Prairie Messenger Header

Soul Mending

By Yvonne Zarowny


Religion can be misused to put a plank in one’s eye, even in today’s society

 “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the eyes of your brothers and sisters.” — Matthew 7:5, Luke 6:42

Long before anthropologists documented the important role of religious beliefs to justify or challenge a society’s social order, socio-political and economic elites within some societies knew about and used it to their advantage.

This is particularly true with respect to the treatment of the poor, women and “the other” within hierarchical patriarchies.

When we are told an “established order” is of the Divine or “God’s will” we are less inclined to challenge it even if it greatly disadvantages us, leads to our death or the deaths of our children.

When we are told “the other” is “demonic,” “evil” or “Satanic,” we are more inclined to kill, pillage and rape while feeling self-righteous.

Religion can be an effective “plank” in our eyes and hearts.

History is littered with such examples — as is our present times.

So, what does it mean to “die” or “be persecuted” for one’s religion?

The first episcopal inquisition was set up in 1184 by Pope Lucius III of the Roman Catholic Church. It was to rout the “heresy” of the Cathars and Waldensians.

These “Christian” movements stressed poverty, service and reading the Bible for oneself — together with others. They grew in response, in part, to the increasing wealth and moral corruption of the Roman clergy.

When the inquisition did not succeed in routing this “heresy,” it was denounced as the “Church of Satan” and Pope Innocent III launched the Albigensian Crusade (1209 - 1229).

Tens of thousands of men, women and children were murdered and their property seized — particularly in the Languedoc region of France.

It was from this time that Roman Catholics were forbidden — on pain of death — to read the Bible for ourselves less we get the wrong idea about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

A man who was particularly diligent in routing and killing “wrong thinkers” or “heretics” was Dominic de Guzman. He and the men who joined him in persecuting the Cathars eventually formed the Dominican Order.

De Guzman was canonized and became St. Dominic.

To you, which set of these people died for their religion?

Were the massacres really about religion or preserving privilege and status of a corrupt clergy?

More famous is the Spanish Inquisition set up in 1478 by Roman Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. The original rational for this was to ensure the “right thinking” or “orthodoxy” of the Jews and Muslims under Spanish rule who were forced to convert or leave.

The property and wealth of those killed or forced to flee were confiscated by these Catholic monarchs. They also sponsored Columbus setting sail in 1492 — leading to the plundering of the Americas.

The dress of the Spanish Inquisitors inspired that of America’s Ku Klux Klan.

This little romp through history is not meant as justification for the current persecution of Christians and Muslims by a tiny group of well-financed fanatics.

Rather it is meant as a cautionary tale which raises questions.

CBC TV’s coverage of the Feb. 12 meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, including the commentary by Salt & Light’s Rev. Thomas Rosica (originally from Rochester, NY), horrified me.

It was straight propaganda designed to incite support for American-led wars while dismissing the significance of this meeting.

This first-time meeting of men in these respective positions since 1054 was framed only as a propaganda ploy of Russia’s Putin.

What an insult to Pope Francis, Kirill and the hardworking diplomats on both sides of this “schism”!

I was not the only one horrified. The clip is no longer accessible on Internet.

In his 2015 statement to the U.S. Congress, Pope Francis stated: “We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetuated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious, intellectual and individual freedoms.”

Besides religious, what other kinds of fundamentalism exists?

Could violence be perpetuated in the name of religion or freedom but really be more about economics and/or ideologies?

Who benefits from such obfuscation? Who and what pays?

Contemplating such questions helps ferret out planks carefully placed into our eyes and hearts that prevent us from “seeing clearly.”

An educator, writer and engaged citizen living in Qualicum Beach, B.C., Zarowny is also on the leadership team for her parish’s Justice and Life Ministry.