Episode 19 - Third Arm and Hammer (Religion Week)
Updated: Apr 19
Sam's Episode Notes: The Freedomites - Canada's, Russian, Christian, vegan, pacifist, nudist, terrorists. The freedomites were a group of Russian emigrees, essentially kicked out of the Russian empire in the late 1800s. They were an ultra-orthodox branch of a religious sect known as the Dukhobors, who are believed to have sprouted in Russia in around 1700 or slightly earlier. The Dukhobors are folk-Christian purists, who combined some more traditional Russian rural beliefs with a very unusual view of Christianity. Essentially, they rejected the orthodox church because they didn't believe that priests were an accurate representation of God and his beliefs. In fact, they didn't even believe the bible itself could do God justice. Instead, the only way they could follow the path of righteousness was to be walking, talking embodiments of the Christian spirit themselves, walking ambassadors of holiness. This manifested itself in some very strange purist beliefs as time went on – they were often naked, believing that skin was god's clothing and anything else was unnecessary They were also vegetarian, since vegetables were the purest and most original food. Most didn't even eat bread thinking it was over processed. They didn't believe in material property, instead sharing the absolute essentials among themselves and farming collectively – an early form of Tolstoyism or proto-marxism. By the late 1700s the Russian Government started to get worried – here were people who rejected the church and state as uneccesary, and were ardent pacifists, publishing anti-war pamphlets and propaganda. So a concerted campaign of persecution was begun. The church branded them heretics and started using the name Dukhobors, which means wrestlers of the holy spirit, which they took up themselves, changing the meaning to wrestlers for the holy spirit. The state began to exile them, first to Finland and then later to Georgia and the Ukranian plains. Then they began to try and forcibly conscript them, leading many to flee. By the 1840s there were around 20,000 Dukhobors, many of whom were starting to harden and refusing to register their births, marriages and deaths, refusing to pay taxes, refusing to swear loyalty to the Tsar and generally being annoying vegan communist nudie-hippies. Most of those who were forcibly conscripted ganged up one night and burnt their weapons whilst singing hymns. So in 1897 the Russian Government thought, fuck this. These vegan flower children are far too dangerous, and so they gave them the option to flee the empire to Canada, as long as they paid for their own travel and never returned to Russia. With help from the Quakers, around a third to a half fled, and set up camp in Canada, mostly around Saskatchewan. And in 1901, they received a book in the post, entitled “letters of the Dukhobor leader, Peter V Verigin”. Essentially it was a collection of essays from their exiled leader, still in Russia at the time, designed as moral musings and idealist fantasies to actually be shown to outsiders in order to help them better understand the Dukhobor way of life. And it had some pretty out there suggestions. School was to be banned because it didn't provide a useful education and instilled moral decay and subjugation. Any processed food was to be dropped and food was only to be eaten in small enough quantities to avoid starving. Labour was to be dropped so everyone could go out and preach. Naked, obviously. Jesus had only worn clothes because he had to. This really fired up the Dukhobors, who set off on a 3,000 person march across Saskatchewan in late 1902, which the police had to break up because the protestors were starting to freeze and starve to death, being underfed and underclothed for the Canadian winter. Eventually one of the co-authors of the book, another Peter, Peter Vasileyevich, arrived from Russia and restored order, making it clear the letters were only musings and shouldn't have been taken so seriously, you absolute fucking mentalists. But there were a tiny group, around 200 initially, who decided that this was bullshit. How could our supposed leader write this amazing thesis on how we should all be naked and eat carrots, and then come out here and tell us to put our clothes back on and send our kids to school? And so they split off into an ultra-orthodox sect called the Freedomites. Time went by and resentment started to grow in the Freedomite villages, as they saw the rest of the community start to lose their old ways. Most were sending their kids to school, some were even keeping animals and eating meat. Most had pants on. It was an insult. An insult Tom! Against the advice of community leaders and sociologists, in the 1920s the Canadian government began to fine the freedomites for not sending their kids to school. And so, in 1921, these Russian pacifist vegan nudists revolted, and began a campaign of terror. Pacifist terror. The best kind. They started with arson, burning down 11 schools in 1921 and 1922, though the perpetrators were never caught. Then, in 1924, Peter Vasilyevichs railway carriage was bombed, killing him. Then, in 1927, Peter Verigin, the great leader, arrived in Canada. He gave a speech in which he said, “you all think the freedomites are nutters, but you are wrong, they are the purest of them all”, which massively expanded the influence of the movement. Then, the great depression arrived. The Dukhobors were crippled by it – the work they did in agriculture and forestry dried up and they were unable to pay even the minimal rent on the land they'd been given by the Canadian Government, who proceeded to kick them out onto a tiny patch of land, forcing the orthodox Freedomites and the more moderate Dukhobors to mingle. Pretty quickly, the moderates kicked out the Freedomites for being unbearable, not because there were too many pubes in the soup, but because the freedomites insisted on repeatedly setting fire to their neighbours houses and property in protest at them having, er, houses and property.
So the now homeless (presumably because they'd burned them down) freedomites started a mass march in protest, which was pretty quickly broken up by police. The freedomites stripped off in anger, the police arrested them. In sympathy, a second batch of protestors set off, headed to the jail where the nudists were being held, and stripped off. They were arrested too. It all ended in a mess – the Canadian Government took most of the freedomite's children into care and arrested over 900 people for public nudity, jailing them for three years each. It was such a large number they had to give over an entire island to a prison camp to house them all. The kids were given over to foster parents in more moderate Dukhobor communities. Resentment continued to build again over the next few decades as the Dukhobors became political outcasts, were banned from voting and the like, with frequent nude protests outside schools and Government buildings and incresing numbers of arson attacks. Not knowing what to do with all these protestors and their kids, in the 1950s, the government launched operation Snatch, in which social workers and police seized around 200 freedomite children, largely of parents who'd been jailed for nudity, and held them in a 'school' (read, camp) in New Denver, British Colombia. In all it was pretty horrible, the camp was basically a prison and abuse was rife. Relatives often weren't allowed to visit etc. Eventually they were released, often after their parents being forced to swear in front of a judge that they would send their kids to school and wear clothes. It was a really horrible move which the Canadian government has never really apologised for. But all this kicked off a second, even more aggressive campaign of terror in the 1950s and 60s. Railway lines were bombed, and public buildings were burned – all by naked men. In fact two were killed planting bombs in 1958 and 1962. Eventually it all settled down and in 1971 a much more socially accepting Government declared Canada a multicultural nation, ending the persecution of all social minorities. As time went on, the Dukhobors became part of their local leadership and things returned to normal.
Tom's notes: Origins of the word ‘bugger’
“bugger off Sam you big buggering buggerer”
· I’m actually talking about the origins of the word bugger
· What has this to do with religion I hear you say?
o Prompt Sam to say it
o Thou shalt find out!
o Catholicism and buggery have a long history
Fascinating week researching this topic
· I’ve ventured down many a captivating theological/philosophical rabbit hole
· I’ve been learning about Catharism, Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Neo-Platonism, Bogomilism
o More isms than a schism in a prism of jism
The word bugger comes from the Latin ‘Bulgarus’ via the Old French word ‘bougre’.
· Originally it meant Bulgarian but during the middle ages it evolved to mean ‘sodomite’ or someone who partakes in anal sex.
· So how did we get from a word that meant Bulgarian to a word that meant pounder of the poo chute, bottom bothering buggery buff, fanatical fudge-forcing fart bung
o This is what I hope to explain!
As we all know, in the modern Western world, the majority of us are completely tolerant of homosexuality or sexual experimentation in heterosexual relationships. In my opinion, that boils down to the fact that what two consenting adults do in private is none of our fucking business so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.
· But we know that that has not always been the case in Christianity.
There are plenty of references to homosexuality in the bible
· Leviticus: Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.
· Romans: In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
· Timothy: for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine
· Even recently ex Pope Benedict 16th made comments about the 1960s sexual revolution being the cause of homosexuality and paedophilia (the two are quite different Benedict!)
I’m going to start my explanation in the early middle ages.
· So the middle ages begin in the middle of the 5th century AD
o This period is significant because of the fall of the Roman Empire as a result of external pressure largely from Germanic tribes.
§ 410 Alaric the Visigoth sacks Rome
§ 455 Rome is sacked by Genseric the Vandal
§ Romulus Augustus becomes effectively the last Roman Emperor when he is deposed in 476
o It is no surprise that the following centuries, the early Middle Ages, were called the Dark Ages my many modern scholars writing after the Renaissance
§ There was basically a massive power vacuum and lots of fighting, movements of peoples, political entities forming and fluidity of ideas
o Christianity is developing during this period and it is equally disparate
§ It most certainly isn’t the case that Christ died on the cross and Christianity as we know was born.
· For a start, even modern Christianity varies greatly across the world
o For example, many non Brits don’t realise that the orthodox church in the UK is the Anglican Church that does not recognise the Pope and split from Catholicism in 1534
o The proto-orthodox church (what would become Catholicism and other modern forms of Christianity) is just one type of Christianity
§ For example, there is also Gnosticism
· In a nutshell, there is a material world and spirit world.
· The material world is evil and created by a lesser god called the Demiurge
· The Demiurge trapped in everyone a piece of the spirit world; a divine spark
· This divine spark could be liberated through Gnossis; or knowledge
o We basically get a fight for orthodoxy and the proto-orthodox church begins to challenge other Christian religions by labelling them heretical.
o One such religion is Bogomolism which was duality like Gnosticism and probably evolved from Gnosticism
§ Dualism mean a belief that the universe is split between powers of good and evil, rather than there being one omnipotent creator who is all good.
o Bogomolism was founded in the Bulgarian Empire in the 10th Century.
· As the dust settled on the early Middle Ages and countries formed, mass movements of people’s stopped, trade increased and there was more day-to-day ethnic diversity, ideas began to spread more easily.
o The movement was very popular and rapidly spread as far as France.
§ It rejected the Christian orthodox authorities, instead arguing for a return to the early spiritual teachings
§ In France, Bogomolism strongly influenced Catharism.
o Also, we get the Papacy and the proto Orthodox church becoming far more interested in clarifying and strengthening its position as the true Christian religion.
§ This is where we get the Crusades
· Now, let me talk about the Albigensian Crusade
o As mentioned, Catharism was spreading in France in the 12th Century. There was a particularly large group of Cathars in the Languedoc area of France.
o In 1198, Pope Innocent III becomes Pope and decided to start dealing with the Cathars
§ Between 1209 and 1229 there is a violent Crusade against the Cathars in France.
· It is around this time that the word bugger, from the Latin word for Bulgarian (due to the fact that Catharism evolved from Bogomolism in Bulgaria) becomes a derogatory term for anal-sex as the Catholic church began a campaign to denounce the Cathars in France as heretics with questionable sexual practices.
o The medieval equivalent of calling someone ‘gay’ in the playground.