The Cross All Heretics Must Bear


Laudato Si.

“At night, I dream of radiated bulls and peacocks and swans.”Flannery O’Connor wrestling not only with mortal illness but with the possible extinction of the human race, haunted by the apocalyptic heritage of her Church, its “hair-raising history”….

 Political and social breakdown fueled paranoia and fanaticism during the Late Middle Ages. Every religious order manufactured its dissidents and heresiarchs. Franciscans and Dominicans savaged each other like tonsured Trotskyites and Stanlinists. Fearing anarchy, hardliners exercised “a conscious and severe intolerance in theory and practice,” but their harsh crackdowns and inflexible policies only courted disaster, according to Umberto Eco in his Travels in Hyperreality.

The Avignon Papacy (1309-77), which Petrarch compared to the Babylonian Captivity, and the resulting Western Schism (1378-1417) convinced believers they were living in the End Times, when pope and anti-pope excommunicated each other, crucifixes showed Jesus holding a money bag to justify private property, and the pederast and serial killer Gilles de Rais fought side by side with Joan of Arc, a saint burned for witchcraft. Christ and Antichrist, people crudely and commonly joked, had become interchangeable.

Most folks I cross paths with these days think they’re living in apocalyptic times, and — at the same time — advocate dealing with our enemies by violently crippling them into submission. That’s essentially what I’ve touched upon in the first two paragraphs above. First off, I made the point that hardliners exacerbated the thrust presented by heretics in society, making matters worse for one and all. The terrorism of the times was not dealt with properly by the use of savage counter-terrorist measures. Secondly, I underscored that almost everyone in the 15th century believed that they were — unquestionably — going over the precipice. Today’s sense of living on the edge does not deserve the (“unprecedented”) characterization it’s been given; people have had reason to believe all was going to be terminated before.

For sure, environmental degradation and our nuclear threats DO — for the first time in human history — represent a unique situation; yes, the potential for total extinction is very real. But though the dangers are severe and unparalleled does not mean that citizens of the world need to throw up their hands in resignation. On the contrary, we don’t know what’s around the corner. We can’t know for sure that a given effort we make might not make a significant difference in the Big Picture.

I think it’s clear, though, that we need to become heretics of a sort when it comes to dealing with the secular powers that be AND our general population’s lifestyle. Both enable wars to proliferate along with our rampant consumerism. Each of us must risk being damned by those running and supporting the dominant culture of our times, which is greatly at odds with what, say, Pope Francis has recommended in his Laudato Si.

I have had great difficulty securing even conversation with priests about how we can honor the pope’s encyclical. It’s unbelievable how uninterested some representatives of the Church seem to be respecting implementation of what was urged by the Holy Father. But I plan to continue my outreach in that realm, and all realms, religious quarters all along the spectrum and elsewhere.

It is the cross all heretics must bear in this unfair and unintelligent world. A blessing.

Rachel Olivia O’Connor is a member of the Oxman Collective. She drew extensively from the work of the incomparable Anthony Di Renzo here (plagiarizing from his “And The Violent Bear It Away: O’Connor And The Menace Of Apocalyptic Terrorism” at points). The author can be reached at [email protected].



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