The delocalization of religion

Watch this first, to better understand where I’m coming from

Once upon a time, the gods were in your own back yard. To get an idea of how that might have felt — the wonder and magic of it — watch the video above. Or think of the world of fairy tales. Fairy tales, of course, are some of the very few remnants of that old world. In the West, it was Rome, and the Catholic Church, that stamped out that world. I don’t claim to know a great deal about this period of history, but one area of this history in which I have done some reading is in the history of my ancestors, the Celts. The Celts, of course, held some of the finest real estate that the Roman armies took — much of Spain, all of France, the British Isles, and Ireland.

After the Roman conquest of the Celtic lands, it literally took centuries for the church’s priests to exorcise the old gods from the woods and fields and rocks and streams. There were special rituals for it, and there were severe punishments for any peasant who was caught in the woods communing with the old gods. Even in Joan of Arc’s time, in the 15th century, there were still fairies in the woods. At Joan of Arc’s trial before the Inquisition, much was made of charges that she, like the other children, had danced around the fairy tree in some magical woods near her childhood home. In the remote highlands of Scotland, the old ways actually persisted into the 19th century. The localization of religion had come to an end.

The work of keeping religion centralized, where it can be controlled by its priesthood and milked for power and income, is never done. Why, if there were gods in the rocks and trees and stars, then anyone could commune with them for free, and no one would be able to skim a profit from that, or claim to speak for such local gods. And it isn’t just the Catholic church. In the U.S. today, there are a host of protestant preachers who fly around in corporate jets, live taxfree in multiple multimillion dollar homes, and suck in millions of dollars from people who see god in the greasy, unctious preacher on their television screen rather than in their own back yard.

As I go about my daily business of sifting for information about the state of the world (I’m trying to stop calling it “news,” because “news” is a centralized corporate product), it’s alway enormously fun to come across pictures and quotes from the old fools in dresses who run the Catholic church. Just this weekend, for example, we learn that some American nuns, who have gotten in trouble with the Inquisition for acting like Jesus and actually caring about the poor, have been called to Rome to be scolded by Cardinal William Levada, who currently heads the Inquisition (formally called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — very centralized, you know). And let’s not forget that the current pope was the head of the Inquisition before he became pope and the title went to Levada.

Cardinal Levada, with the nuns he’s about to scold

A couple of days ago, driving back from a trip to town, I passed five or six acres of woods, newly bulldozed. It’s now a gash of red dirt and gullies. The church next to it, which has the words “Living Waters” in its name, apparently has outgrown its prefab building and is building something bigger. To them, the woods mean nothing. There are no gods in the woods anymore. And besides, what could gods be worth anyway, if they’re free? No, those folks need a building, and a praise band, and lots of taxfree contributions, and someone paid to shout at them about their centralized god.

Who is crazy? Them or me?

Probably me. I do know, though, that I would go crazy if I didn’t have a tiny refuge from a world raped and globalized and delocalized to the breaking point, a world in which ridiculous old men in Rome, wearing dresses, are outraged that not everyone — even nuns! — will do as they say.

But really there is no escape. Ken reports, after a four-day hike in the Smoky Mountains, that visibility from those mountaintops is ruined by smog and haze, and that the park service has posted signs explaining that the smog and haze is pollution from Midwestern and Southern cities. As for my tiny refuge, the corporate puppets in Raleigh, thanks to money from the oil and gas companies, are about to make it legal for corporations — not the government, mind you, but corporations — to take my land if they say they need it, to drill underneath it, and to inject poisons by the millions of gallons into the underground aquifer that feeds my well and upon which all the life around me depends.

Sometimes I’m afraid that this is hopeless. They have won. There is no local anymore. There isn’t anything they can’t take. They even claim the gods. We let them do it. And every step of the way, they said it was for our own good, and we believed it. They threatened us with hell. It’s odd that they can so vividly imagine such a place, but can’t imagine themselves in it. I can.

2 thoughts on “The delocalization of religion”

  1. Religious hypocrisy and greed is often overwhelming. It’s easy to feel isolated, yet we gain strength through our connections with nature and each other as human beings. Your writing is refreshing. I’m grateful to have met you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *