The Pope Whipped Himself

Why is Pope John Paul II sounding more and more like Silas from The Da Vinci Code?

Citing individuals in the late pope’s entourage while he was a bishop in Poland and after he was elected pontiff in 1978, the book [Why He Is a Saint: the Real John Paul II by Monsignor Slawomir Oder] says that John Paul II inflicted pain on himself to feel closer to God.

“In his closet, among his vestments, there was hung on a clothes hanger a particular kind of belt which he used as a whip,” Oder writes.

When he was a bishop, he often slept on the bare floor so he could practise self-denial and asceticism, Oder writes.

Many saints of the Church, including St Francis of Assisi, St Catherine of Siena and St Ignatius of Loyola, practised flagellation and asceticism as part of their spiritual life.

“It is clear the aspect of penitence was present in the life of John Paul II,” Oder told a news conference today. “It should be seen as part of his profound relationship with the Lord.”

He inflicted pain on himself… and that makes him more pious and deserving of respect? Umm… Catholics, WTF?

How does this help him become a saint? (Not that the other requirements, like “evidence” of a “miracle,” make any more sense…)

It’s the same type of question I have for people who fast for days on end for religious reasons. Why harm yourself for God’s pleasure? I understand the importance of self-discipline, but there are better (smarter, healthier) ways to achieve that.

(via New Humanist)

  • http://www.loreleiarmstrong.com Lorelei

    Well, doing good for other people is hard. This he could do at his own convenience. If only they had a drive-thru!

  • Valdyr

    St Catherine of Siena…practised flagellation

    I know several people who would pay good money to watch…

    Oh, come on. I know I’m not the only one who gets some S&M vibes from Christianity.

  • Heidi

    Non-Pope people who practice self-mutilation are considered mentally ill, and get hospitalized or sent to therapy.

  • http://sunombreenvano.blogspot.com/ Diego, El Mapache

    Then all emos are saints.

  • littlejohn

    I’m glad he did it. Saved me the trouble.

  • MaleficVTwin

    Then all emos are saints.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

  • Richard Wade

    I think this comes from a primal instinct. Children who suffer demonstrably and look miserable get attention, sympathy and extra nurturing from their parents.

  • http://kyatheist.wordpress.com Patrick Greenwell

    I’m trademarking “Cutters for Christ” before anyone else gets to it. Also did anyone else read “asceticism” as “agnosticism” the first time through?

  • Richard Wade

    There’s an absurd myth popular in many cultures that suffering makes you noble or virtuous. No it doesn’t. It just makes you miserable. Deliberately causing yourself suffering in order to ingratiate yourself to an authority figure is certainly not a noble or virtuous act.

    Self-inflicted suffering doesn’t even make you more sensitive to the suffering of others, because your suffering does not include helplessness. You’re still in control, it’s still your choice.

  • JulietEcho

    @ Richard Wade: word. As a former self-cutter and anorexic, I can say that the idea of sane, healthy people purposely starving themselves and cutting themselves just makes me feel sick. There’s no deriving empathy from those experiences, and believe me – suffering doesn’t make you stronger or better. If you find a way to survive/overcome suffering, it can make you stronger, but deliberately self-harming doesn’t do anyone any good.

  • Revyloution

    Why do I get the image of John Paul II in a Devo music video?

    And who’s hats are weirder, the Pope’s, or Mark Mothersbaugh’s?

    Not that I’m against weird hats. Im firmly pro-hat. Men don’t wear enough good hats these days.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Is there something wrong with me for thinking this is really hot?

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    I really wanted to make an S&M related comment, but you bastards beat me to it.

    Maybe he was into the endorphin release? Like those people who hang themselves from hooks through their nipples? They talk about achieving some ‘higher plane’ or something – maybe the Pope could talk to dog, er God when he was high from the pain?

    I dunno – let’s talk more about the Superbowl and how I want to fill it with Cheetos.

  • Wendy

    This is pretty awesome. We shouldn’t complain… Science will continue to advance, but religion seems to be getting crazier and crazier. No wonder the number of US atheists/agnostics/non-religious people has pretty much doubled in the last several years. I say, let the craziness continue!!! Religion is totally screwing itself, and it’s hilarious.

  • Pseudonym

    Asceticism is as old as the hills, and is still practiced today under scientific supervision. (Think of athletes who abstain from strong food and sex right before the big competition, for example.)

    The comparison with S&M is pretty funny and pretty apt, so much so that I detect a slight note of hypocrisy. We all seem to have no problem with a bit of consensual whipping for sexual purposes if that’s your thing, but if it’s for religious purposes, then all of a sudden it’s crazy.

    What justification do we have for drawing the line there? From a purely rational point of view, there’s nothing about sexual kinks that make them inherently any more noble or moral than religion.

    I did think that the comparison with cutting was a bit of a stretch. I understand and respect JE’s point about it turning her stomach, but I could imagine a former/recovering alcoholic getting turned off by the idea of moderate alcohol consumption in a similar way.

  • muggle

    Really, really, fucked up.

    I’m rather hoping Wendy’s right. It is getting so out there who but the craziest wouldn’t want to run screaming from it?

    Run far, run fast.

  • http://neosnowqueen.wordpress.com/ neosnowqueen

    Pseudonym, I think the reason we have no problem with a bit of consensual whipping for sexual purposes but we do for a big of religious purposes is because the religious people don’t like it when we do it for sexual purposes and think evil is winning when we do it for mental illness purposes.

    It’s calling attention to their hypocrisy on the matter. ‘Oh, so it’s okay if you do it for Jesus?’

  • jemand

    psuedonym, the difference I see is that the people using SM fully admit they are doing it for it’s own sake and for their own enjoyment. The religious people say they *don’t* enjoy it and god’s supposed to give them a reward for it. That just is crazy– because they are doing something they don’t want to do because a nonexistent entity will give them a nonexistent reward.

    If they self-flagelatte purely for it’s own sexual/spiritual high and get enjoyment out of it, then I can’t see any problem with it. (except when they think it makes them better people or more in tune with the poor and suffering without choice etc)

  • http://smackshack.livejournal.com Marvin

    Is it too late for the obvious answer? JP2 was whipping himself in order to partake, in his own mind at least, in the suffering of Christ. (At least that would be the theologically correct answer, I think. Who knows what was actually running through his head?) That is, JP2 was trying to be close to god by participating in god’s self-sacrifice as best he could, by mortifying his own flesh. The immediate utility of the action is probably beside the point for him, and while he *might* have been deriving pleasure from the act in an S&M sort of way, I think it’s more likely that he genuinely suffered and genuinely thought the suffering was worth it if it might make him a better servant of Jesus.

    Of course he might have been a hypocrite; he might have just been going through the motions. But those answers aren’t interesting and they don’t answer the real question of why a person would do this sort of thing sincerely. Whether it works or not is a different question. Whether being a better servant of Jesus makes one a better servant or leader of people is also a different question.

    Personally, I think JP2 was probably just a guy who believed too much in a crazy motherfucking religion. Those beliefs led him to commit acts destructive of himself and others…but I suspect he sincerely thought he was attempting to do good, which just makes his behavior that much more scary.

  • http://fb donna

    Thank You all for your comments, I feel it senda a bad message to youth, I have helped teens stop cutting and this is just insane….

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    btw – am I the only one armed with a can of ReddiWhip right now?

    My first thought when I read the title was that good ‘ol JP2 had been getting all 9 1/2 Weeks with the altar boys……

  • Aj

    It’s not hypocrisy, we’ve been saying things done for religious purposes are crazy consistently for a long time. If he really was doing it for the reasons he said, then that does make it crazy. However, if he had a huge erection while doing it, that only makes him hypocritical, since pleasuring yourself is not crazy.

  • CybrgnX

    What do many people do when faced with something horrible, hateful, & evil? Burn them at the stake-torture them, kill, etc…happens all the time in religions anyway. Now you are the FAITHFUL follower and leader of a religion whose basic tenet is all are ‘born in sin’ and evil. Self beating is surprising??? really??? Or beating your kid for his evil nature. Surprising???
    They are all sick in the mind and soul (what ever that may be). The ones who do it – for doing it and the ones how don’t do it – for making believe it ain’t done!!!

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Well, everyone else beat me to it, but I’m going to chime in with a “Me, too”: My problem with the Pope whipping himself for religious reasons isn’t that he might have gotten pleasure from it, or even that he might have gotten an altered state of consciousness from it. My problem is that there is no God, and thus inflicting pain on one’s self to get closer to him is silly.

    If he enjoyed it, then he’s a hypocrite — especially given the Catholic Church’s sentiments on sexuality, self-pleasuring, etc. If he didn’t enjoy it, then it was stupid, pointless suffering.

  • Pseudonym

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think that the former Pope enjoyed himself sexually. Just wanted to put that out there.

    The response to my query has been many and varied, so I’ll try to respond to the major themes.

    neosnowqueen:

    Pseudonym, I think the reason we have no problem with a bit of consensual whipping for sexual purposes but we do for a big of religious purposes is because the religious people don’t like it when we do it for sexual purposes and think evil is winning when we do it for mental illness purposes.

    If our double standard is intentional irony, I think that’s a bit messed up but at least it’s consistent. If we really, truly, don’t have a problem with the Pope getting something out of whipping himself, but just have a problem when he denied that in others, then we should admit this and move on.

    jemand:

    The religious people say they *don’t* enjoy it and god’s supposed to give them a reward for it.

    Hang on, nobody has made the specific claim that the late Pope acted out of desire for a divine quid pro quo. The claim is that he did it “to feel closer to God”. That’s very different.

    Asceticism wouldn’t have survived for as long as it has if there wasn’t some advantage to it. I don’t believe for a moment that he believed he was “commanded” to or that his “reward” would be anything except getting his head to the place where he wanted it to be.

    Marvin:

    Of course he might have been a hypocrite; he might have just been going through the motions. But those answers aren’t interesting and they don’t answer the real question of why a person would do this sort of thing sincerely. Whether it works or not is a different question. Whether being a better servant of Jesus makes one a better servant or leader of people is also a different question.

    Nail, meet head. Thank you for this.

    Personally, I think JP2 was probably just a guy who believed too much in a crazy motherfucking religion. Those beliefs led him to commit acts destructive of himself and others… but I suspect he sincerely thought he was attempting to do good, which just makes his behavior that much more scary.

    I agree with you that the late Pope did do destructive things (I could name many of them) as well as a lot of great things, but nobody has yet convinced me that this was either.

    Greta:

    My problem with the Pope whipping himself for religious reasons isn’t that he might have gotten pleasure from it, or even that he might have gotten an altered state of consciousness from it. My problem is that there is no God, and thus inflicting pain on one’s self to get closer to him is silly.

    For some reason, I want to say that silliness is underrated, but I fear that would be too glib.

    Suppose that a hypothetical atheist (let’s call him “Karol Wojty?a”) whipped himself in order to psyche himself up before his mass meetings with members of a hypothetical Polish trade union movement which ended up playing a key role in the end of a hypothetical totalitarian regime in Eastern Europe. Would we all be okay with that?

    I’m not going to excuse the crap that the Roman Catholic Church has pulled. JP2 was certainly an improvement, and much better than the current guy. I don’t expect perfection from any human being, but he missed a lot of opportunities for major reform for bad reasons. I guess he did his best with the hand that life dealt him, but I can’t help feel a little disappointed.

    But having said that, it’s undeniable that the world is a better place by a huge margin because of some of the good things that he did. If there were no JP2, we might still have communism (or worse; possibly a Chinese-style capitalist totalitarianism) in Eastern Europe today. If what he did in private helped him do the good that he did in public, I can’t bring myself to deny him that.

  • Staceyjw

    So the Pope ended Communism? Really?

  • jemand

    another thing that comes to mind is if you are doing it for your own pleasure, there is a cut off point. You do SM for pleasure, and a particular routine starts to damage your body, and you will probably stop. That is a far different outcome than if you were doing it to “become closer to god” or “because god requires it” or “to get a reward” in which case you would probably continue until you permanently damaged yourself.

    (I am not going to hypothesizing on JP’s particular motivation, but I do know that all those reasons have been used for religiously motivated self-injury)

  • Pseudonym

    Staceyjw: No one person ended Communism in Eastern Europe. But there were a handful of figures all of whom played key roles. The previous Pope was one of them.

  • http://smackshack.livejournal.com Marvin

    Pseudonym said:

    I agree with you that the late Pope did do destructive things (I could name many of them) as well as a lot of great things, but nobody has yet convinced me that this was either.

    I only mean destructive in the sense that whipping oneself and sleeping on cold floors can be bad for one’s health. But then, lots of people do punishing or risky things in pursuit of purely recreational goals, so we shouldn’t begrudge JP2 his methods just because they appear extreme.

    On the other hand, if his methods are designed to reinforce his belief that he has the god-given right to dictate morality for the whole world, then I might take exception.

    …it’s undeniable that the world is a better place by a huge margin because of some of the good things that he did. If there were no JP2, we might still have communism (or worse; possibly a Chinese-style capitalist totalitarianism) in Eastern Europe today. If what he did in private helped him do the good that he did in public, I can’t bring myself to deny him that.

    I think my only problem with this perspective is that it seems to me that JP2, in fighting communism, wasn’t fighting for anything I actually want, certainly not for a liberal secular democracy. As far as I can tell he wanted to replace communist despotism with Catholic despotism and was willing to frame all secular liberalism as despotic when it suited his theology. I’m glad he helped bring down the Iron Curtain, but the alliance between the Vatican and liberalism seems to me to have been mostly a marriage of convenience, not principle.

    That doesn’t mean we should sneer at JP2′s asceticism or frame it to our political advantage (by insisting it must have been a kind of repressed S&M kink, for instance). You’re right about that. But not all ascetic events are the same. I have no problem with a guy who wants to meditate under an icy waterfall in his pursuit of enlightenment or a karate championship, say; but if you’re going to extreme lengths to make yourself a better servant of a god I abhor, I reserve the right to disapprove. The acts are similarly extreme, but qualitatively worlds apart.

  • Pseudonym

    Marvin, I understand what you’re saying.

    What I have a problem with is that some responders here seem to be objecting to an act which seems no worse to me than plenty of acts that the same people would not object to in different contexts.

    You are not objecting to the act, just to Roman Catholicism. I’m cool with that.

  • http://neosnowqueen.wordpress.com/ neosnowqueen

    Let me see if I can try and articulate this. I’m having a little trouble with it today.

    The reason why the Pope doing this bothers me versus a sadomasochist has more to do with the spirit in which the act is done. When a masochist is whipped, enjoyment is derived – I like to ask whether pain that is wanted is still pain. On the physical level, yes, but in its connotation in our language, it’s a legitimate question.

    People with mental illness – and I include myself in this group, so I regret to add that the subject of someone deliberately hurting themselves is personal – do it because hurting themselves works as a coping mechanism. Whether or not that coping mechanism is healthy or not healthy is still up for debate in my head, but it is generally accepted as an unhealthy way of coping. Nonetheless, it’s an effort to try and feel better, or to try and feel anything. Sometimes, it’s as a punishment, yes, I know this, but that one in particular is considered unhealthy.

    What the Pope was doing was in a long history of asceticism in religions, which I am sometimes on the fence about. Usually, what a person does is his own business. But it is the culture of suffering, suffering in order to feel bad, that I find objectionable. In part because it is the culture that I think has contributed to my own mental and physical self-abuse: the idea that suffering is noble because it brings you closer to God, puts you on par with Christ’s suffering on the cross … because what Jesus supposedly did was to undergoing the suffering that everyone supposedly deserves.

    I’m not sure whether it’s a double standard, pseudonym. I don’t tend to hold everyone to the same standard. Especially in the case of religion, I hold everyone to two standards, a general one, and their religion’s standard. And when a religion says that it has The Way, the only higher moral way, and that Christians are transformed into new creations when they’re saved, I will hold it to a higher standard – its own, as a standard to the world.

    Is this the standard that we want the world to see and follow? The exaltation of suffering, not to feel better but to feel worse?

  • http://neosnowqueen.wordpress.com/ neosnowqueen

    Looking back, I still didn’t articulate that well. I’ll try and think on it some more.

  • Pseudonym

    neosnowqueen, thanks for the clarification. I think I understand your position much better now.

    I will note that while the Pope probably whipped himself to feel bad, it was in a “no pain no gain” kind of way. And to be fair, JP2 did not, even when he was a bishop, expect this of others.

  • ihedenius

    The self flaggelating fat monk from “The Name of the Rose” rather unasked for comes to mind. Penitenze … penitenze …

  • Christophe Thill

    I find this story extremely dubious. JP2 was not known to be a masochist, but on the contrary as a man who loved the good things in life (well, perhaps not ALL of them, but…) and loved to joke. Moreover, inflicting pain to himself when he was ill makes no sense: he already add all the pain he could wish for. I’d be very careful concerning the reliability of the witnesses (“I’ve seen the belt he used”… hmm…). Let’s not forget that some people want JP2 to be canonized as quickly as possible. The function of this story is to make him appear more “saintly”, that’s all.

  • Ron in Houston

    Scientifically you can make a case for asceticism being linked to empathy.

    It is believed that there is some disconnect in the brains of sociopaths that doesn’t allow them to sense pain registered in the faces of others.

    I suppose to the extent that we’ve experienced suffering in our own lives, we tend to be more empathetic to others who suffer.

    However, JP2 still sounds like a bit out of a Monty Python movie. Pia Jesu Dominae, WACK.

  • Zarathustra

    Why is no one coming out here, and telling the truth??? The PooP was just a sick MO-F0, along with his sick religion!!!!!!!

  • Angie

    I don’t know if this account of the former pope’s asceticism is true, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Speaking as an ex-Catholic, I can say that Catholicism sends a very strong message to its followers that suffering equals piety and that God enjoys it when people suffer deliberately. Just look at the stories of the martyrs and the ascetic saints that are handed to Catholics as ideal accounts of piety!

    As several commenters have observed, there is a strong masochistic element in Catholicism. Asceticism, the Stations of the Cross, and gory accounts of martyr deaths definitely send the message that pain is good if endured for God, which I find extremely pathological.

    I’m so glad I’m not a Catholic anymore! Yech!

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I don’t understand why anyone would do this to themselves except for funsies or because they were bonkers. He wasn’t doing it for fun so…


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