Friday, 6 April 2012

Christian Contrasts on Good Friday

You may be surprised to hear that this week I actually went into a church - more to the point into a Roman Catholic Cathedral.  I walked through the door thinking to myself that this world-wide institution is sometimes said to be 'one of the greatest forces for evil in the world'.  Whether that is true or not, it does at least exemplify some of the contrasts that are to be found everywhere in Christianity.  This is a topic that could hardly be addressed on a better day than Good Friday - when Christians around the world strangely conspire to celebrate the torture and death of their saviour.

The Cathedral in Madrid - only completed in 1994.

Obviously many Christians will complain that Catholics are 'the wrong kind of Christian' and that the Roman Catholic Church does not represent the views of all the other churches.  I accept that.  Roman Catholicism certainly stretches the whole Christ myth and all its trappings to a point very close to the ridiculous.  However, that is not to say that the other churches are free of quirks.  Just for now, lets take a look at the contrasts to be found in Catholicism.

Madrid Cathedral - beautiful decorations behind the altar.

The glorious church pictured in this post (and visited this week) is the rather recently completed cathedral in Madrid.  Like so many of the buildings in that beautiful city, it demonstrates some of the finest architectural qualities that Europe has to offer.  The splendid buildings all over the centre of the city show the kind of quality that many Italian cities can only attempt to replicate.  It is impossible to compare the cut stone of Madrid with the crumbling, plastered walls that attempt to hide the fact that many of the walls of the buildings in Naples are built of little more than rubble.

Few would deny that it is a magnificent building, brightly decorated in a style that suits the city well. The quality of the gold-leaf decorations can hardly be questioned.  The whole building exudes a feeling of quality.

But did you notice something else?  A forlorn figure, barely visible in the foreground, silhouetted against the obvious opulence?

The Crucifixion - a forlorn figure silhouetted against opulence.

Here we come to that great Catholic paradox, common to all the basilicas and cathedrals around the world, and probably at its worst in The Vatican itself.  Somehow they have to 'sell' the contrast between obvious affluence and the abject suffering of the limp body nailed to a cross, in some kind of ritualistic, bronze-age, scape-goat death.  On its own this is disgusting enough.  As Christopher Hitchens said, "What ill is crucifixion a cure for?"

The Roman Catholic Church takes this concept of a good kind of suffering to an extreme, and of course for them it is the cure for something called 'original sin'.  At least most protestant churches have to decency to spare their congregations from the gruesome details of crucifixion.

One other feature of Catholic churches around Europe also intrigues me. 

At every door or gate you can find someone begging for money.  There is never a crowd, but just enough of the professional poor to promote a good sense of moral blackmail in passers-by. 

I ask myself how this tradition is 'policed'.  Is it self-controlled by the people who make a profession of seeming so poor, at least in comparison to the riches of the building that they are 'guarding'? Perhaps they know that one or two of them might collect enough money, whereas too many would collect much less and have to split it between more of them.  Perhaps they take it in turns.  Or is is controlled by the church itself?  Is there a roster?  Are the people charged a license fee for use of prime real estate?  I wouldn't put this past the machinations of a world-wide racket which makes a living out of the suffering of the poor.  Do any of you know the answer?

I don't mean to mock the poor, but I do mean to mock the contrasts.  How can the clergy fail to be embarrassed by their own church?

Small note:  I haven't even touched on the other, more newsworthy, sins of The Church!


krissthesexyatheist said...

how indeed my internet indeed.


Lisa Graas said...

I'm reminded of something I read the other day on Mark Shea's blog. That is, that it is a myth that the Church is rich. Rather, the Church is more like a third world country with good art. I am a poor person and a faithful Catholic. (I am a convert, to be exact, having studied my way into the Church.) I could explain the Faith to you (that Jesus is God, the Incarnation, Redemption, etc.) but how about instead you simply consider that there are people in this world today who believe that the "ridiculous" should be outlawed. That something is "ridiculous" is a subjective judgment. Anything can be "ridiculous" to a mob. Remember lynchings in the South? It happened because of a culture of hatred being passed on from parents to their children. It's okay if you think we Catholics are "ridiculous" but please, don't accept the mob rule of democracy wherein the lynch mob comes after us for being so to the mob. Unfortunately, that is how hatred spreads, through a whole lot of discussion about this group or that group being "ridiculous." LGBT activist Chad Griffin was recently asked by Catholic activist Bill Donahue what would be his reasoning for banning incestuous "marriage." Griffin's response was that it is because he thought incest is "ridiculous." This is what the atheists like to base law on. If it spreads, then Catholicism becomes outlawed.