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. (Acts 17:10-11)

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