At dinner the other night my sister read aloud this piece about a remarkable intersection of entrepreneurial creativity and gullibility (or piety?). Recognizing that there are thousands of people in this country who genuinely believe that they will be Raptured up to heaven this Saturday, May 21, who also have pets who will not be getting raptures, an inventive atheist saw an opportunity. He set up a service to adopt the pets-left-behind of the newly raptured. For payment in advance.
We all laughed excessively, and not a little because we knew that we would never do something so silly as agree to be raptured without our pets. Seriously, how gullible can you be?
I think I have an idea.
Didn’t I just travel Baltimore to look at relics & reliquaries, and don’t Catholics all over Europe risk life, limb and honor to go see Mary Magdalene’s tooth, and wash their scrofulous faces in St Winifred’s Holy Well, and pray to St Pantaleon’s foot to heal their bunions? Throughout the Middle Ages, and beyond, devout Christians, often extremely poor and desperate Christians who arguably had better things to do with their time, chose to risk their lives, their health, and their sanity in order to arrive at to some cathedral advertising the healing powers of their resident relics. And they paid real money to see or touch those relics.
They prayed to saints that never existed.
Today’s Lives of the Saints features St Venantius, whose cult is characterized as “fictitious history”. Which does not mean that the text refrains from describing his gruesome martyrdom (scourges, torches, asphyxiation, smashed teeth, thrown to lions, thrown from a cliff and decapitated.) Following the fictitious Venantius, we find St. Theodotus. His story,”with its reminiscences of a tale found in Herodotus, must be treated as a romance written by an author possessing rather more literary skill that we commonly find in such cases.” Which strikes me as a rather elegant way to say it is not true. This apocryphal tale tells us that Theodotus the innkeeper promised Fronto, the priest that if he, Fronto, built the church, he, Theodotus, would provide the relics. Later, after being appallingly tortured by the pagan powers, Theodotus was burned on a pyre. Fronto then plied the guards with liquor so that he could retrieve the body. He lay it across the back of his ass, set it free knowing it would go straight home. Fronto then built the church enshrining the innkeeper’s bones.
Of course, compared to the Rapture, all of the above is entirely plausible.