Monday, September 2, 2013

Santa Muerte

Apart from the devastating floods that have taken a number of lives, two articles of interest on the news, both about Pakistan. Firstly “it’s a dog’s life,” or death as the case may be. Dogs are considered by Muslims to be unclean, they could never be thought of as useful workers (sheep, police, sniffer, rescue, etcetera) or wonderful household pets and companions, and, sooner or later are likely to come to a horrible end, beaten to death with staves. The pictures are gut-wrenching.  The fear and pain these animals must go through does not bear thinking about. Mind you there are those in the West who are just as guilty of animal cruelty. Police in three American states have recently arrested a number of people and rescued three hundred and sixty-five dogs used for fighting and, if not fighting, treated abominably. The stories are not edifying as far as the human race is concerned. Cretans are not noted for their kindness to dogs but I think that all stems from the long Muslim occupation. It’s logical anyway and hopefully it is gradually changing with the younger generation. It’s the luck of the draw I suppose, both for humans and animals, where and when you are born.
The second Pakistan story though is truly amazing. If you were gay would Pakistan be the country you would most like to live in? I think not, and yet I read it is a gay paradise! What? Impossible! It’s a Muslim country. Amazement on my eyebrow sits. In any other Muslim country you would face either a term of imprisonment, or in some countries, certain death, but in Pakistan there is no need to remain in the closet. Come on out and join the party of which I am led to believe there are many and quite open.

Last year, police in northern Mexico arrested eight people in connection with the killing of two boys and a woman in ritual sacrifices which prosecutors said were linked to the cult of Santa Muerte.  A senior Vatican official has condemned the cult of Santa Muerte, or Holy Death, in Mexico as "blasphemous". A "degeneration of religion" Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, said. Whatever could he mean? Does he mean Christianity, the Roman lot in particular? Or does he mean all religion? Either way he is way off the mark. Religion degenerated a good many years ago. Religion is big business, nothing more. The Santa Muerte cult, which reveres death, has been growing rapidly in Mexico. It is represented by a cloaked female skeleton clutching a scythe. It is particularly popular in areas of Mexico that have suffered from extreme violence carried out by the country's drug cartels. The cult is believed to date back to colonial times. It merges indigenous beliefs with the tradition of venerating saints introduced by Christian missionaries after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. 'Anti-religious' Devotees pray to the saint at home-made altars and often offer votive candles, fruit and tequila in the hope Santa Muerte will grant their wishes. Cardinal Ravasi said the practice was "anti-religious". I see. Lighting candles in church (money in the box please) is okay, lighting candles at home is simply not on. "Religion celebrates life, but here you have death," he said.” Again I would argue with his reasoning, religion is all about death, the afterlife, God in his heaven, Satan in his hell, angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, Allah, paradise and 72 virgins, whatever. Religion is not about life except to make us all in this life believe whatever they want us to believe or suffer the supposed dreadful consequences after death. No, religion is definitely all about death. “It’s not religion just because it's dressed up like religion; it's a blasphemy against religion", the Cardinal said. So why are there ornate and splendid heavily decorated churches, reliquaries, chalices, crucifixes, and the Stations of the Cross, or the Via Dolorosa as it is called? Why are there statues and pictures and paintings of saints in churches? Why the candles and the incense? Why do the clergy dress up in special vestments, changed for various holy occasions? Why does the Pope wear such gorgeous clothes? Is this not dressing up religion? The cardinal also referred to the fact that the cult is particularly popular among members of Mexico's drug cartels and accused "criminals" of invoking it. Cardinal Ravasi said a country like Mexico, where more than 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed in drug-related violence over the past six years, had to send out a clear message to its young generation. "The mafia, drug trafficking and organized crime don't have a religious aspect and have nothing to do with religion, even if they use the image of Santa Muerte," he said. There are no reliable figures showing how many people worship Santa Muerte, but academics studying the subject say more and more Santa Muerte shrines have been popping up in Mexico and the US, where the cult is popular with Mexican immigrants. If the cult includes killing and ritual sacrifice I can sympathize with the good Cardinal’s woes otherwise is it any more or any less harmful than any other religious belief?

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