I am vacationing with my sons for two weeks, so the posts are few. But I did want to comment about Renaissance and rebirth since we just visited Pisa, Florence, and Rome.
The kids were impressed with the scope and the opulence of the Vatican site. It strikes me that there are two things that kept Western European culture so dominated by the Papacy for 1000 years between Hellenistic Paganism and Renaissance. The guide only mentioned the Renaissance as the “rebirth” of art, but wasn’t it also reason and spiritualism?
What were those two levers of social control during the so-called “Dark Ages”?
1) Eternal Life versus damnation and decay: The promise of rebirth as told by the fresco in the Sistine Chapel about resurrection.
2) And the feeling of awe and one’s own insignificance that the vaulted and adorned ceilings while in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Last year, we were also awed by the high ceilings of the Hagia Sofia, but there, images are discouraged by Islam. Have you ever seen a picture of Mohammed the Prophet? Nope. And you never will.
Roman Catholicism emphasizes obedience and objectifies spirituality in a way that some religious traditions shun. It is called Roman because it isn’t Greek orthodox, which transiently evolved into the iconoclastic church of Byzantium, where idolatry was repressed.
It was both influenced by Islamic culture and a return to the idealistic, Hellenistic traditions of Platonism; religion is allegorical, not literal.
The Vatican demands universal (or Catholic) adherence to the dogma that there is only one God and he is three. Of note, between Emperor Constantine’s mother (Helena) visiting Jerusalem in 326 CE and the Theodosian decrees in 391 AD outlawing all forms of religious expression but one, Christians were bitterly divided into dozens of Christological factions which attempted to resolve logical inconsistencies with a triune god and immaculate conception. It may seem silly, but people treated logical inconsistencies related to Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and apostolic succession very seriously although the logic reads a lot like an Abbott and Costello routine.
Reminds me of one of the greatest Star Trek scenes where tortured Captain Picard is tortured to admitting there are five lights instead of four. If you can control the rational mind and the belief in one’s own perceptions, the Kingdom of Man grows stronger.
It strikes me that the single most important question in matters of faith, like those raised by Martin Luther’s Justification by Faith Alone, and the “Namaste” (I see the God in you) of my daily Yoga classes is the following: is the locus of God within or without? Is the Kingdom of God within, amongst, or to be created by a supreme being?
Are we cheap facsimiles of divinity (created of his image) and inherently filled with original sin?
Or are we, as the Sufi poet, Rumi, so perfectly stated:
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”
Everywhere we go, we see monuments to great men who fashioned conformity using by force and manipulation: Garabaldi, Napoleon, Machiavelli, Augustus Caesar. But we also visit monuments to artists who relinked us with art: Byron, Michelangelo, Sophocles. In one, we honor subjugation by murder, intimation, and thought control. With art, we honor the eternal, beautiful and just.
So in the end, the strength of the Holy See is also its weakness. Instead of allowing the Earth to revolve around the sun, they imprison Galileo. As the kids today might say, “don’t hate the playah” But I say, don’t even hate the game unless you really understand it. But father always knows best, so he fashions order from the chaos of prejudice by just ordering everyone to agree.
Instead of allowing indigenous people to continue religious plurality, local Saints and pagan feast days are co-opted to secure obedience throughout the time of religious and cultural Colonialism.
As the world soul opened and enlightenment threatened other views, the church turned to atavistic dogma in their rebranding campaign known as The First Vatican Council of 1870.
Instead of allowing the Greek, Russian, Coptic or Anglican churches to “agree to disagree” they declared theirs as the “First among equals”. There is only one numero uno. Which leads us to the other three marks of the church.
And they decreed that everything the Pope says is true. Papal infallibility means he can’t be wrong. But does that mean he never makes a wrong turn, even without GPS? Probably not. But he holds the keys to the Kingdom of God, which is decidedly not within you and me.
What is the take home lesson of this musing on the history of Roman Catholicism? It was best said in the reconstruction motto seen in St. Peter’s Square: “Let’s give new life to energy”
Instead of the old ways of magic boulder’s and water to wine transubstantiation, we need new life, as in stem cells, to recharge our energy. Religious expression is personal and abstract until it trans-substantiates our spirits. Religious ritual and obedience, it can be argued, is the antithesis (or prostheses) intended to arrest true magic and the flow of energy that is the divine dance of constant co-creation.
I would say I was raised Catholic (i.e. Universal) in my belief in the dogma of Allopathic medicine. With time, I see that much of what we are trained to do is peddle fear, engender awe, and prepare for the afterlife amidst the earthly promise of suffering.
I certainly don’t want to go the way of Galileo for my beliefs, but even Michelangelo had a little jab at religious authority and a wink to the rebirth of science when he put a neuroanatomical “Easter Egg” (cadaveric dissection was a sin, after all) right smack in the middle of Pope Sixtus IV’s chapel:
The Prefrontal cortex is where JHVH’s gift is emerging from so maybe Michelangelo was affirming the importance of consciousness over obedience in this masterpiece with this incredibly unsubtle salute to disobeying religions coercion?
These are exciting times now that we have the new Pope Francis embracing a sort of Liberation Theology-light (or Eye of the Camel-light, if you will)
Perhaps we are headed to a more syncretic, inclusive and grassroots version of the church which continues to give so much meaning and hope to people around the world? Even if only meant as hyperbole, the Bible states it is easier to get a rich dude into heaven than to fit a camel through the eye of a needle. Well, here’s a whole caravan!
Maybe it’s time to adjust our expectations and fulfill the promise of rebirth here, among us, in this kingdom of all of us.
If you would like to exercise your right to independent thought and possible rebirth of your new energy, then hop on over to my new site, Lokahi.guru, to check out my new Recharge™ supplement, which is all that I currently take. It won’t give you eternal life, but the adaptogens in it may help you stay healthier and happier while greater minds work out the details of immortality (as they undoubtedly will, now that every genius isn’t just lying on his back painting for the Pope).