Shamans and Heretics

September 3, 2011

Once again, I have to ask, “Who were they?”  These cave paintings of bison at Niaux are as good as it gets with freehand drawings.  Done by torchlight, in the back of a long dangerous cave passage, with primitive brushes no less…about 15,000 years ago.  The large domed chamber near these images has an excellent echo, and the guide suggested it may have been a hangout for shamans.  The cave is not easy to get to, and the view from the entrance of the glacial valley is impressive.  I wonder what the artists thought of it.

Meanwhile, back in the near present, i.e. about 800 years ago, this land was the Pays du Cathar, a region where a heretical sect, a sort of Manichean twist on Christianity, held sway along with the local language, langue d’oc.  (Up north, ‘yes’ was oui, but down here it was said oc, thus the language of ‘oc)’.  Although closely related to Catalan, it didn’t survive as well.  The northern French, with the agreement of the Pope and the creation of a special French Inquisition, launched an internal crusade, known as the Albigensian Crusade after the city of Albi that was a political center of the heresy, and successfully stamped it out with great brutality.  The castle at Foix, located in a stunning valley, is one of the many strong points that couldn’t hold back the tide of the north.

Religion falling, religion rising

March 11, 2009


A recent study shows that Americans are less self-identified with religion than ever before.  Still, the impulse yet lives…

There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. The ethics of environmentalism are being taught to children in kindergartens, schools, and colleges all over the world.

Bill McKibben, with his anguished cry of loss for our pre-lapsarian existence, The End of Nature, comes to mind.

As Freeman Dyson points out in the review of a book about global warming from which this excerpt is taken, this is not a bad thing in many ways.  But it is not science.  He has more to say about the actual science of global warming here:  Heretical Thoughts.

A Few of My Favorite (Prohibited) Things

February 18, 2008

auto da fe

After 200 years of religious freedom in America, we have difficulty remembering why our predecessors fought so hard for the separation of church and state. Here I present excerpts from one of my favorite documents in the history of ideas, reprised from a time when church and state were one! I am particularly fond of the prologue to the enumeration of thought-crimes, emphasis is mine.

Faculty of the University of Paris:
The Condemnation of 219 Propositions (1277 A.D).

We have received frequent reports, inspired by zeal for the faith, on the part of important and serious persons to the effect that some students of the arts in Paris are exceeding the boundaries of their own faculty and are presuming to treat and discuss as if they were debatable in the schools, certain obvious and loathsome errors, or rather vanities and lying follies which are contained in the roll joined to this letter. …Lest, therefore, this unguarded speech lead simple people into error, we, having taken counsel with the doctors of Sacred Scripture and other prudent men, strictly forbid these and like things and totally condemn them. We excommunicate all those who shall have taught the said errors or any one of them, or shall have dared in any way to uphold them, or even listen to them, unless they choose to reveal themselves to us or to the chancery of Paris within seven days…Given in the year of the Lord 1276, on the Sunday on which Laetare Jerusalem is sung at the court of Paris [the condemned propositions follow]:

1. That there is no more excellent state than to study philosophy.

2. That the only wise men in the world are the philosophers.

3. That one should not hold anything unless it is self-evident or can be manifested from self-evident principles.

10. That nothing can be known about God except that He is, or His existence.

22. That God cannot be the cause of a newly-made thing and cannot produce anything new.

53A. That an intelligence or an angel or a separated soul is nowhere.

66. That God could not move the heaven in a straight line, the reason being that He would then leave a vacuum.

67. That if the heaven stood still, fire would not burn flax, because God would not exist.

83. That the world, although it was made from nothing, was not newly-made, and, although it passed from nonbeing to being, the nonbeing did not precede being in duration but only in nature.

84. That the world is eternal because that which has a nature by which it is able to exist for the whole future,
has a nature by which it was able to exist in the whole past.

86. That eternity and time have not existence in reality, but only in the mind.

87. That nothing is eternal from the standpoint of its end that is not eternal from the standpoint of its beginning.

89. That is impossible to refute the arguments of the Philosopher [Aristotle] concerning the eternity of the world unless we say that the will of the first being embraces incompatibles.

99. That there is more than one prime mover.

100. That there was no first man, nor will there be a last; indeed, the generation of man from man was and always will be.

188. That it is not true that something comes from nothing or was made in a first creation.

180. That creation is not possible, even though the contrary must be held according to the faith.