In a manner redolent of the US banks during the 90s and the first decade of the millennium, Papal envoys travelled the length and breadth of Europe. It was around the turn of the sixteenth century and they were selling what people wanted most: freedom from sin.
Now this sounds a little silly, given that Jesus died on the cross for this very reason, and in any of the Gospels, even the apocryphal ones, there has never been any mention of Christ asking to be paid for what he did.
That doesn’t stop people from wanting to buy what they lack the faith to accept. The Dutch are very good at this, for it is a country where everything has a price – and barely anything has any value save for that which is actually paid for it with hard cash. I joke that the Dutch held up a contract for Jesus to sign, because the Dutch had itemized how much they had to pay for each kind of sin. Sadly, Jesus couldn’t sign it as his hand was nailed to a cross at the time. That doesn’t stop the Dutch trying to buy off their guilt, though.
It was little different five centuries ago when the Papal emissaries sought to abuse this lack of faith. I mean, it wasn’t their fault that people wanted to buy the things: they were selling like hot cakes! But isn’t this the problem in our modern world? We can work hard, produce the profit, but when it comes to those things that can’t be bought… and well, the Pope saw to that one, didn’t he!
After all, if the Pope says it, it goes – and this was long before Papal Infallibility, which came only in 1871. This was just the final nail in the coffin, making sure that the Pope really couldn’t be contradicted, or worse, be told he’s wrong. Mind you, Papal Infallibility only applies to things the Pope says whilst speaking officially; it’s not as if the things he says when the soap slips from his hands when he’s taking a Papal bath will be considered infallible.
True, yes. Infallible, no.
Infallibility is a form of religious bureaucracy, litigious to the point of exhaustion. But that’s the world we live in: everything has been evaluated, every possible exception has been covered and the law book that used to sit neatly on one’s desk is now stretches five feet on the bookshelf next to the radiator. Hammurabi, the wise Babylonian king, had 256 laws. But then, he was wise and his subjects had faith in each other.
Few have it today, and the result is legislation that describes a cabbage in 8,000 pages (or words, I can’t remember). Whatever, the legislation has gone mad: officially. There are contracts for everything: hire purchase on one’s laptop, one’s new SIM only contract that costs €2 a month… the list is enormous and the small print seems endless.
Contracts are what one needs if one doesn’t trust anybody else. Which is why the American banks were so kind as to make sure they signed their side of the contract for their AAA rated securities. They gleefully sold them as though they were gold-plated. And people bought them because they believed what they had been told about them (and they would make a lot of money if they did…)
And the banks were extremely sorry when it came to the point where they had to say that they weren’t going to abide by the wording of the contracts they had signed. Well, it’s better than the Americans having to pay, isn’t it? The fallout from the Toxic Asset fraud cost me my business: one that I had built on honesty and good quality.
Americans can’t be held responsible for not wanting to pay up for things they claimed were the genuine article. Can they?
After all, the Papal emissaries sold their indulgences with about as much honesty as the American banks defrauded everybody else. It’s not as if the money paid for them would actually make any difference in the end, would it? If a person lacks belief, they lack it, and all the money in the world won’t make any difference.
Because when they’re on their deathbed and they see the truth unveiled – it’s a medical fact: even the bodily rhythms change. Yet the medical community can’t explain it save for making a few sorry excuses – the kind of excuse the peddler of indulgences would have made to an unhappy grandfather as the man closed his eyes for the last time. I explain the phenomenon on my private blog, but it’s private because too many people prefer the excuses to the truth.
They’ll listen hard enough when they face their last days on earth, but the problem then is that there’s no time to do anything about it… save pray. If, that is, they believe in that kind of thing, and in our day and age, there are all too few of them.
The point of all this is that the truth is really the truth. This isn’t me flying my ISIS flag and being the intolerant biggot. This is clear, rational thinking that has led me to these conclusions. Not some person reading what Mohammed said sixteen hundred years ago and interpreting to meet their own ends. That’s like the anthroposophists who want to believe that knowing all the things Rudolf Steiner said will actually make a difference to their life.
Well, their life after death, at least.
Life isn’t so easy. Nor is it that complex: wherever you see complexity, you will find that someone somewhere will have made an excuse. They will have done that in order to avoid the kinds of harsh truth the purchasers of indulgences wanted to avoid. Whatever that excuse, and this goes for every excuse on the planet, it is an excuse to avoid dealing with the truth. Put another way: the realities of life.
Because we’re all going to die. It’s just a matter of whether we’ve burned the candle at both ends, or we have the energy and courage to keep the flame alight once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.
Oh, and the faith in Christ that He really meant what He said before they nailed His hands and feet to the cross.
It was my second visit to the exhibition featuring Gainsborough’s works at the Rijksmuseum at Enschede. Having seen the first few galleries, I moved through them swiftly and started where I had effectively left off on my last visit. When I saw his painting of Christ being lowered from the Cross. I’d glanced at it the last time, but was too tired to take it in. This time, fresh and ready to go, it was practically the first thing I clapped my eyes on.
It hit me like a hammer.
Hitting The Wall.
Last night I was invited to dinner by my friend, Henrik; and we met Jan, Henrik’s cousin and erstwhile business owner.