Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Plenary Indulgence

This week the Catholic church has decided to re-instate a pre-1960s Vatican rule of plenary indulgence. 

Again, from Wikipedia:

"An indulgence, in Roman Catholic theology, is the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. The indulgence is granted by the church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution.[1] The belief is that indulgences draw on the storehouse of merit acquired by Jesus' sacrifice and the virtues and penances of the saints.[2] They are granted for specific good works and prayers.[2]

Indulgences replaced the severe penances of the early church,[2] or, to express it more exactly, they replaced the shortening of those penances that was allowed at the intercession of those imprisoned and those awaiting martyrdom for the faith.[3]"

That doesn't mean very much to me, so I dug a bit deeper. Basically, the Church thinks that they can be the middle man between the ultra-good and the ultra-bad. They take some of the good that is done, and allocate what bad that it should cancel out. Hence, the part about "the intercession of those imprisoned and those awaiting martyrdom." Now, the thing that I've always heard about (specifically from Nick) is how these indulgences were abused by the Catholic Church. From what I understand, they would let the super rich get away with murder (literally) as long as they paid up the cash, they would receive a document stating that they had been absolved of their sins and in the eyes of the Church, would still get entrance to heaven. In this way, the Church paid for many of it's cathedrals and monestaries. 

Here's the rub, isn't God the ultimate judge and jury? I mean, sure Peter's the one at the gate with the key, but doesn't he get the list from the big man himself? What happened to vengance shall be mine? I just find it interesting that the Church thinks of itself as the broker of morality. I guess I shouldn't really be suprised. I do have to say that I don't like this new Pope. Trying to drag the Church back to the good ol' days just seems wrong on so many levels. 


Liz Dembski said...

Let me clear some things up. The Catholic church did used to sell indulgences, but that was outlawed in 1567. Today, you can earn one by doing good deeds, praying and practicing the sacrament of confession. Also, there's an interesting rule of one indulgence per person per day day. And you can get one for someone who is dead, so they won't have to wait out eternity in "purgatory".

However, it was not the current Pope, Benedict, who reinstated plenary indulgences, but the popular (and liberal, for a Catholic) Pope John Paul II. He authorized bishops to offer plenary indulgences in 2000 as part of the church third millennium celebration.

Yes, literally "paying" for your sins is morally wrong and in the past the buying and selling of plenary indulgences was just that, but I don't think that is what the Catholic church is trying to do by reintroducing them. In 2001, Pope John Paul II described the offering of indulgences as a "happy incentive" for confession. Which is something that has nothing to do with money and everything to do with forgiveness and redemption.

I think this quote sums it up, "It’s more about praying for the benefit of others, doing good deeds, acts of charity," said the Rev. Kieran Harrington, spokesman for the Brooklyn diocese.

Now, I disagree with the Catholic church's stance on things like abortion, homosexuality, birth control and the role women can play in the church, but I don't think there's anything wrong with praying for the benefit of others, doing good deeds and practicing acts of charity.

Jesse said...

Liz, thanks for the comment! How thoughtful and well written.

I did know that history (and that it was the Pre-Pope who started it back up for the whole confession boost), but I still think the whole thing is idiotic:

Doing good deeds for the sake of those good deeds is the highest esteem. Doing a deed for the payoff of an afterlife is ridiculous, not to mention it spits in that deed's face. I've never bought Pascal's argument(hey why not believe? - worst case you just die like everyone else) because it just seems disingenuous. SO yeah, I kinda think that encouraging good deed for the sake of avoiding hell, or purgatory, or anything else besides the sake of doing that very deed is, well, bullshit.

Finally, I still think that the church is trying to middle God with the whole confession thing in general. I mean come ON, God is BY DEFINITION all knowing and all powerful. He/She knows. We don't need to go into a box, get on our knees, tell the dude in a stiff collar robe all the dirty little secrets we've been bottling up for the past day/week/month/year, GOD KNOWS. He/she knew you were going to do that particular "sin" since the beginning of the universe (unless you believe in free will, which opens another can of worms I don't feel like talking about right now). Then they march you off to the pews to say your little poems to God as if that does ANYTHING?!?

OR you believe in my God- the God of the Utterly Indifferent. The God who may or may not exist, He/She could really care less.

/end rant

Matt Fate said...

..."The belief is that indulgences draw on the storehouse of merit acquired by Jesus' sacrifice and the virtues and penances of the saints."...

The idea that merit is a quantifiable tangible asset that can be stored and used later at the discretion of arbitrary humans who have self-appointed themselves as the intermediaries between an individual and their god is ridiculous. This is another example to add to MY storehouse of DEmerits against organized religion.

IF there is a god or gods who have any interest in or pay any attention to humanity (other than as flecks of inconsequential dust orbiting the nucleus of a galactic atom that we call the Sun), wouldn't it be ironic to learn that their desires for our behavior or destiny have no similarity whatsoever to the guidelines for morality set out in ink by the hands of megalomaniacal mortals who have deluded themselves into thinking they have been chosen to broker "lesser" people's relationships to the divine? The churches then would be, in essence, leading people AWAY from the will of their gods by pretending they knew more about the will of deities than anyone else. Last time I checked, no one - NO ONE - has a red phone on their desk that direct-dials God (or the Pantheon) and gets any response that can be verified in ANY way. So ultimately, the source of all religious code is the mind and delusions of humans, making religious faith a leash for the insecure and gullible, wielded over the masses by the unverifiable and equally undismissable threat of eternal purgatory if one doesn't follow the pathways to "heaven" prescribed by the clergy in a bid for power over the beliefs of others. They can't know any better than the rest of humanity, and the fact that they have the audacity to claim that they do is strong evidence to the contrary. Its like a lawyer trying to convince you that you need to hire them to represent you in pillow-talk with your beloved. Their arbitration fee is cheap; just your soul and free will.

I do agree with Liz's point though. Call it praying or call it well-wishing, hoping for and striving for harmony and health for all people is indisputably noble and good. The kind of good that brings a peace to your soul, and doesn't require a stamp of approval from any Clergy to be recognized as positive and benevolent by all.