Sunday, February 12, 2012

Looking for fitzUrse

Last week I posted a comment about the late give-and-take regarding the unwillingness of the U.S. Catholic Church to accept the conditions of the U.S. Code regarding health care.

After I wrote that post the Obama Administration offered a deal to the prelates; you don't have to front up birth control to the people who work for you. But your insurer has to, under the terms of the law.

And, again, if you choose not to, you will not get the sweet and juicy federal tax breaks. You don't pass go, you don't collect $200.

And that the Church would be perfectly free to indulge their passion for telling the life-support systems for wombs (those things the rest of us not stuck in the 11th Century call, y'know, women) that the wombs belong to God, or, more specifically, belong to what the Church tells them God thinks. Which is pretty amazing, when you think about it, since I haven't heard God's opinion on the subject other than the ridiculous screed Humanitae Vitae, which even his fellow heirophants advised the Pope who wrote the damn thing was the religious equivalent of the first shot on Fort Sumter in 1861.And - not surprisingly or even notably - the bishops refused even this, since every time a sperm or an egg falls fallow Baby Jesus cries or something.

I really don't have a good handle on the political ju-jiutsu of all this. At least on the surface it looks like that the seculars might have snuck one through the wheelhouse of the religious, but it's hard to tell.

But I do know one thing.

Popes, prelates, mullahs, whatever you want to call them, have never given up their quest for control over everyone they can get their hooks into.

This isn't a bug; it's a feature. It's what religious - and most other human - organizations do by their very nature.The Catholic Church canonized a man named Tom Becket, away back in the 12th Century. You can read all about the man in all the usual places, if you want, but the Clif's Notes version is that he was killed by four men who worked for the man who was then King of England, Henry Plantagenet, second of that name run the island kingdom by 1170.

And the reasons he was killed were, when you strip away all the verbiage and bullshit, pretty much the same things the present-day Catholic bishops are trying to pry out of the hands of the U.S. government; control of what people can do.

In Becket's time the issue of real contention was also a legal one. The Catholic Church insisted that it's employees (and keep in mind that the 12th Century Church was the Microsoft AND Goldman-Sachs of England - probably more people worked in some capacity than for any other organization in the place) were outside the civil and criminal law of their country. A priest who raped his altarboys (and who could imagine that would happen..?) couldn't be arrested and tried in a court of law. He could only be hauled before the bishop's court, where he would be tried and sentenced by another cleric.And who could think that would be a problem?

Henry, who, for all his faults, was a genuine legal reformer who did more for codifying English law than anyone had or would for about 500 years, found this intolerable.

I would have, too.

He appointed his chancellor, Tom Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in hopes that having a made guy as the head Jesus-pesterer in England would help bring his church around to a more reasonable position. Instead the Church captured his guy, who became as big a pain in the ass as his predecessors.

The story goes that one day in December 1170 Henry was so pissed off with his former pal that he snarled something about being damn sick and tired of people who seemed to think they had the right to give their king the finger, which motivated four of his tough guys - Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton, to saddle up and head out to have a little talk with Archbishop Tom.

To say that things didn't go well would be putting it mildly. The boys ran into Becket in his cathedral and told him flat out that he was ordered to report to his king.

In the spirit of the U.S. bishops, Becket told Henry's boys to talk to the finger.

Concluding that conversation wasn't getting anywhere, the guys went outside, got their toad-stickers, and proceeded to open up Becket's head like a tin of canned tuna.This didn't work out well. The dead priest became a martyr and saint, Henry had to eat humble pie, the four mechanics ended up buried somewhere in the Holy Land, and the Roman Catholic Church continued its merry way as an immense political force in English politics for another three centuries until it ran into an altogether harder Henry who smashed it for good and all.

In a particularly telling move, Henry VIII had his hard men smash up the old theocrat's tomb shrine and huck the bits into the trash. All that remains is a spot on the floor of the cathedral nave.So nothing really changes, does it? Religion and hierarchical religious corporations like the Catholic Church will ALWAYS try to pull as much power as they can into themselves. This has nothing to do with holiness or "salvation" or whatever the P.R. handout reads. It's about people and how some types of people want power, whether they are priests or politicians.

The difference being, of course, that politicians are just that, and speak with no more authority than their own gravity. A politician that talks like a gibbering idiot is usually recognized as a gibbering idiot and treated with the sort of deference given to gibbering idiots.

But gibbering idiocy is often indistinguishable from religious exaltation, and the latter is utterly irrefutable. A politician that demands you cut part of your genitals off will get treated like a poop-flinging monkey by most sane people. A prophet or pope or preacher?

People might well end up doing that sort of crazy thing.

One of the truly fundamental principles of the United States is that you're only allowed to pester people with your whacko religious ideas to the degree and extent that your powers of persuasion allow. The U.S. government, by its constituative documents, is forbidden from allowing - much less encouraging - one religion or other to enshrine its prejudices and preferences into civil or criminal law. For the good reason that the United States is supposed to be a land where the public forum is open to people of all religions, or none, and the moment you let the pope's nose into the lawbook that freedom is doomed.

This does not, has not, and will not prevent prelates of various sorts from trying to do this. Repeatedly, patiently, relentlessly, mercilessly.

Which is why the steps of the Capitol must, must always be guarded by fitzUrse with his naked sword in his hand.For that pious, humble, saintly man Tom Becket is the black enemy of public freedom and always will be.

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