A Very Short Story: The Centurian's Confession

I was a young Centurion un­der Herod’s rule. I lead the 60 soldiers of my cen­turia as we slaugh­tered the male babies in Beth­le­hem two years of age and younger. I was in charge of car­ry­ing out Pon­tius Pi­late’s cow­ard­ly ver­dict aimed at ap­peas­ing the jeal­ous Jewish elite in Jerusalem. I se­lect­ed five men from my centuria who had accompanied me in Bethlehem and we carried out the task of cru­ci­fy­ing a man named Je­sus.

Once we had him in our cus­tody, I stood by as my sol­diers beat and mocked him. I couldn’t stand his stoicism and lost my­self, strik­ing him as well. Since he would not speak, we spoke for him, “All hail, king of the Jews.” I de­cid­ed that since he was so mighty, he could car­ry his own cross. He seemed in­tent on some­thing else; some­thing be­yond our com­pre­hen­sion. It made me and my men fu­ri­ous even though we didn’t know him.

I nor­mal­ly don’t do this, but I nailed this man to the cross my­self. The nails felt as if they pierced my own skin but I ig­nored the pain. I mind­less­ly joined my men gam­bling for his gar­ments. We cru­ci­fied him on the third hour. It be­came eerily dark from the sixth through the ninth hour. Then, there was an earthquake. I heard a report to the Jewish leaders that the veil of the temple had ripped from top to bottom. I know those whose dead friends and rel­a­tives ap­peared to them around this time. They spoke of accompanying them back to their graves.

Some­one ap­proached me with an or­der from Pi­late for Je­sus’ body. I pierced his side to be sure he was dead. He was. The blood in his heart had al­ready co­ag­u­lat­ed, and wa­ter to­geth­er with blood flowed down my sword, over my hand, and on­to the ground.

I began to shake as I considered all that had transpired. I looked up to him and spoke the words that emp­tied my soul of all I was, “Sure­ly, this was the Son of God.” My men and I have been filled with re­morse to this day. Strange. I felt we com­mit­ted a greater sin in killing that one man than all the chil­dren we slaugh­tered in Beth­le­hem. That’s a dis­tinc­tion of con­science I wish up­on no one.

It’s 2012 and I still walk the ground you’re stand­ing on. I have dif­fer­ent mem­o­ries in each new body. My orig­i­nal mem­o­ries dawn on me as I age and re­al­ize who I was. First, memories of having been a soldier haunt me. I feel an instinct of violence and an ability to carry it out. Then, I'm horrified as I realize I slaughtered babies and crucified the Christ. I remember he died for me even though I raised my own hands against him. The man I once chased and slaugh­tered is my new king. His peace settles upon me.

I still meet my sol­diers from time to time. Though we don’t have the same bod­ies, there is still a recog­ni­tion be­tween us. They are Ro­man sol­diers in dif­fer­ent skin and cultures. They silent­ly rec­og­nize me as their old Centurion. My men and I will join Christ when he re­turns. Mean­while, he has sentenced us to remain on earth, living life after life, bound by covenant to forbear violence against all; even those deserving. We are called to forbear as we are ridiculed and despised by those who are much like we were. In some lives, we are murdered or put to death. However, our sufferings are nothing compared to the comfort he gives us and the assurance that we are his.

To what end do our lives continue? We don't know. It's only for us to obey. We are not earning our salvation. Jesus won that for us and his Father long ago. What could we hope for after mocking and killing the Lamb of God? We thank him ev­ery­day for his mer­cy. O the depth of the rich­es both of the wis­dom and knowl­edge of God! how un­search­able are his judg­ments, and his ways past find­ing out!

Chesterton on Democracy

The Republican primaries got me thinking about the nature of democracy. G. K. Chesterton usually has interesting insights, so, I looked up what he said on the subject. I know he's not a founding father and he's English. Still...his quotes are pretty good.


Both aristocracy and democracy are human ideals: the one saying that all men are valuable, the other that some men are more valuable.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (1994-05-01). Orthodoxy (p. 100). Public Domain Books.

In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves--the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (1994-05-01). Orthodoxy (p. 43). Public Domain Books.

Democracy is not philanthropy; it is not even altruism or social reform. Democracy is not founded on pity for the common man; democracy is founded on reverence for the common man, or, if you will, even on fear of him.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2011-03-30). Heretics (p. 117).

But the thing which is really required for the proper working of democracy is not merely the democratic system, or even the democratic philosophy, but the democratic emotion. The democratic emotion, like most elementary and indispensable things, is a thing difficult to describe at any time. But it is peculiarly difficult to describe it in our enlightened age, for the simple reason that it is peculiarly difficult to find it. It is a certain instinctive attitude which feels the things in which all men agree to be unspeakably important, and all the things in which they differ (such as mere brains) to be almost unspeakably unimportant. The nearest approach to it in our ordinary life would be the promptitude with which we should consider mere humanity in any circumstance of shock or death. We should say, after a somewhat disturbing discovery, "There is a dead man under the sofa." We should not be likely to say, "There is a dead man of considerable personal refinement under the sofa." We should say, "A woman has fallen into the water." We should not say, "A highly educated woman has fallen into the water." Nobody would say, "There are the remains of a clear thinker in your back garden." Nobody would say, "Unless you hurry up and stop him, a man with a very fine ear for music will have jumped off that cliff."

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2011-03-30). Heretics (p. 119).

Everything in our age has, when carefully examined, this fundamentally undemocratic quality. In religion and morals we should admit, in the abstract, that the sins of the educated classes were as great as, or perhaps greater than, the sins of the poor and ignorant. But in practice the great difference between the mediaeval ethics and ours is that ours concentrate attention on the sins which are the sins of the ignorant, and practically deny that the sins which are the sins of the educated are sins at all. We are always talking about the sin of intemperate drinking, because it is quite obvious that the poor have it more than the rich. But we are always denying that there is any such thing as the sin of pride, because it would be quite obvious that the rich have it more than the poor. We are always ready to make a saint or prophet of the educated man who goes into cottages to give a little kindly advice to the uneducated. But the medieval idea of a saint or prophet was something quite different. The mediaeval saint or prophet was an uneducated man who walked into grand houses to give a little kindly advice to the educated. The old tyrants had enough insolence to despoil the poor, but they had not enough insolence to preach to them. It was the gentleman who oppressed the slums; but it was the slums that admonished the gentleman. And just as we are undemocratic in faith and morals, so we are, by the very nature of our attitude in such matters, undemocratic in the tone of our practical politics. It is a sufficient proof that we are not an essentially democratic state that we are always wondering what we shall do with the poor. If we were democrats, we should be wondering what the poor will do with us. With us the governing class is always saying to itself, "What laws shall we make?" In a purely democratic state it would be always saying, "What laws can we obey?"

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2011-03-30). Heretics (p. 120).

One Loud Mess - Birth Control, the PPACA, Freedom of Religion, and the Catholic Church

In the past, health insurance companies covered Viagra for men but would not cover birth control for women. There's something unfair about that. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) signed into law in 2010, expanded coverage for many pre-existing conditions and required insurance companies to cover birth control. That sounds like a step forward.

It turns out, the Catholic Church doesn't believe in birth control, whatsoever, in any form, and the Catholic Church provides health insurance for its employees. Their insurance companies are now required to cover birth control under the PPACA. When it looked like the Catholic Church wasn't going to get a waiver from the requirement, many looked upon that as a violation of the Catholic Churches' freedom of religion. I have to listen to Fox News all day long and they loved waving that flag. I noticed though they seemed more excited about the ruckus they were raising than the flag itself.

There's an interesting digression here on the rights of non-human legal entities. The United States Supreme Court in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (2010) ruled that corporations qualify as people endowed with rights under the Constitution. Pursuant that decision, corporations have the right to give unlimited amounts of cash anonymously to political causes. That's where most of the negative attack ads came from during the Republican primaries.

I disagree with the decision. How can corporations be citizens of the United States or of any country? Corporations view countries as markets and have no loyalty to a country's interests when it runs contrary to its own. Has a corporation ever given its life for its country? It couldn't, and if cash is analogous to its life, it wouldn't. If you say you're going to eliminate its antiquated tax loopholes, they'll whine and threaten to leave your country and take their money with them. Corporations are non-human and, consequently, don't have a moral compass. They're bad "citizens" for a country to rely on. Theoretically, the shareholders, who are the owners, could get involved in the yearly shareholder meetings to create moral policies. However, that just doesn't happen. People play with stocks, obsess about money, and ignore the non-fiscal aspects of management.

Now, does the Citizen's United decision confer any rights to the Catholic Church beyond what the Constitution traditionally conferred to individuals? It's another big institution similar to the corporations in Citizen's United and we're being trained to think of corporations as having human rights. The Catholic Church wants to freely exercise its religious freedom by preventing its insurance carriers from providing it's employees insurance benefits it doesn't believe in. However, should any institution have the right to exclude things from you for your own good; or, even for it's own "conscience" sake? I'm not sure corporations or big institutionalized churches have a conscience as we understand it in ourselves. If an Orthodox Jew had to go on food stamps, would it be right for their shul to block their access to non-kosher foods? Should a person be denied the right of being able to say "No" to what they personally don't believe in?

Detail from Religion by Charles Sprague Pearce (1896)

I have a problem with conferring constitutional rights to an institution that allows the institution to take away the rights of an individual. The Church may be individual and corporate, however, we're looking from the perspective of the Constitution and asking what rights does it confer and to whom? Until the Citizens United v Federal Election Commission decision, the Constitution conferred rights to human individuals. I believe rights provided by the government should be personal. You should not have fewer rights because of your affiliation with a non-governmental institution. Members of the Catholic Church should not obtain birth control from any source if they believe contraception is wrong. Their insurance company covering birth control does not take away anyone's right or prevent anyone from freely exercising their religion.

I agree with those who might say the issue becomes more serious when you get into insurance covering the morning after pill and abortion procedures. Where do you draw the line? The type of care? Personal rights verses institutional rights? I personally believe if rights are not personal, we run the risk of losing them. Let's publicly debate those policies and decide as a country on what we'll allow for all. Then, after the public debate, and the public policies are decided, let individuals decide on what they'll take from the spectrum of rights and benefits available to them. The public debate may continue on. However, I don't believe we should let any institution limit public policy.

I'm also not sympathetic with the Catholic Church for another reason. It's conscience seems to be selective recently. It raises a fuss about the possibility of its employees using birth control and is working to block their access to it. However, it let another kind of sexual immorality go on for years while covering it up and knowingly and recklessly allowing pedophile priests access to children. Those two offenses are altogether different, yet, the Catholic Church seems to be raising a much bigger fuss about the very much smaller "offense" of using birth control.

The passage in Matthew 23 seems to describe something going on here.
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.'
'But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.'

"Made by Moonlight" by Sam Owens

Within the license of dogs conjured from the
Smoke and mirrored faces of a man's heart, I am
Asked a question of helium balloons, and clouds.
I am promised stars, the moon, and frontier beyond.
The frontier is rumored to have the best wine.
The moon, they say, possesses the best milk and honey.
The stars, though fraught with ice and ether, can shine bright,
Brighter than the Sahara desert. And above all else, I was promised a cool river bed.
Alas, the frontier was merely vinegar, the milk curdled, and I was consumed with
A Saharan thirst until all things turned to soot, ash, and dark volcanic glass.
It does not matter which way the cog spins, but it will spin just the same.
Puzzles must align to the grooves and sieves and be as trees.
Acorns in the spring, and blown wind leaves in the fall, or
The next choice will be made in hurricane winds and dismembered oak trees.

One of five of poems by Sam Owens published in Black Magnolias a Literary Journal.
Vol. 5, No. 4; December-February 2011-2012; Page 55

"To me this is a coming of age poem showing how I feel what it means to be a man."

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