Dangerous Things are happening in America these days, we are told, and the once-innocent citizens of Iowa and Vermont have already been exposed to the hazard…and now it looks as though the contagion might spread to States across New England.
But lucky for us, our friends on the Right are here again to save to save us from…(insert horror film music here)…
The Gay, it turns out, want the opportunity to marry.
Among other complaints, our friends on the Right feel this will destroy religious tradition, which will ultimately destroy first Christianity, then the Nation. Therefore, religious tradition must be protected at all costs.
Well as it turns out, there are some people from our past who know a few things about religious traditions and how they distort reality—and today, we’ll examine the lessons they have to teach us.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
—“The King James Bible”, Ecclesiastes 1:5
“…I wish, my dear Kepler, that we could have a good laugh together at the extraordinary stupidity of the mob. What do you think of the foremost philosophers of this University? In spite of my oft-repeated efforts and invitations, they have refused, with the obstinacy of a glutted adder, to look at the planets or Moon or my telescope.”
—“Through which the satellites of Jupiter were visible”, Galileo Galilei
“The proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures.”
–From the Catholic Church’s indictment of Galileo Galilei, 1633
So you get up every day and look up at the sky, and it’s obvious that the sun starts out over here…and at the end of the day it ends up over there.
Aristotle and Ptolemy figured it all out: each planet was placed on its own “sphere”, the earth in the center, and everything rotating around it; each planet (and the sun) inside the other, with the stars on the outside, in a Celestial Sphere”…all of this resembling Russian “Matryoshka” dolls.
And it’s no surprise that this interpretation of the motion of planets and the sun became not just “common sense”, but the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, it was in the Bible, it was something you could see every day, and as the Greeks would have told you, it was logically “beautiful”—and who could want better proof than that?
To make a long story short, a Polish-born Church Canon named Nicolas Copernicus did. In 1543, near the end of his life, he released the book “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” (“On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”), which suggested that all the planets, including the Earth, actually orbit the Sun.
It took another 40 years before someone would challenge Dogma on this point in a “threatening” way, but by 1584 Giordano Bruno’s “The Ash Wednesday Supper” was considered challenging enough to earn him the Heretic’s Fork…just before he was burned alive on the order of the Church.
By 1616 Galileo Galilei was being warned by the Catholic Church to stop talking about what he was seeing through his telescopes; a moon that was not a perfect sphere and the viewing of the phases of Venus being just two of his problematic observations.
Of course, the real reason all this was so problematic was because there were those in the Church who felt that the Word of God was to be interpreted literally…which meant that anyone who challenged either the text of the Bible or Church Dogma in any way had to be both factually wrong…and an enemy of the Faith.
Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?
–Groucho Marx, from the movie “Duck Soup”
Despite the warning, Galileo wouldn’t let it go. He kept observing, and he kept writing, which led to his attempt, in 1632, to obtain a license to publish the “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”…which led to his being hauled before the Inquisition…which led, in June of 1633, to him forswearing any of his previous beliefs, presumably to avoid the Heretic’s Fork himself.
The Church was able to hold all this together for another half-century—but Isaac Newton essentially “won the argument” with the publication of his three editions of the “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” from 1686 to 1742.
Many of you will recall that the Catholic Church was in fact destroyed by this chink in the armor of Biblical literalism, with the Church actually ceasing operations in 1802.
Obviously, I’m kidding—but the fact that nothing terrible happened hasn’t stopped any number of religious leaders in this country (and their followers, for that matter) from claiming that allowing same-sex marriages will have the same impact on faith in America today.
Which brings us to the moral of today’s story: the next time someone tells you that same-sex marriages will destroy religious traditions…that the world as we know it will come to a horrible end…and that anyone with any “common sense” can see that for themselves…tell ‘em to go get a telescope and get over it.