19 February 2014

There are thieves in the temple tonight

I sat at these machines for twenty minutes and not once was I comped a drink.
Sacré-Cœur, Montmarte, Paris, 9th February, 2014
I am not a religious man, as more observant readers may have noticed. I am, however, a fully qualified if not actually licensed Theologian, and so I have an excuse for finding myself, on occasion, in assorted religious and/or decidedly non-secular environments. I view these experiences like a field trip, as a zoologist might upon visiting a zoo, or an anthropologist stumbling upon Copper Face Jacks of a Friday night, an opportunity to observe the objects of one's study in a captive environment, albeit one with the artificiality brought on by the presence of bars, bars, or um, bars in the cage, alcohol, and prevention of women from performing a meaningful or significant role in the ecclesiastical hierarchy sense of the words, respectively.

On our recent sojourn in Paris, we stopped briefly in Sacré-Cœur, more formally The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, the large Catholic Church perched high atop Montmarte with possible the best view of the city below to be found. Officially consecrated shortly after the end of the First World War, the Cathedral is undeniably an impressive building, the interior of its dome particularly so. It is noteworthy for having the consecrated host (for Catholics the literal body of Jesus through the miracle of transubstantiation) on display continuously since 1885 (though presumably not the same host, I imagine they get a new fresh Jesus every day).

While wandering around the cathedral, my eye was drawn (as if by guided by the secular equivalent of a divine hand) to the large array of vending machines scattered at key points throughout the building. At first I thought they were automated purveyors of miraculous medals, the not-quite-sanctioned magical tokens of faith that some folks wear to grant them special intercession by the Virgin Mary, and like holy wells and moving statues are for me a sign that the practice of Catholicism is not now, and never has been, that far away from witchdoctors and shamen if the actions of its most adherent faithful are anything to go by.

I was, however, mistaken, for these machines had no mystical offering, rather they supplied a non-miraculous souvenir medallion of your trip to the Cathedral, available in one of four unique coin-shaped forms, emblazoned with images of the Basilica or of the Son of God himself, a simple keepsake to remind one of this special occasion, yours for the bargain price of a single €2 coin (or equivalent in a combination of lesser denominations). The machines were quite simple, one simply put in the money at the top, which was then exchanged for a souvenir coin that you retrieved from a slot at the bottom.

Your coins of one type were conveniently changed for a church-sanctioned coin of another type, within the permanent sight of the literal body of Jesus Christ in the form of the consecrated host (on display since 1885).

Now I'm not a religious man (I may have mentioned this before), but there's a part of me that wonders if Jesus would have been so hot on the idea of Church-sanctioned money-changing going on in front of him. If only there was a way we could ascertain his feelings on the matter.

Oh wait, there is. It's called the Bible.
12. Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written,‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” - Mathew 21:12-13 (NRSV)
See, this is basically my problem with folks who wear their Christianity on their sleeve, and then rub that sleeve in your face while trying to deny anyone who basically isn't the same as them what the rest of us would consider to be pretty basic human rights, like control over their own body or the ability to love whomever they want.

None of them seem to have actually ever read the Bible, or if they have, they didn't really understand some of the basics.

If they can't get simple things like "no money-changing in the Temple" right, why on Earth should I listen to them about marriage or reproductive rights?

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