Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Sancta Simplicitas

(*Edited x2 - also see recent post clarification) 

I've just read a timely passage from a book I'm reading, after having two very different conversations on faith in the past week, so I thought I'd share what I read for them both to read.  Though coming from different perspectives, this was the common thread between conversations - how the true message of Christ has been hijacked by most churches and politicians today. 

The book itself is actually unrelated, it's about the history of New Orleans (I just started the book, so I won't share the name until I finish it and can tell you if it's worth the plug;).   

However, there's a passage from this particular chapter that's relevant, but bear with the setup? :)

The chapter actually begins regarding New Orleans being the only major city in America where the above-ground cemeteries are part of the major tourist attractions (Arlington's National Cemetery in Virginia being a close second), but as it turns out, the fact that they are above ground is not just for the reason we non-N'awlins folk believed (that it was because NOLA is below sea level).  

St. Louis Cemetery #1 - New Orleans, Louisiana 

As it turns out, people were buried below ground in New Orleans, just like everybody else, until the late 1700s, and there's a few reasons for this change, having more to do with suddenly having more bodies than burial land, in swamp territory, after not just flooding, but city-destroying fires and epidemics, as well as they were simply following French-Catholic fashion custom at the time.  

In fact, the famous Parisian cemetery, Pere Lachaise, is also above ground, and was also built during this same time period (because they, too, had a land shortage for burial, at the time). 

Pere Lachaise Cemetery -  Paris, France 

More importantly was the influence of the Catholic church,  because New Orleans was heavily French and Spanish influenced, which was largely Catholic at the time.

Thus, New Orleans was, and still is, largely Catholic - the difference being, you can be both Catholic and a Creole Voodoo queen and still be buried in the above-ground "family death condo" in the Catholic cemetery, as the faith there is often a mix of the two.

Incorporating beliefs together in a mix is not unusual - in fact, all faiths are a mix and incorporation of prior faiths, no faith is pure - but in New Orleans especially, Catholicism and Voodoo are not mutually exclusive - much like similar Santeria, a mix of animism and Catholicism, is very popular in Cuba and Latin and South America.

It's actually not a stretch, because both faiths believe in the active afterlife of souls and saints after death, still somewhat connected to the earthly plane.  In Catholicism, it's not about praying or worshipping saints, it's about asking them to intercede in prayer for you, from their elevated spiritual plane - to pray intermediary/intercessory prayers on your behalf.  

In Voodoo and Santeria, however, this is a spectrum - it ranges from intermediary prayer to asking for favors, all the way up to saint worship.  

Regardless,  both faiths otherwise appreciate departed souls, generally behaving as if they are still living, because they believe they're still around, still watching over you :)

(Most modern Asian Buddhism is the same way - because although Buddha himself said not to pray to him, he's not divine and won't hear you, he's dead - the prior preferred religion of ancestor veneration was later incorporated into Buddhism.)

It's interesting how many cultures believe your loved ones are still near you, though, whether doing so is officially recognized by the religion or not, isn't it? 

Back to the New Orleans-style Catholicism/Voodoo combo; in fact, the famous Creole Voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, is buried in St. Louis cemetery, and she both attended mass every day and was a high priestess in the Voodoo religion.

However, sorry to disappoint - the truth is, though she did also practice Voodoo, she likely had no magical power at all, but let everyone believe that, because what she did do was  just collect secrets and gossip as a hairdresser to the degree that people just thought she had magical powers of premonition, and she was okay with that - it kept her from slavery or anybody ever messing with her ;)

In fact, this was essentially the only the way a poor woman of color could obtain power, money, and prestige to the point of middle/upper-middle-class status, living in one of those pretty little gingerbread Creole shotgun cottages in the French Quarter.

Not that race was ever as much of "a thing" in New Orleans, like it was in the rest of the country, anyway, until later.  

Much like in France, at the time, they were ahead of everybody else on realizing the absurdity of judging based on skin-color or gender, but it was still unfortunately all about wealth and the class you were born into (and still is).

The social class you were born into mattered more than your skin color or gender because race-mixing was already a common and accepted practice in New Orleans.

Being that New Orleans was a fairly isolated city from the rest of the country, people often "hooked up" with whatever "sexual resources" were available (much like white men marrying Native Americans in the west).

Thus, the culture became so racially mixed it became known as "Creole" - Mostly French and Spanish white plus West Indies or  African black, with a dash of Choctaw Native American for good measure.

In other words, unlike "Cajun" (short for "Acadian") - who were white French-Canadian Catholics who migrated to the area to avoid religious persecution - "Creole," by definition, means that your heritage always contains some element of white plus black.

Thus, nobody could really tell your social class based on just skin color anymore,  so skin color really didn't matter as much as how wealthy or "high-born" you were - in other words, how close your genetic connection was to wealthy white aristocracy - which of course still has racial ties.

This is because New Orleans was still under Napoleanic code until 1803, they were still under Napoleanic law - meaning that unlike everywhere else in colonies or in the South, not every person of color; according to Napoleanic Code, New Orleans was the only city in the country where you could actually buy your own way out of slavery.

That is NOT to downplay the practice of slavery itself, which did still exist in New Orleans   - remember, Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired to write "Uncle Tom's Cabin" after watching the horrors at the slaves markets in New Orleans, originally the major slave trade center for the South.

However, not only was New Orleans the only place in America where you could buy your own way out of slavery, but also according to Napoleanic code, marriage between slaves was legally recognized, it was illegal to separate families, or mistreat/exert violence/kill slaves - and New Orleans was the first city where slavery was abolished in the south.  

But yes - people did still own slaves in New Orleans despite their mixed heritage - including lighter-skinned, wealthy Creoles actually owning darker-skinned, poorer Creoles and people of color! 

That floored me, when I discovered several years ago, that some mixed-race people actually owned other black and mixed-raced people as slaves themselves, but it's proof that it's not the race itself that predisposes people to abuse of power, it's wealth and power that predisposes/corrupts people - regardless of their race or gender.

***Although having said that, we white people especially sure did take that ball and run with it - in fact, we actually sanctioned greed and power abuse as "normal," and in fact, we have incorporated greed and power abuse into our faith, imagining that financial prosperity is proof of "God's favor and blessing" for us, instead of proof of our own greed and ruthlessness -- poor God, always getting the credit or blame for things we did ourselves or how we treated each other :/)

For example, the infamous New Orleans slave-torturer/serial killer, Madame Delphine LaLaurie, was herself "high-born" Creole.

She was eventually chased out of town - or more accurately, the intent was to hang her after overwhelming evidence was discovered, after a slave chained to the stove started an intentional fire during a party to draw attention to not just to herself, but the slaves being tortured and killed in the attic, but LaLaurie somehow managed to slip away in the crowd and chaos that ensued and fled the country rather than face trial for her crimes - with all her money :/

So though slavery was allowed in New Orleans, as stated above, the differences from the rest of the South were that their marriages were legal, families were not allowed to be separated, murder and violence towards slaves was illegal, and you could buy your way out of slavery.  

In fact - just in New Orleans, mind you - slaves were considered too valuable a commodity to help build shipping canals and lose their lives from yellow fever - that dubious honor went to "low-born," poor Irish immigrants that were flooding in from the Potato Famine - which again reconfirms that though abuse of power is affected by racism, it is not predisposed according race (although again, we whites legitimately are the biggest offenders of power abuse).

Additionally, as stated above, New Orleans was among the first cities in the Deep South to adopt the abolition of slavery, abolishing it in 1864 - a year before the Civil War officially ended (much to the dismay of pure-white plantation owners, but yes). 

So in other words, though the social structure value hierarchy of just about everywhere else in America went like this, prior to 1865: 

Wealthy white men. 
Wealthy white women. 
Middle/Merchant-class whites. 
Working-class whites.
Poorer whites, Asian, or Latino immigrant labor and Native Americans.
Free men of color. 
Free women of color. 
* Note that in everywhere else in the South, however, there was really no such thing as "free people of color" - that only actually existed in the North, the West, and New Orleans, prior to 1865.

Everywhere else, in the South, if free people of color were found, even if just visiting family from the North, they were rounded up and arrested under "vagrancy" laws under false pretense and sent back into slavery.  Thus, free people of color only existed in the North, the West, and New Orleans prior to 1865.

In New Orleans, the value-hierarchy social strata was more like this:

Wealthy white men and wealthy white women (*according to Napoleanic law, women could hold property, bank, run businesses, and even vote on local issues long before 1920.  They were the only city in America to do so, actually losing these privileges after the Civil War until 1920).
Wealthy Creole men and women. 
Middle/Merchant-class free Creole men and women.  
Working-class free Creole men and women and white Cajun (Acadian) men.
Cajun (Acadian) women. 
Poor, "low-born" immigrant labor of any race (typically Irish at that time). 

So racism affected NOLA, but to a lesser degree - not every person of color was a slave like everywhere else.  In New Orleans, it was more about money and "old money" especially.

However, the threads of racism that existed remain even today.  For example, never confuse your Cajun words and food with your Creole words and food -  it's considered an insult going both ways - and if you're not sure, ask which the word or dish is, Cajun or Creole.

Conversely, Marie Laveau,  was also mixed Creole, but was not high born; thus, being a middle-class professional Creole, with the reputation of being able to work Voodoo. kept her from slavery and anybody messing with her, you see ;)

By the way - if you want to leave flowers, food, drink, or other gifts for Marie at her tomb at St. Louis cemetery, that's fine - *HOWEVER* - the city itself, the Save Our Cemeteries Foundation of New Orleans, the Catholic church, as well as still-practicing Voodoo practitioners in NOLA, all kindly request that you please stop leaving  X's on her tomb in permanent ink - and if you still feel you must do so, please at least use chalk.

Despite tradition, this is actually more tradition than Voodoo practice.

Well,  there is a similar Voodoo practice, but it doesn't involve permanently desecrating the tomb with permanent X's, but instead used other temporaries like brick dust, certain ground herbs, or dirt/earth - and there is a heavy life /soul price to pay for the request - heavier than just bringing her flowers lol.  

Having said that, tradition also says you shouldn't visit her tomb empty-handed - bring her something as a visitor, whether you request something, lest she curse you lol - again, more tradition legend than actual Voodoo, but just to be on the safe side, perhaps bringing her flowers, sweets/a beignet/chocolate, Mardi Gras beads, a hair barrette, or makeup?  ;)

Regardless, leaving permanent X's with pen, marker, or neon paint has become not only  an eyesore that the city has to paint over, every year, but as of 2015, you can no longer visit St. Louis #1 cemetery for free - the local Catholic churches decided there would be no more free tours, only fees for cemetery tours with a guide, with all the proceeds towards preservation, restoration, and cleanup.

Additionally, the church feels they need to reconsecrate them, and the Voodoo practitioners feel they need to "reseal" the inappropriate portal that has been made between earthly and spiritual planes, and both faiths believe that asking actual favors from the dead, without knowing what you're truly dealing with, is spiritually irresponsible -- not to mention that desecrating a tomb like that is just as much an insult to the departed souls in Voodoo as it is in Christianity (or any other faith).

Back the "family hi-rise death condos," at the time, the church was famous for telling people you didn't want your bodies to "float away," so they should instead pay more for the multi-leveled artistic death condos, which of course made the church a pretty penny ;) 

Anyway, for whatever reason, the author later goes off on a momentary tangent about those times that the Catholic church overstepped and forcefully and violently exerted control over the world (Oops?), and the fate of Jan Hus, whom I'd never heard of before, so I looked him up. 

Apparently, he was a Czezchoslavakian priest, Bohemian of course, and was a pre-Lutheran pre-reformer, who gained quite a following by saying such "heretical" things like, "Hmm, maybe the entire church, from the Pope down, should return to the meager, monastic way Christ and his apostles lived, not accumulating wealth, owning land and hoarding gold."

He also said that such "liberal" additions as the pope selling indulgences (essentially absolving your sin for money, a practice which has since been abolished), and other things like confession were not part of the original apostolic church and were not scriptural, they were created to make the church money, as well as keep tabs/social control on its parishioners.

Also, a new idea (well, he considered it what Jesus intended) - the worst infraction of them all, according to the Catholic church -  that women should be priests as well as men because their souls were just as viable and valuable as men, especially after Jesus elevated the role of women at the stoning incident, only to have Paul tear it down again in adherence to OT law, trying to please the Pharisees.

You know, basically the same sort of complaints we still have today, and not just about the Catholic church, but in fact, the very same protestant churches who originally made those reformation points -  ironic, isn't it?

Ah, greed and the love of "Mammon" - it's a surreptitious soul killer - one that knows no particular religious or political denomination.

 Anyway, long story short, at the time, there were two popes claiming the right to papacy, East and West, and even though neither recognized the other and vied for the "throne," they also both hated Hus and excommunicated him, and yet he didn't care and continued to preach in Czechoslovakia, because he believed his ideology was more closely aligned with the original church conducted by the apostles of Christ, as well as the true teachings of Christ  - but doesn't everybody believe they are adhering to the true teachings of Christ? :)

This, of course, royally pissed both popes-in-waiting, but Hus had gained quite a following and was too far away to do too much about.  So at this point, they devised a plan to invite Hus to the Vatican under the false-pretense promise of reformation negotiation, assuring him that no harm would come to him, and yet when he arrived, of course they burned the poor man at the stake.

 Hus likely knew what would happen to him because he made a will right before he left - and when offered to spare his life if he would confess and repent to the bishop, right there at what would be his own funeral pyre, Hus refused, saying he was prepared to die and doing what Jesus would do. 

Anyway, supposedly, they couldn't get the fire lit - so an old woman threw dry kindling on it and so it began - and the last thing he uttered was "Sancta Simplitas" in Latin, which literally means "Holy Simplicity," but really means in context something akin to, "Such a simple immoral act this person does, believing it holy and wholly righteous."

Not exactly Christ's "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," but a similar, perhaps more human: "Holy narrow-minded ignorance, Batman! The poor misguided idiot has completely lost the plot!" LOL

So next time you see someone of our faith, or any faith, doing something absurd, harmful, or even immoral, supposedly on behalf of their faith, believing it to be righteous - for example, in our current day, those who say you're not a true Christian or even demonic, just because you don't support their political candidate, politics, political party, or denomination -  simply say to yourself, "Sancta Simplitas" :)

You're in good company - because Hus is revered as a national hero in the Czech Republic, now, as he also believed the scripture should be accessible to both clergy and laymen alike, that "conservative Christianity" in fact means more closely adhering to the lifestyle and actual words of  Christ above all others (including later apostles such as Paul and other politicians),  and that the church should leave room for varying interpretations for the spiritual growth and evolution movement that Christ began - to the degree that both Christ, and Hus, were willing to die for it.

Then in 1999, Pope John Paul II publicly apologized for the church's deceit, treatment, and murder of Hus, and commended him on his moral courage - and stopped just short of canonizing him as saint (although he is unofficially revered as a saint in some more Eastern Orthodox churches :)

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