Page Six

"Don't Need a Weather Man to Know Which Way the Wind Blows"

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

Galileo’s Inspiration
March 6, 2007

There are on occasion wonderful moments of illumination that arrive as if borne on lightning.  They do so it seems, as guardians of inimitable truth - protectors against the distortion of ideas, thought and history.  Such guardians are the watchful guarantors of unpleasant histories: the Crusades, the Inquisition, ethnic cleansing, the Holocaust.  Guarantors are necessary because there are those who would pervert the truth of these events in ways that deny their very existence.  Perversion of this caliber far outstrips the momentary lusts of men - lust commands a positively lofty position by comparison to the perversion of history.  Especially history that demands vigilance against fascist, totalitarian evil.  


Today’s lesson teaches with welcome clarity the lengths to which the fearful will go to deny history.  The subject is Galileo.  The twisted history is a denial of his incarceration by the church - which functioned as religious authority, law enforcement and keeper of  sciences.  Galileo wrote at length in support of the Copernican model of the solar system - that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa.  This was an annoyance to the church patriarchs who wanted desperately for the earth to be the center of the universe.  When Galileo refused to recant his original work he was sent to the Inquisition and then sentenced to a long term in prison.  Not house arrest.  Not self-imposed exile.  The church sent Galileo to a highly fortified prison where he languished for years on meager rations.  They withheld medical treatment even as he aged, confiscated his property, savings and deprived him of his works.  The prison guards were trained in the notorious methods of Inquisition.  They forced Galileo to stand in rooms half his height to exacerbate pain.  They tormented his mind by sounding deep resonant horns inside his cell.  They beat him regularly and fed him reams of church propaganda daily.  When his wounds festered they would summon the surgeon who administered mind altering drugs.   Finally, due to public outcry and official embarrassment, the patriarchs agreed to let him out.  On the day he was released, Galileo fell to the ground, kissed the earth and muttered under his breath, “Still it turns.”  Truth unbroken;  the earth turned around the heliocentric sun then, as it does today. 

It is no less important to get this history correct than it is to keep the knowledge of the holocaust in present day thought.  It is only by revisiting the travesties of the past that we can avoid their repetition.  To his credit and against internal Vatican advice, Pope John Paul II, in 1992 finally lifted its edict of Inquisition and apologized (sort of) for its unlawful incarceration and mistreatment  of Galileo.  How could a famous astronomer, with ideas originated a full century earlier by Copernicus, one of the seminal thinkers of the modern era, threaten the foundation of the world's dominant church?  Can there be any reason for the church’s totalitarian behavior other than denial, fear, pride and selfishness?   Is it any wonder there is today widespread distrust of establishment religion?  And distrust of "historians" who deny the persecution ever happened?

What we must come to grips with is the irrefutable evidence of failures of institutions, governments, religions and authoritarians.  They, like individuals are far from flawless.  What should be learned by the Papal confession is that hiding from the truth only delays the most important changes in human evolution.  If we are to grow and evolve and enter the realm of enlightenment - we begin with our open, rigorous acknowledgement of transgression.  In today’s world we cannot afford to duck responsibilities for hundreds of years.  Avoidance, denial and stonewalling  are tactics whose time has expired.  The interconnected world reveals too much.  Today, confronted with errors, authorities must come clean, quickly openly and without hesitation.  Should they not, the appearance of denial will heighten the damage - not only is there failure, there is failure to admit failure.  Which results in the dreaded NS: “Nixon Syndrome.” 

Galileo, absurdly remained faithful to his church in spite of the criminal treatment he received.  Perhaps he knew that only in faith would his work survive and  help restore the original, good vision of the patriarchs.  As acknowledged by Pope John Paul II some three hundred fifty years later: "Galileo sensed in his scientific research the presence of the Creator who, stirring in the depths of his spirit, stimulated him, anticipating and assisting his intuitions."  Such is the mystery of divine inspiration.