Flagellation is the beating of the body with special implements such as whips, lashes, rods, the cat o’ nine tails, etc. Usually it was done involuntarily, but in the medieval period it became a voluntary form of penance. The Benedictine monk Peter Damian is credited with introducing self-flagellation as a form of penance in the 11th century. Later, an Italian monk named Dominic Loricatus introduced self-flagellation as a form of self-mortification, which when performed in public, also became a public demonstration of piety.
The Flagellants were a 14th century movement, that sprung up in response to the black plague. These fanatics would parade through the streets beating themselves bloody in an effort to cleanse the town of sin. It was assumed that the plague was the result of sin, so the cleaning of sin would, presumably, please God enough for him to end the plague. The movement started in northern Italy, but quickly spread to Germany. There they took on the white robes and rhythmic chanting that has come to be associated with the movement.
The Church initially tolerated the movement, but soon realized that fanatics are worse than barbarians in times of trouble, so they suppressed the movement. Secular rulers were not all that thrilled with them either, as anyone claiming to appeal directly to God is an obvious challenge to earthly authority. Compounding matters, many of the flagellant groups were influenced by messianic ideas about the coming age of bliss. As a result, the Church condemned them and the secular rulers had them burned at the stake to make the point.
While the movement is long gone, the idea is still with us. The link between piety and self-denial has probably been a part of human society since the beginning. Holy men have walled themselves off from society and earthly pleasures, as a sign of their piety, but also as a way of avoiding temptation. Prophets have given up all earthy pleasures in order to warn society of their doom. In the West, self-denial has always been closely tied to piety, while pleasure, especially carnal pleasure, is associated with sin.
This is most obvious in the climate change movement, which blends Old Testament prophecy with pagan nature worship. The true believers are sure that man’s hedonistic exploitation of the environment is making the earth angry. The result is rising global temperatures, which will lead to an apocalypse. When Al Gore said the earth had a fever, he did not mean it like an infection. Instead, the fever is due to the earth becoming increasingly angry as human activity. Earth is boiling mad, so to speak.
The first iteration of the cult focused on energy. The earth was angry because humans were using fossil fuels. On the surface, it sounded like the old environmentalism dressed up as a science. The greens always hated industry. A key part of environmentalism has always been a hostility to modernity, particularly industry, which was viewed as immoral and at odds with nature. By going after fossil fuel because of global warming, they were turning their moral opposition to modernity into a scientific claim.
Lately, the movement has shifted away from their claims about fossil fuels, which went nowhere with the public, to attacking other modern pleasures. A recent “study” claims that modern farming is making the earth angry, so we will have to stop eating tasty food and switch to a diet heavy on unpleasant stuff. That means sharp reductions in meat eating and dairy, while sharply increasing our consumption of beans, seeds and gruel. The promise of this approach is it now gives vegetarianism the veneer of science.
You’ll note that vegetarianism was never about health. Spend five minutes with a vegan and they will, of course, have told you they are a vegan, but make it clear they are better than you because they no longer enjoy their food. That age old desire to please the gods by eschewing earthly pleasures. Now that the warmists have joined in, a meal of grass and twigs is not just a personal act of piety. It is a sacrifice for the planet. The only thing missing is a good beating with a cat o’ nine tails, along with that soy burger.
Mencken famously said that Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. That’s a good way of describing all forms of environmentalism. They never come forward with a plan to save the earth that does not require misery. Of course, it’s not their misery that haunts them. Environmentalism is focused on your misery. The vegan is no longer happy being smug and self-righteous with his kale juice. He demands the state force you to drink the stuff. Their piety heavily depends on your misery.
Like everything else about this age, the Gaia worshipers are not appealing to the gods, but to our rulers. In an age where the state is worshiped, it is no wonder that it fills the role of God for the modern flagellants. The thing is, unlike the flagellants of old, the new version is not appealing to God for relief on our behalf. They are demanding the god of this age punish us for our sins. Instead of the faithful whipping themselves to a bloody pulp in the town square in order to appease God, their piety requires them to whip us.
Time to bring back burning them at the stake.