The circus comes to town
There are still in remote communities today medicine men who after daubing strange symbols on their bodies in blood, donning feather headdresses and taking up their magic bones, will go into a trance and chant unintelligible messages to invisible gods. These performances can be carried out to heal the sick, to drive away demons, or to bring a dead body back to life as a zombie. They have been practiced with simple, unquestioning faith for hundreds, probably thousands, of years.
Also today, in modern ‘civilised’ cities, there are men (and women) who dress up in elaborately decorated robes and headwear to perform different, but similar mysterious rituals. They solemnly trace crosses in the air with their fingers, symbolically eat the flesh and drink the blood of a long dead man, and carry little wooden crosses with the image of this same dead man impaled on them. In addition to praying for the welfare of souls in the afterlife they will swing their incense pots and chant messages (in Latin if required) to a different, but equally magical god with every expectation of being taken seriously.
Should you ask one of the witch doctors from a shantytown shack in Haiti, from Lambeth Palace, or the Vatican, what arrangement he had with the god to persuade him to perform a miracle, or to take, or avoid a certain course of action, he would tell you not to question such things but to have faith. He would assure you that the invisible ones move in mysterious ways which only the initiated can understand.
One such event that must have been the biggest religious magic show for years took place on 1 May in Rome. Starting at the Circus Maximus, and being broadcast live on giant video screens across the city, the faithful from all over the world gathered to see a dead pope being ‘beatified’. And what a circus it must have been. According to Italian police, more than a million people turned up.
Hopefully they were easily pleased and didn’t expect a scientific explanation of what exactly was going on. Apparently a bottle of the dead pope’s blood was involved, but what Pope Benedict XVI had to do to his predecessor to ‘beatify’ him, and how the dead pope benefited is unclear.
Being beatified (as opposed to being beautified – he died in 2005 after all) is apparently a kind of promotion after death for anyone who has shown a heroic degree of holiness. According to Pope Benedict he “reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress”.
The Catholic Free Press reported how impressed one onlooker was. “Pope John Paul was a wonderful pope”, said Isabel Marin from Spain. “He was like us. My mom showed me a video where he was watching a clown and really laughing. And I saw another video where he moved his feet when the people were singing, following the beat.”
A pope who could laugh, keep time to the music and fend off those nasty Marxists all at once. Just what is needed in the modern world.