That Old-Time Religion: New Series To Kick Off on The Friendly Atheist. Your Help Needed.

The topics we feature on Friendly Atheist are usually plucked from the headlines. I wouldn’t want it any other way, but the expectation of newsiness does make it dicey, sometimes, to write about something noteworthy that happened decades or centuries ago.

For instance, I have a historically accurate account of a medieval nun who, in the throes of religious passion, believed that she felt Jesus’s foreskin on her tongue, and orgasmed as soon she swallowed said prepuce (which, in her dream, she did over and over again. I think the proper response to that is “I’ll have what she’s having“).

What do I do with a topic like that?

I have another great (true) yarn about a nineteenth-century Italian shoemaker who managed to crucify himself in honor of Jesus, and then suspended himself out a second-story window for the viewing pleasure of passers-by (try it sometime, it’s not as easy as you think!). Wouldn’t you like to hear more about that guy?

Or how about a closer look at the Skoptsy, Russian mystics who used to cut off their genitals and breasts in an effort to get closer to the divine? (No idea why that didn’t catch on, or why they didn’t seem to multiply very successfully.)

To make room on Friendly Atheist for weird and wonderful historical accounts like these, we’re starting a series dubbed “That Old-Time Religion.” New installments will appear frequently but with irregular intervals, always under this banner (to set them apart from our more “newsy” coverage):

Don’t get hung up on the somewhat morbid examples above. Topics will range from ‘mainstream’ religious practices of old, to the downright loopy and bizarre.

I can always use new historic fodder to write about, so if you’d like to send me an editorial tip, thanks in advance, and please e-mail me. The subjects I’ll probably like the most are sorta funny, or sorta horrifying, or both; and the very best ones will have some kind of connection to a current news story, although that’s really not a requirement.

I’ll be kicking off “That Old Time Religion” this weekend. Hope you enjoy!

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • allein

    Sounds interesting :)

  • Eliot Parulidae

    This is an awesome idea.

  • Miss_Beara

    Yay, i love learning new things. :)

  • closetatheist

    I like this idea.

    Also: goddammit you dumb twat nuns! Jesus wouldn’t have had a foreskin! Wait, was she thinking it was his de-tached foreskin?! In which case it would have been off the genitals of an 8 day old baby which makes the word “pedophile” come to mind…

    • Jim Jones
      • midnight rambler

        Okay, this is officially beyond hilarious, even for Catholic relics.

        During the late 17th century, Catholic scholar and theologian Leo Allatius (Allacci Leone ) published the treatise De Praeputio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Diatriba (“Discussion concerning the Prepuce of our Lord Jesus Christ”) in which he proposed that the Holy Foreskin had ascended into heaven at the same time as Jesus, and had become the recently observed rings of Saturn.

        In 1900, the Roman Catholic Church resolved the dilemma [of multiple purported foreskins] by ruling that anyone thenceforward writing or speaking of the Holy Prepuce would be excommunicated. In 1954, after much debate, the punishment was changed to the harsher degree of excommunication, vitandi (shunned); and the Second Vatican Council later removed the Day of the Holy Circumcision from the Latin church calendar, although Eastern Catholics and Traditional Roman Catholics still celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord on January 1.

        Most of the Holy Prepuces were lost or destroyed during the Reformation and the French Revolution.

        The Holy Prepuce of Calcata is worthy of special mention, as the reliquary containing the Holy Foreskin was paraded through the streets of this Italian village as recently as 1983 on the Feast of the Circumcision, which was formerly marked by the Roman Catholic Church around the world on January 1 each year. The practice ended, however, when thieves stole the jewel-encrusted case, contents and all. Following this theft, it is unclear whether any of the purported Holy Prepuces still exist.

        • Intelligent Donkey

          “the Holy Foreskin had ascended into heaven at the same time as Jesus, and had become the recently observed rings of Saturn.”

          So, what makes up the rings of Uranus? Holy Dingleberries?

          • Jim Jones

            There’s no ring around my anus. My collar? Sure.

    • randomfactor

      Better not think of HOW it came off the genitals of an 8-day-old baby, for the same reason.

      There are several churches which have claimed to have the Holy Prepuce, by the way.

  • JLP3

    This sounds fun!!!

  • Thalfon

    Are you sticking to European religions primarily? Seems like this would be an interesting opportunity to visit often ignored belief systems (Native American, Asian, African, etc.).

    • GubbaBumpkin

      How about some crossover? Like investigating rumors that the Buddha was canonised a Catholic saint.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Oh yes, let’s please DO get into the histories of the Saints! Many of them are “demoted” gods and goddesses.

  • Beth

    Nice!
    I listen to the “What you missed in History Class” podcast (infrequently) and they cover a few religious topics from time to time. I love this kind of thing.

  • bLaKouT

    perhaps you could do a write-up on the flagellists who were existant during The Plague.

    • Taneli Huuskonen

      If that’s a reference to the practice of whipping oneself for religious purposes, as the name seems to suggest, it didn’t stop in the Middle Ages. There are some rather disturbing Youtube films about Easter celebrations in the Philippines.

  • Anon

    Well, if you want funny stuff you should try reading “2500 Years of history unzipped” by Tony Perrottet, half of the crazy anecdotes in that book are related to religion: Impotence trials, specific punishments for unaproved sex positions, a monastery/brothel in Italy, sex temples of the ancient greeks, a list of the 10 most “scandalous” popes…Yep, it’s a good read.

    • Terry Firma

      Ordered it. Thanks!

  • usclat

    Love it! Hope it’s wildly successful and many of the stories go viral. Break a leg!

  • Mick

    I’ll bet you won’t find one interesting story that does not involve pain, suffering, or humiliation.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Sounds interesting and fun!

  • http://fractalheretic.blogspot.com/ Fractal Heretic

    If you go way back, it’s interesting to look at what the ancient Israelites believed. Polytheism, flat Earth, heaven literally up in the sky, etc.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I support this idea.

  • charles

    You can’t go far wrong with Origen of Alexandria http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origen#Asceticism_and_Castration Then there are the Anchorite nuns who had themselves walled up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchorite#Anchoritic_Life

    Outside Christianity then the festival of the Dies Sanguinis if the votaries of Cybele and Atis when “… the devotees whipped themselves to sprinkle the altars and effigy of Attis with their own blood; some performed the self-castrations of the Galli” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybele#.27Holy_week.27_in_March

    • Michael

      I brings tears of joy to my eyes………. as I read how the ‘super’ faithful mutlate themselves…..

  • ByTor

    This reeks of fantastic!

  • Carmelita Spats

    Mighty Aphrodite, this is way cool! LOL!!! I grew up in the Mexican Opus Dei and was indoctrinated from the time I was knee-high to a disturbing dogma. Humor was the only way to face old time religion. I wasn’t allowed to read comic books but was given plenty of hagiographies. Readers are dangerous: I found the pious hagiographies to be way better than DC comics and funnier than a wagon load of monkeys. I remember poring over the lives of Latin American saints and laughing until I was happier than a gopher in soft dirt. I also enjoyed the writings of the Spanish “mystics” because cloistered nuns like Santa Teresa de Avila, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, had the most beautiful erotic imagery in the Spanish language…The first time I visited convents in Spain, it all made sense. I look forward to this series!!!!

  • Mary Leinart

    I learned a lot of fun things when I was studying Mediaeval History at university (which in a lot of ways was “the history of the Catholic Church”). Stories of saints’ lives were almost invariably bizarre and wonderful. Try Simeon the Holy Fool on for size. In fact, you should be able to find some great inspiration for this series on the Ship of Fools Loose Canons page.

  • ecolt

    The nun with the foreskin reminded me of a paper I wrote in college in which I basically made the point that many saints, particularly medieval female saints, exhibited all the signs of major eating disorders … I studied a lot of weird stuff about medieval religion in college.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Wait a minute. (A) Assuming he existed at all, Jesus would have been a Jew, and as such, he would not have had a foreskin. (B) How would a medieval nun know what a foreskin–of whatever provenance–felt like on the tongue?


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