Hello, all. Sastra here doing a guest post for PZ, who is toiling hard, very hard, in Romania. Or sleeping. Either; both. Please bear with me then as I try to figure out how to work this thing. Trial and error…
My title echoes an old one from the Onion. The Cracker People are at it again.
Are traditional religions all moving closer to humanism? Is Catholicism? Perhaps.
Two days ago the new pope appeared to come very close to saying that “it doesn’t matter what you believe – as long as you’re a good person.” While giving a short sermon ( a “homily”) during Wednesday’s mass, Pope Francis suddenly began to address the status of the non-Catholic – yea, even the atheist – regarding salvation … and he pronounced it good.
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Really? Just “do good?” Does that include intellectual integrity? Say, something along the lines of approaching the existence of God as a hypothesis whilst taking all our scientific evidence regarding cosmology, evolution, and neurology into account? Does that include objectively applying Occam’s razor to God? We atheists are very good at that. It’s a fine form of virtue. One of our finest.
It’s odd, though, if he really does mean that. I suspect not — given that he is the Catholic Pope.
The relationship between Catholicism and humanism is a strange one. While the roots of humanism — with its emphasis on reason and science and its focus on human rights and virtues – go back to classical Greece, the gradual infusion of ancient philosophy into a Church concerned with both scholarship and apologetic lead to contending views regarding the role of nature in theology. “Catholic humanism” may sound like a contradiction, but it seems there is a thin thread of Renaissance liberalism feeding into what is a far more varied religion than its proponents usually say it is. This thread sometimes weaves itself into a culture which is increasingly humanist in sentiment.
Most of my relatives are Catholic. They mostly know I am an atheist, too. But “Don’t worry,” I’m reassured. God is large. God knows my heart. Christ died that all might be saved and surely the virtue in the life that I live will speak for me at the end. And so they calmly rationalize and dismiss what is undoubtedly a very contentious issue within their church. How much of religion is specifically religious? One would think doctrine matters. It can’t all be some sort of literary effort and performance art.
Like most Catholic pronouncements, however, the interpretation of the homily is a bit open. A Father Martin clarified the pope’s position thus:
“Pope Francis is saying, more clearly than ever before, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for everyone. That’s always been a Christian belief. You can find St. Paul saying in the First Letter to Timothy that Jesus gave himself as a “ransom for all.” But rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy. And in this era of religious controversies, it’s a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories.”
Uh huh. This clears up nothing. Of course we all know that Christ died “for everybody.” Say it with as much joy as you want and you still won’t match the current general hysteria on this point, an excitement shared by fundamentalist Protestants.
Clarify the terms, padre. The question is whether those who are said to “reject” this bizarre human sacrifice and thus end up damned include everyone who is not Catholic or everyone who is not Christian or everyone who doesn’t believe in God … or just the “bad” people (who are…?) When Francis says that “we will meet one another there” is the “there” supposed to be heaven – or the Holy Mother Church, where the newly converted atheist has been led by his or her good works to finally adopt the religion of the One True God?
My guess is that some will take it one way, others will take it another way .. and each side will think the other side lacks Understanding. Because the pope was “more clear than ever before.”
Perhaps that is not a high bar.
The day after the pope’s apparent inclusion of the nonbelieving damned into salvation, the Vatican went into damage control.
On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.'”
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who are aware of the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”
At the same time, Rosica writes, “every man or woman, whatever their situation, can be saved. Even non-Christians can respond to this saving action of the Spirit. No person is excluded from salvation simply because of so-called original sin.”
Rosica also said that Francis had “no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation,” during his homily on Wednesday.
I’ll bet he didn’t. But no fear: the Vatican easily spins it as business as usual. You must still enter into the Church. So no big deal.
Except that this is not how the pronouncement is being spun in the media, is it? From what I can tell one and all seem to be treating it much more along the lines of “it doesn’t matter what you believe … as long as you’re a good person.” Even Dave Silverman is displaying a cautious approval. Well then.
So let us hope this impression is augmented by various Protestants furiously protesting the wickedness of the Papists and their false god.
Works vs. faith. The world moves on. Eventually “works” like saying the rosary and taking communion are going to give way to being charitable and refraining from serial killings. Humanism triumphs and Catholicism turns into a quaint ceremonial term used mostly by history buffs and its rituals are adopted by the goths. Amen.
If you try to understand xianity, you can’t do it. It’s incoherent and contradictory.
Nothing new here.
Catholic doctrine is eternal and unchanging, but of course, that always, always means it changes all the time.
It used to be that Protestants were all going to hell. These days, it seems that some Protestants will go to heaven as long as their beliefs are similar enough to the Catholic church i.e. faith and works. The faith alone crowd is still going to hell.
Or not. There might be a narrow window here for Protestants and nonxians to go to heaven. Until the Vatican changes its mind. Again.
chigau (違う) says
Someone is going to assassinate this Pope.
One would think that.
OTOH, one would HOPE that indeed all religion DOES become nothing more than performance art.
Everyone needs a hobby.
We just need to make sure our hobbies don’t end up being the attempt to crush others’ hobbies as a first step. THEN we can poke fun at each others hobbies without getting killed in the process.
Seriously, I think this pope just had a Rodney King moment.
maybe Francis didn’t, but Rosica certainly seems to be involved in a theological debate…
Azuma Hazuki says
So does Bergoglio know that most of the early church fathers were Universalist, and this was a slip of the tongue? Is he himself a Universalist? Because what the PR-toady said doesn’t match what the Pope said, not by a long shot.
I’d be very interested in hearing him expand further on this. He’s a Jesuit, who are known to be more educated than the average 70-year-old virgin-inna-dress. And his personal life and morals seem rather different from Emperor Ratzatine’s. Maybe he knows some ancient Greek? Maybe he’s a mystic like Eckhart? Very interesting, indeed.
Because, if you think about it, the idea of eternal torture makes their God at best a failed hero and at worse the actial villain of the story all along. We are talking about a being that has literally any method we can think of and all the ones we can’t at its disposal, as well as literally infinite time.
There is nothing that would stop this God from “saving” every single piece of its creation…save for its own will. In other words, this God has its hand on the fire valve, and any torment its creations experience is a direct result of it choosing to torture them.
John Morales says
As always, you get to the heart of the matter.
(Pontifical pelludicity is at a premium)
David Wilford says
I don’t think atheists are suddenly going to be considered on par with Catholics with regard to salvation because of Francis’ comments, but there’s something else to consider that’s perhaps more important:
“Perhaps the focus on atheism, as breathtaking has this issue has proven to be for the media and blogosphere, misses the more powerful concept at the core of Francis’ homily: the culture of encounter. In the documents from the Second Vatican Council, as well as much older texts, one finds numerous explicit statements about our shared humanity, universal rights, and the necessity to find common ground. This idea of encounter lays out a pathway for us to locate and recognize those commonalities. “
consciousness razor says
It doesn’t really have the same zing as “be excellent to each other.”
PZ Myers says
Is anybody else creeped out by the fact that a bunch of old celibates regard the church as feminine? “refuse to enter her or remain in her”…ewww.
PZ Myers says
#10: and party on!
party on, Garth!
what’s worse, it’s the “Holy Mother Church”
make of that what you will…
Asher Kay says
I actually kind of like that. It’s a reminder (to me, anyway) that belief is not really very meaningful in itself — it only matters when it has causal force. If people do good, cause good, support good, it doesn’t matter if they believe some magical or absurd things about the nature of reality.
Of course, there’s a lot of people who would be sitting around for a long time at the appointed meeting place, waiting for the Catholic Church to arrive.
Ratzi couldn’t stop the world talking about his child raping priests so middle management forced him to resign. Then along comes Francis with a brand new PR team and already he’s got the reporters talking about who will, or will not, get into heaven. Mission accomplished.
Just a couple of thoughts since it’s late here, and I’m bound for bed ever so shortly:
1: Sastra, your effortless command of language is a delight, as always.
2: Why would the Big P’s folks come scuttling out to apologize away what may have been an almost inclusive sentiment? Was he giving away the True Faith™ carrot without brandishing the stick?
The entire basis of catholicism is that you do have to be in the church to be saved. They can’t afford to ever endorse universal salvation as it would send a message to christians that the catholic church is completely unnecessary.
They will toss out the magic cookie and the virgin birth before they stop preaching the necessity of the holy mother church.
Azuma Hazuki says
There’s always been a lot of repressed sexuality in the church. They understand very well what sublimating human sexual energy leads to, and attempt to channel it for their own ends.
The Bride of Christ, though, is a battered wife. I’ve seen enough abuse cases in my time to know. The dogma is precisely the same as any abusive boyfriend or husband uses: “I love you. You are worthless. You’re nothing without me. All the good things you have come from me. If you leave I’ll kill you.”
I can’t imagine the old men being interested in the church that way though; for one thing, it’s female, and for another, it’s waaaaaaay over 18 [/cheapshot]
Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says
Yes, in that unlike Ratzi, he was a close associate of a ruthless dictatorship at an age when he should certainly have known better, and when he was in a position of considerable influence, as head of the Jesuit order in Argentina during the “dirty war”. Here he is, putting a magic cracker in the mouth of the late unlamented Jorge Videla. There are specific allegations against him of betraying two anti-dictatorship Jesuits to the authorities, and of having known of the systematic programme of kidnapping the children of murdered leftists, and a counter-claim that he actually saved those Jesuits from death, all of which may or may not be true, but what is certain is that like the entire hierarchy of the Argentine Church (apparently unlike its Chilean counterpart), he did not speak out against a regime of appalling brutality. He’s also an associate of an “integralist” (that’s pretty much a polite word for “fascist”) organization, Communion and Liberation, as were his two predecessors.
The commenters at Puffho are drooling all over it, I needed a towel to dry off again. Like this:
Oh, those 1G catholics couldn’t figure out for themselves that people of other beliefs or nonbelief can be nice folk? They needed an old bachelor to tell them?
Why is everyone hanging on what he says? He’s a high churchman which makes him a politician which means we have no idea what he actually believes
We have to wait to see what he does. Will he maintain the church’s assault on women and how hard? Will he try to soften the influence of corrupt regimes in Africa or will he just keep taking their money?
I don’t know about in heaven but I do know that the works vs faith thing is settled in reality.
Azuma Hazuki says
I don’t think you understand what a big leap this is theologically. It has long been a church doctrine that, outside the RCC, there is no salvation, period. Either you’re in the One True Church (TM) or your eternal destiny is endless fiery torture. This is the one thing the RCC has that would keep hold on people, especially after the pedo priest scandal, so to hear anyone high up, let alone the Pope, challenge it is earth-shaking.
MG Myers says
Thanks a lot for writing the guest posts on Pharyngula! I enjoy hearing your views.
There is actual good news here.
That was not taken back by the Vatican. This pope acknowledges that many atheists are good people and good neighbors. (well, not the MRAs) Should be obvious, but it hasn’t been to them up till now.
Religions vary in the degree to which they do harm. This speech indicates a willingness to move in a less bad direction.
Does he expect us to stop eating babies?
… or maybe he expects us to do something else with them … this is the catholic church we are talking about
Somebody tell his holiness his slip is showing.
*Does the happy dance*
Can this happen more often, please? PZ and Chris are good, but the crystal clarify of Sastra’s writing is always a joy, and I usually feel just a little smarter after reading anything she writes.
I do get what a leap it is. I went to Catholic school. I’m grateful for the experience as it cured me of religion.
The sexual obsession, the sadomasochism, but also the fact that my dear friends were going to burn? Better no god than an idiot god.
My point was that you can’t actually tell if a salesman believes in the product. It certainly helps but it’s not necessary.
Catholic doctrine is a meme version of the parasite genes that cause the parasites host to act in ways that benefit the parasite. After they read Thomas Malthus and realized that unchecked population growth could only lead to human disaster they came up with the birth control rule. It’s the most highly stressed societies that are recruiting ground for a scam that offers a reward infinitely greater than any Nigerian oil ministers bank account.
What the Pope said is all are Redeemed. He did not say all are Saved. As has been explsined to me by Catholics Redeemed =\= Saved. (And, no, I don’t know why they capitalize the words.) Basically he’s saying that because of Jesus everybody is capable of doing good, but until you become a Catholic you’re still going to Hell.
The church: a feminine institution built by women, then ruled and screwed over by men…
Kinda like civilization when you think about it.
I’m wildly speculating here, and I’m probably wrong, but I did have an amusing thought regarding this. What if the pope is secretly an atheist? Like mentioned above, he’s essentially more of a politician than anything else, so who knows what his inner beliefs are. There are plenty of stories of clergymen who became atheists while on the job, and the way Bergoglio is approaching the papacy does seem radical compared to his predecessors, so it wouldn’t surprise me if by some small chance it turned out to be true.
Plus, according to the prophecy of St. Malachy, he’s supposed to be the antichrist or something. :p
then the catliks you talked to were wrong. Listen to what the Pope said again. Especially the part about “all meeting together” after he talked about atheists.
the catliks you talked with are in denial.
chigau (違う) says
When I was still a Catholic in say 1971, “Catholic or Hell” was definitely what I was told.
John Morales says
And your comment indicates you’ve bought into the PR spin the new administration is employing.
Azuma Hazuki says
The internal politics of the RCC are weird. The RCC is a composite machine, much less amenable to “sola scriptura” and therefore harder to pin down as to what it believes than any number of smaller Protestant sects. They also use “tradition” in deciding their dogma, something that both holds it back tremendously and has the potential to spring it forward quickly.
Vatican II was a very tense time (not that I was born then but I know of it). Odds are good what we saw on the surface was not even the tenth of what was going on inside; I’ve heard rumors it came close to allowing contraception like mainline Protestant churched, for example. Unfortunately, “tradition” reared its ugly head again and they fell back asleep on, of all people, Thomas Aquinas. You know, the guy who says masturbation is a worse sin and more “unnatural” (another word they love) than rape because (heterosexual) rape can still lead to conception?
Yeah. Nevermind that Aquinas thought, as did just about everyone until some few centuries ago, that women contribute nothing to reproduction and male semen (“seed”) had homunculi in it, essentially tiny, undeveloped, but complete humans. Throw in a reference to Onan (whose crime was refusing to consummate a Levirate marriage, NOT jacking off!) and you have a complete clusterfuck.
This is what happens when fear, ignorance, and power combine. And it’s been this way since 325 AD. And I would wager not one in a hundred Vatican personnel understands the church’s history.
Ichthyc @34 What precisely were they wrong about?
they reinterpreted what happened there, based on what they WANT to think, not what he actually meant.
again, he wouldn’t have mentioned “all meeting together”, unless it were to be all in the same place.
so, unless you think the Pope plans to have a stay in hell….
consciousness razor says
It could be metaphorical, just like “We must meet one another doing good” doesn’t necessarily imply an actual meeting location. (That would be a weird reading even for a Catholic.) Unless you think there’s some requirement that we interpret it literally….
When he says this:
I’m pretty sure he means (just like the later “clarification” suggests) simply that redemption is intended for everyone: it’s possible for everyone, not that everyone does in fact get redemption automatically or necessarily because it already happened in the past. Jesus has — in actuality — redeemed us all; and from that point on, it’s your own damn fault if you fuck it up. You can still fuck it up, because it’s not as if “redemption” is really a done deal: you still need to “do good” (whatever that means) in order to “meet” with God’s will (meeting in the Church, heaven, or maybe in some metaphorical space of all possible good deeds, or together under the banner of doing good despite our differences, or whatever the fuck his dribble really means assuming it even matters).
So God (read: the church/pope) still gets the last laugh, I think: god wasn’t so stupid as to make Catholicism irrelevant thousands of years ago when he “redeemed” everyone by killing himself. No, they still need to pay the bills for shiny new robes and legal settlements and crackers and stuff. Same dissembling Catholic nonsense as ever.
Taken in context, with the passage from Mark, it seems like he’s just stressing that everyone can do good, that it’s not impossible for atheists to do good. The redemption angle is just putting a different light on it, but still saying basically the same shit. You could get an argument from morality out of this, if you’re feeling apologetic: we all know what good things are and we can all do them because god made it possible, so explain that, atheists!
Ichthyc is clearly wrong here. Catholic doctrine as described in their own catechism, which is easy to find online, has included universal redemption for centuries. This is a concept that Calvin explicitly rejected. Catholic doctrine does, and has not, included the notion of universal salvation. In Catholic doctrine, redemption is a necessary but not sufficient condition for salvation. If the pope had meant that all were going to heaven he would have used the word salvation.
To believe that the pope was offering a statement of universalism would require that he doesn’t know his own church’s doctrines and that we ignore the fact that his own office clarified his message. It also requires that we see this message as something different from Catholic teaching of the past. A visit to any Catholic apologetic website will show you that it isn’t.
So what does the pope mean with the sentence, “do good: we will meet each other there?” WThe word there clearly refers to the act of doing good. It is not a reference to heaven or any specific destination.
Goodbye Enemy Janine says
Funny. Seeing that I do not believe in any sort of deity, I do not care what a spokesperson for a fictional character has to say about my fate.
Interesting that the word of their god would need such heavy translation so as to change the terms of certain salvation from “doing good” to “do good- and we’ll see”.
no, you’re missing my point.
I’m saying that this current Pope was NOT following catholic dogma when he made that speech.
so, stop trying to force your dogma into his mouth.
no it doesn’t. In fact, it would mean he knows them all too well.
you’re really not getting this.
Azuma Hazuki says
Azuma Hazuki says
Oops, sorry. Blockquote fail. You’re very clever, young man, but it’s blockquotes all the way down!
David Marjanović says
Grammatically, they have no choice. The word “church” is feminine in every European language that has gender.
Do keep in mind that Catholicism offers more options than just heaven and hell.
I’m with comment 41.
“The Holy Roman Church will sit in the last persecution.
Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End.”
In the original 16th-century Latin:
“In perſecutione extrema S.R.E. ſedebit.
Petrus Romanus, qui paſcet oues in multis tribulationibus: quibus tranſactis ciuitas ſepticollis diruetur, & Iudex tremẽdus iudicabit populum ſuum. Finis.”
Azuma Hazuki says
Catholic doctrine is pretty corrupt. Their use of “tradition” has been mostly a bad influence on them, and remember that they originated at Nicaea; they aren’t the Church of Origen and Clement of Alexandria, they’re the church of Eusebius and Augustine of Hippo.
Somehow I think we’re not being told something here. Surely they know of the majority Universalist position taken by the pre-Nicene fathers? It was just our dumb luck that the one church center that couldn’t speak Greek (Carthage/Rome) became the dominant one…IIRC somewhere in the Eastern churches, senior clergy will privately admit that one may hold the “greater hope” (the only hope with a God like that!), but I don’t know of any Catholic universalists in the hgh clergy.
consciousness razor says
They don’t care about history or doctrine or even hope. They care about control.
Azuma Hazuki says
Then they are blaspheming, and they are slapping God in the face with their own doctrine, dogma, and reality-distortion field. I would be afraid to do that.
consciousness razor says
Blasphemy’s a victimless crime. We should remember that this is coming from our point of view, assuming your interpretation or the Church Father’s interpretations are orthodox. That needn’t be the case. And I’m not saying it’s how they see it. I would bet most of them aren’t consciously thinking to themselves, “meh, fuck god, fuck tradition and consistency, and fuck everyone and their little dogs too; I want power.” But it certainly does look that way, whether or not they’re aware of it. Even for the people who express “privately” (not exactly private if we’ve heard it) that they hope everyone gets saved. (RCC clergy do say the same shit, by the way, along with almost every flavor of orthodox or protestant.) However they spin it, they can use it to keep people in line and keep their positions as part of god’s propaganda machine. That’s what they’re really doing; their ancient doctrines and authorities and sophisticated theologies are about as relevant to that as their silly costumes.
Well, I see that the catechism of the Catholic Church says:
So the pope actually was, indeed, following Catholic dogma. You are wrong.
You’ve had it explained to you several times, by persons more knowledgeable than myself, that redemption and salvation are distinct and non-equivalent terms of art in Catholic theology.
I really don’t understand why you refuse to understand this simple point.
Owlmirror #52 wrote:
Yes. Also in quite a few of the Protestant theologies.
Think of it like this: Jesus prints a coupon and distributes it onto the doorstep of every house in the world: “Good for One Free Ice Cream Cone. Bearer must present this to Jehovah’s Ice Cream Parlor.”
OMG the coupon is for everyone! Everyone can have a free ice cream cone! ALL may redeem it! It’s available to all and will work for everyone!!! Even if you thought you didn’t like ice cream, or didn’t deserve it!
Wait. What if you don’t believe in ice cream? Or what if you think there is no Jehovah’s Ice Cream Parlor? What if you don’t ever actually bother to get off the couch? Do you still get the free ice cream cone?
But whose fault is that?
Salvation — actually getting the ice cream — involves having the faith and stamina and will and commitment to go to the store. Join the Church, iow, and do the good works. Because you know it’s got salvation just waiting to be redeemed, courtesy of the Redeemer.
This analogy might help us understand how the Catholics see the distinction between redemption (everybody gets the coupon) and salvation (not everyone decides to use it.) It might also help us understand why the whole scenario is so hopelessly screwed up. The analogy maybe works well enough for the doctrine … but it is a miserable failure when it comes to applying it to the real life situation. None of it fits. It all assumes that the lucky people who find the coupon on their doorstep are just like that — people who find a coupon on their doorstep. If you fail to use it then it’s just like not believing in ice cream or ice cream stores or expecting free delivery with no coupon.
Reality is a lot more complicated than making up stories in your head.
Azuma Hazuki says
This person says it well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvRPbsXBVBo
Do you ever get the impression believers simply aren’t capable of looking at things big-picture style? They’re good on minutiae, but don’t seem able to take all the little pieces and put them together. And with the major themes of their unholy books disproven (Original Sin, global catastrophic flood, and so on), how do they keep going? Do they just not know what disproving these things means?
I tried reading the Catholic Encyclopedia articles on redemption and salvation, but it’s tough going. I suspect that after regurgitating enough dogma, the brains of even the most intelligent, experienced, and aware theologians realize that the dogma is basically what some collective of old men decided at some council somewhere, and it remains ossified in Catholic tradition with no more justification than “they said so, and they were divinely inspired, because they said so, so I say so, so we all say so”, and the articles become one long thick multi-layered argument by fiat.
I suspect that an analogy closer to the way the Church thinks (than a ticket for ice cream) is slavery. Everyone is a slave to sin. Now, Christ redeemed everyone — paid the price, just like a compassionate man with infinite wealth might buy all of the slaves from a cruel owner, and manumit them. But! It’s not enough to be redeemed. Salvation depends on the redeemed slave walking away from the cruel master. Of course, that means that the slave has to be told the good news that they are redeemed, and may leave the cruel master, and only then are they really actually saved.
Of course, this analogy also fails on close inspection. If “sin” is such a horrible, cruel “master”, why is the church so hung up on the pleasures of sex and masturbation as being “sin”? If the slaves are actually manumitted, why must they worship the new master, and act on his every whim? Aren’t they actually still slaves? If everyone is actually redeemed from sin, then doesn’t that mean that there are no sinners since Jesus died? But the Church also teaches that every human is still a sinner.
And so on. I suspect that after too close a questioning, a priest or theologian would fall back on “It’s a mystery”, which is the Catholic way of saying “Shut. Up.”
…by people who keep missing the part of his speech I was actually focusing on, but what the fuck ever.
Jesus built a bridge called (your church here)to heaven. Redemption.
You cross the bridge by joining (whatever) church. Salvation.
God kicked you out of paradise and slammed the gate shut. He’s myopic and can’t tell you from Adam and doesn’t get that it wasn’t you who ate the fucking apple. Then Jesus opened the gate again. Redemption.
You have to pay the gatekeeper at whatever church and they will let you back in. Salvation.