Monday, December 13, 2010

Robin Hood, Hamlet, and Five Severed Heads

Life isn't fair. At least, it sometimes feels like that.

The other fellow has better health, a niftier job, more money - or all three plus a vacation home.

It's 'just not fair.'

'Unfair,' Yes: Good Excuse, No

Sometimes there's more than envy and spite involved. Some folks live in places where bribing public officials is the only practical way to get things done - and generally most folks don't have enough money to buy justice.

That, in my opinion, really isn't fair.

But living in a place run by corrupt officials isn't an excuse for selling drugs and lobbing five human heads onto a dance floor. My opinion.

About that over-the-top decapitation display? It 'allegedly' happened in Mexico, in 2006. There's a religious angle, it's not what you may think, and I'll get back to that.

Where was I? Life isn't fair. Public servants on the take. Beheading for God and profit. Right.

I don't think cutting off somebody's head and tossing it around is very nice, but that's just my opinion.

More importantly, the Catholic Church doesn't approve of that sort of thing. I've discussed vigilantism, vengeance, and liberation theology before.

Names and Assumptions

In at least some American subcultures, if a person says "liberation theology," folks assume that it's a bad idea. In other American subcultures, folks assume it's a good idea - and that's another topic.

Among Americans who assume that "liberation theology" is wrong, I think quite a few would also think that Robin Hood had the right idea. He was British, after all - yet another topic.

Liberation Theology: Bad Idea, Not Just My Opinion

The notion that it's okay for poor people to kill rich people and take their property is an attractive one. Particularly for some folks who aren't rich: and for some who are, but apparently figure they're not going to get hit.

One flavor of 'rob the rich, give to the poor' that's popular these days is called liberation theology. As I said, the Holy See doesn't support it, and neither does the United States Council of Catholic Bishops:
And see:

Being Catholic

So: is this proof that the Catholic Church is a pack of greedy plutocratic capitalists, bent on tearing bread from the bleeding lips of the Masses?

Hardly.

We're not bleeding heart commie pinkos, either.

Well, actually, some of us are. And some are die-hard conservatives. Me? I'm Catholic. I've discussed this sort of thing before. (March 13, 2010, July 17, 2009, November 3, 2008)

Robin Hood: That was Then, This is Now

I like the various Robin Hood stories.

There may be a real person behind the stories - seven centuries or more ago - but the tales we have today are, in their details, essentially fiction. ("The Real Robin Hood," History.com)

Robin Hood, ca. 1955

My family and I are watching The Adventures of Robin Hood television series (1955-1960) on weekends: the one with Richard Greene in the title role. The stories and characters are engaging, quite family-friendly - at least by our standards - and, as I said, they're fiction.

This fifties imagining of Robin Hood centers on an almost scrupulously ethical leader. His men would, for the most part, have been pillars of the community: if England and Nottingham weren't being mismanaged by Prince John and the (unnamed, as far as I can tell) sheriff of Nottingham.

The real Robin Hood, assuming there was a historical person behind the stories, may or may not have been like Richard Greene's character.

Robin Hood, ca. 1195

Richard Greene's Robin Hood is set in the late 1100s, nearly a thousand years ago. That's when Richard the Lionheart lived, fought in the crusades, had a debatably-trustworthy brother named John, and was imprisoned for a time on the continent. Just like in many Robin Hood stories.

Sort of.

Maybe someone we know as Robin Hood held Sherwood forest for Richard while he was imprisoned. Or, not. As nearly as I can tell: we just don't know.

Feudal Europe wasn't Information Age North America

Although England still has a monarch, quite a lot changed in the eight centuries since Richard Lionheart's day.

Hamlet and Due Process: Old Style

One of the better-known stories - written centuries afterward - that's set more-or-less in Lionheart's era is Shakespeare's Hamlet. The famous play is fiction - but since it should be somewhat familiar to most folks who understand English, I think it's a good place to start discussing life and law in feudal Europe.

Again, Shakespeare's play about a young man who talked to a skull, killed his sweetheart's father, and finally died himself, is fiction.

The culture it was set in is quite real. Or, rather, was.

Chief Suspect? the Judge - Your Star Witness? a Ghost

My understanding is that, in that part of the world, eight or nine centuries back, Hamlet could - in principle - have brought formal charges against the alleged murderer of his father. With a ghost as his star witness.

That wasn't the (fictional) Danish prince's only problem. The alleged murderer was also the judge and chief executive in those parts. There was no way Hamlet would get a fair trial. (Yes, I'm oversimplifying things.)

Under the circumstances, according to the mores of the day, it was Hamlet's moral and legal obligation to avenge his father's murder. He'd been suspicious, and with good reason. His father, a healthy man, had conveniently dropped dead. His father's brother jumped into the throne and married Hamlet's mother: so fast that Hamlet made a crack about "the funeral baked meats" getting recycled as part of the wedding banquet.

Then Hamlet's father shows up. On his own admission, he's not from Heaven: "My hour is almost come, when I to sulphurous and tormenting flames must render up myself." (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5) Hamlet might or might not have believed his father under those circumstances - but he already had very strong suspicions.

Shakespeare's Hamlet was right, by the customs and laws of his time and place, in going after his father's murderer. He bungled the job - badly - and might have been in serious legal trouble if he'd survived.

Hamlet: World-Class Ditherer

But that's what kept the play from ending shortly after the title character was told: "The serpent that did sting thy father's life now wears his crown." I mean to say: Hamlet knew what his duty was, but dithered around - I've gotten off-topic again.

I've listed a few resources that discuss the 'good old days' of feudal Europe, under Background on the setting for many Robin Hood stories; and Hamlet:, below. I'd rather live in Information Age North America that feudal Europe. Particularly since they didn't have the Internet then. But the period wasn't nearly as bad - or good - as it's been portrayed. And it wasn't the "Dark Ages." That's yet again another topic.

Man's Laws and Making Sense

Nearly a thousand years ago, given the limitations of their society's legal and political systems, someone in Hamlet or Robin Hood's position might have been justified in declaring a feud against a murderous uncle - or dropping into Sherwood Forest and waging a guerrilla war against your feudal overlord's enemies.

Maybe. As far as the local culture's rules were concerned.

Even then, though: I doubt that someone could have justified selling cannabis in 'Jolly Olde England,' killing folks who muscled in on your territory - and claiming that you were doing it all to protect the common folk from ruffians who sold cannabis.

That's not as wildly impossible as it may seem. Richard Lionheart was involved in the third Crusade - which could have brought him and any other European with flexible ethics into contact with someone selling hashish. ("Psychoactive Plants: Opium Poppy, Marijuana, and Cocaine," lecture for BIO 305E Plants, Environment, and Human Affairs Spring 2005; School of Biological Sciences, College of Natural Science, The University of Texas at Austin; outline prepared mainly from "Plants and Society," Levetin and McMahon, (2003))

And that is positively the last off-topic digression in this post.

Maybe.

Unhappily, that 'selling drugs to protect people from drug dealers' isn't something I made up.

It was in the news a couple days ago:
"An alleged drug cartel boss killed in clashes with Mexican authorities was also a 'spiritual leader' who used religion to recruit criminals and strengthen his stronghold, according to a Mexican government report.

"Nazario Moreno Gonzalez dubbed himself the 'savior of the people' and crafted the violent La Familia Michoacana cartel's philosophy, outlined in a 'bible' provided to new recruits, a profile released Friday by the office of Mexico's president says...."

"...it [La Familia Michoacana] grabbed national attention in 2006, after reportedly hurling five decapitated heads of rival gang members onto a dance floor.

"Local media described a message found at the gruesome scene: 'La Familia does not kill for money, does not kill women, does not kill innocents. The only ones who die are those who must die. Everyone should know: this is divine justice.'..."

"...'The group may have initially formed as a vigilante group to counter local street crime and law enforcement corruption,' a statement released in 2009 by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said.

"The approach showed a 'strong religious background,' the DEA said.

" 'It purportedly originated to protect locals from the violence of drug cartels. Now, La Familia Michoacana uses drug proceeds to fuel their agenda that encompasses a Robin Hood-type mentality -- steal from the rich and give to the poor,' the statement said. 'They believe they are doing God's work, and pass out Bibles and money to the poor. La Familia Michoacana also gives money to schools and local officials.'..."
(CNN)
Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was an illegal immigrant, by the way.

I'm not going to rant about how all illegal immigrants are drug lords - for about the same reason that I didn't appreciate 'former alter boy' news coverage, not all that long ago.

Generalizations: Handle With Care

Besides, that crack about no generalization being worth anything - attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes and Mark Twain, for starters - has some truth to it.

'All Muslims/Jews/Catholics/whatever are Alike?'

The beheading thing? By someone who apparently insisted that he was doing God's work by having people decapitated?
Let's remember that Nazario Moreno Gonzalez claimed to be a Christian. When "bible" is lower case, it means "book." Capitalized, like in "...doing God's work, and pass out Bibles...," it means the Old and New Testaments: The Bible.

That no more "proves" that Christians behead people, than the antics of Al Qaeda and the House of Saud prove the same of Muslims. (see "Ali Hussain Sibat, Islamic Law, and Getting a Grip," Another War-on-Terror Blog (March 19, 2010))

Being part of a religious minority, I think it's in my best interest to encourage informed tolerance.

It's also the right thing to do. And that isn't quite another topic.

God's Laws and Making Sense

Something I've noticed is that one of the 10 Commandments isn't 'thou shalt expect life to be fair.' And that's not what Jesus said, when someone asked him what the greatest law was. (Matthew 22:36-40)

Not that God isn't fair.

Like so many other things, it comes down to semantics: in this case, what "fair" means.

If by "fair," one means that everybody has the same clothes and food and housing: Well, some countries have tried being "fair" like that. Today, North Korea is one of the more high-profile examples. I'm not favorably impressed.

Another sort of "fairness," one that I'm a tad more comfortable with, is a 'level playing field,' where folks are allowed to try - and either succeed or fail.

Taking the first definition of "fair" to cover the sort of things that God has charge of, we could expect everybody to look alike, and have the same abilities.

Looks like God isn't "fair." Not by that (gonzo, in my opinion) standard. Even "identical twins" - aren't. (Scientific American (April 3, 2008))

I've discussed the Catholic Church, unity, and diversity before. (August 26, 2010)

As for killing someone because you want that person's property? That idea's a non-starter. Giving it a fancy name, like "liberation theology," doesn't help. Not where the Catholic Church is concerned.

The Church even has rules about the sort of thing Hamlet did. Here's what St. Thomas Aquinas had to say on the subject, not long after Richard Lionheart's day:
"...By the Middle Ages, Christians widely accepted the civil power's right to put evildoers to death. Even so, the Church was quick to condition this right. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), for example, points out that only a public authority may judge and execute a serious offender where the society's defense is at stake, and where the offender's reform is not expected. St. Thomas leaves no room for private vigilantism...."
("The Gospel of Life and the Sentence of Death: Catholic Teaching on Capital Punishment" Rev. Augustine Judd, O.P., via USCCB)
There's more on capital punishment in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (2265-2267, for starters) If that quote and the references sound familiar: you may have been following this blog. I used them before: May 31, 2009.

As for me, I don't expect God to be "fair." Not in the sense of giving everybody the same abilities, and the same position in the world. That's just as well: since I'm a brilliant cripple who's on medication for depression and ADHD-inattentive, and who has lived his life near the low end of the American economic scale. If I expected God to be "fair," 'everybody-equal' style, I'd be a basket case by now. (November 30, 2010, September 27, 2010, September 19, 2010, February 4, 2010, February 3, 2009)

On the other hand, we're expected to be "fair" in the sense of being charitable - good grief! Another Topic!!

Related posts:
In the news:
Background on the Catholic Church and 'liberation theology:'
And see:
Background on the setting for many Robin Hood stories, and Hamlet:

Excerpt from the "spiritual leader" CNN article:
"An alleged drug cartel boss killed in clashes with Mexican authorities was also a "spiritual leader" who used religion to recruit criminals and strengthen his stronghold, according to a Mexican government report.

"Nazario Moreno Gonzalez dubbed himself the 'savior of the people' and crafted the violent La Familia Michoacana cartel's philosophy, outlined in a 'bible' provided to new recruits, a profile released Friday by the office of Mexico's president says.

" 'Moreno started as a migrant in California, continued trafficking marijuana on the border and became the leader of one of the most violent criminal organizations in the history of Mexico,' the report says...."

"...it grabbed national attention in 2006, after reportedly hurling five decapitated heads of rival gang members onto a dance floor.

"Local media described a message found at the gruesome scene: 'La Familia does not kill for money, does not kill women, does not kill innocents. The only ones who die are those who must die. Everyone should know: this is divine justice.'..."

"...Officials say Moreno played a key role in La Familia's philosophy -- frequently displayed on banners hung in public places -- which claims to protect the state's people.

" 'The group may have initially formed as a vigilante group to counter local street crime and law enforcement corruption,' a statement released in 2009 by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said.

"The approach showed a 'strong religious background,' the DEA said.

" 'It purportedly originated to protect locals from the violence of drug cartels. Now, La Familia Michoacana uses drug proceeds to fuel their agenda that encompasses a Robin Hood-type mentality -- steal from the rich and give to the poor,' the statement said. 'They believe they are doing God's work, and pass out Bibles and money to the poor. La Familia Michoacana also gives money to schools and local officials.'..."
(CNN)

4 comments:

John Wilson said...

Hey Brian, my name is John. I read a lot of blogs on religion and prayer and I've i feel like I've ended up here once before. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this prayer exchange website PrayerMarket.com I thought it was an interesting idea and would be curious to hear what you (or other christians) think about it

I'll check back here in the next day or two, thanks & God bless
John W.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

John Wilson,

Thanks for the heads-up on PrayerMarket.com. I've taken a quick look, and it's got a quite interactive home page.

It's - interesting, and possibly quite useful as a service. I won't be finding out, myself, partly because I don't have room for another activity, partly because I don't 'do' that sort of networking.

Everybody else, I know nothing about PrayerMarket.com, apart from the appearance of its home page, and what Mr. Wilson has written.

My security software displayed an alert when I opened the home page - not because of any problem with the page itself, but because the domain was registered very recently, 2010-11-15 (November 15, 2010). A little checking shows that PrayerMarket.com is registered through a hosting company.

Well, everybody has to start somewhere.

Brigid said...

Find the missing letter: "I don't think cutting of somebody's head"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Brigid,

Eh. Heh-heh.

Got it, fixed it, thanks!

Like it? Pin it, Plus it, - - -

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.