My previous post on humanist ritual-making has generated a firestorm of comments, including several from Dan, a fellow New Mexican who often comments critically on my political posts, and who has now weighed in on the Catholic Church. Dan writes:
The whole original point of my post, which was a response to Moralia’s post lambasting Humanists for seeking to create their own conditions when religious (specifically, Christian) traditions already exist. My argument is that the only reason Humanists are having to create their own traditions now is that the intolerant religions (particularly the Catholic Church) intentionally destroyed the social traditions the pre-dated Christianity itself and its conquering of various non-Christian regions.
I wouldn’t exactly call what I wrote “lambasting.” I don’t want to prevent humanists from creating their own rituals; I just think it’s sad that they feel the need to. As to the intolerant Catholic Church having destroyed the tolerant pre-Christian religions, well, on that one I have plenty to say.
Nobody conquered with more efficient, systematic brutality than the pagan Romans. Read Thucydides and tell me the pagan Athenians were peace-loving free spirits. Read Caesar’s commentaries and tell me that classical paganism was a religion of peace. And Roman militarism and Roman paganism cannot be separated, were both integral parts of the Roman social fabric. When Rome became Catholic, it wasn’t a case of an intolerant, greedy, violent religion crushing a peaceful, tolerant one. Yes, the Romans were tolerant in the sense of being syncretists — we’ll worship your gods if you worship ours, and it’s all good; you Jews put a statue of Jupiter in your Temple, and we’ll put one of Yahweh on the Capitoline. The Romans didn’t try to stamp out other religious cults unless they perceived those cults to be a threat to their state religion, as the Bacchic cult was in the 2nd century BC, and later the Christians were. I suppose you can define the pagan Roman sack of Jerusalem and looting and desecration of the Temple, and the martyrdom of early Christians as political rather than religious persecution, and still consider Roman paganism a cool, tolerant, non-judgmental religion.
I suppose if Constantine had lost the battle of the Milvian Bridge, the Lupercalia and Dionysia would still around, so the humanists could race around naked flailing goatskins at infertile women, or drink themselves into a state of alcoholic enlightenment. That would be much better fun than a mass, no doubt.
The point of my post wasn’t that the Catholic Church is perfect. That isn’t a point I’m going to argue. No human institution is perfect, and though its purpose is to worship God, the Catholic Church is a human institution that has been administered by flawed, imperfect, sinful men for two millennia. And it will go on being administered by flawed, imperfect, sinful men for as long as it remains in existence. Some of those men will revel in the power and status of their position rather than ministering to their flock. Some will steal and lie. Some will seduce married women. Some will, saddest of all, molest little boys. But neither Innocent III nor Alexander VI nor the pedophile priests of our own day can indict the Church as an institution sufficiently to make faithful Catholics abandon it. A Christian accepts the existence of sin in the world. A Christian strives for virtue, prays for forgiveness, and moves forward rather than dwelling on the sins of the past and casting out the baby (the Church) with the bathwater (the Crusades, the Borgias, and the pedophilia). A Christian does not seek to justify the Church by explaining away the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. A Christian understands that the Church does not require such justification. We can admit the sinfulness of churchmen without abandoning the Church. The former does not require the latter.
If you think it does, then there is little point in my debating you, because we’re starting from contradictory premises, and we’ll never agree. I’m willing to accept that. Those who disagree with me, it seems, are not.