the Cathars

Since I was asked why, in my entry on Adam Gopnik’s review of the Matrix Reloaded, I pointed to some mistakes and inaccuracies regarding the Cathars, here is a bit of explanation.

The article said:

The basic conceit of “The Matrix”—the notion that the material world is a malevolent delusion, designed by the forces of evil with the purpose of keeping people in a state of slavery, has a history. It is most famous as the belief for which the medieval Christian sect known as the Cathars fought and died, and in great numbers, too. The Cathars were sure that the material world was a phantasm created by Satan, and that Jesus of Nazareth —their Neo— had shown mankind a way beyond that matrix by standing outside it and seeing through it. The Cathars were fighting a losing battle, but the interesting thing was that they were fighting at all.

The comparison between the Matrix and the Cathar religion is a perfectly valid one… although I can think of a few dozen other religious sects and spiritual movements carrying the same idea…

However, the statement that they fought a similar battle against their “matrix” is a gross inaccuracy.
They were, indeed, massively killed in a violent, senseless, spine-shivering way, but it had little to do with their actual belief and it was definitely not because of their will to use violence.

The Cathar religion arose in the south of France, around the 13th century and was one of the many heresies that tried to clean up the abuse and excess of mainstream catholicism at the time.
Along with their interesting theology that rejected all material things as unworthy of trust and a mere diversion from God and his message, the Cathars were also strictly non-violent, mainly vegetarians and spent most of their time studying gnosticism.
Because their grassroot movement was growing popular and embraced by most of the population as well as local aristocracy, it was becoming something of a threat for the Church’s authority. The Pope had no problem convincing the French king to help this “crusade” against the Cathars, and incidentally against local lords, deemed a bit too independent for the crown.

Of course, it only took them a few years to destroy any Cathar cities and castles and kill everybody.
The ever delicate mass massacre problem of “who to kill” and “how to do it” was solved by basically burning alive everybody (many thousands) with no regards for actual religion, age or sex, following the instructions of local Abbot and pape legate Bernard Amaury: “Tuez-les tous; Dieu reconnaitra les siens” (Kill them all; for the Lord knoweth them that are His).

Anyway, point being: they were a peaceful lot wiped out for religious and mostly political reasons. Never did they decide to go on fighting for their beliefs, they merely tried to save their life by retreating and resisting passively.

Very small detail in an otherwise interesting article, but worth noting.

1 comment

  1. I’m a gnostic living in Australia but I grew up in south of France, the south is also the roots of my ancestry, So, I’m very interested in the information you’ve writen about the Cathars and I was wondering whether you could tell me it’s source. I’ve been a bit confused because all the articles that I’ve read about the Cathars mentoin that they were selibate which would be not inline with the way of a gnostic since their is a need to practice alchemy.
    Hope to hear from you.



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