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Rosaries, Rostrums, and the God's Awful Truth

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Rosaries, Rostrums, and the God's Awful Truth

Various movie moments stick just as vividly in my mind as if I were to encounter someone with a saber protruding from the chest. "I think you're gonna need a bigger boat," from Jaws is one. And Apocalypse Now's, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning," is another. The one that this effort hearkens to is from A Few Good Men: "You can't handle the truth!"

Looking over the course of history, all the way to today, I don't think we can . . . handle the truth. At least insofar as the truth tends to impale many of our most sacred and endearing beliefs we can't.

When it comes to how someone has committed a most despicable act, whatever opprobriums adhere garner from me not the least sympathy. Quisling comes to mind. Vidkun Quisling helped the Nazis conquer his country, Norway. Ever since, his name has joined the lexicon to describe a traitor. But to smear the name of a person when there is an absolute absence of evidence warranting the smear seems to me to be as vile and shameful a misdeed as whatever the nature of the act he or she was assumed to have committed might have been.

But to perpetuate the smear . . . over centuries. And to make no genuine effort to correct those who suffer under possibly erroneous beliefs when the benefitting party fully knows such smears are without adequate foundation . . .. Yet, to use perpetuated smears that have no evidence with which they might ever be validated as implements in the furtherance of a specific doctrine . . ..


As difficult as it may be to believe, what follows is the truth. Try to imagine it, if you can handle the truth.

Perhaps it was on the sole say-so of a local religious leader, or because parents felt their adolescent daughter was behaving too precociously among the neighborhood boys, or the daughter found herself pregnant outside the bounds of marriage. Whatever the reason, the daughter, without the first right to a word of objection, to right of counsel to hear whatever promulgated charges might have been levied, or even given the opportunity to provide some explanation, is whisked away, to be incarcerated behind 20-foot brick walls, the mortared tops of which are laced with shards of glass.
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Upon incarceration, the young woman surrenders her clothing, any and all personal possessions, her name, and if pregnant, once the baby is born, she surrenders that forever as well. Nor will she ever know what name it has been given or where it has been sent. She wears sack cloth and will thereafter be known by whatever name the religious leaders prefer to bestow upon her. She is strongly admonished that speaking to any other woman in the institution is absolutely forbidden, at any time, for as long as she remains incarcerated behind the walls. If she speaks at all, she speaks only in response to one of the religious authorities in the institution. She awakes at 5:00 in the morning, to attend and recite prayers. Following the 15 minutes of prayer, she next has a meager breakfast of gruel. After that,she's to labor in the manual laundry, scrubbing clothes on a ribbed washboard, rinsing and wringing the clothes by hand, and then hanging the rather damp laundry on a line to dry. If it is raining outside she is provided no protection against the elements. Her workday in the laundry concludes at 7:00. From there she takes a supper that was as meager and as tasteless as that of which she partook in the morning, and then it is off to bed. Except for beatings that can be levied at any time and at any whim and the suffered sexual debasement at the hands of the institution's religious leaders, ostensibly for whatever instructional value they esteemed would be most advantageous to her, the routine remains unchanged through the year. Only the one High Holy Day of the year -- devoted completely to prayer -- provides some reprieve from the intensity of the manual labors. At no time are any of the women paid anything at all for their labors. Ever.

And statistically, the chance she will not grow old and die incarcerated and restrained is extraordinarily remote. If her parents were the ones who sent her for religious education, it is unlikely their hearts will soften. Certainly the religious leaders will not.

The Taliban? You may be musing, this has to describe some Moslem sect. After all, the Moslem faith has been in the news a great deal for some time. And with every utterance, it has been faithfully demonized, which certainly what has just been described is something spiritually demonic, right out of the 8th or 9th centuries. Whether by Pat Robertson or Glenn Beck or others, the Moslem faith is described as one of savage tyranny. Just a few days ago, Sarah Palin opined on behalf of "profiling" Moslems, "if it would help save innocent American lives."

-- not Moslem at all. Not even 8th or 9th century. More recent than that. For 150 years the Roman Catholic Church operated Magdalene Asylums; for every intent and purpose: slave labor institutions. The institutions were physically as described, as was the barbaric brutality of the life within. The "asylum" would take in laundry for local businesses and institutions; the incarcerated women provided 100% of the labor, and the Church kept the proceeds. The rationale behind the laundry work, as opposed to something else, was the notion that by doing laundry the women would also be cleansing their souls of their sinful thoughts.

The name, Magdalene Asylums, was derived by reference to Mary Magdala. While no scholarly authority -- Catholic or otherwise -- has yet come forth with unchallengeable evidence "Magdalene" actually means "the penitent," that is what the Church has maintained for more than a millennia. Without really acknowledging that in fact "Magdalene" does translate as "the penitent," for the sake only of consideration here, specifically why should it be attached to and associated with Mary, Jesus' most adoring and faithful disciple? Of what should Mary have been penitent?
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The Big Lie, that Mary was a "fallen woman" or a "prostitute" has been promoted by the Church and other Christian sects for so long that most parishioners unquestioningly take it as gospel. The truth: Regardless what anyone or any "authority" tries to claim, all anyone knows of Mary and any allegation of a deficiency of character comes via Luke 8:1-3; ". . . and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, and Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out . . .". That's IT! A long, long way to presume that any of the "seven demons" connoted a "fallen woman" or one who had been a prostitute.

What has any of this to do with anything today that might be important?

Decisions are made based on what we believe. So why we believe what we do, as well as what we actually do believe, can become life and death important. Right now, President Obama is weighing whether to send additional soldiers and marines to Afghanistan, and an awful lot of folks are running around, shouting how he needs to quit dithering and just give the general what he says he needs. How about pausing for a few moments, to engage some truly critical thinking, and to demand of ourselves, of those around us, and of our leaders, that our regard for those of a different faith not be ipso facto blanket-condemned (If one will not readily condemn the Roman Catholic Church, based on its behaviors to this very day, why would one not be as circumspect relative to other faiths?), and that the reasons any troops should be added, as well as why those already in the combat zone should not be withdrawn, be stated clearly, persuasively, and accompanied by documentable evidence the country can examine.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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