Nature photography, political rants, and Martyman laughs from the ten-time award-winning author of "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet," "Endangered Edens," and the "Time Is Irreverent" series.

The Catholic religion perplexes me

Marty’s photo of the day #2754: The Catholic religion perplexes me. In high school, one of my girlfriends was Catholic, and her favorite song was “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel (though she wasn’t any more inspired by Joel’s lyrics than Virginia was). Additionally, I’ve had many Catholic friends over the years, and some of my most enjoyable speaking engagements have been at Catholic colleges. I even, for the most part, like Pope Francis. Conversely, history is filled with unethical popes, including Pope Pius XII, who is often called “Hitler’s Pope” for his failure to oppose the Nazis in World War II. And can anyone ever look at a Catholic priest again without wondering if he’s one of the countless thousands of child molester priests?

So with this being Christmas week, I thought I’d dedicate it to Catholic-related photos I shot in both Italy and Spain. This is what I wrote about the subject in my first book, Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents:

“Roman Catholicism became Spain’s established religion in the sixth century, and it remained that way (except for a brief period) until 1978, when the country’s new constitution declared an end to state religion. The Catholic Church’s long history of wealth and power was on display wherever I looked. Whether it was a store selling silver scepters, golden chalices, and precious metal accessories for the well-dressed priest or the extreme opulence in the cathedrals, all the gold and silver I’d seen in my life up to that point would be a mere speck compared to what I saw in a single afternoon in Madrid. . . . . Many of the churches had massive pillars, soaring arches, beautiful gold-framed antique paintings, colorful stained-glass domes inlaid with gold, huge gold and silver pipe organs, and elaborate stations where you could drop in coins to light electric candles. Even the doors, most with intricate three-dimensional artwork, were remarkable sights. Imagine the good the churches could of done if they had invested their money into helping the poor instead of decorating their buildings.”

And that’s what I’m going to demonstrate with my photos this week. How can a religion based on a book whose main character, Jesus, railed against the rich, turn around and waste so much money on vast displays of wealth? Sure, as a visitor to Italy and Spain, I enjoyed the opulent sights, but how hypocritical for the Catholic Church to preach “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” while doing the exact opposite themselves.

Today’s photo features the giant statue of San Carlo Borromeo (Saint Charles), which was erected between 1614 and 1697, and is located in the village of San Carlo, overlooking Lake Maggiore in Italy. Deb and I stayed in a wonderful little hotel practically right next to it. This statue was the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty, and it is the second largest statue in the world that you can climb inside. It stands 76 feet high, not including the base. A narrow ladder leads up to the head, where you can look out San Carlo’s eyes. Impressive—yes. But did we really want to spend $15.00 to squeeze through a Catholic priest’s ass to the top? We passed.

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