‘The Burning of Notre-Dame’

Shadia B. Drury

(From the Diary of Joseph)

April 15, 2019: Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Cathedral in honor of my girl Mary, has been ravaged by fire. Early reports suggested that it would burn to the ground. There was a suspicion that Islamic terrorists were behind the devastation, but French police attributed the fire to an electrical short-circuit. Hundreds of fire fighters were dispatched to save the Cathedral. The world held its collective breath. Reporters declared it an icon of Western civilization, even “part of the cultural heritage of humanity.” In the end, the Cathedral was badly damaged but not annihilated. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, vowed to rebuild. Money came pouring in from countries and billionaires around the world. Whatever happened to militant French secularism—laïcité?

This global lament over the possible loss of the Cathedral evoked the memory of my darling Mary. I remember my astonishment, anguish, and dismay when she came to tell me that our engagement was off because she was with child. She knew as well as I did that it was not my child. I felt faint; I was speechless. There was a long and excruciating silence between us. When she finally spoke, she said, “It doesn’t matter how it happened.”

The first thought that came to my head was that she was raped. But then again, she might have had a dalliance with a shepherd that she fancied. There is a big difference between these two possibilities. But in the perverse society in which we lived, there was no difference. That’s what she meant by saying it doesn’t matter how it happened. In either case, she was ruined. She was a fallen woman; she would have to live with her shame for the rest of her life. No self-respecting man would marry her without being disgraced.

“So, what are you going to do?” I asked. She brightened up. Her eyes sparkled. She looked like her old self. She was not the meek, mild, or submissive type. She was impulsive, imaginative, and assertive. She said, “I will have the child. He will be the Son of God.”

I was totally mystified. “Isn’t every child the son of God?” I asked.

“No, no, no. This will be entirely different. I will tell the world how the Archangel Gabriel delivered the glad tidings to me personally. God will no longer be harsh, merciless, and menacing. He will repent for all his miserable and vindictive conduct toward humanity. He will be transformed from a God of wrath and vengeance to a God of love. As the Mother of God, I will make him approachable and lovable.”

Even though I was acquainted with her theological ideas, I was stunned that Mary was connecting them to her scandalous predicament. She was setting herself up for sacrilege. A simple girl, my girl, is proposing to give birth to God? She must be mad. The sexual scandal alone could get her stoned; now she is embroiled in a theological firestorm. I hoped she would come to her senses. But as her belly began to swell, she went around the village telling everyone about Gabriel. She must have realized as well as I did that her prospects were bleak; her life was in danger. I could face neither the horror that would consume her nor my life without her. I told her my plan to elope in the dark of night. She covered my face with kisses. She swore to be true to me for the rest of her days.

It was much later that I realized she had no intention of letting go of her heretical vision: she was determined to reinvent the austere god of Judaism. Jesus became my adopted son; then we had more children. But Jesus was unlike the others. Mary filled his head with theological claptrap. He grew to be arrogant and presumptuous. He dared to preach in the synagogue when he was still a boy. I did my duty as a father, but I never liked him. Naturally, I was blamed for not bringing him up properly.

Worst of all, Jesus betrayed his mother. He assumed the mantle of messiah. He claimed to be the only conduit to the divine. Instead of a god of love and justice, the religion of Jesus threatened unbelievers with the eternal torments of hellfire. Even though Mary was silenced in the New Testament, her vision did not perish. Artists and poets developed the cult of Mary as the mother of God.

In the fourth century, when the Church became powerful, it adopted the cult of Mary in the hope of crushing pagan goddess worship. After all, the monotheistic god has always been problematic. An austere, single god who creates everything out of nothing cannot rival a plethora of pagan gods and goddesses whose love and copulation make the crocuses bloom and the birds sing.

Throughout history, the cult of Mary has been resisted by a male-centered monotheism. From the Protestant Reformation to ChristianMilitant.com, the promotion of a muscular Christianity has not abated. The Church used the cult of Mary not to humanize God but to teach humility, docility, and obedience. The natives of Africa, Latin America, and the Philippines have been among the victims. Once the people become docile and compliant, they are easy prey for conquest.

Equally integral to this masculine monotheism is the prohibition of contraception and abortion. The effect is to turn women into beasts of burden, bearing children unto death. It is unconscionable to encourage people to go forth and multiply with no heed for the morrow. It is no wonder that the legacy of monotheism has been overpopulation, poverty, and pestilence.

The reaction to the burning Cathedral revealed to me that Mary’s vision of a repentant god, bending down toward the earth in quest of love and forgiveness is so alluring that even French secularists find it irresistible. Kudos to my girl! Notre-Dame. What a dame!

Shadia B. Drury

Shadia B. Drury is professor emerita at the University of Regina in Canada. Her most recent book is The Bleak Political Implications of Socratic Religion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).


(From the Diary of Joseph) April 15, 2019: Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Cathedral in honor of my girl Mary, has been ravaged by fire. Early reports suggested that it would burn to the ground. There was a suspicion that Islamic terrorists were behind the devastation, but French police attributed the fire to an electrical …

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