Monday, November 18, 2013

Heretics and Heroes by Thomas Cahill

Thomas Cahill reads HERETICS AND HEROES, an examination of the Renaissance and Reformation in his Hinges of History series, with particular emphasis on popes and kings, Thomas Moore, Martin Luther, the Black Death, and how individuality's flowering put a damper on the violent ignorance of the late Middle Ages. Parts of the Middle East may still be living in those ages, but for the most part religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular has moved away from lopping the heads off (or burning alive) those who disagree with it (although corruption remains.) This is partly due to Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Galileo, and others, but what is fascinating about this history is how "all encompassing" religious oppression was then, and how the poor citizen was powerless to resist being jailed or murdered on a whim, (and without recourse to some nonexistent law, since those who sold heaven and hell for a fee owned both your body and soul.) In fact, one alternate title for this book might be "Dictums and Victims." Even Martin Luther, who resisted papal authority in favor of reasoned interpretation of scriptures (free of selling holy favors for gold), was not averse to having at least one man burned alive for not believing in the Trinity. Why fire? According to Cahill, because it prevented the heretic from being resurrected. But it also may have been to give the sinner a taste of what is coming to them very shortly (and eternally) in the pits of hell. If you, as executioner, believe you are doing God's work, it follows that you would want to help God do that work by sending the heretic off in flames that crisp their skin and tear the same shrieks from their lips that God has promised to exact forever and ever, amen. (After which, you may go to church in fine silk robes and work on your pious chants, while collecting money for "indulgences.") Cahill is not a fan of the Catholic church, even into the modern age. Readers can only hope that reformation and renaissance continues, and that we aren't pulled back into historical darkness, ignorance, and violence once again. About the new Grisham audiobook Sycamore Row, I wasn't as impressed. Instead of learning a couple things you probably already know about the history of lynching in the deep south, what you mostly learn is the minutia of trial lawyering, every minor move expounded with the thick Louisiana accent of Michael Beck as if each pen scratch was vitally important---and not just to the greedy children about to be cheated of their estates. 

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