Thursday, December 01, 2005

In Limbo

According to Italian media reports on Tuesday, an international theological commission will advise Pope Benedict to eliminate the teaching about limbo from the Catholic catechism.

The Catholic Church teaches that babies who die before they can be baptized go to limbo, whose name comes from the Latin for “border” or “edge,” because they deserve neither heaven nor hell.

Last October, seven months before he died, Pope John Paul II asked the commission to come up with “a more coherent and enlightened way” of describing the fate of such innocents.

That excerpt was from the Reuters story out of the Vatican City. I did not even realize we had a place called limbo because my Catholic school teachers told me that babies who aren’t baptized automatically go to heaven. They also told me the Jews killed Jesus. (Those were not their exact words but they did say that Pontius Pilate and the Romans did not kill him, so it was either the Jews or perhaps the Germans or Stalin. Who knows?) In high school, they tried to force it down our throats that the death penalty is bad. I don’t believe in the death penalty, but let people have an opinion. You have to love Catholic school--great for brainwashing.

In recent years, particularly after I watched the movie Dogma, I have come to question many of the practices of my Catholic faith. Why do we raise money to build a new marble baptismal font when the current marble baptismal font looks great and we could give money to the poor? (I only give money directly to charities and not to the Church for this very reason.) There is the whole sexual abuse debacle, which I’m sure has been going on for centuries, but the issue only exploded recently. I always wondered what makes the Pope infallible. Supposedly, he follows in the footsteps of Peter as the rock upon which God builds the Church, but he is just a man. If G-Dub had been Catholic and taken a different path in life, he could’ve been Pope George I. He could have been infallible. He might have said that intelligent design is fact, and we Catholics would have had to accept that because he is infallible. (Side note: I read a good counter-argument to intelligent design on some humor website. Yeah, a humor website. But it was a good argument. If the world is so complex that a greater being had to have a hand in how things evolved, who created the greater being? Who created the creator of the greater being? This could go on forever, but a very good point to you crazy right wing conservative nuts.) Pope G-Dub I is quite scary if you think about it.

Back to the limbo issue. The whole concept of faith in a set of beliefs and doctrines is undermined if the authoritative body can just turn around and say “Yo, let’s not teach that limbo thing anymore. Let’s think of something else to explain where unbaptized babies go.” I’m not a theologic scholar, but this limbo thing sounds pretty much the same as purgatory. If the Catholic Church can change its mind on limbo, who is to stop them from saying “You know what? The idea of purgatory kind of sucks. Let’s scrap it and think of a new way to describe the purification of the soul after death.”

I found an interesting theory on purgatory in Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of A True Story (I’m only one-third of the way through, but it’s brilliant so far). Anyway, I bet they could take his theory of purgatory and apply it. “I’ve had a theory that life on earth is purgatory…It’s almost like we’re all Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, but nobody on ‘earth’ has figured this out yet, even though it will suddenly seem obvious when we get to the end.” He thinks the amount of time you spend on earth is inversely proportional to how good you were in a previous life. “For example, infants who die from SIDS were actually great people when they were alive ‘for real,’ so they get to go to heaven after a mere five weeks in purgatory. Meanwhile, anyone Willard Scott ever congratulated for turning 102 was obviously a terrible individual who had many, many previous sins to pay for and had to spend a century in his or her unknown purgatory (even though the person seemed perfectly wholesome in this particular world).

I think it is an intriguing theory, but I think you’d really have to loathe your existence on this earth to truly accept it. Also, I just realized the Church can’t use this theory to teach purgatory because it conflicts with the fact that the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus mentions numerous times in the Gospels is actually earth—unless of course my Catholic school teachers were once again incorrect.

Until next time…

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