Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Era of the Denial of Our Brutal Nature

(This painting is "The Sack of Rome" by Johannes Lingelbach)

Okay, I want to explain my point and why I am even thinking about this . . . and do it briefly as I have about 20 minutes to put down some words.

I've alluded to the fact that I just got back from Florence, where I immersed myself in the Renaissance, in general, and in the Medici family specifically. I read two books about the Medicis and today I've spent about four hours watching the PBS special miniseries about them.

As I read about this period (thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries) I was appalled by the brutality. The acts of cruelty were cataloged graphically by Christopher Hibbert in his book, The House of Medici, Its Rise and Fall. I listened at Christopher's feet as he told story after story of murder, torture and cruelty beyond belief and these descriptions were only a side bar to his main points.

Towards the end of the Medici empire there was a chain of murders of best friends, brothers, wives . . . all by the most cruel of methodology . . . but added to that morbid resume was the rape of children, torture of dear friends for the pure pleasure of it, not just practical jokes. This was real torture that often ending in those friends' deaths. This was also mixed with gluttony beyond belief, the hooking up with countless syphilitic whores, the torture and murder of countless animals . . . all for fun. And this, which I just described, was among the Cardinals and the Medici Pope, Clement VII (born Giulio di Giuliano Di Medici). So it was the most spiritual of people on earth who were doing such horrible things. Having grown up in the protestant-Bible belt, I was taught, yeah, these Catholics were capable of some really bad stuff.

But then, the Lutheran Germans marched on Rome in 1527. The Pope and his cronies were so fat, sick and minds altered with the syphilitic bacterium that they didn't know what to do. They didn't negotiate with the Germans. They didn't run, except for Pope Clement and his body guards. They also didn't fight . . . at least not much. So the good Lutherans came across the walls an decimated the city. Eight thousand people, most of them defenseless such as old people and children, were killed the first day by the good Lutherans. The good Lutheran Germans raped so many nuns that they lost count. Once a nun had been raped by about a hundred godly Lutheran solders there wasn't much left of her frail broken body but it throw it in the river for the dogs to eat (sorry about speaking so graphically here). It was horrible and the streets ran with the blood.

So my point is, how are we different from them? These were all people who claimed to be of God. This doesn't even touch on the pending 5 or 6 "Christian wars" including the Thirty Years War, which swept Europe soon afterwards.

I have two theories . . . and this is my point. The first one is, according to my view of eschatology (Post Mil as they say) the world is actually getting better and evil is gradually being overcome by good. But the second reason, I think is true and it doesn't matter what your eschatology is. It is that we are now living in an age (maybe ushered in by the Victorians, I'm not sure) were there is a denial of our personal brutality. We think we are much better than we really are. It is my opinion that this myth of godliness has taught us that we grow and grow until we are really different and holy.

However, I think we would murder, rape and commit adultery if society would allow us to. It is society which has raised its expectations, that society which was influenced by the reformation. What I'm trying to say, if we were really, really honest about who we are, we would admit that there are days we would like to flee off to that romantic cabin with someone who is not our spouse. Or, we would feel some pleasure if that person, who wronged us, had an accident and died, maybe even a brutal death. I know that this sounds horrible and if I said this in an Evangelical group (and I have before) they would think I'm the devil himself. Yet, out of those same Evangelical groups I've had these friends, like Norm and Mike, who did suddenly shed their wives and run off with girls whom they had been sleeping with even while they were telling me how horrible I was for saying such things were remotely possible for me.

So I was asking myself, how does this fit into what I was saying a few weeks ago, how the Evangelical has such a low view of the self . . . the whole "I'm a wretch" thing? They seemed contradictory . . . at least on the surface.

But as I thought more, I realized that it is part of the same syndrome and denial of our brutality. Because, when we stand shoulder to shoulder in church and sing loudly in our old-fashioned hymn falsetto voice, "who saved a WRETCH like me!" we are really viewing ourselves in this grandiose view of humility. We really aren't that humble either. Saying we are a wretch is part of the game of portraying ourselves as humble. In other words, if you actually treated the person who calls themselves a wretch . . .like a wretch . . . they get really pissed off. Because, part of that dark nature (which our spirituality doesn't chase away overnight) knows that we are not wretches but more important than anyone else.

So, for people like myself, who deal constantly with guilt, the guilt is real. I can see, only a glimpse, into that darkness inside me. We though, must keep thinking about how dependent we are on the cross of forgiveness. We must also pity those who think of themselves that they are good Christians because . . . their assessor . . . he is a fool.

My twenty minutes are up!


AndyAndre said...

Interesting thoughts. I would add that beyond just denial, some of 'christian' brutality can be explained by their/our foundational being that Jesus' lifestyle teachings (e.g. Sermon on the Mount) only apply to the utopia of heaven beyond death and that a christian's only concern in the here and now is getting "the" ticket to that place - via the correct rituals and/or "experience" ie confirmation, baptism, sinner's prayer etc. Once you have that then you're allowed to partake in or slip into culturally acceptable brutality...

jmj said...

I think you are right. I remember watching the old Godfather movies and how comfortable they were with their brutality and their spirituality resting comfortably in the same bed (with a horse's head I may add). But like you said, they went to mass, had the father's blessings on their weddings, rituals etc. yet would throw their own brother in the lake with concrete shoes.

One point I made that this was not limited to the Catholics of that time period. I have to refresh my history of Geneva, but if I remember right, even Calvin ruled with some actions that we would consider brutal.

Anonymous said...

Such a thought-provoking post. So true. We err when we think we are better than we are (just as we err when we think we are worse than we are). Such a mixture of good, evil, and plenty of complicated grey. This is humanity. This is me.