It’s amazing how much religions have in common in spite of their avowed claims to being the one true faith and all others non-believers. While they may have differences of opinion when it comes to the articles of their faith, they sure seem to keep similar practices.
This seems especially true of those who claim to be most orthodox. Perhaps the more devout you are, the less room you have in your mind for dissenting opinions. Could it be that devotion and tolerance are mutually self-exclusive?
From Vatican City to the mosques of Teheran and the television studios of Pat Robertson-type Protestantism, the reaction to the issues of choice, equality for homosexuals, and dissenting opinions are pretty much the same. Thanks to their work, efforts to implement any degree of safe sex and family planning in the countries hardest hit by AIDs are routinely thwarted. On the issue of same sex marriage, they have been united in their condemnation and attempts to interfere in the governance of countries.
However, that’s just small potatoes when it comes to the matter of dissenting opinions. You’d think that Protestants would be more tolerant, as they were born out of dissent, and to be fair the more moderate denominations usually are, but perhaps that’s why they fear it so much. What happened once could happen again and they are worried about losing their power.
They each use whatever tools they have at their disposal to ensure that the minds of true believers are kept pure and untainted by thoughts that challenge the status quo. Muslims have the Fatwah, which, although not universally binding, imposes the will of a particular cleric upon his followers. The Christian Right of the United States has the organization and skills necessary to manipulate public opinion through pressure campaigns to have books removed from libraries and television shows cancelled.
The Catholic Church is an old hand at this, having had close to two thousand years to refine its skills. As it is no longer acceptable to burn people at the stake, and torture, although making a comeback in some circles, is still mainly frowned upon, they’ve had, however, to discard some of the tried and true methods of the Inquisition.
This still leaves them with three fairly effective weapons: The persona of the pope as the voice of Christ on earth, the list of proscribed books, and excommunication. The Catholic Church has long justified the power of the pope by claiming that Jesus said to Peter: “You and all those who follow shall be like my voice on earth”. Something along those lines anyway. Whatever the exact words are, it comes down to that when the pope says jump Catholics are supposed to say how high.
So when the current pope said that Harry Potter was not a good book for children to be reading, a lot of us may dismiss a statement like that as hooey, but for millions of people around the world that carries a great deal of weight and is pretty much an order not to read those books. Fortunately for Ms. Rowling, or perhaps unfortunately because sometimes proscriptions like these have the opposite effect, her work was not considered blasphemous enough to join Joyce’s Ulysses, Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ and others on the proscribed list of books.
These are the books that the Vatican has considered over the centuries to be ones subversive enough that the faithful should never be allowed to read them. It is interesting to note that the two books mentioned above are both considered masterpieces of modern literature. I probably never would not have heard of or read The Last Temptation of Christ as early as I did, if not for the fact of its being proscribed. As they say, any publicity is good publicity.
The option of excommunication is reserved for those people who have so far transgressed the laws of the church that they need to be removed from the community. Theoretically, it is an option of last resort to hold over those who transgress the word of Christ. Considering the number of priests who have been found guilty of sexually abusing children and never been excommunicated, it’s hard to believe other factors don’t play an important role in the decision-making process.
What brought all this to mind today has been the furor over Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. First it was the novel itself that raised hackles throughout the Catholic hierarchy, accusing them of covering up the truth surrounding a theoretical marriage of Christ to Mary Magdalene. Now the whole mess is starting up again, thanks to filming having begun on the screen adaptation of the novel.
Today’s Globe and Mail features an article detailing how various churches across Britain are reacting to requests for permission to film scenes on their premises. Reactions to requests have ranged from outright refusal, to guarded acceptance, to welcomes with open arms.
” Although it is a fine page-turner, we cannot commend or endorse the contentious and wayward religious and historic suggestions made in the book — nor its views of Christianity and the New Testament.” Statement released by Westminster Abbey.
“It has clearly touched the public imagination, and the church needs to open up a debate about it rather than throw one’s hands up and walk away from it.” Very Rev. Alec Knight, Dean of Lincoln Cathedral on why he agreed to let his church stand in for Westminster in today’s Globe and Mail
“There’s nothing Rosslyn is concerned about,” he added. “Perhaps the church needs to grow a thicker skin.” Director Stuart Beattie of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland from the same article.
How much economics has played in any of these decisions is hard to say, but the $180,000 US that Lincoln Cathedral is being paid for providing the location, must have helped alleviate any misgivings about heresy the trustees could have had. The producers seem to have enough wisdom to not try to approach any Catholic churches, which is just as well, because their position on the book does not seem to have changed an iota.
On that note, it’s interesting to see the complete lack of comment from either Buckingham Palace or Canterbury Cathedral concerning this matter. With the Queen being the head of the Church of England (Anglican) and the archbishop of Canterbury holding similar status as the pope, silence speaks volumes.
Where the Catholic Church goes wrong is that the best thing to do in situations like these is to ignore them. First of all, telling people what they can and cannot read, watch or think is sure-fire way of getting their backs up. Have a little faith in your congregation’s ability to think for themselves.
Secondly, it makes people wonder about where your priorities lie when you obsess about a piece of fiction and there are so many other problems facing the world. The Church is facing one of its biggest crises in years with the whole child abuse scandal in America yet it saves its public outrage for novels. How do you think that makes parishioners who are having doubts feel?
I have always found it amazing that the leaders of organizations that proclaim the benefits of faith have so little of it themselves when it comes to their followers. If they believe that what they are preaching is so susceptible to being undermined by works of fiction, what does that say about their faith?
I have never read The Da Vinci Code and I probably never will. From what I have gathered from reviews and other people’s comments is that it is a good read, but woefully inaccurate. It doesn’t preach hatred against anyone, or make claims about the Catholic Church that haven’t been made before. Maybe they should do the Christian thing and turn the other cheek. Surely their faith is strong enough for that.