The 14th Century Black Plague Started Something Beyond Thoughts And Prayers
I see Donald the Lyin’ King has decided that Easter will not be a good time to fill churches--but maybe April 30 will be. King Donald had talked so much about the virus and April he reminded me of the words of one of my favorite poets T.S. Eliot in his first lines of “The Wasteland,” an epic poem about humankind: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of a dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring roots in spring rain.”
Medical experts tell us they have identified 6,828 viruses so far, including COVID-19. Consequently, viruses and bacteria have plagued Planet Earth for millenniums. At this time we have no idea April will be the cruelest month. I think the current pandemic scientists are figuring on several cruel months.
The 14th Century Black Plague, also called the Bubonic Plague, killed almost half of the population of Europe. It was caused by bacterium Yersinia pestis transmitted from rats to fleas to humans. Fleas could not tell rich from poor, so they bit everybody they could smell. The plague killed rich nobles, knights, bishops, and priests as well as poor peasants, serfs, tradesmen, and harlots. It took over 200 years to regain the population lost in that pandemic. The fact that the church, religion, and God did not protect them shook people to the core, often destroying their faith. The wealthy left behind decided to learn more about life rather than genuflecting and exercising blind obedience to the pope and various other mystics. Leaders invested in independent scholarship. Answers to survival questions were avidly sought outside of prayer and dogma. The Black Plague forced the Renaissance on us, a classical revival of art, literature, music, science, and learning.
Are “Thoughts and Prayers” Effective Against Both Firearm and Virus Pandemics?
I’m writing this when we have had 217,801 COVID-19 cases with 4,857 deaths in the U.S. so far. The 24-7 news cycle is all about the spread of the deadly virus. This year we will probably have 100,000 wounded and 40,000 killed by firearms--as we have had for years. In other numbers, we have killed 12,000 with firearms in the same period the current virus has killed 4,857. How many news TV minutes or printed words have been consumed in the last three months about our firearm pandemic? I see the National Rifle Association and other gun groups are suing and urging states to declare gun stores as essential businesses—like grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations. Priorities, priorities.
Among the many plagues in the 16th and 17th Centuries some of the most memorable English literature was written, with the plagues prominently mentioned. Shakespeare wrote several of his 37 plays while being self-isolated from plagues. “Romeo and Juliet” was one of them.
The bubonic plague hit London in 1665 and killed 100,000 people—one-fourth of the population. This disease was very painful because lymph nodes were turned into black “buboes” that literally blew up. Many sufferers committed suicide by jumping into the Thames. Sulfur was burned in the streets to purify the air. Death carts were sent by authorities to collect the dead for a fee. Thieves often broke into homes of the dead and sick to ransack them. Plagues were always a time of “social dislocation.” In Italy popes fled to country estates while the people originated the idea of isolation because they thought plagues entered the body through the pores of skin.
Pope Francis did not vacate the Vatican on March 27, 2020 as he addressed the world at the Urbi and Orbi prayer in St. Peter’s Square. But it was unusual. He was the only one there. All Roman Catholic churches in Italy have cancelled masses for the duration of the COVID-19 virus. Pope Francis will celebrate Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, the Easter vigil, and Easter Sunday at the central altar in St. Peter’s with no one in the audience. Thoughts and prayers have not kept Italy from having thousands suffer and die since January of 2020.
Historian Raymond Keene brings up what has happened to religion’s role in discussing modern plagues: “Five hundred years after the Renaissance, at a time when nations and corporations rival the church in their claims to people’s loyalties, the world is experiencing as even more dramatic expansion of knowledge, capitalism, and interconnection. Air travel, telephones, radio, television, motion pictures, fax machines, computers, and now the Internet combine to weave an increasingly complex web of global information exchange….We’ve landed men on the moon and machines on Mars, unleashed the power of the atom, deciphered the genetic code, and unlocked many of the secrets of the human brain. These dramatic developments in communication and technology stimulate the energies of capitalism and free society and the erosion of totalitarianism.” Listening to Jerry Falwell,Jr., Franklin Graham, and James Dobson of Focus on the Family, there is no doubt religious ideology has not kept pace with scientific ideology—and common sense. They think Jesus Christ is a “perfect” predator capitalist instead of a democratic socialist. Many people are replacing holy water with hand sanitizers and bleach.
Has “In God We Trust” Become “In God We Divide?”
According to a study by Eastern Illinois University, 55.7% of Americans in 1988 were members of traditional, mainline churches, 36.6% were members of evangelical and born-again denominations, and 7.7% said they were not religious. By 2018, only 30 years later, traditional denominations (Roman Catholics, Lutherans, etc.) had dropped 20 points to 35.5%, evangelical church membership had grown 4.8 points to 41.4%, and the nonreligious had TRIPLED to 23.1%. I wonder what these figures would be in 2020 after three years of Donald the Lyin’ King and the Southern white evangelicals grabbing power and substituting white supremacist fascism for Christianity. No wonder new studies indicate over 40% of young people have taken part in tsunamis emptying church pews.
The evangelicals have picked the irrelevant, irreligious “Chosen One”—King Donald—to lead their white supremacist, pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-LBGTQ+, America First, Make America Great Again, anti-science, and, yes, their anti-Jesus Christ political platform. They have decided that power is the only way to create a fascist, theocratic government. The Republican Party, with only two goals, predator capitalism and lowering taxes, has attached itself like a giant parasitic sea lamprey and sucked out the votes of “Christians” who seek eternal power. As early as 2015 Pew Research found that white evangelical Protestants preferred the Republican Party by a margin of 68% to 22%, while nonreligious voters leaned toward the Democrats by 61% to 25%, No wonder the communion wine is turning to vinegar.
“In God We Trust” did not become our motto until July 30, 1956 when President Dwight Eiesenhower signed the bill to counter the idea that Joe Stalin had become the “God” of atheistic Soviet Russia in the middle of our “cold war.” Big deal. More propaganda.
Are We Watching The Destruction Of The Christian Religion?
I try to have an afternoon martini every day in tribute to my favorite character W.C. Fields who drank lots of alcohol because he often said: “Do you know what fish do in water?” I have admired W.C. because he rose from selling oranges out of a cart on the streets of Philadelphia--to juggling before the queen of England at age 18--to filling out movie contracts with his own salary figures while dominating Hollywood. My favorite story about him involves the drinking of lemonade. He always had a thermos bottle filled with martinis on the movie set that he called his “lemonade.” One day the camera crew dumped his martinis and filled his thermos with lemonade. During a film break W.C. strolled over and took a big sip and exploded; “Who in hell put lemonade in my lemonade?!!” It brought down the set. W.C. was known in Hollywood as an atheist. A close friend visited him on his death bed in his home. He discovered W.C. in his bed paging through the Bible. The shocked friend said: “Bill, what are you doing? You’re not a believer!” W.C. replied: “I’m just looking for loopholes.”
For 27 years I was a Roman Catholic because I was raised in it. For 60 years I have officially been a Lutheran because Martin Luther had better ideas. At 88 I have read parts of the Bible over the years, sometimes looking for loopholes. Actually, a few lines in Ecclesiastes have stuck with me: “For that which happens to the sons of men happens to animals. Even one thing happens to them. As the one dies, so the other dies. Yes, they all have one breath, and man has no advantage over the animals: for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.”
Because of Science, I Gave Up on the Adam-Eve Myth Years Ago
I knew we were going to be in serious political trouble after the 17 Republican candidates for president in 2016 did not raise their hands when a debate reporter asked them to do that if they believed in evolution. They all proposed anti-science views. The Bible seems to be a collection of gossip about Gods, various myths about a “creation,” Adam and Eve, ancient parables about violence, sex, faith-healing, space travel, poverty and wealth, resurrection, economics, and good advice. That’s why I think Charles Darwin was right in “The Origin of the Species.”
The three animals at the top of the present “chain of being” are humans, chimps, and bonobos. We share about 99% of the genes in our genus. The three are similar:
Chimp characteristics: patriarchal, ambitious, excitable, and violent. Alpha male leads community. Chimps are territorial and band into aggressive groups to hunt down other chimps often in bloody, brutal and fatal conflict. Lower ranking males form coalitions to attempt to topple Alpha leader. Sex is used for reproduction and recreation. Males spend a lot of time competing for sexual favors.
Bonobo characteristics: matriarchal, female-centered, erotic. Both males and females forage for food. Females and young eat first. They use sex to solve conflicts and avoid violence. Bonobos are both homosexual and heterosexual and form long-lasting bonds. They have multiple sex partners and avoid infanticide because no one has any idea who their father is.
Human characteristics: add to all of the above: greedy, generous, hateful, loving, mendacious, truthful, narcissistic, altruistic, heroic, cowardly, brutal, forgiving, vindictive, ignorant, self-educated—and the list goes on.
According to some scientists, chimps, bonobos, and humans are close enough to form a single genus called Homo. Orangutans are identified as being 14 million years old, great apes developed from them about 9 million years ago, and then humans came from the apes about 5.5 million years ago. The chimps and bonobos split from us about 2.5 million years ago—but they didn’t go very far!
If you are going to vote in the 2020 election—just for fun—apply some of the above characteristics to chimp-human Donald the Lyin’ King and Speaker of the House bonobo-human Nancy Pelosi. Why not call all three top animals “Chimmanobos?” It has a distinctive ring to it.
by John Showalter
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