[Lounge #426] »« Geeks. Just geeks. Definitely no gods.

What? Indulgences are still a thing?

Everytime I get a peek into the weird world of Catholicism, it gets stranger and stranger. I had heard before that the Vatican was still offering “indulgences”, token recognition of piety that give you time off in purgatory, but I had no idea that they were going to make it technology driven — a medieval idea given a 21st century facade. But here they go, the Vatican has a new way to get time off in purgatory: follow the Pope on twitter!

All you have to do is follow the Pope’s 140 character tweets as he presides over Catholic World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, and presto, indulgences! No word on the exchange rate — is it like one tweet is worth one day off, or 140 seconds, or something? Does retweeting give you a special bonus?

If you thought Catholicism couldn’t possibly get more trivial or silly, I think they’ve just about hit rock bottom.

Oh, wait…

"What really counts is that the tweets the Pope sends from Brazil or the photos of the Catholic World Youth Day that go up on Pinterest produce authentic spiritual fruit in the hearts of everyone," said Celli.

Pinterest, too?

Could we also get spiritual credit if we set up a Pope porn tumblr?

Comments

  1. says

    On the subject of indulgences, an amusing piece of trivia: a friar traveling through Germany in the 15th century encountered a knight errant on a deserted country road. He offered to sell the knight an indulgence for any sin, past or future (yes, you could actually buy indulgences for future sins). The knight bought an indulgence for a future sin. Then he attacked the friar, beat him up, tied him to a tree and made off with his money, clothes and horse.

  2. sc_89b14af992115cf6a4b7fae00b64476c says

    That’s a nice story Amused, you don’t read too often about knights appreciating the value of pragmatism.

  3. unclefrogy says

    giving away time off in an imaginary place of lesser punishment compared the punishments in the equally imaginary eternal hell has got to be one of the most goofy ideas anyone ever made up.

    it sounds like a game made up by a bunch of 6 year olds

    uncle frogy

  4. gussnarp says

    So can I hedge my bets with this? Or am I already going straight to hell for not believing in the first place? I mean, if I’m only getting say, 50,000 years of purgatory and I can shave a few of those off, why not, right? But if I’m going to hell then I don’t have to mess around with logging on to Twitter and following the old fraud, let alone actually reading whatever tripe he sends out…

  5. says

    Pope porn tumblr?

    I’ve always had a fantasy/fetish thing about Catholic priests (in church, the confessional, his office…). But popes? Eew. Not so much.

    Yeah, I know. I were Catholic I’d need to be following the pope on Twitter for the rest of my life.

  6. says

    The way indulgences work (so the theory goes) is that alleviate the temporal punishment of sin, but not the eternal. That is to say, they let you do fewer Hail Marys or Acts of Contrition, or shave off time in Purgatory, but it is not a Get Out of Hell Free card: if you are damned then you are damned, no amount of indulgences will save you.

    So basically, each papal tweet you read has the same effect on your redemption as a round of the Rosary, or something like that. (Insert appropriately sarcastic comment here.)

  7. says

    unclefrogy 4:

    giving away time off in an imaginary place of lesser punishment compared the punishments in the equally imaginary eternal hell has got to be one of the most goofy lucrative ideas anyone ever made up.

    FIFY! ;)

  8. Scr... Archivist says

    unclefrogy @4,

    it sounds like a game made up by a bunch of 6 year olds

    Only if the indulgences were exchanged for bottlecaps or baseball cards. And if they used real money, it would probably just be pennies and nickels.

  9. says

    OK, here’s my question: Indulgences cut days, weeks, months, whatever off your sentence out there in the suburbs of heaven, but once you die–according to Sister Arnulfa my sixth grade catechism teacher–your soul enters a timeless existence, so how does taking time off the timeless work actually?

  10. Rey Fox says

    I thought all our souls went to purgatory until the end times when God would sort us out into the goods and the bads.

  11. says

    @sc #10 – One of the reforms made at Vatican II was to eliminate the specific “days in purgatory” attached to indulgences. The idea was to foster an attitude among the sheep of “be good for goodness sake” instead of the accustomed “I can make up for sin X by doing penance Y twice.”

  12. says

    @Rey Fox #11 – Nope, some holy few go directly (more or less) into Heaven, where they become divine gofers for the always absent Boss. That is where you get the Catholic theology of saints. The process of canonization is (supposedly) a process of establishing that a given individual is, in fact in Heaven.

  13. Reginald Selkirk says

    I had heard before that the Vatican was still offering “indulgences”…

    This corrupt medieval practice was discontinued for a long time, but the practice was restored by Pope Benedict several years ago (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/10/nyregion/10indulgence.html?pagewanted=all). Of course giving indulgences for money would be a bad and corrupt practice, so instead, Catholics can earn indulgences for making pilgrimages to religious shrines thoughout the world.
    .
    In entirely unrelated news, the Vatican started up its own airlines in 2007 to fly religious people on pilgrimages to religious sites throughout the world.
    (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2007/aug/15/theairlineindustry.pope)

  14. says

    @Reginald Selkirk #15 – Partial indulgences, which shortened time in Purgatory, never went away. What Benny reintroduce were plenary indulgences, which eliminated the time in Purgatory for all sins committed (and confessed and absolved) before the moment it is given.

  15. timberwoof says

    Amused, except for the century and the specific type of monk, that story could explain certain subsequent ecclesiastical revolutions. Was this monk a bible teacher with OCD?

  16. Anthony K says

    Fuck, spiritual fruits?

    I’ll put ‘em in my spiritual composted with my spiritual tapeworms.

  17. says

    If I have a perl script and a cron job run wget on his holiness’ twitter feed, does that count as reading it? I mean, it doesn’t if I work for the NSA (apparently) but what about in catholic la-la land.

    How the fuck can anyone be catholic; they must like being laughed at.

  18. kevinalexander says

    In entirely unrelated news, the Vatican started up its own airlines in 2007 to fly religious people on pilgrimages to religious sites throughout the world.

    So indulgences are like Airmiles? If I eat at participating restaurants and buy the licenced scapulars I get a front row seat to the rupture?

  19. says

    Color me utterly unsurprised. Despite being a thoroughly lapsed Catholic, I get cloying reinfusions of Catholic practices every time I wander into the midst of any family gathering. Oh, the Romanity! In a way, nothing ever changes in the Catholic Church; it merely gets tweaked and redecorated. Indulgences were notorious for being overtly sold in olden times. Today they’ve been modernized to the point they’re like Green Stamps: collect them until you qualify for a prize — like one year off purgatory. And indulgences have been reformed, too, and no longer come with price tags on them. They are thus much less effective as fundraisers, although there is a small impact on the bottom line when going to a special holiday mass that has an indulgence attached to it (and surely you will toss a bill of small denomination into the collection basket, right?). I never could figure out, however, what the hell it really meant to earn “(5 days)” [as indulgences were noted after special prayers and such-like in our mass booklets]. No scale! What is the “average” purgatory penalty? No one knew (or at least they sure weren’t telling)!

  20. busterggi says

    Cripes! Did the church learn nothing from that incident with Bartleby and Loki back in ’99?

  21. says

    How many Pope tweets do you have to read to wash away the sin of one raped child? Just wondering if there’s a price list somewhere.

    You know, my world view spends more time worrying about being good, with a lot less emphasis on making sure there are ways to “forgive” bad things I do. Not that forgiveness is bad. But if it is too easy, there’s not so much incentive to be good in the first place (if you are the sort who needs Heaven and Hell to care about being good or bad in the first place.)

    And following a Twitter feed is way too easy. People don’t even have to READ the tweets if they don’t want to.

  22. Rich Woods says

    I like the way the Catholic Church changes the rules all the time. It’s almost like God didn’t have a perfect plan after all. Or maybe He did, but it’s just successive popes who need better spiritual telephones to stop them going all ex cathedra on His arse.

    And in the spirit of honest enquiry*, what happened to the souls of all those babies when Limbo was uninvented? Were they consumed to fuel the collapse of a pocket universe?

    * I may have been lying about the ‘honest enquiry’ bit. Never mind. I’ll read a few tweets to ensure nothing bad happens to me.

  23. Rich Woods says

    “Tweest”? Nooooo! The dear lord has cursed me with clumsy fingers too!

  24. John Morales says

    Basically, in the Catholic mythos it is held that everyone lives eternally after death, and that after one dies one goes either to hell or to heaven, but before one can go to heaven one has to be tormented in purgatory proportionately to one’s accrued sinfulness during life. So basically, as one lives one accumulates torture time, but one can reduce that somewhat by getting absolution.

    Conveniently, only priests can absolve sins (vicariously, of course!), and of course they can only forgive sins that are confessed to them.

    (What a… convenient setup)

  25. karpad says

    So I think a lot of people seem to have a very Protestant view of Indulgences. Which isn’t surprising. English language histories were written by the English, and thus staunchly anti-Catholic for quite some time. But Indulgences aren’t some trivial, tossed off money grab idea which is obviously heretical for anyone who isn’t a corrupt papist. They’re actually intuitive and reasonable from a social engineering standpoint. Suppose you are the Grand Social Engineer. You’re cobbling together a religion for your functional society, along the lines of a Sid Meier’s game.

    You have the eternal torment afterlife thing. That’s a function of your religion. Maybe that’s just a legacy of your system, you inherited it from earlier theologians, maybe you really like the idea of eternal punishment for “OTHERS” as a bludgeon of rhetorical control or social norm enforcement. It’s there. What you don’t want is someone deciding that since The Rules say since they committed adultery, they’re condemned and therefore any future good conduct on their part is wasted effort. So you have a couple of ways out from that. You could do that whole protestant “ask god for forgiveness and be instantly forgiven” thing, but, as we in the atheist set are fond of pointing out, that doesn’t feel like justice. and you could just do whatever you wanted as a complete sociopath, as long as you say the magic words right before you die, you win.
    Instead with Indulgences: yes, you can be forgiven. But you have to earn it. This is intuitive. Humans aren’t instantly forgiving either, but seeing someone put effort in to the task convinces us of the sincerity of their remorse. So instead you can set them upon tasks you believe are “objectively good for the sake of doing good” things like charity work, pilgrimages, donations, prayer, to reinforce this supposed effort. You can use this for good or evil. “If you feel guilty about your job as a corporate lawyer, donate time and money to charity work” is something most people would agree is a reasonable, even if it doesn’t actually alleviate moral culpability of defending banks against lawsuits for illegal foreclosures. Or you could say “donate your time and effort, not to actual charity work, but to buying me prada throne slippers.” Which is… less good, we’ll say. The really cunning thing about indulgences is the whole future sin thing. People who are going to buy indulgences for future wrongdoing are not the people who really need reforming. They’re people who are in general decent, if dogmatic. But you instead still encourage them to spend time and money on your “morally good” tasks, just to hedge their bets.

    Meaning you have a constant stream of money and volunteers to be assigned to any task you consider sufficiently worthy. You could use this, as George Washington, King of America and Founder of Catholicism in 700 BC, to build hospitals and light rail systems, raise armies to march against the forces of Bismark and Gandhi, go on pilgrimates to help proselytize, or launch a space program. All out of guilt, attempting to avoid punishment that will never come.

    It’s quite cunning. If your only objective is trying to control people, it’s quite effective, certainly moreso than God-Bothering which doesn’t include a system of forgiveness-through-reinforcement-of-status-quo.

  26. says

    I was going to compare indulgences to the fake currency used in video games, but at least in video games, I can see how much currency I have, and I actually get to do something with it.

    The RCC MMO would be nothing but spam emails and a website to collect payment information.

  27. rogerfirth says

    But here they go, the Vatican has a new way to get time off in purgatory: follow the Pope on twitter!

    Just watch. Somebody will rar a bunch of his tweets and upload them to a file sharing service. They’ll be downloaded so many times by so many people that purgatory will be empty and the pope will be wondering why nobody follows him anymore.

  28. Usernames are smart says

    If I have a perl script and a cron job run wget on his holiness’ twitter feed, does that count as reading it?
    —Marcus Ranum (#19)

    Upload it to CPAN or GTFO (a little Perl humor).

    How the fuck can anyone be catholic; they must like being laughed at.

    When every ignorant Bronze Age villager is threatened with hell, they go along because the man in the dress wearing the pointy hat must be right.

  29. robster says

    Gotta love an idulgence! I recon the catliks would be good at that, look at the silly hats, blingy robes and wee red booties. All indulgent, all just gorgeous. And a tweeting pope. I was unaware that twirps could tweet. Learn something new every day.

  30. grumpyoldfart says

    I’m not surprised the Catholics fall for this crap. They let the priests fuck their children and don’t even bother to call the police. The victims have to do that on their own decades later.

  31. Aliasalpha says

    Instead of indulgences, they should go in for favours. “Hey @pontifex, I’m doing a bit of DIY but I don’t have a masonry drill bit, can you help?”

    @karpad, all of that subtle control is nice and all but I still favour keeping the drones in line with the old fashioned nerve staple. Must get a working copy of alpha centauri one of these days, time for a visit to GOG methinks.

  32. Dr Pepper says

    3. sc

    That’s a nice story Amused, you don’t read too often about knights appreciating the value of pragmatism.

    There’s a story from the Thirty Years’ War of a mercenery group that had turned bandit. They attacked a city and successfully extorted a fortune in gold, plus full absolution from the archbishop for doing it. One commentator compared it to modern robbers demanding immunity from prosecution.

  33. Dr Pepper says

    10. sc

    OK, here’s my question: Indulgences cut days, weeks, months, whatever off your sentence out there in the suburbs of heaven, but once you die–according to Sister Arnulfa my sixth grade catechism teacher–your soul enters a timeless existence, so how does taking time off the timeless work actually?

    From what i read, it’s subjective time. Every soul will enter heaven at the same time, but the amount of time experienced in Purgatory will vary.

  34. Azuma Hazuki says

    Let me just say, as a woman badly damaged by Catholicism and still recovering…fuck this and everything about it. The Catholic Church has its beginnings in 325 AD at Nicaea, and leaving aside any veracity of the contents or not, they bear as much resemblance to Jesus’ teachings as pinworms do to vermicelli pasta.

    I don’t think Jesus would recognize anything about a Catholic service (or, to be fair, any of the other churches). He’d probably be horrified to know people consider him God. The historical accident of the Carthaginian (only later Roman!) church center being the only one to survive was an unfortunate one; had Alexandria or Antioch prevailed, for example, Christianity would be Universalist.

    How very, very ironic, that the church almost instantly became a den of “Scribes and Pharisees…”

  35. DLC says

    A literary trivia: in Bram Stoker’s Dracula Prof. Van Helsing was able to seal off Lucy Westenra’s mausoleum door with holy wafers, explaining to Seward and Morris that he had an indulgence.
    So, the practice isn’t new, and was apparently also used by fictional vampire hunters to acquire holy water and holy wafers. Come to think of it, there were real life “vampire hunters” in those days, who would go from town to town and “kill” supposed vampires by driving stakes through the chests of the newly dead so as to see to it they stayed dead. Of course they also charged a nice fee for services, and made a big production of the whole gruesome event.

  36. robro says

    I thought I had some of that authentic spiritual fruit in my heart a few minutes ago, but it turned out to just be gas from over indulgence. Now it’s passed.

    There has to be a really good twist on “Pope tweets.”

  37. Ragutis says

    Wasn’t there a confession app around as well? Sadly these nuts can’t think of any meaningful ways to modernize.

    As for the Pope porn, I haven’t seen any, but it appears quite a bit is made involving priests and/or nuns. By German and Italian companies mostly, for some reason. C’mon, BangBros, get with the program! Mein Deutsch ist nicht what it used to be. And subtitles make it hard to (ahem) concentrate.

  38. Nick Gotts says

    Of course they also charged a nice fee for services, and made a big production of the whole gruesome event. – DLC

    Yeah, but their success rate was 100%! Not one of those corpses became a vampire.

  39. timanthony says

    Robro: There has to be a really good twist on “Pope tweets.”

    Twit poops?

  40. timanthony says

    Indulgences were and still are essential proof that the Catholic Church is a big scam and knows it. They sink so low.

  41. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    Eh, not quite, PZ.

    Indulgences these days are granted to those who carry out certain tasks – such as climbing the Sacred Steps, in Rome (reportedly brought from Pontius Pilate’s house after Jesus scaled them before his crucifixion), a feat that earns believers seven years off purgatory.

    But attendance at events such as the Catholic World Youth Day, in Rio de Janeiro, a week-long event starting on 22 July, can also win an indulgence.

    Mindful of the faithful who cannot afford to fly to Brazil, the Vatican’s sacred apostolic penitentiary, a court which handles the forgiveness of sins, has also extended the privilege to those following the “rites and pious exercises” of the event on television, radio and through social media.

    “That includes following Twitter,” said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis’ Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. “But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet.”

    [Emphasis mine]

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s still silly and the very concept of indulgences is ridiculous and corrupt… just not quite as silly as the OP led me to believe.

  42. Dr Pepper says

    If you want priests behaving beastly and nuns having fun, read the Decameron.

  43. John Morales says

    Thumper, it is you who has got PZ wrong; had you emphasised the word ‘also’, there, you’d have noted that.

    (You do realise he did write “All you have to do is follow the Pope’s 140 character tweets as he presides over Catholic World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, and presto, indulgences!”, right?

    That’s tantamount to following his tweets live, as per your own emphasis)

  44. John Morales says

    Dr Pepper,

    If you want priests behaving beastly and nuns having fun, read the Decameron.

    +1.

    (Salacious, that is)

  45. says

    Alexandra @25:
    Sorry, the Church has been in sindication for some time. They cannot be cancelled til the End Times. Much Money to be made in Re-Runs.
    If at any time you are not satisfied, feel free to switch to Offerings From Kolob or Planet Hubbard for alternate spiritual teachings.

  46. John Morales says

    Tony @55, it’s traditional for worshippers to kiss the Pope’s ring when they are introduced to him.

    (It’s the seal for the Papal briefs, dontchano)

  47. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @Rey Fox #11

    I thought all our souls went to purgatory until the end times when God would sort us out into the goods and the bads.

    No no no. Breaking the Ten Commandments or comitting one of the Big Seven sends you straight to Hell. Comitting no sin ever sends you straight to Heaven. All minor sins are punished by some arbitrary length of time in Purgatory before you are let into Heaven, providing you truly repent of them. If you do not truly repent of them, you get sent to the Big Burner.

    It’s very simple.

    /Sophistimacated Theologiez

  48. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @John Morales

    I interpreted it to mean you merely had to read the Pope’s tweets, not assiduously follow them live. But maybe that’s just me :)

  49. John Morales says

    Thumper,

    I interpreted it to mean you merely had to read the Pope’s tweets, not assiduously follow them live. But maybe that’s just me :)

    Since you (ahem) followed the link PZ helpfully provided (as is evident @51), you will see that not only quoted but actually emphasised that it requires live following — so whence your tortured interpretation?

    Is it not transparently obvious to you that this is designed purely to puff up the number of the Pope’s twitter followers for propaganda purposes?

  50. zenlike says

    Comitting no sin ever sends you straight to Heaven.

    Except that there is this thing called original sin, which means that even if you committed no sin whatsoever during your life, you don’t automatically get a ticket into heaven, because you are already born with a big sin written on your personal ledger…

    …the Church has you coming and going.

    /Even More Sophistimacated Theologiez

  51. sqlrob says

    A literary trivia: in Bram Stoker’s Dracula Prof. Van Helsing was able to seal off Lucy Westenra’s mausoleum door with holy wafers, explaining to Seward and Morris that he had an indulgence.
    So, the practice isn’t new

    It was old when Stoker wrote that. Heck, it was old when Vlad the Impaler wasn’t undead.

  52. David Marjanović says

    Comment 30 wins the thread.

    How the fuck can anyone be catholic

    Easily: by not knowing about this shit. Or, better yet, by knowing it but not believing it, instead considering it the personal stupid opinions of a few bigwigs in the Vatican or a few crackpots somewhere out there (the Rorate Caeli Purgatorial Society is quite impressive that way).

    what happened to the souls of all those babies when Limbo was uninvented?

    It never was! *mad cackling*

    His Former Holiness only said “there are reasons for prayerful hope” that limbo doesn’t exist. Saying flat-out that it doesn’t is not an option: it would offer a way to be saved outside the Church, and that must not be. Extra ecclesia nulla salus.

    A literary trivia

    A trivium. :-)

  53. bruceheerssen says

    I wonder what authentic spiritual fruit tastes like. My guess is guilt. Also, is there such a thing as artificial spiritual fruit?

  54. Rich Woods says

    @David Marjanović #64:

    If only His Current Holiness would say there are reasons for prayerful hope that none of this shit exists, and people should concentrate on being nice to others now rather than nice to God when they’re dead.

    Extra ecclesia nulla salus.

    A literary trivia

    A trivium. :-)

    Ecclesiam. The object declension, if I remember my lessons correctly. :-)

  55. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Authentic spiritual fruit.

    Well, his views are bananas.

    B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

  56. Dr Pepper says

    @Rich Woods: you want the ablative case, and i bnelieve that would be ecclesia.

  57. says

    Everytime I get a peek into the weird world of Catholicism, it gets stranger and stranger.

    Call Yourself lucky that for You it’s optional!

  58. David Marjanović says

    If only His Current Holiness would say there are reasons for prayerful hope that none of this shit exists, and people should concentrate on being nice to others now rather than nice to God when they’re dead.

    Yeah, well.

    Ecclesiam. The object declension, if I remember my lessons correctly. :-)

    Actually, you’re right. I keep believing extra goes with the ablative, but it doesn’t, it goes with the accusative, as if it were a direction. ~:-| Thanks.

  59. Rich Woods says

    @Dr Pepper #68:

    you want the ablative case, and i bnelieve that would be ecclesia.

    @David Marjanović #70:

    Actually, you’re right. I keep believing extra goes with the ablative, but it doesn’t, it goes with the accusative, as if it were a direction. ~:-| Thanks.

    For what it’s worth, I think both of you can remember more than I can (my excuse is that’s it’s been thirty years). I don’t know who’s right.

    Where’s MagistraMarla when you need her?

  60. Rich Woods says

    that’s it’s

    It’s not as though I can even manage English some days…