Popcorn Medievalist

. . . for i had perceived that reality is a frightening place, and i did not wish to live there . . .

Location: Canada

Saturday, January 28, 2006

On Being a Heretic: Pros and Cons

Heretics! Heretics! They're everywhere! What is one of pious persuasion to do? Theses heretics defile every level of society and culture with their vile devious words. They practise the Abominable Kiss, at whose mention all who are of humble heart tremble and groan. And they tend to be anti-sacerdotal. Such wickedness requires organized, militarized resistance.

So what about the other side of the story? Do heretics have feelings too? Are they capable of thinking, or are they zombie people, like all those people in Cairo in the movie, The Mummy after they were affected by that plague; and they chanted, "Imhotep! Imhotep!"?

Furthermore, is it worth it to be a heretic? And I'm asking this from a purely economic perspective. There are obviously a lot of factors to be worked in.

On the pro side, may I suggest that heretics tend to have significantly less religious bureaucratic overhead. They have a lot fewer big cathedrals and abbies; they're more rooted in the "Mom and Pop" model of clerical government. There will, of course, be exceptions to this and to my other examples, but economic historians should simply try to find averages, am I wrong?

A second advantage to being a heretic is that, if you get enough heretics together, you can actually confiscate church property. What successful group of heretics hasn't plotted to do this sort of thing? Anything you can seize from the church is just about pure profit, and there's plenty there for the taking. If a tree is ripe with fruit, why not harvest it?

Also, heretics will generally make greater allowance for free enterprise, because they're mostly city people who don't indentify with the serf laws and stuff like that. Some of them had tried the "growing rye with primitive tools and ox-plows" lifestyle, but it wasn't for them. I suspect many of us are familiar with this "existential angst" you might experience when you aren't fulfulled in your work.

Of course there are some downsides to being a heretic as well. For one thing, there's the threat of eternal damnation, and it will probably be pretty expensive to buy yourself back in good with the church if at some point you have a change of heart, so don't just jump into this stuff, do your homework.

There should be some concern over the possibility of eviction. The faithful might get tired of having you around and simply throw you off your property. As you can see in the above picture of Cathars being evicted from their homes in Carcassone, this frequently can mean complete confiscation of your possessions. The one woman in particular seems not to have even been left with a small cloth to cover her naked body.

You will also have to worry about violence at the hands of the faithful. Maurading mobs of the righteous can be devastating for your infrastructure and other invested capital. And of course there is mortal peril---don't let the Inquisition get you. Especially nasty are Crusades called against your particular heresy by the Pope; the faithful are given full rights to your property if they can kill you. This tends to bring out a lot of land speculators. And consider fully the economic implications of premature mortality; it might not seem like a big deal in a society where the life expectancy is only 30 years, but any reduction in your lifetime is time that you can't earn and enjoy economic capital.

In conclusion, I have to say the advantages to being a heretic seem too small in relation to the risks, but a wily heretic could likely make a good career of it. I think we also have be open-minded about the possibility of non-economic factors in the question of whether or not to become a heretic, however silly that may sound to most of us...


Blogger John den Boer said...


5:25 PM  

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