This is for a series on my visits with my 16th century ancestor; this part will focus on Religion & Politics as topics; I plan that the next iterations will include Francois Beroalde de Verville on Science, Psychology, Korea and other topics. This will hopefully be a long going exercise. cThis is meant to be something anyone can do — I really invite people to have fun with things like this, and to use it as a tool to re-interpret their own lives.
The voice I take with F. B. d Verville is sometimes very reactionary and perhaps overly positive towards religion; however, it is joyously impious towards the modern Republic and even challenges the Sacred Cow of 9/11 (something I personally do not do), so it can be rough around the edges but this is also what, I think, makes the FBdV character fun. Enjoy.
The 16th century French renaissance novelist, poet & intellectual François Béroalde de Verville recently visited. To be honest, I am not sure that I am actually a direct descendant of him, and he, himself, wasn’t even sure either. But he merely shook his head left to right and said in an incredibly thick accent, “That is not the point here… Clearly, you bear the name ‘Verville,’ and whether there is such a direct bloodline is irrelevant. You are from the House Verville, yes?”
“Well, yes, of course… I mean, my father is, and so is his father, and I imagine it continues back,” I replied.
“Then isn’t that all that matters?” He explained to me that bloodlines are a tricky thing and that he doesn’t even really know much about his family, truly, but a name was just enough. He then looked around my modest apartment and admitted immediately that he didn’t know what many of the things are; he was amazed at the material development we have, and said that he already was aware of some basics of it, and could predict such development as inevitable from the advances in Natural Philosophies (or ‘Science’) , but he still remarked that he would imagine I must be a very rich & privileged man.
“What makes you say that?”
“You carry with you several books! You must own, what? Nearly two hundred books, just in one room? You have shelves full of them! I do not recognize some of the things here, obviously, as I do not leave the French renaissance very often, but I would imagine that books are still quite a luxury. Not to mention, you are presumably capable of reading these… Certainly you hold some sort of position here?”
“Well, I hope to one day become something of a scholar but I have no real special position at all. I just go to University and tutor English on the side… In fact, well over half of the people will go to University even if they do not necessarily finish, and nearly all people are able to read and can own books like this…”
“And so you live in some kind of paradise! You are telling me, all the people can read…? I mean, even the women here, can read? The farmer’s wife, she can read books? I know that the Priests teach even peasants to write their names and to be able to read some things, and it is common for young boys & girls that show particular promise to become Monks, Nuns or Priests and thereby leaders of their community, but the idea of the farmer’s wife reading a book… How far we’ve come!”
“Of course… And now only a relatively small percentage of Europeans or North Americans are even farmers…”
I had to explain to him at length the idea of North America as a completely settled location, from coast to coast; he wasn’t incredibly surprised that this happened but was particularly fixated on the idea of near universal literacy and the shift away from the agrarian community. He was incredibly excited about the United States, Canada & the whole of South America being Republics like Rome, and he nearly hit the ceiling when I told him that not only is France now a Republic but that the Royal family’s bloodline is basically irrelevant.
“This is a strange question but… Is it OK if I were to tell you that I reject the many teachings of the Catholic Church, and that I am a Huguenot?”
I told him it was OK and he nearly wept tears of joy after explaining that at the age of 17 his family had to flea to Geneva for their persecution of heresy and eventually he had to abjure his Calvinism and secretly practice it or live a life of exile with no opportunities. The idea of free practice of religion struck him as utterly revolutionary. He became very upset with the idea, though, of free religion to the extent that people openly questioned not just Catholicism but the very concept of religion. This led to a lengthy discussion where at the end of it he essentially revealed that he was comfortable with the idea of a Republic, and he was comfortable with the idea of living even with non-Christian peoples provided they didn’t have the right to enslave him and sell him to a Turkish man to be used as a sex toy which seemed like all too great a concern to him, but he found open atheism to be vaguely disturbing.
“Why is that? You never met an atheist?”
“Oh no, not exactly that. There were plenty of people around who would privately confess the idea that they doubted there was any God at all, but we all tacitly understood that openly opposing Christianity or saying this is somehow bad is blasphemy.”
“But what, exactly then, is blasphemy?”
He went on to explain that the concept of blasphemy is not unlike the concept of treason. What I got from it is that, basically, there are two authorities: God & King. And even if you do not believe that there is a God at all, that does not change the fact that one of the authorities in your community is the Church. Likewise, even if you do not regard the King as the rightful ruler of the Land or have major problems with all of his policies and think he is foolish, he is still your King. Plenty of people think that there might be no God, and plenty of people think that the King isn’t the best potential ruler, but as a matter of obligation and loyalty one cannot commit blasphemy or treason. It is simply an open act of total rebellion. And naturally, the King will protect the Church to some level because they have a mutual relationship; these laws of Blasphemy & Treason naturally extend one another.
Of course, there are overzealous clergy & tyrannical Kings from time to time, Francois noted, but this just comes with any government.
“And you cannot really criticize the Church so much… I mean, of course, we Calvinists did so, but we did so only from a theological background. Anyone who understands the mechanics of society can appreciate that, without the Church, everything would be a backwoods dung heap. I have heard it said that maybe there isn’t any God, and that nature is just merely a naturally self-continuing event, but the idea of advocating such a view in the face of the Church who taught me how to read, who civilized the barbarous peoples of Europe after the fall of Rome, and who gave basic right to live, right to rest; and women! Jesus, the women now are married only to one man ,and no longer can they be forced into positins where while they have a husband they can legally be ravished by their Master as well? ”
“Can you credit all of that to the Church, really?”
“More or less. Perhaps there is some natural tendency for things to get better over time, but you must remember – – we do have the corrupt Bishop, we do have the bad clergy, and I even protested that with my family and risked my life… But at the end of the day, more clergy took vows of poverty & chastity and worked for the common good.
“Even if there was no God, and you really believe that so strong, why would you advocate a useless idea? It disrespects a great civilizing force & authority, and the people who provide all our well being. Sure, I think there are issues with the Church being immune to criticism but it is not like they are any worst than the King! Tell the King you don’t believe in his right to rule and see where that gets you — no place better.
“Even in rebellion to the Church, we understood that there must always be maintained some Second Authority in addition to the Government. You know, Rome’s Religion & Government were a singular, united authority. Religion is always an authority — either it is incorporated into the State, or it is a Stand Alone authority, often cooperative with the State.”
“We don’t view the Church as being one of the Authorities in the community so much anymore…”
“OK, well, then who is doing the charity work? Who is the person that takes care of the orphans? Who gives healing and bread to paupers? Who teaches the peasant children to read and do simple maths, who teaches them morals?”
“The Republic? Oh, that is nonsensical… Government exists to rule the people and maintain law and order. If the government were to be any bigger, wouldn’t it be so difficult?”
“In all honesty, the education system is pretty good, and in much of Europe they successfully operate health care.” Francois looked a little intrigued by that and thought silently on it for a period.
“Perhaps the health care thing is good if the Church truly doesn’t provide as much, I guess. But as for education, isn’t this a total conflict of interest — you have the Government teaching the Children, and then the children grow up to vote for the government! How do you rectify that? Don’t the children just grow up to vote for whatever the King, err, Consul wants?
“What if the Consuls give education to the people to convince them that they are Good, and that in the future, they should only vote for men with their moral perspective and credential. Couldn’t they create some monopoly and just manipulate the people? I really think that if the Republic controlled the education, they would find a way to manipulate people to sustain themselves and we might end up with the Plutocracy or Oligarchy… You know, Plato wrote about this issue of democratic societies always devolving…”
Naturally, this was an extremely lengthy discussion. I explained the modern situation to him and he felt dissatisfied… When I explained about campaign donations, and I talked about the nature of various 20th and 21st century Presidents and the leadership of the state, he laughed aloud…
“Oh, OK, so you aren’t really a Republic…”
“You don’t think so?”
“Of course not! You live in an Oligarchical society that is run by the merchant class. This really isn’t much better than the Monarchy I lived under — sure, it is more stable to sort of do whatever you want, but that is entirely irrelevant to the government. It is an empty value that instead of increasing benefit to the citizens only makes the elites that rule over you more repugnant and lawless…
“Sure, our monarchy was a troubled situation but there was a certain decorum that everyone from the peasant to the King had to meet. And if anyone violated it too much, the Second Authority, the Church, could come and even make a Noble man or woman humbled. There was something civilized and polite about the whole matter, though it is of course far from the ideal. What you describe… it just sounds like an Oligarchy. I mean, what are these rich Ladies & Gentlemen doing parading their sexuality & children around in the public like something we should all be jealous of? Why do these rich people constantly build monuments to themselves through award ceremonies and Public Announcements of their deeds? And then when it is time for the election, all of these Rich Merchants put on public Moral Dramatics & Theatrics to influence the people, and they promise them these benefits…. Basically, modern day Bread & Circuses?
“What about this strikes you as a Republic, Jacob? I mean, correct me if I am wrong, but this doesn’t really sound like some ideal, democratic community where a highly dignified and obligated government is made up of and upheld by the conscientious & loyal citizens, whose every action is meant to be motivated by Truth, Idealism; Philosophy; Virtue. It sounds like your Republic is just rich people carefully balancing their maximum material gain with promises of bread & circuses.
“You even sound like Carthage — Great Dog of Egypt, you send your military to fight the Mohammedans in Arabia al-Iraq & the Hindu Kush (or, you say, Afghani-Land or some such) , and clearly it seems it was just for that ‘oil’ and money… .
“You can’t be serious that you thought, for a moment, that some Mohammedan Army was going to take over your country? You also can’t be serious that you think the Mohammedans that killed some of your Merchants & Military Officers weren’t just doing that because they were sick of your involvement in their lands..?
“I mean, if you had foreign merchants come to your country, set up an Oligarchy to rule over you, and give those Oligarchs the money through trade, and outright give them weapons and an Army… Wouldn’t you also be angry? Did you really expect that they wouldn’t have rebellions? I hate to be callous, but isn’t 9/11 just a sort of rebellion like this, but with the modern technology?”
“… But I thought we were giving them a democratic society, and the opportunity to become a good Republic…”
“That is your biggest error, Jacob. A Republic can only exist if the Merchants & the Generals do not seize the power. You set up a scenario where the only people that could get into power were the Merchants & the Generals. And then you are so surprised that the Arabs of the Iraq, and the Arabs of the Syria, that they seek refuge in a Tyrant! But that is exctactly what Syracuse did under Agathocles. The common man all rallied around the Tyrant Agathocles so that he could protect them from the Merchants & Nobles…
“Don’t they teach you about Democracy & the Republic at all?… I hate to be comical for a minute, but wouldn’t it really be apt if you called this ‘United States of America’ the ‘United States of Carhago Nova?! Or ‘New Cartagena?!’ Isn’t that a delightful observation comique?”
It was vaguely delightful but I honestly was feeling depressed at this point.
“But do not be sad, Jacob. You have religious freedom, and that is pretty amazing. You have so many books , and that is wonderful. These are all good things. I am just very concerned for you — and I think you illustrated my point about Government in general… The government runs the education system, and they taught you that you live in a Republic when, in reality, as a man who never dreamed he would experience a Republic, even I know this is no Republic.”
The conversation kept going and he continued to ask more and more about our state of political affairs. Francois smiled at me, and spoke: “You all seem concerned with the evils of the Monarchs and of the Church and the potential cruelty of laws about Blasphemy and of Treason, but you just changed around some of the dynamics.
“Now, it is blasphemy to not believe in the State; I can tell by your red face I have committed some great blasphemy by suggesting you are no Republic at all. And I can tell that, while this may not be illegal, it doesn’t have to be. A person can just be ostracized — ostracizing is a more powerful tactic than any! For it suggests that the people are so loyal to this Oligarchy that gives them their bread & circuses that it isn’t even dangerous to criticize the system…
“In some real sense, they have more power over you than our governments & church had over us; we were easily corruptible and measures had to always be taken. But, in your case, I guess we cannot corrupt that which is already corrupt, and the victory of the Oligarchy is a complete & total moral victory over the citizen, to the point where the ‘citizen’ does not even have the power to unite with one another, so distracted they are with bread & circuses, so fractured and self-obsessed, so disrespectful of any amount of authority, just as Plato implied as a criticism of the democratic state…
“You know, I thought that the Church played a secondary only moral authority role in your society, and that the Church’s moral authority was outside of the State, but it has become more apparent that you are just as the Romans or Carthaginians in the sense of religion, too.”
“How so, Francois?”
“You have a united Religion & Government as a singular authority.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the government tells you exactly what you should believe & have faith in, just like a religion. They give you a certain philosophical & moral line in your education, and they use this to club you over the head. Sure, we had the religion fed to us out of the palm of the hand of the Priests… But I am not sure that this was as bad as what you have. You do not even get the beneficial certainty of a Heaven that the medieval peasant got — rather, you get longwinded indoctrination into loyalty to an Oligarch. So really, is that anymore dubious than us?”
It was here that the conversation rather began to piddle out and Francois yawned and said he would be off to bed. However, he promised to talk a bit more about his observations in the near future. Politics & religion, indeed, did fascinate him in this brave new world, but he was interested to analyze science and other topics before returning to it.
“Of this ‘future Republic’ I have heard enough for now.”
(Open to criticisms; keep in mind this is how I imagine a 16th century Huguenot with some education in the classics + other things would perceive the modern world.)