Catholicsm and paganism have a lot in common. Some evidence from Portugal.
For hundreds of years Catholics converted tribal people from all over the globe to Christianity. This conversion was often combined with violence and conquest in a zealous quest to drive out the “false gods” of paganism.
But Catholicism itself is more like a pagan religion than it wishes to admit. During Eucharist, believers eat the actual body of Christ — not symbolic, but the real flesh as dictated by Papal dogma. This is pure magic and no different to the tribal rituals they once abolished. In Lisbon I got caught up in a large procession, Corpo de Deus, where this miracle was celebrated.
Another fine example of catholic paganism in Faro is the Capela dos Ossos, the chapel of the bones. An alter built from the bones of monks as a reminder of the temporal nature of our existence.
If anything all this makes Catholic religion a lot more interesting than the austerity in Protestant churches. The ability of Catholicism to incorporate ancient local customs has been its secret to success over the world.
Last Sunday Australia’s first saint was canonised by Pope Benedictus in Rome. Mary MacKillop, now called Saint Mary of the Cross was undoubtedly a very good person who deserves to honoured, that is not what this post is about.
On one of the many news segments covering this event, an Australian devotee was asked to give an impression of the ceremony and called it “magical”. Looking at the ceremony, which was the culmination of decades of lobbying and religious bureaucracy, there was indeed a lot of magic going on.
The process of becoming a saint is a protracted and political process whereby the ‘fan club’ of a certain religious person puts forward the case for canonisation. The candidate gradually moves from the status of Servant of God, to Venerable through to Blessed and when all conditions have been met. a Saint.
One of the most remarkable hurdles to be taken is the declaration of Non Cultus. The declaration of Non Cultus entails that the candidate has not inspired heretical worship in the form of a cult. This is a nice example of a Catholic contradiction. Sainthood is the pinnacle of worship in the form of a cult. In some instances this even includes a exhumation of the body to collect relics, i.e. body parts of the candidate for sainthood. In the case of MacKillop her grave was left in peace.
Interesting aspect of her canonisation was the handing over of a red-gum wooden cross with strands of Mary’s hair, which is the only relic of the brand new saint. Relics are the most interesting aspect of Catholicism as they form a direct link between the current times and the heathen religions of our ancestors.
The canonisation of Mary certainly a magical event, not in the sense that is was beautiful or inspiring, but as wonderfully occult ceremonial magic. Relics, canonisations and many other esoteric aspects of the Catholic church are fascinating. These aspects of Catholicism are the reason that you never see Protestant preachers saving the day in horror movies—you can’t kill a demon with words, only Catholic religion has held on to the pagan vestiges required to manipulate the spiritual world. The Catholic church basically ignores warnings in the Bible against magic and practices beautiful occult rituals. This is great because they thus preserve our primordial heritage into the 21th century.
How the seven deadly sins influence culture, based on the book Sex, Bombs and Burgers by Peter Nowak.
In his book, Sex, Bombs & Burgers, Peter Nowak describes how the world as we know it is shaped by the three primal forces of lust, aggression and gluttony. This is not a new notion, as more than 2500 years ago, Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus wrote:
War is father of all things (Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι)
Nowak takes the old saying from the ancient one a step further and adds lust and gluttony as major drivers for technological advancement. He argues that if it wasn’t for sex, bombs and burgers, what he calls the ‘Shameful Trinity’, we might all still be living in caves. From cars to high-definition televisions, from website logins to microwave popcorn, the origins of all technological advancement can be traced to sinful behaviour.
This books shows that progress is not driven by rational drives for progress itself, but that we are driven by our emotions. We can take dig a little deeper into Nowak’s Shameful Trinity and uncover what since early Christian times has been called the Seven Deadly Sins. Although Christian theology tries to eradicate these seven aspects of humanity from our lives, they are actually what drives us to be who we are. In The Divine Comedy, Dante describes the seven sins as:
Food is our primary need and has for millennia been the source of many innovations. Our stone age ancestors invented farming and started the neolithical revolution. An in our current times, high tech genetic technology is used to ensure people’s survival and high profits for food companies. The other innovation that food technology has introduced to contemporary society is the strict implementation of scientific management, following in the footsteps of Frederick Taylor. In fast food outlets every second counts and companies such as McDonalds have pioneered many management techniques that shave of those extra few seconds to deliver their fast ‘food’ even faster.
The original list of sins included fornication. But in AD 590 the pope of the time replaced it with extravagance. Lust, or porneia (Πορνεία) in ancient Greek, drives much of our culture. The pornography industry has played a major role in the proliferation of many technologies. Not as the progenitor, but as an early adopter and influence of the market. In the 1980s, when the Betamax and VHS video formats were battling it out for supremacy, the pornography industry played a big role in making VHS the most popular format. A similar ‘battle’ is currently being waged over which of the two blue-laser DVD formats — Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD — will replace DVDs for high-definition content.
Unrestrained accumulation of wealth is the basic premise of capitalist philosophy. The idea of unbridled economic growth logically requires an unrestrained desire to buy stuff. Adam Smith postulated an invisible hand. This principle is what allocates resources in society through the conjunction of self-interest, competition and supply & demand. That this invisible hand can not fully self regulate has become apparent in the Global Financial Crisis, which was caused by greed in an unregulated financial system.
Sloth is a major driver in our quest for technology. Palaeolithic people decided it would be much better to stay in one place rather than moving around all the time so they invented farming. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier — from reclining chairs to snowmobiles, technology allows us to be extremely lazy.
Wrath is the justification for many wars. The first World War started because of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and the current Middle Eastern wars are caused by the wrath incurred because of the terrorist attacks in 2001. The causes of war are, however, mostly more complicated. Long term motives such as colonial expansion in the first and the thirst for oil in the second examples,are possibly the real causes.
The state of envy can be an amazing motivator to improve your own existence. Envying your bosses’ position might drive somebody to perform better and undertake further studies to improve the chances of a promotion. Envy can of course also result in destructive behaviour and is one of the causes of war. Germany envied the allies because of the wealth accumulated through their colonies and thought it would be a good idea to start a war.
Last but not least, pride is one of the great drivers in the fashion industry. Sociologist Goffman agreed with Shakespeare that all the world is but a stage. Goffman described the world as one large play in which we are all actors. As such we need props to communicate our identity to the outside world. In an society where the old anchors have been cut everybody has to seek their own identity and shopping provides the perfect replacement for tradition and religion. We buy certain brands, nit because they are necessarily better than another brand, but because we identify with it. It is the pride in ourselves that is one of the major drivers in our shopping behaviour.
Beyond good and evil
You might think that I have a negative view of humanity by claiming that our lives are driven by what are commonly considered sins.
But this post is not about what is good or bad, it is merely stating the sociological facts of the human condition. The facts are that not our quest for world peace or the admirable aim to make poverty history are the real drivers of progress. It is those behaviours and states of mind that some seek out to eradicate from humanity that makes us human.
This illustrates that the world is much more complex than simple religious philosophy could ever encapsulate.
The boundaries between good and bad are often faded and we need to seek beyond good and evil to find philosophical truth.
Fairness is a concept which is used often to justify a point of view when discussing the distribution of goods or benefits – “it should be done fairly”. But what does this mean, what is fair and what is not fair? Most people seem to have a very strong sense whether something is fair or not, but what is this based on? As a philosopher, I do not take common sense for granted and decided to research this claim.
I was initially surprised to find that none of the philosophical dictionaries and encyclopaedias I have access to contain a lemma on fairness (besides references to John Rawls’ concept of Justice as Fairness). Searching the scholar section of Google provided some starting points. Unfortunately academic publishers charge exorbitant amounts to read journal articles and I refuse to pay for research which is essentially funded through taxes. So I started from scratch.
The common sense point of view of fairness is a sense of equality. Our sense of fairness is cultivated at a very early age: I remember having fights with my sister over who should get the largest piece of cake and even using a measuring tape to support our point of view.
Fairness as an absolute equality, such as in the cake problem, is a strange concept. If we apply this childish view of the world to adult problems, everybody would be paid exactly the same salary; would live in the same kind of house, wear the same clothes …
In most cases references to fairness lead to equal suffering between all parties – i.e. the preferred solution is usually the one that takes away from one party.
An absolutist concept of fairness can also lead to some extreme consequences. The Old Testament concept of “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23-27) is a very well known example of absolute fairness. This is one of the arguments that Christian apologetics use to justify the death penalty. This bizarre ritual is, for many reasons outside the scope of this article, a very irrational punishment. The eye for an eye concept leads to situations such as we currently see in the middle east and is a slippery slope that should be avoided.
Absolute fairness is an artificial concept, which does not take the realities of life into consideration, e.g. we don’t all need or deserve the same piece of cake. It is a dangerous concept which can lead to unwanted consequences.
This leads to the next concept: relative fairness. For the cake problem this means that one child should get a larger piece because he or she is more hungry than the other or has behaved better. This relative concept comes much closer to the common sense concept of fairness which is used in every day life.
We accept that doctors are paid more than taxi drivers. Doctors save our lives, while taxi divers perform a much less critical function in society. Western society is, when it comes to distribution of wealth, basically a meritocracy in which everybody is rewarded on their merit.
Although merit is not the primary driver, it is a guiding principle in determinations of fairness. But is consideration of merit by itself sufficient to have a fair determination? Who determines who has how much merit? Is merit our individual contribution to society or to a business or is merit based on our personal needs? How much merit warrants one person getting a piece of cake twice as big as the other?
Another determinant in distribution problems can be need. The most hungry people need to most or best food. Need, beyond primal necessity, is not a very practical concept to use. Need is a concept which can be used only in situations where survival or health of people is at stake. Health care is an example where need has preference over merit.
If we want to use fairness as a determinant in solving a wealth distribution problem, we effectively shift the question. The discussion shifts from fairness to merit (being good) or need (being more hungry) and possibly other considerations I have not yet explored.
It seems that fairness is an utterly useless concept when trying to determine the distribution of goods. We can not use it to determine who gets which size of cake because it either leads to a blanket absolute equality or a series of further questions. The answer of these further questions (what is merit? what is need?) depends on our philosophical (or political) orientation.
My conclusion is that fairness should not be used as a determinant in wealth distribution problems and the word should be reserved for its original meaning, e.g. “free of spots and stains“.
Dealing with death through funerals is one of the oldest signs of human culture, some anthropologists even define the onset of culture by the fact whether the dead were buried or not.
Our fascination with and fear of death relates directly to our ability to think about the future. We are the only animal that seems to have the ability to ponder life and conclude that there is only one certainty: we will all die. That insight creates a whole lot of existential anxiety, which is the defining factor of the human condition. This anxiety is mitigated by developing vehicles for meaning, such as religion.
Funerals are an amazing ritual. It is our way to pay respect to the memory of the deceased and their family. It is also a form of catharsis for the emotions that have built up since the death occurred. The announcement of somebody’s death is surreal. The funeral brings reality to the death, helping to anchor the irreversibility into our psyche.
Funerals make us ponder our own mortality and provoke good intentions that we should make the most of the time available to us. The funeral ritual is the end of one life, but provides new beginnings for al those who attend.
Christian funeral rites are, however, unsatisfying. The empty promise of eternal life and the hope that we will meet the deceased again after we have fallen to the same fate lead us astray. The promise of a life after death diverts our focus from life itself to the afterlife. One could argue that it doesn’t really matter and it is better to believe, it is better to play it safe, just in case religion is true. Religion is founded on metaphysical sky-hooks—there is no justification for the idea of life after death, besides our existential anxiety.
I choose to accept that there is no metaphysical foundation. My philosophy is not based on a sky-hook, but a metaphysical hot-air balloon, floating over the cultural landscape. Accepting that there is no certainty, no absolute truth is a very liberating experience. It forces one to choose life over death!
I have been writing some copy on Satanism for the Dutch Wikipedia in the last few weeks, which has been proven an interesting experience. I established articles on the work of Anton Czandor LaVey (Church of Satan) and Michael Aquino (Temple of Set).
I have come to respect the satanic philosophy developed by Michael Aquino. Satanism attracts a lot of negative attention as soon as the word is mentioned, because of its opposition to Christianity. It is, however, the Christians themselves that have created Satanism. The whole concept of Satan is nothing more than a counter-movement to Christianity. The knee-jerk reactions by Christians when the subject gets mentioned shows that it has the desired effect! LaVey’s Black Mass and Satanic Bible are meant to provoke responses from the establish religions.
Satanism and Christianity
The Satanic philosophy is anti-Christian in that it is a mirror image of Christianity, but because of relationship it is also inherently Christian as it defines itself in opposition. Satanism does not proclaim that one should go around and whack everybody on the head and other forms of unruly behaviour. Satanism a a philosophy embraces personal freedom and places the source of morality within ourselves, while Christianity seeks to find truth in a transcendent reality.
Some religious fellow authors on Wikipedia started to ‘enhance’ the articles I established with nonsense about human sacrifice and other myths about these contemporary churches. Satanism as a religion can only exist in the presence of Christianity. The Church of Satan, Temple of Set and similar institutions could not have existed without the presence of Christianity. Just like religious people create their gods in their own image, they also create the opposite forces.
The question of the epistemology of religious experience deals with the issue whether information obtained through religious experiences can be considered valid knowledge. For a brief introduction into different forms of religious experience, see my paper on that subject.
Information obtained through religious experiences, which I shall further refer to as Revelation, is not considered valid knowledge in contemporary society mainly because the information obtained through revelation can not be verified. Religious experience is thus a very personal experience and unique knowledge, only available to the person receiving the revelation. The receiver of the information is the only one who is able to interpret the revelation and communicates it as thus to the wider world.
In pre-industrial society power was vested in the intermediaries between the transcendent and the immanent. The Latin word Pontifex (priest) illustrates this beautifully as it also means ‘bridge’. The priest as bridge builder between the material and the spiritual worlds.
Knowledge gained through revelation is unique and invests power into the person receiving that knowledge as they are the only ones capable of interpreting the information. Knowledge in this sense is esoteric, only available to a small group of people.
Empirical philosophy has, in combination with rationalism, revolutionised human knowledge of the material world. This combination has been an important and powerful tool. Where does this leave revelation? Can we simply say that revelation is not relevant and that religious experiences are mere delusions?
Because revelation is always esoteric knowledge, every experience is interpreted different, depending on the cultural and psychological dispositions of the person receiving the revelation. An important question to be asked is why a Hindu does not receive revelations concerning Jesus Christ or any other cross cultural experiences?
Religious experiences are particular and esoteric. In a society where knowledge is available to anyone through empiricism (although this is not completely true as we do not all have a particle accelerator in our backyard) the Pontifex has lost his power over society as the sole interpreter of knowledge.
The consequence of this, however, is that we have thrown the baby with the bathwater by ignoring religious experience as a valid source of knowledge.
I believe that religious experience can be a valid source of information to make decisions about non material things. It can people guidance about their life, which can have a very profound impact on their lives in the ‘real’ world. Religious experiences also have an effect on how we interpret the material world which shapes our world views.