15 December 2005
Islam, Popery & other primitive creeds
I notice that one of the things that the hand-shandyists for war like doing is attacking Islam. Somebody will usually rise to the bait and make a comparison with Christianity, and a sarcastic comment will then be posted about Catholic suicide bombers or something else equally silly. The people who write nonsense like this are people who live, by and large, in reformed countries where religion has ceased to have much of a hold on the public mind.
We British tend to think of religion, if we think of it at all, as something that happens on Sundays. On that day the dwindling bands of Anglicans and Methodists go to worship, but even they devote the rest of the week to mammon. This is not the way that life works in non-western societies. There religion is everywhere and in everything that people do. It is a kind of magic that is used to ward off the evils that afflict mankind.
Traditionally this is the way that religions operated. When a Roman citizen had to cross the sea - something that Romans didn't do unless they absolutely had to - it was common to cut a deal with the god Neptune, who controlled the salt waters of the World. The deal basically was that if Neptune would allow the person to pass through his realm, then the grateful individual would erect a shrine or sacrifice an animal to this all powerful god on his return. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours was the way the Romans viewed their religion.
The papists are pretty much the same. Go into just about any small shop in Mexico and you will see the image of a man astride a horse. This is St. Mathew the Horseman, and his job is to protect businesses. Basically, if you want your new business to succeed to put up a little shrine to him, complete with his image, a candle burning beneath it and some flowers. He likes flowers, does Mat.
Some years ago I had a shop which I was forced to close owing to poor sales. Quite a few people told me in all seriousness that this was due to my failure to appease St. Mathew the Horseman. As with Neptune all those years ago, religion is a kind of magic. If you perform the correct ritual to the correct god - or saint for the Papists - then you will get the correct result.
If you need something a bit more up close and personal then you can go to the Sonora market in Mexico City and buy just about anything. Do you want someone dead? A black candle in a glass jar that comes complete with its own spell can be yours for a few coppers. You have to say the prayer to Jesus himself, and the person who sells you the candle will remind you that such a powerful being can only be invoked for truly serious matters: so don't use it on your next-door neighbour just because he pissed on your rose bushes. For him you can get black salt that should be sprinkled over the entrances to your property. By calling St. Peter and mentioning your neighbour's name, you will ensure that he will never darken your threshold again.
Natural phenomena are, of course, wholly God made, and human beings can do nothing about such things. Thus when an earthquake hits - and the Valley of Mexico gets them about once a month - the only thing to do is dart outside the house, fall to your knees, rattle your rosary beads, and pray for deliverence. Leading on from this, few people complain about tap water that is undrinkable and periodic outbreaks of cholora. They just take the view that this is the way God wants things.
The clergy are very powerful. In 1968 a group of factory workers travelled to their homes from Mexico City. A local priest convinced himself that they were wicked Communists and he incited his flock to kill them. This Red Dawn or rojo amanecer was made into a film, and those of you who read Spanish can google it if they wish.
In the South of Mexico, near the border with Guatemala, there are regular pogroms of Protestants. You can tell the villages that have converted to Protestantism by the fact that everybody is clean, and the children are fewer in number and much better fed than their Papist counterparts. Protestant villages also tend to have armed guards at night, just to be ready for the next Papist attack.
The big cities, of course, are safe for all creeds and none, but that is only because of a bloody civil war that was fought in the 1920s. The secular government was actually losing the conflict until they hit on the bright idea of introducing priests to tall trees and short ropes. Today that secular elite still governs the country, but everyone knows that underneath the mask of modernity the same old mass of semi-literate primitives will do their religious leaders bidding if asked. Both the state and the church are aware that they are treading on thin ice, and both sides tread carefully.
Now, thinking back to what we have discussed above, can someone please tell me the difference between Mohamadism and Popery? Not the theology, the difference in popular attitudes, because for the life of me, I cannot see any difference at all.
Primitive peoples believe in primitive things. That is just a truism that really should not need debating. The fact that Papists in the USA do not kill Protestants is neither here nor there. By using the USA as an example all a writer does is show his ignorance of the big, wide world that exists beyond the west.