Greetings, all. I’m back safely from Spain – actually, I was back yesterday, but pretty much went right to bed when I got home to sleep off the jet lag and recover from general sleep deprivation. (You see, we were in Barcelona on Saturday night, which was when the home team won an important soccer match. The people were very enthusiastic in their public displays of approval, resulting in neither my wife nor I getting much sleep the night before our flight…)
In any case, I’m feeling rested and refreshed and more than ready to take up the reins of Daylight Atheism again. Many thanks to my guest admins, Leah, Ritchie and SuperHappyJen, for writing posts and looking after the site while I was away. I’m still catching up on comments, but things were certainly lively in my absence!
I’ll have more to say about my trip soon, but for now, let me just say this: Spain is a beautiful, vital, romantic country with an almost ridiculously picturesque countryside, with vast fields of fiery red poppies and golden sunflowers, endless groves of olive and orange trees, mountaintop windmills, solar farms, and beaches and coasts overlooking the intense blue of the Mediterranean. It has spectacular art and architecture from every era from the Roman empire up to the modern day. And it has an abundance of the most morbid and gruesome religious iconography I’ve ever seen.
Despite its secular population and plummeting rates of church attendance, Spain bears the stamp of its long history as a Catholic theocracy. Churches and cathedrals dot every city, and most streets are named after Catholic kings, saints or religious figures. And all its churches, as well as most of its museums, contain endless depictions of Jesus being flagellated, Jesus being crucified, Jesus’ dead body being taken down from the cross, and so on, all of them executed in all the gory and graphic detail that the greatest painters and sculptors of the Renaissance could conceive. It’s not just Jesus who’s shown suffering these torments, either: Peter being crucified and John the Baptist having his head cut off are also popular subjects.
This fixation on suffering is part of a larger, morbid fascination with death and martyrdom that’s very much on display in the churches. One of the cathedrals we visited had the preserved, severed arm of a long-dead martyr on prominent display. The chapel where the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella are interred offers visitors the chance to descend into the crypt and see their lead-lined coffins. And in one cathedral we visited, the tour guide told us about the 600-year-old mummified body of a saint that’s brought up from the crypt once per year and laid on the altar, in an open casket, as part of a popular festival that draws families. (She related with great amusement how parents warn their disobedient children that the dead saint would rise from his coffin and grab them if they didn’t mend their ways.)
A couple of business items:
• The Rapture went off, or rather failed to go off, precisely on schedule. As predicted, Harold Camping has rejiggered his timetable to claim that May 21 was a “spiritual” event (where have we heard that before?) and that the rapture and global devastation he predicted are now delayed to October 21. (Predictably, there was no apology to the followers who quit their jobs or spent their savings to promote his message.) But it seems that he’s now hedging his bets: he says that they “don’t need to talk about it anymore”, and the new, redesigned website no longer has any mention of the date.
• As I mentioned earlier this month, Team Awesome is still competing with PZ Myers in our fundraiser for Camp Quest. We put a variety of forfeits on the line depending on who wins… and, well, PZ made a snide remark about his adversaries lacking “manly facial hair”, so I might have offered to grow some of my own in the event of our victory, just to make it clear who’s got the testosterone around here. Only now I see that the dirty scoundrel is throwing the match!
This sort of skulduggery cannot stand. I hereby order you all to contribute to PZ!