Diary of God, Day Six:
So tired today. Spent the whole day working on one thing, man. My plan is that he’s like an animal, only intelligent, like me. So because he’s not an animal, I figure he doesn’t need a mate. I mean, I don’t have one and I’m intelligent. Anyway, it went according to plan: I woke him up, told him that he was basically in charge whenever I’m not around, and called it a day.
Think I’ll take tomorrow off.
Stop me if you heard this one: so, a naive chick is tricked by some snake into eating something she probably shouldn’t have. Suddenly much less naive, she tricks her partner into seeing things her way. We’ve all heard it a million times, right? Except that in this case, the chick is Eve, the snake is better known as the Serpent in the Garden, and her partner, of course, is Adam.
It turns out that eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil tells you that it is evil to be naked, which is why when God (who is elsewhere described as both omniscient and omni-present) comes back, Adam hides from Him, so that God – who has seen him naked as often – if not more often – than any parent has ever seen their child, will not see him naked again.
God, in his infinite forgiveness, expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and sets an angel with a flaming sword to stop them from returning.
Anyway, it’s all holy and ineffable, so quit your snickering.
Hundreds of years before the dawn of history
Lived a strange race of people… the Druids
No one knows who they were or what they were doing
But their legacy remains
Hewn into the living rock… Of Stonehenge!
Stonehenge was constructed out of massive slabs of bluestone, by persons unknown using means unknown for reasons unknown, on a field on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, England.
Theories abound as to its purpose, although as the lyrics above suggest, it is generally believed to have been something druidic. Suggestions include it being a burial ground, a primitive observatory, or a place for human sacrifice. Less likely theories argue that it was constructed by Atlanteans or aliens.
So one day, God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, got pissed off at basically everyone. I mean everyone.
Except for this one guy, Noah. And Noah’s family and their families. And all but two of each different kind of animal. God told Noah that he was planning to flood the entire planet and drown, well, everyone. He further instructed Noah to build an ark of the dimensions 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits, to carry those whom God, in his infinite mercy, had deemed worthy of salvation.
Admittedly, no one’s quite sure exactly how big a cubit is – it’s based on the length of one’s forearm, but of course, no two forearms are exactly the same size either. What is fairly certain is that there’s no way that any such creation could be large enough to fit two of every animal, even allowing for excluding fish.
So God, in all his moodswingy glory, decided to wipe out the entire human race.
Except for this one guy, his wife, his three sons and his three daughters-in-law. So Noah gets told to engage in one of the world’s most unlikely acts of carpentry. He builds an Ark in which to place a breeding pair of every kind animal in the world – which, by the way, would totally not fit in the cubic volume of Ark, unless “cubit” is an ancient hebrew word for “mile” – and apparently successfully places them there.
And then God makes it rain for forty days and forty nights. Fortunately, the flooded Earth has a very low albedo, and all this water eventually evaporates into the vacuum of space, allowing the ludicrously small gene pool we are allegedly all descended from to not suffocate from the vast quantities of water vapour in the air. And there’s a rainbow.
And down the rainbow rode the Norse gods, and they looked at Noah for a while, told him “no way are you getting into Valhalla” and then rode back up the rainbow to Asgard.
The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah shows God’s mercy at its finest. After he threatens to destroy the cities, Lot, who resides in one of them, bargains with his god, finally convincing him to spare the cities if Lot can find five righteous men in them (apparently, righteous women aren’t good enough).
The bar is not set high: Lot himself is considered righteous, although he clearly suffers from the sin of pride (it takes a pretty big ego to bargain with god as an equal). However, he does have one virtue that god appreciates, that of shameless toadying. Indeed, Lot is so desperate to curry favour with god and his servants that he offers his virgin daughters to the baying mob to do with as they please if they will simply consent to leave god’s servants alone.
For this, god spares Lot and his daughters, allowing them to flee the city before he smites down upon it with great vengeance and furious anger – although Lot’s wife, whose only crime is to like watching explosions, is turned into a pillar of salt as a punishment – which is pretty harsh considering how few fans of action movies have ever been similarly afflicted.
One of the best known stories in the Bible, the Exodus or Exit from Egypt, is the escape of the Israelites from slavery under the Pharoahs. The particular Pharoah in question is not specified in the Bible (and speculation about who it is has been a scholarly pastime for centuries), but whoever it was, he was clearly cut from the same cloth as the most stubborn, stupid and self-destructive leaders of history.
It’s only after numerous plagues – which kill off a goodly portion of his subjects – that he agrees to let the Israelites go. And even then, he changes his mind once more, pursuing them with his army…
…only to be killed, along with his army, when Moses unparts the Red Sea and the Israelites make good their escape to the Sinai, where they spend the next four decades preparing to invade Canaan and begin the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has continued, intermittently, ever since.
No doubt you’re familiar with the story: during the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering in the Sinai desert between fleeing Egypt and entering Canaan, they encamped for some time at the foot of Mt Sinai.
At one point, God summoned Moses, his chosen prophet and the leader of the Israelites, to the top of the mountain, and here he gave him stone tablets upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments – one of the world’s earliest legal codes that is still known to us.
When Moses carried the tablets back down the mountain, he was sufficiently enraged by the conduct and reaction of his fellow Israelites that he broke them half. Fortunately, God had made a backup copy, and Moses was able to once more bring the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
Jewish tradition holds that both sets of tablets were stored inside the Ark of the Covenant, which implies that their current resting place is a non-descript government warehouse somewhere in the USA.
Moses’ right hand man and heir, Joshua was the leader who led the Israelites into Canaan after their 40 years of exile in the Sinai desert.
The major conflict recorded by the Bible in this period – which was, in all fairness, an invasion and conquest of Canaan by the Israelites – was the battle of Jericho. The Israelites under Joshua laid siege to this town (which is one of the oldest continually occupied human settlements in the world). The Israelites spent a week carrying the Ark of the Covenant around the city while holding horns in front of it – on the seventh day, they blew the horns, and the walls came down. Stripped of their greatest defence, the Canannites of Jericho well slaughtered and the town razed – only a turncoat who had assisted the Israelites (and her family) was left alive.
The best known of all of the Egyptian Pharaohs, largely due to the sensational circumstances of his tomb’s discovery in 1924. At the time he was placed in it, Tutankhamen is believed to have been about 18 years old, and to have been Pharaoh for about a decade. His age has led many to speculate that he may have been assassinated by his regents, who wished to keep power and legally would not be able to do so once the Boy King reached adulthood.
However, recent research points at a combination of diseases (chiefly malaria, which he seems to have suffered from several times in his short life) and congenital defects (most likely due to the inbreeding that was common in many pharaonic dynasties) as the actual cause of his death – although the political advantages remain the same regardless of the cause.
Samson is one of the great heroes of Judges era of the Isrealites. A judge and priest, he was also a mighty warrior, gifted by God with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man. (I don’t describe him this way by accident – Samson was explicitly one of the inspirations for Siegel and Shuster in creating Superman.) He had strength and skill at arms that made him a great hero to his people at a time when they were under constant attack from the Phillistines.
His great success came at a price, however. It’s fairly well-known that his power would desert him if he shaved or cut his hair. Less well-known is that he was also forbidden to drink alcohol. But maybe it was worth it to him. This is a man who once tore a lion apart with his bare hands. Who smote the Phillistines ‘hip and thigh’ – on one occasion, using ‘the jawbone of an ass’ as a weapon – and mowed through their armies like the Rambo of his day. Who, on one particularly slow day, tied flaming torches to the tails of no fewer than three hundred foxes, and drove the panicked animals through the farms of his enemies.
Understandably, he did not endear himself to the Phillistines, but they were unable to defeat him by force of arms. And so they resorted to guile.
Samson’s wife, Delilah, was approached by the Phillistines and bribed to cut his hair. Thus weakened, Samson was easy prey for his foes, and was captured, blinded and imprisoned in one of their temples where anyone could mock or hurt him without penalty. To the extent that his story has a happy ending, it is that many years later, God answered his prayers to restore his strength long enough for him to pull down the temple on top of himself and all his foemen inside it.
Chapter Seventeen of the First Book of Samuel describes Goliath thusly:
And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goli’ath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
And he had a helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass.
And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders.
And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him.
6 Cubits and a span is 2.97 metres (or 9 foot 9 inches, if you prefer). Fortunately for the Israelites, it turns out that this Schwarzenegger of the ancient world has a glass jaw, or rather, a glass forehead. (And a suspiciously convenient gap in his helmet of brass.)
David, our Israelite hero, is able to slay the Phillistine man-mountain with a single well-cast stone, that cracks open his mighty head and kills him stone dead. David goes on to become King of all Israel; Goliath doesn’t go on at all.
The ancient feast of the god Lupercus, Lupercalia was an annual three day festival that ran from February 13 – 15 each year. It was intended to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. It is the ancient predecessor of the Christian festival of St Valentine, which is now better known as the more secular Valentine’s Day.
According to Shakespeare, when Julius Caesar attended this particular one, he was offered the crown of a monarch three times and refused it on each of those times. Nonetheless, the reason why he was stabbed to death a month later was apparently his limitless ambition.
Known to Christians as the “Agony in the Garden”, Christ’s prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives are mentioned in John 18:1, Matthew 26:36-45 (the only account to name the garden) and Luke 22:39-46. Accompanied by three of the Apostles – Peter, John and James – Christ retired to the garden to pray that God would permit him to not go through with his sacrifice and Crucifixion the following day.
The agony here is, of course, spiritual and emotional rather than physical. That would follow very shortly, however: immediately upon leaving the garden, Christ encounters Judas, a meeting which will result in the deaths of both men before the following sunset.
Note: This date is based on the traditional date of the Crucifixion as April 3.
The Abbey at Lindisfarne Island in Northumbria was founded in 635 CE by St Aidan. In the years that followed, it produced one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and became the final resting place of St Cuthbert, who had been Abbot and later Bishop of Lindisfarne. It was a peaceful place of contemplation and worship.
All that changed on June 6, 793 CE. On that day, the Abbey was raided and destroyed by Viking raiders. It was the first major assault on the British Isles by Vikings, but many more would follow over the next few centuries, culminating in England’s invasion and takeover by the Viking-descended Normans in 1066. Some of the monks escaped with the body of St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript, but the abbey itself was destroyed and not rebuilt until after the Norman Conquest.
The actual beginnings of the Knights Templar (or to give their full title, “the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”) go back another ten years, to a French crusader and knight named Hugh de Payens. De Payens recruited eight other knights (all his relatives by marriage or blood). They took upon themselves the task of guarding all pilgrims in the Holy Land. (Yes. Nine of them. And their horses. To cover all of Outremer.)
In 1129, at the Council of Troyes, the Knights were officially recognised by the Catholic Church, largely thanks to the efforts and influence of Bernard of Clairvaux (later St Bernard), who was a hugely influential figure in the Church (and also the nephew of one of the nine original members). The meteoric rise of the Knights Templar began here, with Bernard promoting their Rule as the noble ideal to aspire to. Their ranks and coffers swelled, and then, so did the rumours. Less than two centuries after their founding, the Knights Templar would be denounced as heretics and disbanded.
The Siege of Acre was the first major military encounter of the Third Crusade. It began on August 28, 1189 and concluded with the surrender of the Moslem forces under Saladin on July 12, 1191. For their part, the Christian Crusaders had suffered great losses, exacerbated by the stubbornness of England’s King Richard I, upon whom overall command of the invading forces had devolved.
The death of Gerard de Ridefort, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, and one of the most militarily experienced commanders among the fractious ranks of the Crusaders, took a toll on both the unity and organisation of their forces. After his death, an inconclusive battle broke out on the 4th of October, killing thousands on both sides, but not advancing either cause particularly.
The Children’s Crusade is the name given to a variety of fictional and factual events which happened in 1212 that combine some or all of these elements: visions by a French or German boy; an intention to peacefully convert Muslims in the Holy Land to Christianity; bands of children marching from various other European nations to Italy; and finally, the children being sold into slavery and failing entirely in their admittedly unlikely and quixotic mission.
It has become a byword for tragedy, waste, naivete and religious stupidity, although of course, since it was never officially sanctioned by Rome, the Catholic Church denies all responsibility for it.
Christina Mirabilis was a Catholic saint and visionary. Born into a poor peasant family, she was orphaned by age 15. A few years later (sources disagree as to whether she was 21 or 22), she started to experience visions, which were accompanied by violent seizures.
Legend has it that after one such vision, she was believed dead, and astonished the town of St. Trond (where she lived) by suddenly standing up during her funeral, and beginning to recount her visions. She had seen Heaven, Hell and Purgatory and met God, who charged her with a mission to help free the souls atoning in Purgatory.
She lived in extreme privation for her entire life, strictly adhering to her vow of poverty to such an extent that she would seek out sufferings if she adjudged her current lot insufficient.
Despite all this, she lived to the age of 74. July 24, traditionally the day of her death, is now considered her feast day by the Catholic Church.
The Medieval Inquisition was a series of Inquisitions that slowly merged into a more or less continuous process of arrest and interrogation of suspected heretics. Like all good coppers, the Inquisitors often complained that they were hamstrung by the limitations under which they worked – i.e., that they needed more powers, more authority to use them, and so on. In the middle ages, what that basically meant was torture.
On May 15, Pope Innocent IV, who had been Pope for nine years and would continue in that capacity for another two, issued the now-infamous papal bull ad exstirpanda, which authorized, with some limits, the torture of suspected heretics for the purpose of eliciting confessions. The limitations were as follows:
- that the torture did not cause loss of life or limb
- that it was used only once
- that the Inquisitor deemed the evidence against the accused to be virtually certain
In practice, these limitations were meaningless – loss of life or limb could be deemed accidental, ‘only once’ was often interpreted to mean a series of tortures collectively defined as one, and Inquisitors were somewhat less objective than the bull appeared to assume. Subsequent Popes would expand the scope and powers of the various Inquisitions.
The most notorious of all members of the Holy Inquisition, Tomás de Torquemada’s fervour in punishing heretics and sinners – his fanaticism is one of the chief causes of the poor repute of the Inquisition – may well have been driven by a secret shame: although many of those he persecuted were Jews, he himself seems to have had Jewish ancestry.
Although at first his appointment as Grand Inquisitor – Spain’s first such – was a decision popular with nobles and peasants alike, over time, de Torquemada became so hated in Spain that he traveled everywhere with armed and mounted guards in order to protect him from the people he so often found it necessary to destroy in order to save.
Hernán Cortés was 34 years old when he led the Spanish Conquistador invasion of Mexico. The initial landing took place on the Yucatan Peninsula, in what was then Maya territory. Cortés’ force was only 500 strong, but they were armed with muskets and cannons, as compared to the arrows and spears used by their opponents.
Although initially peaceful, Cortés’ mission was one of conquest, and would eventually result in the destruction of the Aztec nation and its tributaries, and the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
An iconic event in the history (or more accurately, pre-history) of the United States, the passengers of the Mayflower were primarily of that group known to history as the Pilgrim Fathers. They were religious dissidents in England, known as Separatists. In 1620, they pooled their funds and purchased passage to the colonies of New England, where they intended to establish their own colony.
However, their departure was delayed by the necessity of moving around to avoid religious persecution in England, and it was not until mid-September of 1620 that they finally departed. 102 of them embarked, heading into the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic and an unknowable fate.
Accused of witchcraft and swiftly condemned and hanged for her supposed crimes, Bridget Bishop was the first person to be killed in the name of Christ during the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials.
She was a resident of Salem Town – not Salem Village, as the majority of the other accused were – and it is believed that she may have been confused with the similarly named Sarah Bishop, a tavern-keeper in Salem Village. She was accused of bewitching five other women who were residents of Salem town (and each of whom would go on to accuse others of similar crimes). In a statement made after her arrest, Bridget stated that she did not know her accusers. Unfortunately for Bridget, she made contradictory statements at her trial (some of which may have been facetious or ironic), and the humourless religious fanatics who tried her were quick to seize on this as evidence of her guilt.
She was approximately sixty years old at the time of her trial, and known to be an outspoken woman in a time that regarded that quality with suspicion at best. She was found guilty, and sentenced to death.
On June 10, 1692, she was hanged. By the time the hysteria died down, another 19 people would be executed with a similar lack of evidence (or indeed, of common sense), and four more would die in prison.
Nat Turner’s first vision was a striking one: the Spirit appeared to him and told him to take up Christ’s cross and suffer in his place, metaphorically. Turner interpreted this as a call to arms, and began laying plans for a rebellion (which would eventually bear fruit in August of 1831).
For the meantime, Turner continued to work in slavery, building his forces and biding his time, and growing ever stronger in his faith. How much he suffered we can only guess at, but based on the events of the slave rebellion he led, it must have been a great amount.
Nat Turner was a slave in the fields of Virginia. Unusually well-educated and literate for a slave, Turner’s intelligence was matched only by his religious fervour. In May 1828, he saw a vision in the heavens, confirming his intuition that he was destined for great things. In 1831, he witnessed an eclipse of the Sun, which to him appeared as the hand of an enormous black man reaching for and obscuring the solar disc.
He took this as an omen that the time of rebellion was at hand, and began planning in earnest. In August of that year, Nat Turner led a slave rebellion that would be the largest in American history, and which would contribute to the tensions that erupted into Civil War a generation later.
By William Henry Shelton (1840–1932) – Image was found on Encyclopedia Virginia. The print is in the Bettman Archive. The image has been printed on p. 321 of 1882’s A Popular History of the United States, and p. 154 of 1894’s History of the United States from the Earliest Discovery of America to the Present Day., Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
Nat Turner — Reef the Lost Cauze
Nat Tuner was a black slave in Virginia who believed he was divinely inspired to lead his people to freedom. The rebellion he led in 1831 is the single largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States of America, with a death toll of at least 160 people (100 of them black, including Turner himself, 60 of them white).
The rebellion was a bloody and vengeful affair on both sides, but in the end, Turner’s slaves – for the most part lacking horses and firearms – had little chance against the white establishment. Many of them were killed in the fighting, and the few surviving ringleaders were tried and hung – by people who believed they were divinely inspired to deny them their freedom.
Crowley began writing the Liber Al vel Legis – literally, “The Book of the Law” in 1904 and wrote one chapter for three days, finishing the book on the tenth. Crowley claimed that the book was dictated to him by an angelic entity named Aiwass.
For the rest of his life, Crowley insisted that Aiwass was a separate entity from himself, claiming that the spirit was his Holy Guardian Angel. Others have suggested that Aiwass was in fact a part of Crowley’s own mind, citing the stylistic similarities between this book and his other works.
Crowley published the book later in 1904, and the world was treated to his proclamation of the new Aeon of Horus. The book has never been out of print for more than a century now, which is surely evidence of some magickal power on Crowley’s part.
In 1916, with the hated English overlords distracted by the First World War, a group of Irish revolutionaries decided that the time was ripe to rise up, overthrow the Sassenach and declare an independent republic of Ireland. However, the Irish forces were massively outnumbered by their colonial rulers, and to add insult to injury, the English also had a massive technological superiority.
The uprising began on Monday, March 24 of 1916 in Dublin – the day after Easter. It would last for a grand total of six days before it was put down. Most of its leaders were captured, and thence imprisoned or executed for their parts in the revolt. However, as the first major uprising since 1798, it reinvigorated the Irish independence movement, and the next – and ultimately successful – Irish rebellion began only three years later.
John Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in Dayton, Ohio, because the god-fearing people of Dayton felt that evolution contradicted the sacret teachings of the Bible. The trial was a media circus (by 1925 standards, when they didn’t have a 24 hour news cycle) and ignited a national debate about evolution across America.
It would ultimately result in the conviction of John Scopes for one of the most ridiculous ‘crimes’ ever invented by superstitious idiots.
Unanimously passed by the Reichstag on the evening of September 15, 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were the first legal codification of Nazi anti-Semitism. There were two laws: the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, which prohibited marriages and extramarital intercourse between “Jews” and “Germans” and also the employment of “German” females under forty-five in Jewish households; and The Reich Citizenship Law, declared those not of German blood to be Staatsangehörige (state subjects) while those classified as “Aryans” were Reichsbürger (citizens of the Reich). In effect, this second law stripped Jews of German citizenship.
In addition, the laws contained a codification of who was considered to be Jewish, defined by how many grandparents one had who were Jewish or German. There were four statuses under the law, of which two were considered Jewish and two German. A later expansion of the law extended its provisions to Gypsies and Negroes. These laws remained in effect until the German surrender, nearly ten years later.
It was a serious business: there were pressing legal, moral, theological and political reasons why the King of England could not marry an American divorcee. But such was King Edward VII’s love for Wallis Simpson that he was prepared to ignore all those things. The heart wants what the heart wants.
But ignore them he could not: as King, he was head of the Church of England, which at that time forbade the marriage of divorced people. Moreover, many citizens of the nations of the British Empire – Britain not least among them – did not want a twice-divorced American as their Queen. The establishment in England tended to view Wallis Simpson as little more than a gold digger.
Edward remained stubborn, and on the 10th of December, 1936, he announced his abdication from the throne (although under law, it was not legally binding until Parliament ratified it). Edward’s brother became the next king, George VI, and Edward was created the Duke of Windsor, and upon their marriage, Wallis Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor.
One of the deadliest chemicals ever invented, Zyklon B is a derivative of Prussic acid. It was invented in 1922 by a small team of German chemists led by Nobel Prize winning chemist Fritz Haber, whose previous creations included mustard gas and other chemicals of warfare used in World War One.
In 1941, the gas was first deployed in three death camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek, and Sachsenhausen. Its first large scale use was one September 3, when 600 Russian POWs, 250 Polish POWs and 10 criminals were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some of the victims survived more than 24 hours of exposure to the gas – when this was discovered, additional quantities of it were pumped into the killing chambers. By the time the war ended, an estimated 1.2 million people were killed with Zyklon B, most of whom (960,000) were Jews.
Of all things, it was the entry of the United States into the war that prompted Hitler to move the Holocaust into high gear. Now that the Americans were in it, the usefulness of the remaining Jews as hostages was at an end, and Hitler saw no reason to delay the complete destruction of the Jewish race – all the ones he could get his hands on, at least – a moment longer.
This announcement was made to a group of fifty or so of the highest ranking Nazis, chiefly the politicians and bureaucrats who formed the Third Reich’s top echelon, whom Hitler had summoned to a meeting in the Reich Chancellory. Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann are all known to have attended the meeting. Moreover, documents related to this meeting – including Goebbels’ diaries – make it clear that the plan to exterminate the Jews was not carried out without Hitler’s knowledge or responsibility, but that he was an enthusiastic proponent and participant of it. The following year, 1942, would account for almost half the total Jewish deaths in the Holocaust all by itself.
“Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” was first published by L. Ron Hubbard in 1950. It is a canonical text of Scientology, often referred to as “Book One” of the Scientological holy books. One of the best-selling self-help books in American history, it is also one of the most widely reviled, as the Church of Scientology, like all churches, does not lack for enemies.
“Dianetics” itself is a mixture of biology and psychology, none of it more recent than 1949, and most of it soundly debunked – in some cases, even before the book was written. In particular, the book is frequently criticised for its lack of either qualifiers to its claims or evidence to support them.
No doubt all these critics are merely dupes of Xenu and his thetans.
Cardinal Montini of Milan has been considered by some as a potential papal candidate in 1958, but as a non-member of the College of Cardinals was not eligible for selection. Pope John XXIII was chosen instead, seen as something of a non-entity and a safe choice by those who voted for him. He turned out to be the greatest reformer the Papacy had seen in centuries, calling the epochal Vatican Council II that changed the dogma and practices of the Catholic Church more than any single event since the Council of Nicea 1600 years earlier.
John died in office, and Giovani Montini became Pope Paul VI, inheriting the still going on Vatican Council II, which he saw completed and its reforms implemented over the course of his 15 year reign. Paul’s particular focus was restoring relations with the Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe who had split from the Catholic Church centuries earlier, but he excluded no one in his reaching out to all Christians, other faiths and even atheists. He was also the first Pope to visit six continents.
Cassius Clay was already the Heavyweight Champion of the World – having defeated Sonny Liston a little less than 2 weeks earlier – when he announced his conversion to the Nation of Islam (more widely known as the Black Muslims). With that, of course, came the change of name: Muhammad meaning ‘one who is worthy of praise’ Ali ‘fourth rightly guided caliph’.
Clay’s conversion was, to say the least, controversial. Many journalists refused to use his new name at first, and given Clay’s history of courting publicity, the name change was widely seen as a stunt. However, Ali’s conversion was quite sincere – although in 1975 he changed faiths to Sunni Islam – and he retains the name even today.
Prudence Farrow (younger sister of Mia Farrow), came to study under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram Rishikesh for the same reason everyone else did in the late Sixties: seeking enlightenment via Transcendental Meditation. The members of the Beatles arrived there a few weeks later, and became fast friends with her – especially John.
Farrow was notoriously serious about her meditation practice, and routinely stayed in her room meditating long beyond the assigned times for classes and sessions – up to 23 hours a day, in fact. Lennon in particular made efforts to drag her out into the world, to remind her that the point of meditation was ecstatic union with the world, not separation from it. She would need to be reminded to attend meals at times.
Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, after years of non-violent struggle for civil rights. By 1967, he was moving on from that. While it remained an important part of his goals, he had also become a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and in 1967 established the Poor People’s Campaign – both of which reflected an approach to social justice that was increasingly based on class rather than race.
King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the balcony of his hotel. A single shot fired by James Earl Ray caused a remarkable amount of damage, and although King was raced to a nearby hospital by his friends, the doctors were unable to save him. His death led to riots in many American cities (other than Indianapolis, where Bobby Kennedy made one of the greatest speeches of his career, and found his plea for cooler heads heeded), and a national day of mourning was declared by the President.
Albino Luciani was the Patriarch of Venice, prior to his ascension to the throne of St Peter. He was much loved as a Pope, both for his humilty and his general joyousness.
His Papal name, John Paul, combined the name of his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI – and was subsequently the name of his successor – largely due to the fact that John Paul I died after only 34 days in office (which makes him the eleventh shortest lived Pope).
His theology was unusually liberal for a Pope, including discussing the possibility of ending the church’s opposition to contraception. For this reason, along with Luciani’s comparative youth (he was 65 when he died, young for a Pope), it is widely rumoured that he was assassinated (which would hardly be unprecedented for a Pope), but no conclusive evidence has ever emerged.
One of the briefest reigning popes, Pope John Paul I (his papal named honoured his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI) died at the age of 65, apparently of a heart attack. Inevitably, conspiracy theories regarding his death were widespread later that same day – institutions as powerful and secretive as the Vatican tend to breed them like flies.
Still, it is interesting that John Paul I was one of the most liberal Popes in many years (possibly even moreso than the current Pope Francis), and that his expressed positions on many issues dismayed the more conservative Catholics. His two immediate successors to the Papal throne were both very much hardline conservatives, who were quick to throw cold water on some of John Paul’s planned reforms. The former Cardinal Albino Luciani’s greatest legacy would be his papal name – his successor called himself John Paul II. (Disappointingly, no subsequent pope has named himself George Ringo.)
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a decisive turn against Western influences, and a new, theocratic constitution that effectively made Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini dictator for life as part of a return to Islamic values. Among these was the banning of almost all Western culture, including most modern music. (With the exception of some music by Queen – the late great Freddie Mercury was of Persian descent, after all.)
Khomeini is gone now, but the bans remain in place.
Oscar Romero was a passionate advocate of social justice and human rights. As the Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador), this made him one of the repressive government’s most highly placed and widely respected opponents. He repeatedly called for the soldiers who served on the Salvadorian “Death Squads” to lay down their arms and end their brutal repression of their fellow Christians.
In order to send a message in no uncertain terms, he was shot and killed while celebrating mass on Sunday, March 24, 1980. His funeral on the following Saturday was disrupted by further assaults. Although in the short term Romero’s opponents succeeded in silencing him, they made of him a martyr to the cause of all who would oppose them. Today, thirty years later, Oscar Romero is a candidate for sainthood in the faith he gave his life for.
Just in case there was any remaining doubt that he was a raving loony, Saparmurat Niyazov, President For Life of the Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan after it won its independence from the Soviet Union, decided to ban the wearing of beards or long hair by men. (It is unclear whether or not women were still permitted to grow beards, but probably not.) Among other things, he also banned gold teeth, lip-synching during concerts and the wearing of make up by television newscasters.
Despite Niyazov’s death two years later of a heart attack, human rights in Turkmenistan remain very poor, with the nation running second only to North Korea in freedom of the press.