Waldensian valleys in Piedmont, Italy. Click for credits and larger picture

Religion and culture

There are people raised in a Catholic or Protestant milieu who say: “I am an atheist, I am an agnostic, religion has no effect on me.”

I think it to be incorrect mostly. Religion is only a part of a culture but it is usually at the centre of it and it affects so many behaviours that it is difficult to escape its influence – no matter our religion or non religion -, unless we have the great power of the entirely detached sage, which is seldom the case.

Take my father. He was an atheist to the extent he died without any repentance. His family had been Waldensian (or Vaudois,) an evangelical movement close to Genevan Protestantism. Such a decent man, my father, though strict in a way hard to be found in Italy outside certain Western Alpine valleys (see map above.)

But most of all, my father could not forgive.

When I became a moderate, non violent communist – only 2 years it lasted, I was so young! – a portion of my father’s heart totally ruled me out. Those were ‘the years of lead‘ in this country. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I had to face the consequences of my act. My brother-in-law possibly. He knew all the military big shots. So when my military service days arrived I was sent to a sort of re-education military camp where they tried to break me, and almost succeeded.

For this and other reasons – such as a sunny good-natured Roman Catholic mother to whom redemption was always possible – I always had problems to accept any irrevocable condemnation.

The death penalty, for example, I consider it an unjustifiable act of barbarism, although, what a cruel irony, I’m a ruthless bastard in some corners of my soul because of this extra layer of Roman rogueness my father would have found less repugnant had he understood it was just a camouflage for something closer to him, ie related to the severe – and mostly but alas not totally extraneous to me – mountain culture he came from.

Large pitch-black eyes in the sun light

Italian grapes. Click for credits and a larger picture

I don’t want to think about this. My ancestral heritage is only partly from the austere West Alps. I want to think of where I’ve always lived.

Such a sea, such a sun – my Greek mentor now helping me to day dream – with young women vintaging in the fields, vine leaves at their temples, “their faces tightly wrapped in white wimples to keep them from being burned by the sun. They raise their heads when a person passes, and you glimpse nothing but two large pitch-black eyes flickering in the sunlight and filled with visions of men.”[Kazantzakis]

I’m bathed in the Roman country light. My life has been rich though hard and a bit tormented (which added some depth in my not so humble opinion.)

I take the responsibility for all my sins, for the good and for the evil, like every one should. Let me quote Dante albeit his verses are a bit disproportionate here (“horrible my iniquities had been” …).

Orribil furon li peccati miei;
ma la bontà infinita ha sì gran braccia,
che prende ciò che si rivolge a lei.

Horrible my iniquities had been,
But Infinite Goodness hath such ample arms
That it receives whatever turns to it.

[Dante’s Manfred von Hohenstaufen, the king of Sicily son of Frederick II, Commedia II, 3,121-123; Longfellow’s translation.]

By the way, what the hell happened to the Protestants? It seems to me they focused more on those early parts of the Old Testament when the Jews were not much civilized yet and worshipped a merciless, unforgiving God.

For, if ye forgive not…

I was yesterday reading Matthew (6,14-15) in the most beautiful language ever to me.

14 Ἐὰν γὰρ ἀφῆτε (for if you forgive) τοῖς ἀνθρώποις (men) τὰ παραπτώματα (the sins) αὐτῶν (of theirs,) ἀφήσει (will forgive) καὶ ὑμῖν (also to you) ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν (the father of yours) ὁ οὐράνιος (heavenly)·

15 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀφῆτε (but if you forgive not) τοῖς ἀνθρώποις (men) τὰ παραπτώματα (the sins) αὐτῶν (of theirs), οὐδὲ ὁ πατὴρ (neither the father) ὑμῶν (of yours) ἀφήσει (will forgive) τὰ παραπτώματα (the sins) ὑμῶν (of yours.)

And, in the second most beautiful language to me:

Si enim dimiseritis hominibus peccata eorum, dimittet et vobis Pater vester caelestis; si autem non dimiseritis hominibus, nec Pater vester dimittet peccata vestra.

And, in the language of this blog, also extremely beautiful:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

PS. Bragging about language knowledge, I know. Need to be pardoned for that 😦

72 thoughts on “Catholic vs Protestant Cultures. Is Pardon the Right Thing? Yes, it is

  1. I like the part where you reveal the schism between you and your father. The writing is soulful and passionate. Very compelling.

    You have not offended me in the least in any way, so I am not sure why you wanted me to read this post, in particular.

    I am a pretty big joker, myself, you know.


    1. Thanks Cheri.

      You have not offended me in the least in any way, so I am not sure why you wanted …

      Nah don’t worry Cheri, I don’t know most of the time what I’m writing about. And I’m happy we are all jokers, which I consider like a green light for further joking how’s that? 😉


  2. I’m a practising Catholic well at least in the sense I go to church on a Sunday and say my prayers. Here in Britain being a Catholic is thought of to be some sort of witch who engages in hocus pocus. The underlying thought I believe in this situation is the inability of many protestant Britons to forgive and failure to understand forgiveness; you still hear them talk about the French being the enemy!


    1. I am sorry you think this of British protestants, CaesarS.

      I have always been taught that forgiveness and charity (meaning love) are at the very heart of the Christian message.

      The ecumenical movement calls for tolerance and understanding from all traditions.


      1. Forgive me 🙂 (no pun intended) you are of course correct, it’s not true of ALL British protestants. Perhaps, it’s true of those who don’t really understand their faith. But I’m afraid Catholics are often derided in newspapers et cetera and it leaves me fuming!


  3. E.g. the abuse scandal which is of course terrible. We are able to forgive, easily. Whilst the Protestants demand retribution revenge and the collapse of the Roman Church


  4. Well, well, I can stil read Greek although without the translation I would not have understood a word. The latin is still accessible.
    I was baptized in the greek Orthodox Church and grew up in the Catholic Church in a region, Québec, where Protestants were the ennemy.
    For a long time now I have been looking at myself as a deist not belonging to any particular Church. However I have kept the Christian values and have become most oecumenical.
    What I have shed though is that pervading guilt instilled by the three Christian Churches and the concept of a harsh and unforgiving God. So liberating!


    1. Dear dear Paul, companion of so many mind adventures …

      I’m glad you can read at least the sounds of the best western language ever! I hope I’ll have you here when our Greek classes will get more interesting I hope.

      “Words written in the sand” Mario keeps saying … we’ll see!

      So you out there also considered the protestants enemies. How fanatical men can be, of any religion (Marxism was no different, even worse.)

      Yes, guilt, the idea that even just the intention, just the desire, was a sin, it did make so many people weak and easier to be manipulated. But so many values, they are so beautiful and worthy of being kept and being part of us forever.

      Caro uomo greco, Αγαπητος ελληνικος άνθρωπος
      amico mio, ο φίλος μου

      [my knowledge of Greek is passive, broken Greek probably 🙂 ]


    2. “What I have shed though is that pervading guilt instilled by the three Christian Churches and the concept of a harsh and unforgiving God. So liberating!”

      The harsh and unforgiving God is that God which is the tool of clerics to instill loyalty, financial loyalty especially, compliance, but also a totally undeserved degree of privilege that will set the cleric’s behavior above accountability to the law — a law that no longer will accord ecclesiastical courts the right to deny justice to victims of clerical wrongdoing — an issue that absolutely goes way beyond the current tribulations of the Roman Confession. The God of clericalism seems totally different than the Christian God.

      As for the guilt business, that is one of the few tools for loyalty and control a religion of any sort has in a society that has permanently (hopefully) eschewed establishment — a situation that only did grave harm in the long run to both Chruch and State.

      The shame technique (borne of that guilt business) is a favorite tool of priest-craft. To possess the faculty of critical thinking is important for defeating this shaming and guilt-trip nonsense; for seeing it as a bogus method of imposing compliance upon the doubtful. My refusal to accept a sense of shame proposed as a question by a cleric some years ago has turned out to have been the beginning of my own movement away from much participation or affection for my faith grouping.


  5. @CaesarS

    Forgiveness & love – the most important things. I guess true Christians cannot but be inspired by these principles. I try to, but, what the heck I am, I don’t know.

    Let us stop wronging one another. Love must circle around, hard days are arriving. And, having wronged my father a bit, I’ll write a post on all the virtues he had, and that I have not.

    I don’t know Great Britain as much as you two do of course – the real experts – such a fascinating world you are giving me such a joy today!

    Catholics out there were / are a minority, exactly like Waldensians here who were / are equally derided, and in the past persecuted and killed.

    I won’t hide, Richard, here in South Europe people see protestants as stern aliens a bit. Some Bavarian friends, great lovers of music, refused to listen to Bach for decades! European Latin countries though are not that harsh often, they care less about Christian religion themes (bits of Paganism? See below )

    Strictness vs flexibility – that there are pros and cons in both is self-explanatory, and the shameful display of Berlusconi’s Italy will bring me to a series of … earsplitting posts. Yes! I’m collecting materials already, I am furious!

    I agree, CaesarS. This paedophilia is terrible, whose causes I’m not in a position to fathom, but, Catholic priests and nuns aren’t they possibly sexually repressed in a non humane way? – while protestant ministers seem to me in better shape.

    I’m afraid Catholics are often derided in newspapers …it leaves me fuming!

    Don’t mix up with vulgar minds. There are so many people like wonderful Richard! And newspapers have to survive after all lol.

    Here in Britain being a catholic is thought of to be some sort of witch who engages in hocus pocus.

    As I said, there’s some truth. Protestants have reasons to condemn that. They perceive something… pre-Christian about it. Hope I won’t offend your sentiments, but I’m so proud of it! – it’s the main theme of my blog by the way, such survivals, which are evident at least to me, and possibly have left traces in Catholics a bit everywhere.

    In fact our paganism – see *here* how I see it if you will – was highly civilised 800-1000 years before Christianity arrived. It is a long time. I believe it could not be without consequences (I say over and over lol.)


    1. ‘I hope I won’t offend your sentiments’

      Not at all, I myself *hide myself* am proud of it in an odd way.


  6. Ah, thanks for the historical tip. I had thought Waldensians and Cathars were the same, but now I see that though they originated at the same time, the 12th century, they were not in the same place. Nor did they suffer the same fate. Cathars were exterminated in the first crusade, or rather, The Zeroth Crusade, since it is not numbered as one, being an internal war, while the Waldenses survived and were absorbed into Protestant sects.

    Obvious that they survived – otherwise I wouldn’t be writing on this blog, eh?


    1. Obvious that they survived – otherwise I wouldn’t be writing on this blog, eh?

      If you mean ‘me’, of course I wouldn’t exist if they were exterminated like the Cathars.

      As ancient as them, yes. According to my father our ancestors – no idea when, I should research – had to hide in the mountains for long. Then they converted. Possibly they chose the easier way. Others remained protestants. Others fled from Inquisition to Calabria in South Italy, for example, where people couldn’t care less about Christian ideological wars (it could support my ‘Pagan survivals’ theory a bit, gods only know lol.)

      My wife has ¼ of Calabrian blood stemming from a village in the Cosenza province. One day, while we were there visiting her relatives, these people – so sweet to us – knowing my father was from Piedmont exclaimed: “Oh just go 20 km uphill and you’ll see your compatriots!”

      My wife and I going there ran into *Guardia Piemontese*, an isolated non touristic village whose inhabitants were still clad in 12th-13th centuries costumes! (and spoke btw a dialect closer to French than to Italian). I was stunned but too young and stupid to explore further.


  7. My mother was raised Pentecostal; a Pentecostal Italian. Her family played a large role in expanding it in North America. She was born in Canada of Italian heritage. When she met my father she switched to Catholicism because his older brother would not allow him to be Protestant. My parents weren’t passionate about religion either way. I was raised Catholic. Interesting tidbit: My Communion was held in a Presbyterian Church because there was no English Catholic church in my area.

    I agree. Christianity is a part of us no matter how much we deny it. I think people should resist focusing on just the bad parts of the religion (the media is all too willing to attack the Vatican as we have recently seen) and get reacquainted with the good for there would not have beem great periods and events in Western culture without Christianity.

    My wife took our daughter to Church for Easter. I was sick. It’s something we feel remains important.


    1. Dear friend you too of so many discussions!! Caro amico di tante comuni discussioni!! Ho scoperto il Canada con te prima che con Paul, this must be said.

      This Pentecostal thing to say the truth surprises me partially. I checked what a Pentecostal is, not enough to really understand. What I mean is I may have perceived ‘something’ in our discussions. No idea if this is related to your mother. Lemme just shoot it.

      I remember you sort of accepted my points a few times – like when I was struggling to explain the Pagan roots of Christmas to you (Winter Festivals, Roman Saturnalia and so forth). You agreed, and you really did, but then in the following posts you vehemently proclaimed the beauty of a Christmas lived in all its pure Christian joy! Which is good, excellent. I am passionate too about my things. But it’s the sequence I found surprising: first the almost total agreement, and then the invective. I may have sound very cynical to you. 😦

      Thing being, to me historical reflection and faith must be kept separate, or science goes down the drain.


      1. “Thing being, to me historical reflection and faith must be kept separate, or science goes down the drain.”

        Painfully true. Mr. Giordano Bruno was a victim of this lack of separateness but so too the religion that had him killed. Faith can drive science very nicely if it will remind science that no discipline is an end in itself, but must always see to the betterment of people. Historical reflection can guide science not only in how or where to focus it’s progress, but to help scientists eschew paths that will surely lead to mankind’s ruin.

        Regardless of what great harm and wrong has been and frankly continues to be wrought in Christianity’s name, the contributions made by Christians and done for the glory of Christianity (in a great many forms) continue to shape our outlook on life, even if we only stand in opposition to Christianity or try to remain indifferent to it. Certainly, the influence of Protestantism upon the culture of the American South, even upon those neither Protestant or culturally Southern is very real and felt strongly even today in the most secular cities and on the most secular of university campuses in this region.


        1. Giornado Bruno I know a bit, but I don’t see well what you mean since I mainly concentrate on Greek and Roman times in my exploration, and on the switch from Paganism to Christianity, much to the point in a blog on Roman-ness.

          I always had great respect for Christianity (now a bit of love has come back too). Yes, spirituality, or faith tout court, must be kept separate from research. We cannot historically conclude Christianity won over Mythraism because Christ was God. We have to explain such victory with other means.

          The influence of Protestantism upon the culture of the American South I find very interesting. Every movie, even comedies, that show the differences among the cultures of the US, keeps me glued to the screen – no matter the value of the movie – altho it is unfair a bit since Holliwood seems to me on the whole a bit anti US South.


      2. I faintly recall the discussion. It doesn’t surprise me though. Is it really surprising to be able to rationalize both? Rational mythology is fine by me!

        Yes, it’s a little complicated but my mother’s family played a role in establishing the religion here. That all being said, we’re not terribly religious. We observe certain practices but nothing strenuous or excessive. Like most people I assume.

        Perceived what?


        1. Perceived what?

          Like a … reluctance to negotiate on principles you believed in (you have a Calabrian origin: now, negotiation is foundational in the Mediterranean where totally diverse cultures made deals for 6000 years)

          I admire this quality you have. The art of compromise has reached in Italy a point where left and right pretend to be enemies but are in truth allied in a caste devoted to power and money only.

          Not entirely different was the rotten (and compromising) caste of both patricians and plebeians who ruled Rome at the end of the Republic, and was fought and defeated (but then pardoned) by Caesar, and finally wiped out by Octavian who had learned the lesson. Which saved the Greco-Roman civilisation for posterity. Well, I’m not invoking an anti-Berlusconi new Caesar, no, no, times have changed lol. Digression.

          No idea if this ‘perception’ is: true, due to Calabria (many dogged mountain people out there, see my wife,) due to the the New world’s influence (the radicalism of youth, or so it appears to me,) to your mother’s blend of Protestantism, to your own personal inclination.

          And, of Protestants, I have good knowledge of my father only, which means Waldensians and a bit of Cauvin, or Calvin, if you prefer.


          1. I always, despite my “cativo” leanings on certain subjects, seek to perfect the art of compromise. I don’t “debate” or “negotiate” because it’s hard to sit, think, write and effectively convey complex thoughts on a thread or even a blog. I just jab and run and hope one day to elaborate further perhaps in writing or face to face.


  8. Very perceptive thesis: That even a non-religious (indeed, atheist) person can reflect the cultural milieu of the religion dominant in his social circles.

    This is hard to disagree with.

    It reminds me of what my dad used to say when I was growing up in Munich, which was then mostly Catholic but with a large Protestant population, and all of them secular if not atheist.

    Catholic CULTURE in that part of the world has for a long time been about enjoying yourself (ie, sinning), then confessing and feeling great, then going back to enjoying yourself.

    Protestant culture is all about looking inside, tormenting your conscience and so forth, with the clear upshot of a lot less sinning, ie enjoyment.


    1. I totally agree Andreas. Tomorrow. Tonight I had a looong Roman dinner, too much wine to be reasonable. A sin too? Hopefully not 😉

      I didn’t know you were raised in Munich. I thought you were American with just parents from Germany. That you are echt from Bavaria is fascinating to me. Bavarians are our neighbours, and I have thought many posts about this relationship, and written only a few of them. But the other ones are in my mind. One especially I care for a lot.

      Catholic CULTURE in that part of the world [Bavaria] has for a long time been about enjoying yourself (ie, sinning), then confessing and feeling great, then going back to enjoying yourself.

      Yes, it is that, and it has to do with paganism in my opinion. Protestants rightly say it is not serious, superficial. They don’t see though what is the point, or, they well see it, but, are horrified by it.


  9. Absolutely correct. The dominant, underlying religion of a culture and the underlying religious conflicts in a culture influence us greatly. Particularly when one considers that the atheism (really a confession of faith too) and non-adherents to religions, or adherents to non-dominant religions are still, ultimately obliged to react and address the influences of the dominant religion and any religious controversy.

    A good example can be found in the works of France’s Existentialists. These thinkers were often really arguing and setting themselves up as alternatives and opponents to their our family faiths (Gide’s Protestant upbringing and de Beauvoir’s Catholic past both playing quite a role in their thoughts).


    1. I agree, the French Existentialists which I read a lot but I regret I did – wish I had read more Proust and Balzac – were exactly ‘opponents’, which reveals quite a big link to religion.


      1. I have a Balzac novel to read, perhaps in June. Currently, I’m into the first of four novels by Anatole France that I recently acquired in a single volume at a used bookstore here in town.


    2. Existentialism I don’t get when it comes to understanding human nature. Moliere on the other hand…him I have to reread. I hold a special affinity for French writers – Hugo, Dumas…Not sure how I got on this.


      1. No deep understanding of so many things in French existentialism imo – Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, or Camus. Martin Heidegger I was tempted … hope I’ll never get into that.

        In 1957 Nikos Kazantzakis, the modern Greek writer – a genius I believe tho emphatic at times – lost the Nobel prize to Albert Camus by one vote. Camus publicly recognized Kazantzakis deserved the prize “a hundred times more” than himself. I can well believe it!

        I hold a special affinity for French writers
        You live in Quebec after all!


        1. Maybe it has something to do with that. Quebec, outside language, is closer aligned with certain regions of the United States. My friend used to joke Americans are glorified Quebecers. They have, interestingly, more in common (with the notable exception of being addicted to welfare programs we can’t afford) with Americans than Canadians!

          I like French writers because they, well, tell good stories.


  10. This and my memoir writing take me back to my early beliefs. I was raised in a strict form of Catholicism, and my mother was forever reminding me of my duties. Fortunately, my adult years were spent among liberated nuns, bravely going where no man had gone before. They believed in a forgiving, and most joyous form of celebration and living. Now, I believe our idea of God is forever changing. People make rules and contracts. We sealed them with magic words we all understand.

    Good to see you are kept active, Giorgio.


    1. I envy your experience with such nuns. I met only phony priests, Rome is packed with them! But I remember this priest who taught us religion in elementary school. He was so inspired. His name was padre Negoziante. He told us tales about his adventures in Africa and other places he had visited. We were all under his spell. At 10 I wanted to become a priest but at 11-12 I had already changed my mind since my mother had sent me to this other Jesuit who was not a sincere guy. I saw another face of religion I didn’t like, too young was I to distinguish between a religion and its clergy.


  11. “When I became a moderate, non violent communist – only 2 years it lasted, I was so young!”

    I toyed with the idea at around 13 years of age. I just couldn’t appreciate the drab clothing, the obnoxious red and black posters and slogans, and the need bicycle all the way across the city to the “Paul Robeson Marxist Bookstore and Study Center”. These were sacrifices for the workers of the world I just couldn’t make, so I dropped the whole thing.


      1. Funny now but very serious considerations back then. My bicycle was a beach cruiser and the number of hills I would have had to manage getting over to the neighborhood near the university campus — naturally, one finds the Communist bookstore near the university — were daunting. My parents were Leftist themselves, in a big way too, but my mother would never have approved of such a long distance and time away from the house.

        By comparison, being a royalist just ended up making much more sense. I could wear something besides olive drab — so not my color, and besides my favorite color is white, the royal livery, and I found all that red angry and ugly. As I said, my parents were very much on the Left, what better way to have an adolescent rebellion than go to the right?


        1. Ha! I’m going to get out my old Society for Creative Anachronism sewing trunk and run you up some brocaded court clothes if you don’t watch out.


          1. I’d like to buy an obnoxious privilege! The ignoble of the robe.


          2. @Sledpress

            You two guys are terrific. Were you schoolmates btw?

            Brocaded court clothes? Oh my. Sledpress don’t provoke me, it is a sin. You know: I’d love to wrestle with a woman; with brocaded clothes on even more; I’m not only a good wrestler but have just bought a Roman gladius – no kidding, a perfect copy, 80 euros only: that it excited disapproval among my women is calling a mountain a peanut.


          3. @Zeus is that kind of like buying a vowel on the Wheel of Fortune game show?

            @MoR — we were worse than schoolmates — we both were mixed up in local politics and co-op marketing a decade ago. We are mutually acquainted with more bizarre people than you ever want to count.


  12. I came into this discussion late, and the first thing I thought of was Robert Graves’ description of himself as “Religion: None; Conditioning: Protestant.”

    I was raised with no serious religious conditioning (I later deduced that my father had been the second generation of agnosticism in his family, awkward when you are in a small Nebraska town and your wife or mother is the church organist because it is the only venue where she can swan her musical abilities). I believe a great-uncle on my mother’s side was a Baptist hellfire preacher and while a few tent revivals gave her a general horror of the whole business, she carried a sort of “Cheshire scowl” attitude that people who “believe in something” (at least if it is vaguely like Protestant Christianity) are better than those who don’t. I doubt she ever grasped that other religions actually existed, and it hardly mattered since what existed of the woman’s soul could have been stuffed into a gum wrapper.

    What this all meant was that, while the Jesus myth pervaded the culture to which I was exposed and I assumed there was some reason everyone took it to heart, I was just as likely to be found reading children’s books about the Mediterranean and Nordic deities and myths,or books with chapters headed “Christian Mythology” (!?! said my young brain, sitting up and thinking it over).

    So very little of my formative years bore much impression from any of the various strands of Christian belief structure. When I ran across fervently believing Southern Babtists (Virginia is the American South) I felt obliged to humor them the way you would humor someone who might get mad or make an awkward scene if you dispute his convictions about UFOs, for example.

    I do recognize the Protestant leftovers: think for yourself, work hard, and above all feel sure than anything that goes wrong is probably your own fault. But they had floated loose from any kind of cosmology by the time they got to me.

    As for forgiveness? I use it very sparingly, like fifty-year-old whisky. Most people who injure you know damn well what they are doing and hope to get away with it, or pretend to themselves that they are justified, and very rarely are they ever truly sorry. A genuine apology is as rare as a bezoar. Forgiveness should be also.


    1. @Sledpress

      You are honest, with a Baptist ‘conditioning’ (a great-uncle who was a preacher etc.) altho you say you humour the fanatics and were reading children books about North and South Pagan myths, so you appear unconventional to me.

      The deep South. Despite my being 61, with some experience of Americans (they taught me this language,) I only recently understood what this American South concept may mean – I am from another galaxy after all – and the role of protestantism there. I suspected something when I saw Easy Rider with my girlfriend from San Francisco in 1969: she said: “Fucking A, look at these people, they are disgusting” but I lacked a knowledge structure to really understand. I’ll tell you, the South intrigues me, but I am repeating myself.

      Your mother seems a complex figure too. What do you mean by “what existed of the woman’s soul could have been stuffed into a gum wrapper.”?

      I checked Baptism: salvation through faith alone, scripture alone, non infant baptism etc. The annihilation of any Church structure is great in many protestants blends, one limit of Catholics is the clergy between the people and the deity, but, weirdly enough, Catholics are seldom fanatical. I perceive how … fundamentalist (?) many protestants can be especially in the US South, the real thing, but as long as they don’t beat me up because I have different ideas, I respect them and they mean knowledge to me.

      On the whole being intolerant in ‘revealed’ religions is .. intrinsic. THAT to me is the superiority of many forms of paganism (or of eastern religions, but the mysteries were full of fanatics too, Christianity being one of them, or sorta.)


      1. That intolerance in revealed religion is where the horror I see always comes from. If only one way is right, then eventually people get more interested in the “right” than in the “way,” and the sleep of reason sets in, with predictable parturition. Pagans of various stripes seem less inclined, as a whole, to form institutions.


      2. As to the American South and its religious identity. It is a f&^#ing scary thing. No matter how beckoning that culture may look on any occasion, like some siren of legend, when you see it run, run like HELL in the other direction.

        It is a culture that has somehow devolved from a praiseworthy emulation of much of the best in English tradition (classical education, a sort of noblesse oblige) to a modern-day exaltation of ignorance and banality. Enshrined in the middle of this is a reverence for a bathetically portrayed sentimentally suffering God named JEEzus before whom you’re supposed to be abjectly ashamed of yourself, which doesn’t stop you from existing in a fusty, snickering atmosphere of crude humor, bad beer, metabolic syndrome, broken down cars and thinly veiled racism.

        I had a first cousin who used to get dramatic about Sherman’s March Through Georgia, weep if asked to reprise the saccharine Baptist hymn he played (another church organist) at my grandmother’s funeral (I wawn’t there), and then immediately swing into an embarrassing parody of “Moon River” that started out “Black N***er.” The last time he came to DC on a visit he threw up on top of the Washington Monument. Not that I accuse him of doing it deliberately.

        As soon as I had the freedom to avoid those people completely I had nothing more to do with them. Ever.


        1. Wow, a creatively written portrait of American South aspects. Which only makes me more curious, not willing to RUN in the opposite direction lol.

          Oh I forgot, I received 6 computer attacks in the last 30 minutes … a connection with what I’m writing I think unlikely though.




  13. I guess my reply to the forgiveness part is that the God of the Christians is a forgiving God and one who wants His followers to practice forgiveness in as “Godly” or “God-like” a manner as possible for mere mortals, even instructing His followers that such forgiveness, such extending of pardon and absolution is not only salvific but needed for salvation. That said, the established and organized sects of Christianity have often thumbed their noses at their own deity, especially when the believers dared attempt to follow the words of the deity rather than the pronouncements (right or wrong not withstanding) of the sect. Whenever in history it was possible, despite anything the deity Himself had to say about it, violence (shunning, beatings, imprisonment, killings) were committed in the name of the God Who is Love and that is likely to make believers and unbelievers followers (inadvertently at least) of the bad examples and the angry responses to the bad examples rather that the message. Is it not a Roman saying “Custom makes law?”

    Pardon? Why the churches only extend it to those who completely subordinate or if the laws of the land more or less compel the churches to be forgiving, tolerant and willing to live together peacefully.


    1. The reason why the Roman Catholicism is one of the world’s largest religions is because it offers something that most other religions don’t………..hope. You can be a sinner for 84 years of your life, but can still repent in the 85. So yes there are awful things that have happened, but that is only because the church is made up of humans, many of which have exploited its forgiving nature. Surely then this is not to do with the church but with humans?


      1. That sounds great until you consider things like the current mishegaas in Rome, which involves the Church not simply forgiving but enabling, under the rubric of forgiveness, people who had demonstrated their proneness to violate children who had no one to turn to.

        When a belief becomes an institution, horror always seems to be just around the corner. I don’t know who would have the balls to look one of those people in the eye, the people who were raped in orphanages, and say “You must learn to forgive the ‘servant of God’ who raped you and the other servants who refused to make him accountable.” I don’t mean to get off on the topic of this scandal, but it is such a glaring example of what I mean. When forgiveness means giving a pass to someone who is not sorry at all, or someone who is 85 and unlikely to have many more opportunities to injure people, that’s not hope, that’s a racket.


        1. When a belief becomes an institution, horror always seems to be just around the corner.

          I don’t agree – let me be the advocate of the Roman Church – first time in my blog? – my name being Man of Roma after all 😉

          Faith and science must be separated or understanding is blurred. A religious belief is no different from any other belief from an historical point of view. There are many social, political, ideological institutions that don’t get crammed with pervs, while, on the other hand, the non existence of an institution, as it is the case of many protestant churches, is no guarantee of sainthood.

          I believe it is because of:

          a) the ancientness of this particular Institution, the Church of Rome – id est Christianity tout court as it first developed and as it was later transmitted by Rome to Pagan North Europe (the Angles for example were converted because Pope Gregory the Great decided so) – and …

          b) the conditions of sexphobia in which it developed (and which Catholicism in its conservatism has preserved) – as a reaction to the excesses of the previous age [to Augustinus, devoted to the joys of sex before conversion, sexual intercourse was disgusting; to the other fathers celibacy was to be preferred to marriage. And the Church father Origen from Alexandria brought this concept to its extreme (and logical) consequence: he CASTRATED himself. Seems very Greek to me.

          c) the aversion of the last 2 Popes – and of almost any pope as I said – against renovation of what is millenarian – why priests or nuns cannot marry? Why nuns cannot celebrate mass? – …

          These and other factors create(d) the conditions for these and other ‘mishegass’. I mean, it is not Catholicism, it is not Pardon, which to me is good and corresponds to the flexibility of the Mediterranean Man – it is Man that, when necessary things such as sex (and hence love too) are considered lewd, cannot but take perverted paths.

          Same thing happened to many Victorians, who were such giants in many fields, but prudish, repressed and strict to the extent some of them became perverted and I read I don’t know where (Ruskin?) that love deprived of passion was the only pure hence acceptable form of love (!!)

          By the way, India, an interesting case of Victorian survival, on last Jul 2 2009 finally decriminalized homosexuality (punished with life sentence) finding that the (in)famous Victorian Section 377 of the Indian penal code “went against the Indian tradition”, much freer in matters of sex.

          These topics are very complicated. Hope I was not too blunt 🙂


    2. As to “forgiving in emulation of God” and the notion of forgiveness per se, I think part of my irritation with it is the implicit groveling and power play, and the problem that it somewhat misses the point.

      My insightful, if sometimes insane, ex husband had a favorite saying: “Don’t apologize. Just don’t do it.” By that he was referring to the well known “game of Schlemiel,” in which the person who spills red wine on your white court clothes exhibits such an agony of contrition that it begins to look as if you are the one wronging him unless you say “there, there, it’s all right.” Or just the more everyday kind of situation where someone is, for instance, ALWAYS late or ALWAYS forgets something important, and ALWAYS says they are sorry as if that pays for the continuing nuisance.

      It misses the point of where you go from an incident of injury or offence. If restitution is possible, it should be made (you break something from carelessness, you pay for it). Otherwise, all I want to hear from someone who has hurt me (or anyone) is “I understand why that was wrong of me. You can be sure I will never do it again.” If they can’t say those two things with conviction — maybe they feel their action was fully justified or unavoidable, maybe they have no concrete plans to change behavior — I don’t want them scrabbling around my feet for forgiveness and I sure as hell am not going to offer it. Even if I believed in a God who dealt in such matters, I would say it was that Deity’s business.


  14. @Sledpress

    Let the ranter rant (even though he’s getting closer to Christ, among the rest.)

    The way I see it, the Roman catholic Church – in Rome more than outside it – is mainly a political thing and a vestige – ie Imperial Rome resurrected into Catholic Rome with an immaterial hegemony instead of the old material one on the provinces of the Empire.

    The switch to Christianity from the 4th century BCE onwards was more or less spontaneous in the towns, but it was decided and imposed by force on the pagus (the countryside, thence the term ‘pagan’, ie peasant) ie on the majority of the population (the saints were a shrewd tool for fooling the polytheistic pagus) by the first Roman Emperors responsible for such a switch.

    What I mean is, this was decided rationally by Emperor Constantine, Theodosius etc. and little matters if they were religious (in a Christian sense) or not (the latter maybe, the former it is unknown, he probably preferred the Sun God, but his mother was very Christian, and mothers in Italy, it is known, are powerful 🙂 .)

    So to them Christianity was mainly (or also) an ideological tool for supporting the Imperial power. VERY short-sighted: concepts like ‘love your enemy’ – contained in the Gospels – were a clear factor of defeat vs the Goths, Vandals etc.- lots of historians agree (from Gibbon on.)

    So religious or not, to them it was mostly a matter of realpolitik. Without guys like Roman emperor Constantine or Roman emperor Theodosius, hard to say if we’d now be Christian. Possibly not (my opinion only.)

    [To be continued]


  15. [continuing]

    This new faith could thus develop and was propagated to the rest of the empire (or ex empire). But its cradle was in a Mediterranean culture and mentality, totally different from the ‘nordic’ one.

    In fact centuries later – in the 15th century CE – the people from North Europe, who are not stupid, said (I am making it simple):

    a) “BASTA with Rome”, these Meds are not seriously Christian (in fact we had sort of gotten back to Paganism, our identity: Popes had lovers, Raffaello’s Madonnas were Venuses in disguise etc.,) plus ..

    b) “Damn! They take money from our pockets!” So they left Rome, Christianity was split [AND 14,000 Lutheran Landsknechts brutally pillaged marvellous Renaissance Rome in 1527 out of hate for all that was Roman, ie our Southern, more flexible – and freer – civilization.]

    Not by chance the ‘splitters’ were mainly people outside the border or limes (=limit) of the Roman empire. Revealing, isn’t it? Un-romanized regions of West Europe left, romanized ones (Bavaria, Austria, France, Spain, Portugal etc.) stayed. “The separation of the fields – argues French historian *Fernand Braudel* – occurred exactly along the axis of the Rhine and the Danube, the double frontier of the Roman Empire.”

    [Romannon Roman: see, if u like, *my post* on what is surviving today of such disjunction.]

    How about the British Isles? Well, England etc. had been part of the Roman Empire for 400 years, but it is a special case (usually islanders are special, take Sicily.)

    Was romanization less deep out there? Possibly, but I’d rather think i) they felt part of the North-Europe field, ii) they didn’t like the idea of being governed by the Italians, and iii) King Henry VIII loved gals too much.


    1. As to (a), I would argue that the Roman faith was always an overlay on Rome of the Imperial period, given the offices of Pontifex Maximus, the analogy of nuns to Vestal Virgins (at least the Vestals could retire at some point with honor), and probably an exhausting list of hierarchical parallels between the two faith systems. So the Reformation leaders had a believable argument that Catholicism was not “serious Christianity” as it reflected a pre-Christian organization. I’d say you are right on the money with (b).


  16. @Sledpress

    Ah ah ah, true, at least the Vestals could retire!

    I don’t totally disagree as for what you say on a). A contribution, but it needs some integration / correction in my view (My mum would be happy I defend her Church, poor woman)

    In the late Roman empire the too numerous provinces were assembled in larger units called dioceses (διοίκησις is Greek for ‘administration’).

    Constantine and later emperors – trying to hold together a huge variety of folks via the alliance with the Christians – favoured (in both the East and West empire) a Church organization that mirrored such administrative model, ie a bishop in each diocese, often exercising function of government.

    When the West Empire collapsed into several kingdoms, and an age of anxiety began – from 400 until 1000 – , the Church of Rome didn’t collapse, it remained steadfast, it was the only (administrative and spiritual) element of cohesion in a confused world.

    One can say many things of the Catholics: they don’t renovate themselves (true,) they are sexually repressed hence sometimes go off the rails (so darn true) etc. but the Church of Rome was a worthy heir of the Roman Empire, and one should have a bit of respect for its great contribution to the entire West (North West origined protestants I’d say too, whose ancestors were given both faith and civilization by Rome, some of them should not be so forgetful about it)

    [this wiki *article* on dioceses is interesting]


    1. True, MoR, all the existing Protestant Churches owe their origins to the Catholic Church. So much so that you can’t easily distinguish an Anglican from a Catholic cermony for instance.
      The various sects emanating from the Churches are also descendants from them but have somwhat perverted and radicalized the message.
      Rome was indeed once the center and the main power in the world politically and spiritually. Unfortunately it never got over the Garibaldi period and still long for that past splendor and power. That has lead to it’s loss of spiritual spirit and makes it look just as another power hungry structure trying to perpetuate itself past it’s usefulness; unless it can renovate and innovate a new self.
      Until then I will opt out.


    2. No disrespect involved, my only point was that if an educated Northern European were devoted to the Gospels and looking at the Catholic Church he would have reason to say “Well, this is not the outward manifestation of the teachings laid out in the book here; this is the political structure of Rome. Better start over.” And so you get the structure of Protestant churches (outside of High Anglicanism), which are more egalitarian and less occupied with physical grandeur, ceremony and ritual.


    3. I would not call it a worthy heir of the empire, but I would call it the most enduring part of the Western half of the empire, the part that fell many hundreds of years earlier than the Eastern half. As that enduring part, its contributions were crucial for the rebirth of Western Europe, a rebirth that began in the midst of what is often called the dark ages.

      As historian and critic Hyppolite Taine explains in his Ancient Regime (the first in his monumental works about French history), it was the simple monks in their small huts, and settlements that managed to tame the men who would become the tough nobles. These men would be convinced by persuasion, prayer and example, to settle down, stop marauding, and start protecting (in exchange for loyalty) the local peasants. The Western clerics didn’t were not called the First Estate for any fanciful reason — they were the first law and order in the wake of a shattered Western Europe.


  17. @Paul

    Paul said:
    That has lead to it’s [Church of Rome] loss of spiritual spirit and makes it look just as another power hungry structure trying to perpetuate itself past it’s usefulness;

    Sledpress said:
    if an educated Northern European were devoted to the Gospels .. looking at the Catholic Church he would .. say “Well, this is not the outward manifestation of the teachings laid out in the book here; this is the political structure of Rome. Better start over.”

    I totally agree with both (I spoke about intrinsic Paganism!)

    To me, and to many Italians, the Church of Rome is mainly a political thing (altho there can be faith involved too.)

    I’ve written it so many times in my blog that my pc keys, and my Catholic readers’ patience, are used up.


  18. Really, I’m overwhelmed by all this, but –

    1. The origins of loving your enemy are in the Old Testament.

    2. The influence of the Celtic church is still felt in the British Isles.

    3. The Victorians were not the prudes of popular myth, particularly Victoria herself. Somewhat hypocritical though, perhaps.

    Please do not throw the baby out with the bathwater, Sledpress. It is important not to confuse the message of forgiveness with the professed practitioners of it. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean an attempt to gain the moral high ground. The cycle of recrimination and revenge has to stop somehow.


    1. Victorians may not have been “prudish” as we imagine them, but the culture as a whole was certainly ready to ostracize people for sexual heresy, and Victoria’s personal physician was capable of uttering idiocies like “decent women are not much troubled by sexual feelings of any kind.”

      I don’t believe I said much about recrimination or revenge, actually. I just mean that people who hurt me are not forgiven unless I am absolutely, dead sure that they feel true regret and comprehend the injury they caused. The number of people who do something seriously hurtful and then make this transformation is breathtakingly small.

      As for the others, I don’t need a pound of flesh or whatever the currency is; they are merely invited to go to hell without passing Go, as it says in the game of Monopoly. Saying “I forgive you” is a preposterous response to rape, abuse, theft, or harassment, and in my mind constitutes a disservice to anyone else the perpetrator might be inclined to harass or abuse; while expecting it of someone who’s been already injured once is the equivalent of violating them a second time.


      1. Leaving aside for the moment those cases which you consider amount to a further violation, what purpose does it serve not to forgive, Sledpress?


        1. I have a feeling we are just on opposite sides of a fence here.

          To me, unless someone who did you a distinct, conscious injury (I’m not talking about tipping over a vase or stepping on a toe) understands the damage he did and is genuinely sorry, forgiveness makes you a chump. “Okay, fine, treat me any way you want, you’re off the hook.”

          Is this a situation that admits of “purpose”? If so, I would say that the purpose was to keep your own self respect and basic integrity.

          What possible purpose would it serve to forgive someone who thinks whatever he did was justified — or, y’know, not that bad, c’mon, I don’t know why it was such a big deal…

          I know there are people who think forgiveness leads to some great freedom and sublimity and whatever. To me, freedom lies in choosing not to excuse people who have proven they can’t be trusted to behave well. That’s just me.


          1. Perhaps we should distinguish between justice and mercy on the one hand, which deal with the social questions, and forgiveness, which is a subjective, perhaps misguided, effort to improve the world. But what else is there? If we agree to differ, this whole conversation is pointless, isn’t it?


          2. Hardly pointless, if it elucidates the thinking behind two conflicting positions. I confess I do not see how a subjective attitude of forgiveness towards the unrepentant improves the world; it’s simply an individual choice of perspective. I suppose you might call my philosophy one of risk reduction, since people generally don’t change.


  19. Excellent post!

    A friend of mine was raised Catholic and converted to atheism around middle age. He tells me that now, even in his 60s, he is still discovering aspects of himself that are essentially Catholic.


    1. Thank you Paul.

      Yes, actually a religion may mean thousands of behaviours (as Fernand Braudel put it), a bit like an ‘air’ around us that we breath and that cannot be totally erased when we either lose such faith – like your friend – or also when we – like my father – never had it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s