Monday, May 23, 2022

Notes on Christianism

Still from Pier Paolo Pasolini, Il Vangelo di Matteo (1964), via a blog called "El Primo de Marty Feldman".

So Cardinal Cordileone ("Lion's Heart") has excommunicated Speaker Pelosi, at least when she's in San Francisco—I don't suppose he can stop priests elsewhere from ministering to her—over her support for laws permitting abortion in a society that is 78% non-Catholic. 

Excommunication seems pretty crazy to me all the way around. It's not like shunning, where the criminal is sent into complete social exile. Excommunicated Catholics remain legally part of the community, they're even expected to attend Mass like everybody else, but they're barred from the sacraments, remaining in their seats while the congregation goes up to receive communion. It occurs to me that that is exactly the opposite of what happens in the Gospel narrative, as Matthew tells it: during the Passover seder service on the evening before his death, Jesus literally hears Judas's confession (though Judas doesn't realize he's confessing)

“He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. 24 The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Is it I, Master?”[b] He said to him, “You have said so.”

and immediately proceeds to passing out the matzoh and wine to everybody including Judas, in the first celebration of the eucharist, "for the forgiveness of sins":

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you28 for this is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

How does the hierarchy explain the practice of shutting people out after that?

The 5th-century feminist Saint Brigid of Kildare, who "managed up to 15,000 nuns. She was ordained bishop. She liberated Irish women from roles as slaves or bondswomen. She was a master brewer of ale, a farmer managing monastery farms, with a particular grá [love, in Irish] for sheep. She held more power in the Catholic church than any woman before or since," according to the Irish Times.

Ran into some material on the deep cultural roots of abortion inside Catholicism, by the way, in a 2018 article from the Irish Times: in 6th-century Ireland, it seems, abortion was punished, but less harshly than having the child, according to the Penitential of Vinnian:

If she has an abortion, she is to fast on bread and water for six months and refrain from wine and meat for two years. “But if she bears a child and her sin is manifest, (she shall do penance) for six years, as is the judgement in the case of a cleric, and in the seventh year she shall be joined to the altar, and then we say her crown can be restored and she may don a white robe and be pronounced a virgin.” 

This is apparently for nuns (hence the crown and the white robe), and we can't say whether lay women were punished or not. More interesting than that, at least four Irish saints enumerated abortions among their miracles, starting with the first saint born in Ireland, Ciarán of Saigir, who

rescued a nun named Bruinnech who had been abducted by a local king. “When the man of God returned to the monastery with the girl, she confessed that she was pregnant. Then the man of God, led by the zeal of justice, not wishing the serpent’s seed to quicken, pressed down on her womb with the sign of the cross and forced her womb to be emptied.” Bruinnech’s feelings about her rape, pregnancy, or abortion are not addressed, apart from her “confession”.

When another nun, pregnant after “fornicating secretly”, had Cainnech of Aghaboe bless her belly, “at once the baby (infans) in her womb vanished without a trace”. While this may well have answered her most desperate prayers, the sort of blessing she sought isn’t specified. The recipients of Áed mac Bricc’s and Brigid’s abortion miracles don’t even speak before the saints purge their wombs. Brigid’s devotee, however, afterwards “gave thanks to God” – the only one of these women whose response gets recorded in the texts. And of the four only Bruinnech gets a name.

American Sufi devotees via Rob Rozehnal, Lehigh University.

I think I've got a handle on Jordan's religion problem, as he came back to it in comments the other day: He thinks religion is the cause of authoritarianism:

religion lets a particular group 1) control the framework of morality absolutely, undergirding states, treaties, laws, everything else...2) within that authoritarian mandate, lets a small group absolutely control the parameters...and 3) is designed to work in terms of the antiquated, the outmoded, and the medieval (so that the elements of civilization are, as they say, "deprecated"). It's the perfect formula for tyrannical control.

If I'm correct in my utopian predictions, the 21st Century will be remembered as the moment when humanity finally outgrew and cast off that ancient shackle. We can't pretend the question isn't being forced — we could hold onto all of it the way we retain so many outmoded rituals (like the father "giving away" the bride in marriage), but they're forcing us to call the question and dump it all.

Which seems to me obviously upside down: it's authoritarianism that causes the excesses of religion—that mobilizes through religion, as also through other kinds of power structure—military power, wealth, even public administration. And authoritarianism, a personality trait found in many humans, is unfortunately not going to go away. The humane philosophy of Confucius, turned at the outset of the Han dynasty, three centuries after his death, into a state cult, becomes an instrument for oppression that lasts 2,000 years; the communitarianism of Rabbi Jesus, mentioned  at the top of the post, made a state religion in Constantinople, three centuries after his death, grows into a heresy-hunting, excommunicating succession of tyrannies that are still with us. But it's not because these things are religions; so are the peaceful communities of the Quakers and Mennonites, the quiet Jains and love-spreading Sufis, the artist-shamans of Korea, the tens of thousands of local cults that never start a war..

It's still worth asking, I guess, why Christianity in particular has been so bloody awful throughout its bloody history, Christianity and perhaps its nephew Islam, in comparison to all the others large and small. I've got some ideas on that that I'll try to get to presently.

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