It’s been Christmas Tree-Tastic in New Zealand this week.
Picture the scene, it’s the middle ages. You’re itchy from lice and various skin maladies that won’t go away, no matter what the herbalist gives you. The muddy land you’re currently tilling doesn’t belong to you and you’re in the servitude of the local lord. He, it should be noted, spends his time hunting and drinking.
At the end of a long day you go home to a shack which you share with your family and pig. You have been a good person, you’ve always believed in the big man with the beard upstairs, no, not grandad in the eaves you fool, I mean God. You’re good, you believe in God, you’re going to heaven – the priest told you so.
So one night you take your own life.
The coming winter is hard, and many of your fellow villagers cotton on to your logic – why suffer on earth when you’ve got a ticket to heaven?
“Crap poppers!” Scream the people in authority. “Without people, we have no power!” The landlord is upset because he’s losing rent payers, tithe givers and food growers by the score. And the priest, well he’s getting it from both sides: On the one hand the lord of the manor is furious and threatening some kind of jumped up charge as punishment, drunk in charge of a vestry or something, and on the other hand the congregation is shrinking faster than man parts in frigid waters.
This is great for the funeral business in the short term but even medieval priests are smarter than Wall Street bankers, and shun short term gains in favour of a solid, long term, fleecing of the congregation. You always get the funeral in the end anyway.
Worse still, this idea could catch on, at least in the north of Europe, especially in the long dark winters (where, sadly, it’s never really gone out of fashion). This is a potent idea, there could be a contagion. Something must be done.
All eyes are on the church – it’s their ideas that created this problem, it’s up to them to sort it out. Besides, the lord has tried using violence to stem the blood letting, but that was counter productive. Some people even died of irony.
The priest writes to the bishop, who writes to the pope. The pope talks to god. God’s not in so the pope leaves a message. In the meantime the learned men of the Vatican ponder the options. These men are smart and have little to do with their time, and they come up with a solution in just a matter of decades, which is much better than they’re doing with the resolution of the father, the son and the holy spirit conundrum.
What if they make suicide a sin?
They go to the bible to find something that appears to support them. They get as far as the deadly sins. “Thou shall not kill” is a vague translation. Everyone knows it’s really “thou shall not murder”, which is much easier to legally define, making it much easier to define things not as murder, such as in the case of war or holy trial. But thou shall not kill right now has the perk of applying to anyone, even yourself.
It’s a good start, but the bible’s pretty big so they dig deeper. Turns out there isn’t much in there that even the church can spin to their advantage. Although, they figure that life is given by god, so perhaps the congregation’s sense of politeness can appealed to. After all, if somebody gives you something and you disrespect it, they have a right to be miffed, don’t they? They certainly wouldn’t let you in their house. Cunningly not discussed was how to proceed if the the thing “given” was the pox.
And so the pope told a lackie to write to all the bishops, who in turn wrote to all their priests, who in turn spoke to their congregations. And they told them this: We’ve closed the suicide ticket to heaven loophole, killing yourself is a sin, do it and you go the hell, for ever. Now give us a sheckel, be happy with your lot and get back to your fields.