Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cheerfully burned alive for "atheism"

I've had this bit in my notes ever since reading Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius by A.C. Grayling, but just noticed that the exact section of the book I took the notes on is on-line in the form of an article Grayling wrote for The Independent about the 17th century libertine movement.

In fact the "libertine crisis" began when, in 1619 at Toulouse, an itinerant teacher of philosophy and medicine called Giulio Cesare Vanini was burned at the stake. His crime was "atheism" (but also, by implication, homosexuality). His name became a byword throughout Europe for atheism and the "naturalism" that accompanied it - that is, the view that nature is the ultimate reality and source of all things.

Vanini started as a monk, studying theology and medicine in Italy before travelling throughout Europe, working as a tutor or secretary in noble households. He got into trouble for homosexuality and for killing a man in a brawl, and therefore escaped to England for a time, where he abjured his Catholicism. On returning to France he earned his keep by giving private lessons. In Toulouse, an ardently orthodox city, one of his pupils denounced him for teaching that men had no souls but died as other animals did, and that the Virgin Mary was an ordinary woman who needed to have sex in order to get pregnant. The city authorities decided that he was attracting too many youths to his lectures, so to get rid of him they put him on trial and condemned him to death. While being led to the stake Vanini cried out in his native Italian, "I die cheerfully as befits a philosopher!"
That is certainly a Socratic sounding death.

1 comment:

JaaJoe said...

I would highly suggest for you, and any one else interested to read the book ""The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions." by self-professed secular Jew and mathematics/philosophies teacher David Berlinski.
This tells the story of a Jew who was forced to dig his own grave prior to being shot by a German soldier. Prior to being shot, the old Jewish man advised the German that “God is watching what you are doing.” The Jewish gentleman pointed what i think is the real problem with atheism. "If you have the time please check the book out