Sunday, October 6, 2013

Religious behavior: Middle Ages vs 21st century

In the Middle Ages people blindly believed in the church and its power to control their lives. We're in the 21st century now. Let's see what really changed.
Ever since its creation, the church has been an influential institution but also a powerful weapon able to manipulate and hold people hostages of their own fears.

1) Pilgrimages
In medieval times people often travelled hundreds of miles just to see a relic, hoping for a miraculous cure. Churches kept whole bodies of saints, heads, arms, pieces of Jesuss cross, pieces of bone, hair and blood and were expecting pilgrims with bottles of the martyrs blood and even souvenirs.  Well, don't laugh too much. Thousands of people still go on pilgrimages every year in our century.
Stories of miracles used to circulate in the middle ages as well as presently and people believed them to be true, without any evidence. Curiously nobody has ever witnessed such events, we are only expected to believe the legends and fear vengeful saints. Back in those days, most stories were invented by the church to intimidate people, determine them to go on pilgrimages and spend money on saints. In fact, medieval pilgrimages were a huge industry relying on sales of badges, souvenirs, offerings. There are documents that prove that sometimes demonstrations of supernatural power were organized in advance to give people what they expected to see - resurection from the dead, miraculous cures (people were hired to produce miracles for profit). Despite clear evidence of corruption and fraud the church's grip on the medieval mind remained strong in medieval times as well as nowadays.

2) Intolerance of other religions
The word of the church was the word of God. It had the power to absolve sins, protect from evil. If you didn't accept the beliefs of the church you were simply an outsider, an enemy. The church showed a belligerant attitude towards the outsiders. Anyone who disagreed with the church was considered an heretic. In our century, being part of a congregation still means sharing 100% its principles and beliefs, otherwise you are considered an outcast. No idea of reform is ever taken seriously. Unfortunately, many priests sometimes forget that Christianity did not begin as a bellicose religion. Although preaching Jesus, the church takes a different view according to political or social circumstances and require its believers to hate, ignore, deny and even kill for a religious cause. Take for example the crusades - when the pope urged knights to defend Christianity and free Jerusalem from Muslims.

3) Fighting and dying for your faith
The crusades were wholly wars, approved and encouraged by the pope. The church authorised them and offered spiritual benefits in return. The battle between Christians and Muslims became the battle between good and evil. The Muslims could never forget our interferance so many centuries ago and the crusades consequences are felt even today. Our history is full of hatred towards Muslims, Jews, protestants, directed and initiated by the church. "Don't worry, you are doing God's work." Those who attacked the wealth of the church and its involvement in politics were executed. And even in our century, the church generally aims to root out all opposition.

4) Fascination with the supernatural
People used to believe and they still do that going to church can get them rid of diseases, misfortunes, and the evil eye. So, they all go to church, kiss icons and worship bones of saints hoping for a miracle. They do not realize that in fact they don't need intermediaries in their relationship with God and that miracles happen only when they are supposed to happen, according to God's will, not priests' or anyone else's. Your faith is not strong enough if you rely on someone else to do your prayers for you. That's been going on for centuries.

To conclude: the cult of saints still exists, the hostility towards other religions still exists, the great journeys of pilgrimage still go on. So, is there anything that really changed in our religious behavior since the Middle Ages? Not really. 

I could never really understand this need for belonging to a certain religious group, since we are all different, have different ideals and obviously perceive divinity in different ways. Centuries ago, just like nowadays, believers were and are ready to kill others (throw bombs thrown in metro stations, organize terrorist attacks) or suicide (in Islam - Kamikaze) in order to impose their religion on others. The 21st century should be the age of reason, yet humankind continues to interpret Jesus' words as an excuse to do wrong. And the church as an institution survived and still thrives just because most people are too naive and ignorant.