The past couple of days I’ve been getting caught up on the British fantasy-adventure show Merlin. One of my ex-boyfriends and I used to watch it, and it’s kind of cheesy and rompy in the sort of Stargate SG-1 sense, but it’s still a lot of fun. And I have a huge crush on Colin Morgan, which is a valid excuse for liking anything. (A half-naked Cam Gigandet was all the excuse I needed to watch Pandorum.)
Because I’m a history nerd, I’m painfully aware of all the anachronisms that nobody else seems to notice, such as the fact that medieval physicians had no concept of infection or bacteria, or that knights did not use the same hand signals that Marines use to signal attack maneuvers.
I get it. It’s a show for modern audiences that aren’t worried about those things. And, frankly, medieval Europe in its raw form isn’t very entertaining. There wasn’t much swashbuckling, unless “swashbuckling” is a term used to describe what happens when a plançon does when it collided with someone’s head.
So this is why I tend not to enjoy historical romps such as A Knight’s Tale. Even the famous Monty Python scene above sends a little bit of a shiver through me as I’m reminded of the Trial by Ordeal. In the case of the witch scene, the medieval thinking was that if an accused person was thrown in water, because God has a vested interest in human affairs, if they’re innocent God would intervene on their behalf and they would float to the surface.
There was also a much nastier version of this involving boiling water, where the accused would be compelled (or forced) to put their hand in boiling water. The hand would be bound up and after several days it would be inspected by a priest who would determine whether God had intervened in the healing process on their behalf. The term “trial by fire” has its origins in this practice, where the accused would be branded and later examined for signs of a miracle (or no miracle, in which case you were summarily fucked), or forced to walk over coals or fire.
Oh, I could go on and on. This is what happens when you are homeschooled as a child possessed of morbid curiosity and access to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
The frightening thing is that we’re not so far removed from that kind of medieval thinking. Yesterday I was talking with a pastor who believes that natural law proves homosexuality is wrong. “Just look at how men and women fit together like puzzle pieces!” was the thrust of his argument. (Of course, he conveniently sidestepped the issue of what to do about infertile couples and the elderly.) Thomas Aquinas’ Quinque viae follows similar lines: “The universe exists, therefore: [poof] God.” ([Poof] added for emphasis.)
Most notoriously, Christian apologist Ray Comfort claimed bananas are proof the world is designed by God because they fit perfectly in our hands, and are pointed toward our mouths. (I’m really not making that up. Watch the video.) Julia Sweeney parodies this “cosmological” thinking in her show Letting Go of God when she sums up Intelligent Design:
It’s like saying that our hands are miraculous because they fit so perfectly into our gloves. “Look, at that! Four fingers and a thumb! That can’t have been an accident!’
In 1913, the American atheist Emma Goldman wrote: “The Christian religion and morality extols the glory of the Hereafter, and therefore remains indifferent to the horrors of the earth. Indeed, the idea of self-denial and of all that makes for pain and sorrow is its test of human worth, its passport to the entry into heaven.”
This is what prompted inquisitors to torture and murder their victims, whose only crime was not agreeing with them; it’s what prompts Muslim fathers to behead their daughters rather than allow them to become corrupt and worldly (i.e., not wear the hijab); and what motivates fundamentalists to persecute homosexuals and teach them to loathe themselves. At the core of their teaching is the belief that whatever happens to the body doesn’t matter. What matters is getting the soul to heaven, where it can continue its subjugation to the bloody celestial dictator, God.
This is inhuman, it’s anti-human, and it’s deplorable that in the twenty-first century, when we’ve largely put the evils of slavery and torture behind us, that we’re still putting up with medieval thinking of this sort.
One reason why we haven’t seen much forward motion in the gay rights movement is that fundamentalists of the Rick Santorum/Tony Perkins/Maggie Gallagher/Linda Harvey variety are sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming, “No! No!”, and getting their followers to do the same. It’s a bit like being on a tandem bicycle with someone who keeps dragging their feet, and even trying to drag the bicycle back to the shed.
As I’ve said before, you can’t fully understand these people until you understand that they truly believe that God actually gives a fuck where I put my dick, or where my boyfriend puts his. Theirs is a severe God, looking down from heaven scowling at all the people having fun on the earth—because theirs is a God made in their puritanical image. They are murderous men and women who think they have been given special dispensation from God to make this Earth into a heaven for Christians—even though they also supposedly believe “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through.”
They think the reason I can’t see this is because I’m spiritually deaf, blind and dumb to Truth.
You can’t understand their fervor until you understand that they truly believe that this is a war between Good and Evil, between God and the Devil, and that my being able to marry the man I love is somehow Satanic and will bring about the end of the world. Or locusts. Or hurricanes. Or a light sprinkling of rain with a little thunder.