24 April, 2013

The Lying Game

Lately I've been thinking about hypocrisy, about the ability of presumably fine people to look us in the eye and lie to us. Okay, maybe they don’t look us in the eye, but they certainly lie to us. I know what Gregory House, M.D. would say.   ------>

A couple of years ago faculty colleague shared an exchange between her two sons, both young gradeschoolers. The elder of the two asked how they determine when Easter Sunday is each year. The younger one without missing a beat replied, “National Geographic decides.”

If you don’t smile at that, you heart is hardened beyond salvage. My silly response was, “What did you expect him to say? - that Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon which happens upon, or next after the 21st day of March; and if the full moon happens upon a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday after.” Of course, I had to Google a bit for that rule, but I knew that determining when Easter Sunday falls is complicated and requires a rule - one that had not been worth memorizing.

So … where is the hypocrisy, you ask. Well, first I have to offer you a history lesson. I promise it won’t leave any lasting scars.

In the third century BCE, Aristarchus of Samos argued that the earth moved around the sun. Although there is no extant copy of his book, he evidently placed the sun at the center of the universe in what is known as a heliocentric system. We were cool with that for about 400 hundred years until Ptolemy, an Egyptian born and living under Roman rule, argued that the earth was at the center and everything revolved around it. This came to be known as the Ptolemaic or geocentric system.

We were now into the Christian Era, and as the Church grew in power and influence it taught the geocentric system. It was consistent, after all, with The Bible's statement that the earth was fixed and cannot be moved. This belief became standard Church dogma for well over a thousand years.

Enter Copernicus. Toward the end of his life, Copernicus was completing a book that attempted to prove the heliocentric theory. He did so quite convincingly but delayed publication for fear of criticism from the Pope and the Church. His book did not appear until his death in 1543, but in 1616 the text was placed on the Church’s Index of Prohibited Books. While it was acceptable to present heliocentric discussions if they were just hypothetical math exercises, it was heretical to state as a fact that the earth moved.

Galileo, on the other hand, was not going to give in to the Church. He knew Aristarchus and Copernicus were correct. Although the Pope was a friend, Galileo had lots of enemies in the Vatican, and to make a long story shorter, he was tried by the Inquisition in 1633 and spent the last decade of his life under house arrest. At least he wasn’t burned at the stake as Giordano Bruno had been in 1600 – probably because the Pope was, indeed, a friend, and it rarely hurts to have friends in high places.

In the mid-1700s the Church did lift its ban on publishing books that dealt with heliocentrism. It took until 1992, however, for Pope John Paul II to apologize for the Church’s treatment of Galileo.

But Thom, where’s the hypocrisy? Where’s the lying? Well, the Church convicted Galileo for telling the masses where earth really was in the solar system. The Church, however, knew quite well that Galileo was correct. They just didn't want us to know that fact since heliocentrism contradicted what they had been teaching us forever - that Man was placed by God at the center of His creation, earth, and that everything else revolves around us in perfect circles.

The truth is that the Church had invested significantly in science and astronomy for centuries, beginning in the late middle ages. They needed to understand astronomy so they could design and construct some of those magnificent cathedrals in ways that would allow them to function almost as solar observatories. How else can one predict when Easter will fall than by knowing the date of the vernal equinox? You need at least a modest observatory and years of recording careful observations. (See Heilbron’s The Sun in the Church.)

How do you reconcile Church doctrine with Galileo's universe? You don’t. You can’t. Unless you’re willing to say I was wrong - so sorry - let us make restitution to the families of all those we tortured or killed. Nope. You continue to pretend to the masses that you have been right all along, and you threaten or punish anyone who dares to challenge you – even though you know what the facts really are.

Sounds like a working definition of hypocrisy to me. And why do I care? After all, three years ago the Church proposed erecting a statue of Galileo inside the Vatican walls. The Galileo travesty is over, and the Church has again fully embraced him. I care because our governmental officials and wanna-be officials are spending enormous sums of money to make sure that we don’t have a clear understanding of what is and is not happening or what has and has not happened.

In short, the hypocrites are lying to us. And if not, they come so close to the line of what constitutes lying that it takes major critical thinking skills to sort it out. Most of them just lie to us. Both the Reds and the Blues.

Have they no shame? Have they no decency?

It kind of makes you miss the Inquisition, doesn't it. It certainly makes you wish you were young and curious and looking forward to Easter.