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Monday, November 10, 2008

A "Holy Brawl" : Thoughts on the Discourse of Sanctification

An essential part of a religious discursive formation is the discourse of sanctification or consecration -- the imputation or conferring of holiness on a person or thing.  Worship of relics, pilgrimages, beatification rites, veneration of saints, and the use of holy water are just a few of the myriad practices subsumed under this discourse.

There is politics in all these, of course, for rules govern each practice and power is wielded by those who make rules and wear titles.  There is a set of rules for how a statue is to be dressed or displayed, another for how a procession should be made while hoisting a religious article, another for how and when  catch-phrases and slogans are to be uttered, another for where people should be seated in a temple or church, another for how one must contort his/her body in meditation, etc.

Many religious people submit to these rules unquestioningly, believing the same to be heaven-wrought and  that digressing from or transgressing these will cause them to be hell-bound.   Consequently, their spiritual lives become compartmentalized and regimented.

The hegemonic religious discourse thus creates a herd that cannot or does not attempt to move beyond its fenced theological pasture.  It creates a herd that lives in the delusion that the tiny patch of land it moves in is all that matters to the Great Shepherd.


The religious discourse of sanctification even makes so-called "holy men" unholy as depicted in a recent news article titled,

"Monks Brawl at Christian Holy Site in Jerusalem"

written by Mattie Friedman of Associate Press.

As to the cause of this fracas, the report says:

The clash between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks broke out in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

The brawling began during a procession of Armenian clergymen commemorating the 4th-century discovery of the cross believed to have been used to crucify Jesus.

The Greeks objected to the march without one of their monks present, fearing that otherwise, the procession would subvert their own claim to the Edicule — the ancient structure built on what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus — and give the Armenians a claim to the site.

The Armenians refused, and when they tried to march the Greek Orthodox monks blocked their way, sparking the brawl.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police were forced to intervene after fighting was reported. They arrested two monks, one from each side, he said.

A bearded Armenian monk in a red-and-pink robe and a black-clad Greek Orthodox monk with a bloody gash on his forehead were both taken away in handcuffs after scuffling with dozens of riot police.

Six Christian sects divide control of the ancient church. They regularly fight over turf and influence, and Israeli police are occasionally forced to intervene.

These religious people sanctified certain sites and curios, packaged them with dogmas, and guarded these dogmas with "fists of fury," all the while calling upon the name of the Lord.

When the uproar ceases, however, all of them end up shaming the name of their Lord and once more showcasing to the world the political color of their supposedly spotless robes.


Catholics, Evangelicals, and the neither-Catholic-nor-Protestant sectarians (certain Churches of Christ, the Iglesia Ni Cristo,  Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, etc.) may be congratulating themselves while reading the news  report posted above, deeming themselves holier than the fighting Armenian and Greek Orthodox brothers.

But wait, there's more!

In many ways, all these churches also operate practically within the same religious discourse as those monks (minus, perhaps, the fistfight).  Consider:

1. Consecrated lands.  Some of them campaign for the protection of the "Holy Land" and the preservation of  Israel -- the so-called "People of God" -- even to the extent of influencing the imposition of and/or supporting a lopsided foreign policy.  Never mind that Palestinians have as much right as the Israelis for a political territory in that hotly contested corner of the Middle East. And never mind that Paul had spoken of a new "Israel of God" that encompasses people from every ethnic background (see Gal 6.16, for example).

2. Consecrated temples. Some  teach that marriage ceremonies conducted outside their "sanctuaries" do not have God's blessing.  Others cannot imagine worshiping outside their hallowed buildings and still be acceptable to God. Never mind that a marriage ceremony is primarily a civil contract, and that the Scriptures do not have such convoluted rules about this rite. And never mind Jesus' declaration that worship is not confined to any particular mountain or temple (John 4.21-24), or Paul's reminder to the Corinthian Christians as being the 'temple of the Spirit" (I Cor. 6.19) or the Athenian philosophers of God not dwelling "in temples made with  hands" (Acts 17.24)

3. Consecrated assembly areas. Some prohibit potlucks "in church." Never mind that one may pee, puke and crap in the toilet in the same church building; or that the Corinthians did have love feasts in their regular assemblies (I Cor 11.20-22).

4. Consecrated furniture. Some declare the pulpit and "The Lord's Table" as "no-woman's-land"  -- i.e., no women are allowed to preach, teach and pray from or behind these church fixtures. Never mind that  the early church had no sacred pulpit or  gilded "Lord's Table" to speak of, that women prayed and prophesied in the Corinthian church (I Cor 2.2-16; 14.1,ff.)

5. Consecrated people. Some think that baptisms not administered by their (preferably male) ministers/preachers/pastors/priests are not scripturally valid.  Also, some consider "Saints" as only those people declared so by the Pope.  Finally, some of them confer upon their leaders titles as kilometric as "The Most Reverend so and so, Bishop of this and that" or as short but equally honorific such as "Your Grace."  Never mind that the there is no Scriptural prescription on who should baptize, that all Christians are saints or "holy people" (see I Cor 1.2, for example), or that these devotees often address their Master  as "Jesus" with no ecclesiastical titles appended to the name.

No indeed, it does not matter whether some rules or rites are unnecessarily constricting, oppressing, and outrageous. What matters most to some is that status quo is maintained: money is kept flowing into the church coffers,  church members are psychologically fine-tuned or socially fattened, and power is perpetuated.

So some of us must look elsewhere for a more intellectually, spiritually and morally uplifting fellowship of   believers.

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