|Seek and burn the heretic
A nasty little game, but popular during the middle ages was “seek and burn the heretic”. Cronies of the Pope would go out and find independently minded people, accuse them of a heresy (believing a doctrine or “truth not in line with the Church view) and have them burned to death. Sam Harris in his book, The End of Faith, tells the story of a Catholic Bishop (Raymond du Fauga), who had heard of an old woman in his parish who was very ill with a fever, and had committed the arch heresy of converting to Catharsim (a holy order break-away from the Church). So infuriated was he that he went to her bedside to ask her to recant, confess and return to the faith. The old woman was determined to remain unrepentant. So he ordered her to be carried out into the field whilst still in her bed and burned her to death, thereby ensuring she received her hell on earth!
Of course there was huge incentive for finding heretics as any property belonging to them would be confiscated by the Church and shared out between the local Church officials and the victim’s accusers. At that time you could make a living out of finding heretics! In a movie titled “The Milky Way” Director Luis Bunuel traces heresies throughout the history of the Church through the eyes of two tramps on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The surrealistic mindset of the movie is revealing in that it highlights the degree of contradiction and absurdity we have come to accept in the Catholic faith, and how people (heretics) through the centuries have challenged these doctrines with their own dogmas. One of the most famous of heretics was Martin Luther, the initiator of the Reformation which led to the creation of the Protestant movement. He was excommunicated for his deviant stance by Pope Leo X. Apparently the Pope dismissed him as “a drunken German who will change his mind when sober”. I’m not sure if it is because they share the same German heritage but Pope Benedict has recently rescinded Martin Luther’s status as a heretic (2008)! The Times, London claims that the Pope has put on public record that “Luther did not intend to split Christianity, but only wanted to purge the Church of corrupt practices”. I’m sure Martin Luther must now feel relieved that he is still a Catholic! If he was sent to damnation and hell due to his excommunication, as was often threatened at the time, then he would be pleased to know that the Guards of Hell will soon be coming to get him out of there!
Neither the Pope or Luther impress Luis Bunuel (Director of “The Milky Way”). Being a self proclaimed atheist by the grace of God, he feels that a heretic is simply a man who chooses his own mistake”! As far as Bunuel is concerned, both the Pope and Martin Luther suffer from similar absurdities and contractions because of the lack of any real proof or fact to back either version. In the last line of the movie, one of the characters announces ’’my hatred for science and my horror of technology will lead me one day to an absurd belief in God”. With this statement Bunuel shows how many find it easier to accept the absurdities of our faith rather than to take the risk and trouble to question its logic and rationale against known facts.
The Church does eventually come around to “truths” discovered by science. Again, under the reign of Pope Benedict, the Church is erecting a statue of Galileo as a commemoration of his discovery of the telescope 400 years ago. I’m sure Galileo will be pleased to hear that he too will be fetched from hell with an apology from the Pope for burning him at the stake. I doubt that it bothers him too much as he has been in hell for about 400 years, and most probably remembers his burning at the stake with the fondness of a first date. Since his on a roll, maybe the Pope should take the courage to declare birth control no longer a heresy as surely he realises that there is just not enough room for everyone on earth. Maybe he should devise a religious rite involving the use of a condom to promote its use.