Here is the chapter, if anyone actually reads this, that could get me into a strange sort of trouble. I have been denouncing organized religion thus far, crowing about the lies each of these ultimately political forces has told to recruit followers and control society. People get angry when you question their religion, and this could be said about any faith. I’m sure that some of the people who followed Jim Jones or David Koresh, if you asked them what those lunatics stood for, would be incensed, attack you either verbally or physically or both. This ultimately depends on one’s fanaticism, and I would imagine that followers of a cult are pretty damned into their god. But I claim that all religions are cults of some sort–hell, I have claimed that the followers of Oprah Winfrey are members of a kind of makeshift cult, perhaps even without their deity’s knowledge. I used to occasionally watch her TV show and look at the blank, empty stares of people in the audience waiting to be instructed on what to do, how to think, when to react and in which way they should behave in any given social situation. They would be told how to dress, how to eat, how to raise their children and sometimes be given presents just for showing up. It was a benign cult, sure, but a fanatical following nonetheless.
And so of course this narrative has reached a crossroads. The Holy Roman Empire has taken command and they needed to figure out how to rule the world and spread their dominate faith to every corner of the world.
“Lies in the Dark Ages”
So the Christians after Constantine needed to spread the word of God in a streamlined manner so that they could organize their following. They didn’t need all these competing narratives of Christ dividing the folk into warring faiths. They had to put down rumors that could lead to opposition–Jesus after the resurrection married Mary Magdalene and they had kids and those children are the grandchildren of God and on and on through the generations until one of that supposed bloodline challenges the Pope and who is going to take sides against Jesus Christ?
Now this was a thousand years before the printing press was created and in an age of bare literacy. People still exaggerated their stories of Jesus and saviors and messiahs and dragons around campfires while drinking wine or trying to get laid. The campfire was the bar scene to those young, unmarried pilgrims, and they talked about God the way modern folks debate Jordan versus LeBron. It is more ‘My God is better than your god (v).
And so these parties expanded the ideas of faith, some of them contradicted, there were plenty of doubts and since these people were poor, ignorant, and often slaves, they saw very little hope on earth.
The early priests were preaching about another world, an afterlife, the concept of immortality if you only sign your soul away in blood to the Church of Jesus Christ. And many people did. What other options did they have? They would live a life of hardship and misery for thirty to thirty-five years before dying of plagues or exhaustion. Three out of seven of their children would survive their first six years. If there was hope, if there was a way out of this torment, show me the way.
So the church, the literate folks who also controlled the government–a pure fission of church and state–decided to print a book, scribbled in foreign tongues by academics who had perfected the art of handwriting. And it was going to be long. This task would take forever. They needed to hold a council and decide which story to place in the book in order to form the most cohesive narrative they could.
The old testament was easy–Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Noah and all those other favorite characters that were the stars of plays. But the new testament was far more complicated, less based in ancient myth and more of a modern movement that was a questionable tactic when using it to justify butchery and slavery. And so four books were selected, those among the tamest–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They tell of a heroic Christ who dies for our sins and was so perfect that the angels escorted him up to heaven with a promise that one day He would return. They liked this version. There was an uncertainty. It could be kept together by that last part–the return–it could be any day now. People in desperate states could feel it. The end is coming. This led to additions to the bible, including the book of Revelations, that great old apocalyptic text that one-upped the Book of Daniel in terrifying people while giving them hope that someday soon salvation will come.
And so the church is formed and they spread out and continued conquering the world.
Cut to a few hundred years later and the Holy Roman Empire is oppressing the desert nomads of the middle east. These people were used to a different way of life and resented the fact that they were being forced to believe in something so strange. It was not their own. It did not fit in with the magic and fantasy of The Arabian Nights. This was a densely mathematical and artistic culture and bald Christianity with its pale face and cruel demeanor as represented by the fanatical early Catholics, it just didn’t work for them.
Enter Muhammad, the last of the biblical prophets, those who were actually leaders of slave rebellions. Muhammad was probably an angry guy, and who could blame him? These Christian soldiers were murdering people because they would not kneel before them and dedicate their lives to a foreign god. And so Muhammad–obviously a smart guy and a clever tactician–has a revelation. Now we can debate whether this revelation was mystical with the archangel Gabriel telling him the secrets of the world, but keeping with my theme I will call the Prophet Muhammad a liar in the class of Moses and the followers of Christ. I have no doubt that he was sincere in his motives and that his primary goal was the salvation of his people, and this makes him a noble man, one of the greats of human history. But the faith he brought into the world was a response to open warfare. It was My God is better than your god (vi) on a far more hostile level. This was the creation of an entirely new religion, similar, ironically, to the foundation of Judaism in a nearby part of the world.
In Islam God is once more very judgmental and mercilessly unforgiving. The Koran is filled with threats and warnings alongside the peaceful splendor of implied salvation. And the Koran (at least in the English translation I have read) is absolutely gorgeous as a work of literature. And since language had evolved so much since the times of Old and New testaments, this should hardly be a surprise. The stylistic beauty of middle-eastern fairy tales were so much more exciting than the stale memories of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades; of the tired 2500 year old tale of Moses; of Zoroastrian conspiratorial thinking; and of the Christianity that threatened to save them at the edge of a blade.
The early Muslims were fanatics for a reason. They were trying to save their homes, to keep these invaders at bay. To them the Holy Roman Empire was little more than a barbarian horde attempting to take everything these people owned, including themselves and their children. And so they fought with a passion almost unseen in history. Their new faith, with an angry God, basically devoured Judaism and Christianity, gave them a pat on the head sort of acknowledgment, but then told them that we were now in the future and things have changed. God has selected one last prophet to preach the gospel and you’d better listen or else Hell will flame across the earth forever.
The response to this? Inquisition.
Now this specific holy action did not formally begin until 1184 AD, and it was only then about suppressing heresy within the church. The Muslims were treated as enemies and the power of the church kept slaughtering them while Islam grew stronger and stronger and kept fighting back. But in 1227 Pope Gregory IX decided to revolutionize the idea of inquisition and spread the Catholic demands out to the rest of the world: convert or die. Heresy is punishable by an eternity in flames.
By 1252 Pope Innocent IV actually signed a mandate allowing torture of heretics and so the brutal history we have come to know truly came into being.
The Inquisition became every bit as much a military exercise as it was one shrouded by competing faiths. Throughout the 14th century the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish kingdom and all the other powerful Catholic nations of the era set out to utterly obliterate competing faiths from the world. It was the Knights Templar–the snipers and assassins of that time–special forces, operatives, natural born killers–who carried out the most important executions. It was them who vanquished the Cathars of France and northern Italy. They crushed the spirit out of their feeble idea of God and spread their faith through a reign of terror all throughout Europe.
By now Popes did not have to be only Italians. By the 15th century Spain had taken charge of the Inquisition and it was carried into high gear. Those they meant to destroy were the Jews, the Protestants (heretics who broke away with a slightly different take on the meaning of Christ) and, of course, the ‘satanic’ Muslims. These routs were highlighted by mass public executions with angry peasants excited to watch such a spectacle, an escape from their ordinary lives, while they threw rotten fruit and horse shit and, probably, their own shit at those about to die. They chanted and mocked those victims of torture with all the loving forgiveness of the true Christian, who is as barbaric as everyone else of intense, fanatical faith. Or of warlords seeking to enslave the world.
And so lies–malicious lies with an agenda of power–turned a world of toil and hope into a violent battleground of competing ideologies. Does this sound familiar?
Next: The Printing Press, the Age of Revolution and the Politicization of God