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A ban, alternative facts and (maybe) some protesting

February 8, 2017 • Editorial

Many years ago I took an anthropology class. As we arrived to class one day, my classmates and I encountered the professor, with a piece of pink chalk in hand, drawing little pink hearts on the chalkboard. By the time most of the students had taken a seat, the professor had written the word “dating” in the middle of the chalkboard in a swirly cursive.
“Since today is Valentine’s Day, we’re going to talk about dating,” the professor said. She then allowed a moment for the students to gasp, chuckle and sit up straight; you know, the body language of people who have been presented with an unexpected, yet pleasant change to monotony.
The professor continued. “Carbon dating, that is.” The class erupted in groans, the kind that almost always follows a bad joke (and if eye rolling made noise, the class erupted in that, too).
“Oh, come on, guys,” the professor said. “I went out and bought pink chalk and everything.”
In retrospect, I realize that I do not remember much about carbon dating. The lesson that stuck that day, I believe, is the power of presentation. One can deliver a message about carbon dating, for example, and make it less boring (but, unfortunately, not more interesting) by way of a bad pun. (And an entire box of pink chalk that will have little purpose after the fact).
The sweet talk is over and it’s time to reveal that this column is about a protester, a draconian ban and alternative facts.
Disclaimer: Any similarities between this column and people living today, or current circumstances, is purely coincidental.
Not much is known about the person who’s come to be known as Saint Valentine, the patron saint of love, young people, beekeepers, epilepsy and happy marriages. A few things that are known for certain, however, are that he was born near Rome in the third century A.D., and that he served as a priest during the reign of emperor Claudius II.
There is some degree of protest attributed to his life (and to the life of most considered saints in Catholic tradition).
Everything else that can be said about the person who is called Saint Valentine is alternative fact. Or, more aptly stated, conjecture.
Here’s a little bit of fact, and an awful lot of conjecture:
During Valentine’s lifetime, it was considered treason to be a Christian and to refuse to worship the emperor and Roman gods. Valentine and other Christians were forced to meet in secret to pray and worship.
Legends that support Valentine’s role as saint over love and friendship include one where he sends parchment hearts to imprisoned Christians; another that he disobeyed a ban imposed by the emperor which forbade Roman soldiers from getting married.
The emperor believed that a married soldier would be less valuable to him, as the soldier would become more loyal to his wife and children and not to the emperor. Believing such a ban to be unjust, Valentine married soldiers in secret.
When Claudius II found out about the secret weddings, Valentine was jailed. After some time, Valentine was asked to speak before the emperor and a group of senators. When asked to explain his Christian beliefs, Valentine spoke so eloquently that he impressed the emperor; however, he soon fell out of favor when he tried to convert Claudius II to Christianity.
One alternative fact states that Valentine was put to death immediately for the transgression. Another account states that it wasn’t so much the emperor who was upset but the senators, and that the emperor sent Valentine to live with Asterius, a Roman lieutenant.
Asterius was supposed to convert Valentine to Rome’s brand of paganism. However, it was Valentine who converted Asterius and his entire household to Christianity after he miraculously restored the sight of Asterius’ blind daughter (although one alternative fact states that it was a jailer’s daughter who was cured).
Not as impressed by the apparent miracle, Claudius II sentenced Asterius and the members of his household to death, including Valentine. According to legend, Valentine was put to death on Feb. 14, around the year 270 A.D.
This date itself, Feb. 14, may be an alternative fact; deliberately chosen to impose Christianity over the pagan festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated Feb. 15.
Despite the odd-sounding name, there may have been romantic connotations to Lupercalia, which were bestowed upon Valentine’s Day, in an attempt to “Christianize” the holiday.
But, in any case, do we really need a series of indisputable facts to show love, indulge in a sweet, heart-shaped treat or pull a prank with pink chalk?
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News editor Vanessa Kahin can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 300, or news@rdrnews.com.

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