Saturday, June 11, 2005

Why do you say that like it's a good thing?

Imagine the following takes place. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom decides that it would be politically advantageous (for him) if the UK became Rastafarian (the exact faith does not matter, it could just as well be some New Age mystical blend or ancestor worship from one of the remaining Amazon tribes whose culture hasn’t yet been destroyed). So, he converts to that faith and states that along with him the whole country has been converted. There are no more Anglicans, Jews, Catholics or Muslims in the UK, everyone is a Rastafarian. Of course, he understands that people will tend to cling to their old beliefs so he makes it illegal to worship in the old ways and kills those pastors, priests or rabbis who do not cease their work. Also, to try to destroy the old faiths, the Prime Minister orders everything in the UK which is linked to the old faiths to be destroyed. He personally oversees the blowing up of the Winchester Cathedral. Books containing references to the old faiths are destroyed in their millions. Religious symbols are either destroyed or melted down to be turned into Rastafarian bong pipes. When the people rise up against this insanity, he has the army mow them down and hunt down the surviving leaders. In the end, he is so successful that only sometimes is a lone cross unearthed by a farmer working his fields.

So, here’s the trick question – is what the Prime Minister does a cause for celebration or a for condemnation? Well, if you think about it, many countries celebrate just this kind of event when they celebrate their ‘Christianisation’. In fact, when one thinks of the most Catholic countries such as Italy or Brazil, the story is pretty much as I told, the difference being that it wasn’t the Rastafarian faith that was brought at the end of a sword. I find it interesting that this doesn’t cause any problem for nearly all of the people from those countries – that they identify with a faith that was forced upon their ancestors in a brutal and callous way. But I know how the intellectual dissonance is avoided; it is avoided in much the same way as it usually is – by simply never thinking about it. It is only the amazing human ability not to think that makes it possible for people to celebrate the destruction of their ancestral culture and the mass murder of thousands of their forbearers.

The reason why I mention all this is because I have been reading John Cornwell’s book The Pope in Winter about John Paul II’s papacy. Cornwell had earlier written Hitler’s Pope about Pious XII and I find his criticism all the more convincing for his evident sympathy towards many of the views espoused by the Popes – he is a Catholic, himself. The interesting thing Cornwell talks about is how Poland, the country from which John Paul II came from, celebrated 1000 years of statehood in 1966. The event was celebrated both by the Polish Church and by the Polish, communist, Government. This was peculiar, to say the least, in that the event was an anniversary of a Polish prince getting himself, and the country, baptised – the details of the event being much as I described above. Another case of nationalism and religion going hand in hand and both ignoring historical reality.


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