22 October 2019

A spiritual skirmish

The Catholic Church's Amazon synod (I discussed its significance here) has been underway at the Vatican for more than two weeks now and will conclude on October 27.  Reporting on the synod's deliberations has been sporadic and murky, but there has been plenty to stoke traditionalist Catholics' fears that "heretical" changes, such as married priests, women priests, and a more accepting stance toward gays and the divorced-and-remarried, are indeed being discussed.  The synod has advisory powers only, and the final decision on any such changes will be made by the Pope; but the synod has been promoted as an event of great importance in the Church, and its recommendations will carry great weight.

Much of the traditionalists' angst, however, has been focused on a ritual which was performed in the Vatican gardens at the beginning of the synod.  This involved several Amazonian natives in traditional headdresses including a "shaman", who prostrated themselves around a blanket scattered with various symbolic objects including two carved wooden statuettes of pregnant women.  There was also a tree-planting.  Several high-ranking Catholic clerics, including the Pope, were present.  It all appeared very pagan, and traditionalists reacted with horror to such a spectacle unfolding within the sacred precincts of the Vatican.

Particular concern has focused on the pregnant statuettes, several of which are now set up in various places in the Vatican.  Synod officials have been vague about what they represent, but they're widely believed to be idols of "Pachamama", a "Mother Earth" goddess worshiped in a number of native Amazonian cultures.  Comment threads on traditionalist Catholic sites have been rife with calls for them to be removed from the Vatican and destroyed -- by force and against the will of Church officials, if necessary.

Well, yesterday these calls were answered.  Two men entered the church of Santa Maria Transpontina near St. Peter's Basilica, removed five of the statuettes, and threw them in the Tiber river.  They posted a video of the act and a short statement reading in part "Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, his Blessed Mother, and everybody who follows Christ, are being attacked by members of our own Church.  We do not accept this!  We do not longer stay silent!  We start to act NOW!"

The Vatican has rebuked the theft and a moderate Catholic writer called it "violent and intolerant", but commenters on postings at traditionalist sites like Church Militant (up to 585 comments as I write this) and LifeSite News (247 comments) have mostly been jubilant, praising the men's action and calling for the newly-planted tree to be killed as well.

What looks to most of us atheists like a squabble over bad Halloween decorations is, to the traditionalists, part of an epic battle between the one true religion and the forces of the demonic (many conservative Christians believe that the gods of non-Abrahamic religions are actually demons, playing the role of gods in order to lead their devotees into damnation).  They believe that the Catholic Church is the one true way, established by Jesus himself, for humans to achieve salvation and avoid Hell -- and that this Church is under systematic attack by evil forces determined to subvert and destroy it via modernism, ecumenism, and heretical changes in doctrine.  Many consider the majority of the Church hierarchy and even the current Pope to be in league with those forces, an alarming situation indeed, if one really believes that the stakes include the risk of hundreds of millions of people ending up in Hell for all eternity.

These conflicts are important.  The Catholic Church is an immensely powerful global institution which exercises a profound and mostly malignant influence over the politics and culture of dozens of countries.  The future magnitude and direction of that influence will strongly depend on whether the Church ends up becoming more liberal, or lurching backward toward the traditionalists' rigid views, or (as seems most likely) becoming viciously and perhaps even violently divided against itself.  Yesterday's theft may prove to be the opening skirmish of a long internal struggle for power, perhaps even a schism.  This will indeed impact the lives of hundreds of millions -- in the real world, not an imaginary Hell.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Recently I watched a clip on YouTube where one of the more celebrated Atheists defined fascism as conservative Catholicism. It hadn't occurred to me to make that link but he pointed out some of the related facts and, after thinking about it a bit, I agree. While there certainly are non-Catholic fascists the majority of conservative Catholics seem to qualify as fascists. And the more hard-line their faith, the more clearly fascist they are.

The hard-line Catholic focus on the 'immortal soul' and 'afterlife' frees them to be cruel and indifferent to suffering in the present. This has been used historically to smoothly justify rape, torture, and murder as the 'will of God'. The most biting part is the 'it is for the good of their immortal souls' is the metaphorical blame-the-victim cherry on top.

It makes the reasoning a sickly sweet package of self-serving hypocrisy and inhumanity where any desired cruelty can be visited upon any chosen out-group and the perpetrators get to walk away with not only a clear consciences, but feeling they are particularly loved by their God for their obedience, willingness to do the dirty work required, and do it in an uncompromising way.

22 October, 2019 09:06  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

The sooner the Catholic Church destroys itself from within, the better for all concerned.

22 October, 2019 10:45  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Catholics are a special breed. Without the cumbersome theatrics of the fundamentalists and with the baggage of hundreds of years adding to its assimilation into the non-cults cults, it still enjoys some power in many third world countries.
The whole apparatus set up by its founders, the Catholic Church May prove to be one tough cookie to blast.
Hopefully, it’ll eat itself.


22 October, 2019 11:19  
Blogger Lady M said...

It is amazing how incensed they are over some statues. Their priests diddling children however, not so much. I just watched Spotlight again last night and have very little regard for the institution that is the Catholic Church.

22 October, 2019 12:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Synopsis of an internet discussion:

YT - Priests diddling children is very bad. It ruins lives. They may never feel safe again.

Catholic - Yes, but thank God they stayed with the church and so their soul is saved for all eternity.


Catholic - Only their temporal bodies and existence were harmed and God can be relied upon to deal with the priest. So no big deal.

22 October, 2019 12:55  
Blogger Adam said...

The Catholic Church is like a turtle when it comes to change.

22 October, 2019 14:57  
Blogger dellgirl said...

I don't know much of anything about the Catholic church and, ironically I haven't done any research on it either. Your article is interesting and informative, very well explained. I still don't understand enough to have a relevant opinion about the whole situation though.

Thanks for sharing this, I enjoyed reading your POV.

22 October, 2019 22:28  
Blogger RO said...

I' one of those kids who was baptized Catholic as a baby, along with my brother. He pretty much stopped caring when he was about 13, but I went to all the classes, and was even confirmed, and for years I only visited Catholic churches. It wasn't until joined the USAF that I started really learning more about other religions and the beliefs of others. I understand the power and the wealth of the Catholic Church, but despite my age, I'm that Catholic who believes that we should be accepting of all along with a loving spirit. Sometimes such rigid rules don't work in winning over souls. Should people throw statues into rivers or be defaced to make a point, I think not. If the world is going to change, kindness talking and forgiveness, working together and nonviolent acts are more effective. As always you shed light on lots of pertinent info. Hugs, RO

23 October, 2019 06:44  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon 1: Some of the really hard-line Catholics ("conservative" seems like too weak a word) on the sites I read certainly have an authoritarian mentality. They're as scary as the Protestant Dominionists. And they certainly are indifferent to real-world suffering, focusing almost entirely on strict legalistic enforcement of the taboo system.

Debra: I certainly agree. This fight could do it a lot of damage, at least.

Sixpence: It's survived for a long time, but is having trouble adapting to a rapidly-changing world. And there are these powerful elements within that don't want it to adapt.

Lady M: They're convinced that the molestation crisis is caused by evil homosexuals infiltrating the Church. They vehemently reject the idea that celibacy either attracts weirdos or turns normal people into weirdos given enough time. As for the statues, it's that strict legalism again. Rules are rules, no matter what.

Anon 2: I've said before -- the belief that humans have souls is the one central error from which other errors flow. This is a good example.

Adam: Too bad for them the world moves at a more hare-like pace.

Dellgirl: Thanks. I'm surprised at how little attention this is getting in the secular blogosphere, and I explain things as best I can.

RO: Thanks. I understand your position. Unfortunately it's far more likely to get you condemned as a heretic by the Catholic hard-liners than to get you criticized by most atheists. Extremists tend to reserve their strongest hatred for the people on their own side who don't hate the other side quite enough.

23 October, 2019 12:53  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

The Catholic church is very powerful, maybe too powerful but I don't see that changing anytime soon even though it should.

23 October, 2019 18:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Maybe the only force powerful enough to destroy the Catholic Church's influence is the Catholic Church itself.

23 October, 2019 19:12  
Blogger Glen Tomkins said...

It was inevitable that the traditionalists would express their horror at the syncretism of these statues as being motivated by the affront they offered to "the Holy Mother". Syncretism that's been baked in for centuries, like the cult of the Virgin that the Christians stole from hundreds of earth mother cults and religions in order to sell Christianity to a wider audience, is sacred, but anything that wasn't around by the time they were sixe years old is sacrilegious.

25 October, 2019 06:17  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Glen: Good point, and an ironic reality. Unfortunately, Catholic theologians are masters of hairsplitting. There's always some convoluted reason why it was OK then and not-OK now.

25 October, 2019 08:28  

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