Tag Archives: Jesus

Pilgrimage Tourism

In my research for a story during biblical times I have come across the bizarre business of what I call pilgrimage tourism. By the Middle Ages, parts or bodies of saints had begun to surface, literally. They were found in sepulchers, under churches, in the naves, perhaps a grave yard, and various other places. Some of these saints may have done a lot more traveling after their deaths than they did before they died.

Monasterboice, Ireland

Some traveled far and wide and one was likely to find  the remains of every saint at some point or another. The only person whose remains were never found were those of Jesus because he was supposed to have ascended bodily to heaven and to find his body would have whacked a giant hole in the tenets of early Christianity. So only his image on shrouds and capes, and parts of the true cross came into bearing.

After the first few saintly parts appeared and were ensconced in a church, or in the foundations or a reliquary box, the faithful visited these churches to venerate the saintly body, even though supposedly Christians believe in the transmigration of the soul, which means there is no spirit in the remains. And then, of course, cures or other miracles began to happen in the presence of a dead saint’s remains. In a way you could say that early Christians venerated a certain zombie aura to the dead, considering saints’ flesh or bones reanimated enough vitality to touch the living.

When the faithful flocked to these churches they needed places to sleep and food to eat, which not only buoyed and increased the wealth of the town but also filled out the coffers of the church. A richer church meant a bigger church and more items of gold and jewels, illuminated manuscripts, attention from Rome, larger flocks, etc. Soon, saintly remains were showing up everywhere.

A great many saints seemed to have left the environs of the Holy Land after Christ’s resurrection and traveled to Gaul or southern France. Why, I’m not sure since Italy was closer but it may have been to escape the Romans. And as the business of spiritually imbued remains grew more popular, grave robbing became a pretty regular business. If you were a saint you could bet that there would be no mortal rest for your body, nor for your soul as you would be dug up, dismembered, sold to various churches and pilgrims and then called upon for daily miracles. Busy life, busier afterlife. But of course, Christianity has only maintained that it is monotheistic, worshiping one god. Oops, but then there are saints galore.

Suddenly, or perhaps not that sudden, the early Middle Ages saw grave robbing as almost respectable. The fine line between good and bad was stretched a bit thin. On top of the grave robbing, churches started stealing the venerated saints from neighboring parishes and monks/priests were praised for such actions as obviously the saints had let them know they wanted to be moved.

But a problem started to arise, which neither Christ nor God could control, and it exposed a shady side to religion that was the ultimate downfall of a few churches’ prosperity. The dead saints seemed to multiply. Mary Magdalene had five bodies and numerous legs and arms. There was more than one head for other saints, or enough finger bones to populate a centipede’s legs. In truth the saints became legion and pretty much any suitable grave would be pillaged for body parts for nearby churches. There was no DNA testing then and the distance between towns and cities was much greater, with the only common modes of transportation being by foot or horse/mule. Often it was easy to have the same saint in a few places, until the mother church started to hear about it.

At first complicit in venerating saintly bits, the church had to curb the ghoulish trend. Just imagine a zombie army of saintly limbs and torsos and heads able to not necessarily animate, but to cure a host of ills. And all of this for the longest time brought hordes of faithful to various towns and cities. Popularity of saints waxed and waned but Saints Peter, Paul, John, Thomas, Mary Magdalene and Virgin Mary were popular at different times.

However, the multiple parts that each saint owned, and the full bodies or extra heads started to mar the validity of not only the Catholic church but also the belief that these were the holy remains, which could cure the ill and perform miracles. There was probably a couple of centuries worth of great tourism for pilgrims and Santiago de Compostela in Spain (a pilgrimage route to St. James) is popular to this day by tourists, hikers and the faithful.

It’s obvious that in two millennia of Christianity its role and rules changed and evolved, and perhaps the original teachings of Jesus got skewed quite a few times. What this says about humanity is fascinating: that for the sake of religion (and fame and fortune within that) even if you’ve taken a vow of poverty but you live in a monastery, you’ll do anything, even the illegal things, to bring glory to God, Jesus or the saints. You’ll cheat, swindle and create fake holy items. And if you’re just a worshiper, you’ll forget that it’s the soul that’s supposed to matter, and venerate desiccated body parts, that if ever tested might show the wrong gender or someone of origins other than Jewish for those first Jewish-Christian saints. Makes for an interesting evolution of a man-made religion with creative intervention.

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Losing My Religion

My mother would probably have been raised Catholic, had her mother not died when she was four. Being of Italian parentage, it’s the default religion. I’m not even sure if my mother went to church regularly. Her stepmother wasn’t supportive and kept her and her sister outside till ten at night.

By the time I came along, third in the family with a six-year gap, my mother didn’t even bother getting me or my younger brother baptized. I seem to recall a few sessions in some church when I was young but I might have mixed that up with other things. I do know that when the teacher would ask us in class what we did in Sunday school I had a secret shame, because I did not go. I was different.

I did seem to have a spiritual bent because when I was about five my turtle died. I remember having a funeral, carrying the turtle in its little box down the steps in the back yard. A couple of little friends were lined up behind me. Then I buried the turtle against the side of the house but worried that it wasn’t protected. So I placed colored stones in a semicircle around its grave, butting up against the wall of the house.

Then my older brother turned Mormon from when he was around 16-18. (He got baptized twice because they slipped and dipped him a second time. We always joked that his soul needed extra cleansing.) My mother let us be taken to Mormon Sunday school, I think mostly to get us out of her hair for a couple of hours and give her a break. Strangely, I remember nothing of Sunday school so I don’t think we went for very long. My mother would roast the Mormon missionaries that were assigned the Anderson household, asking them why they had no black people in their inner temple (the one in Salt Lake City), why only the rich could go, etc. They must have drawn the short straw to see who would have to visit my mother.

My mother certainly didn’t attend church and she tended to read a lot of Edgar Cayce (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Cayce) books when I was young. I read or flipped through a few in my teens and Wiki says he was probably the forefather of the New Age movement. He does seem to be a kind of modern oracle who tried to ease people’s physical suffering.

As a teenager, I went with my mother to a few Spiritualist Church events. They sang hymns, which I didn’t like, but then would do palm or psychometry readings, or aura readings. A little bit of free fun. I was never convinced in what I was told though. I also felt no inclination to follow this path. I remember attending one friends communion around when I was 16. I felt intensely uncomfortable, being unfamiliar with churches and especially Catholic rites. After that I tended to avoid churches because I felt uncomfortable with them and unfamiliar in them.

I did continue to explore and think of spiritual and metaphysical matters throughout my teens. At one point my mother attended an experiment being done through the University of Calgary on psychic energy. In one room they had one of those bulbs that have the light sensitive vanes inside. The bulb was in a darkened room and in another room sat a person trying to move the vanes with psychic energy. I have no idea what the results of the experiment were, but my mother met several people intrigued with this aspect.

I would go with her to these meetings at one person’s house where we would try spoon bending, psychic impressions, psychometry, aura reading, etc. It wasn’t religious or spiritual, just exploring psychic phenomenon. There was one guy when we tried reading each other’s minds where it seemed he was trying to manipulate. Interestingly enough, on the drive home my mother had also got strange feelings about the guy.

Eventually the group dissipated, my mother stopped going and the group sort of reformed as a meditation group. I think we did start to get into some spiritual aspects as well. However, I left the group when it got down to Ouija board practice and asking the “spirits” and how to conduct day to day affairs. It got ridiculous and no one seemed to make a decision with their own brains, so off I went.

I moved to Vancouver, and continued my own explorations into spirituality but it didn’t involve churches at all. When I was 25 a young cat I had disappeared one night. I looked everywhere for her, put posters out, checked the SPCA. Nothing. So then I put out prayers, pleas, bargains, cajoling, threats to any deity that existed. And nothing.

At that point I gave up the last vestiges of being a Christian, and lost my religion. I also realized at that time that our North American culture is so permeated in Christian values that even if a person is agnostic they still are ruled by these values. It shapes our everyday affairs, how we conduct our marriages and families. It is in everything we do. At that point I claimed to no longer be even a token Christian and I also tossed out the belief that we’re guilty until proven innocent, as sits at the base of most Christian doctrines. Jesus didn’t die for my sins. He didn’t know me and in these tenets we’re all bad and flawed and tainted. I didn’t like being painted with guilt and so I wasn’t.

I became agnostic at that point, and believed in nothing (refused to believe in anything) for three years. After that the journey of discovery continued and does to this day, but that’s a tale for another time.

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Pope Benedict, Shake Your Head

When is the Catholic church going to pull its head out of the Dark Ages where it first firmly entrenched itself and burned/destroyed any symbols, artifacts and writings of other beliefs (hence bringing on the “Dark Ages”)? I’ve always wondered about any religion that freezes in time. Not that the Catholic church is the only one but wearing the frocks and habits of fashionable dress from the 11th and 12th centuries gets a little…old.

Besides traditions stuck in the past, so is Benedict’s and the Church’s beliefs: “Homosexual acts are a ‘destruction of God’s work,’ he said.” (CBC  http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/12/23/pope-speech.html )  The article is a little vague in connecting his comments to anti-homosexual statements. The Vatican site doesn’t list it yet in English but someone posted the rest. Here is a significant part that talks in roundabout terms of men and women as the only natural way of relationships: “It is necessary to have something like an ecology of man, understood in the right sense. It is not outdated metaphysics when the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this natural order be respected.” 

The Church has always said go forth and multiply. It’s part of the reason we have overcrowding and poverty, and consequently more disease. If we had statistics that went back centuries I’m betting that they would show that homosexuality rises with overpopulation: perhaps Ma Nature’s way to control population growth besides disease. I know I once read about a study with rats that showed they moved to homosexuality when overcrowded. I’m not sure what the other factors were, if there were equal numbers in genders but it would be an interesting aspect of the Gaia hypothesis.

Pierre Trudeau (past Prime Minister of Canada) once said, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Likewise there is no place for the Church. It really is no one’s business and if they actually decided that the soul was jeopardized and unsalvageable (if it commits homosexual acts), then there would be no reason to rally against it.

I mean really, there is no need for every human being to keep multiplying. Condoms are okay. Homosexuality is okay. They help control the population. More people do not necessarily equal Christian converts and the Church just doesn’t seem to get that its outmoded view is alienating more people than it’s bringing into its folds. Granted the Vatican is still one of the riches entities in the world, but that could subside (maybe they have secret stocks in condom manufacturers).

I do believe that Benedict on one level thinks he’s trying to save souls and that he sees homosexuality as a “disorder” that harms the spirit and will keep that person from getting into heaven. However, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote a very long letter to the Bishops on care of homosexual persons in 1986. It’s very long, it goes into great detail on spirit and will and culpability. He is so concerned in fact that I think “he doth protesteth too much.”

We’ll never know but can only conjecture. But I wouldn’t doubt if Ratzinger joined the Church to avoid that holy union of man and woman, which God sees as natural. Odd that, how the Catholic church says it is what God wants but won’t let its priests and nuns marry or have sex. Hmmm. Ratzinger, then in trying to lead a pious and holy life devoid of all sex, including deviant, disordered sex, had to resist  his own inclinations and if he can do it, then anyone can and he can save those poor homosexual persons, because he saved himself.

That may only be a tale but I would like to think that perhaps that’s what the Pope believes. He does caution in 1986 against acts of violence on homosexuals but he certainly is vehemently against it.

Still, I wonder about the Church’s view and railing against homosexuality when there are worse crimes. There is murder and burglary and rape and other violence. Oh and there is pedophilia, perpetrated so often by the Catholic Church’s priests that they’ve been forced to make some apologies. Doesn’t Jesus say something like, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

I’d suggest that the Pope check his glass walls before he starts tossing stones on gay people. Excerpts below, from Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html

 However, the Catholic moral viewpoint is founded on human reason illumined by faith and is consciously motivated by the desire to do the will of God our Father. The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions, created by God and heir, by grace, to eternal life…

Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder…

The Church can never be so callous. It is true that her clear position cannot be revised by pressure from civil legislation or the trend of the moment. But she is really concerned about the many who are not represented by the pro-homosexual movement and about those who may have been tempted to believe its deceitful propaganda. She is also aware that the view that homosexual activity is equivalent to, or as acceptable as, the sexual expression of conjugal love has a direct impact on society’s understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy.

10. It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action….

Given at Rome, 1 October 1986.

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Politics, the Religious Right and Books

Interesting discussions have come up of late about “Left Behind” books. I hadn’t even heard of these before but it seems they’re tales written by and for the Christian extreme right, the fundamentalists, and portray apocalyptic views. Mostly the earth opens and people are tossed down to Hell, usually by Jesus. Errr…excuse me? Jesus? Wasn’t he the guy that said love thy neighbor and if you are without sin, you can throw the first stone? Wasn’t it Jesus who preached compassion and love and all that stuff?

I’m just amazed at fundamental right-wing Christians who follow these views portrayed in such fantastical books and then try to say they’re loving and compassionate. To me it doesn’t seem that you should be separating good works and compassion by race, gender or religion. Love thy neighbor stands even if he is a Muslim or she a Buddhist, or gay. You don’t pick and choose who to love equally.

Now, over in some of the Middle Eastern countries we have views just as extreme about wiping out unbelievers, smiting them and therefore, even if you blow yourself up, you’ll get to Heaven. Their way is the only way and everyone else is a heathen.

So let me get this straight. Christians believe that Jesus is the messiah and God the supreme being. Muslims believe that Mohamed is the prophet and God the supreme being. Jews believe in no prophet (I hope I have this right) but that God is the supreme being. And um…isn’t this the same God for all three of these branches of the same monotheistic religion?

So, when you die, whether you blow yourself up in holy righteousness taking down “those sinners,” or whether you’re blown up by some right-wing fundamentalist, you’re still going to end up in the same Heaven? The Heaven that will have black and white and brown people, men and women, gay and straight, Jews, Muslims and Christians?

Oh and isn’t converting by the sword or the gun kind of pointless, because someone will say what they must to survive but don’t you want the belief to be in their heart and soul, not just on their lips? It seems to me (who is not Jewish, Christian nor Muslim) that a little compassion and loving thy fellow being might just make conversion a bit more sincere.

Fundamentalists, no matter which religious paint brush you color them with, are scary creatures. Why? Because they’re so afraid of views that don’t agree with their own, that there might possibly be more than one right path, that they will do anything to tamp that down. Anything, like shoot doctors who perform abortions, bomb those who aren’t following their view, trashing religious buildings that they see as offensive. They believe that everyone who isn’t of their religious viewpoint are godless heathens and therefore evil, ready for Hell. The same fundamentalists who think invading Afghanistan was the correct thing to save people from the right-wing Taliban, are often the same, that if they had their ways would be pushing their religious views onto everyone else. (Not that the religious subjugation of so many people didn’t need to be addressed.) Take Sarah Palin, who believes she is on the right path because God is paving it for her. Well, then, her God-given right will mean that she’ll be less likely to listen to other evildoers if she ever holds more power than she already does.

Recent discussion on one writer’s list has ranged from disbelief that these Left Behind books would be listed under SF and fantasy, to others saying where else would you put them; they’re completely fantastical. Whichever it is, I can say one thing. If it is one God for Jews, Muslims and Christians and therefore one Heaven, I think I’d rather stay down here and be Left Behind then end up with all the Evangelicals and Jihadists. Heaven must be a pretty scary place.

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