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Ways of Worldmaking May 1, 2007

Posted by Dwight and Lynn Furrow in Current Events.
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I think we have an ontological crisis. And somewhere in here there is a joke about priests and children.

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1. Tony Pettina - May 23, 2007

You see, now this is an important development for the Catholic church. This solution is a bit easier than ones for what I think are bigger problems. At least if limbo is simply not there, then all those souls would go to the good place by default.

The real problems are with purgatory and all the people who were killed while traveling and wearing a St. Christopher’s medal after he was de-canonized.

Catholics are traditionally petitioned to pray for the souls in purgatory. But how does one know which souls are in purgatory? Surely that is an important question. Yes, you can pray for any soul in purgatory just to help get them out, but what if you really needed to focus on a specific soul? Where do you go to find out? How many prayers does it take to get anyone out of purgatory? Why isn’t there a manual with tables in it or something?

The other one is even worse. If you died while wearing the St. Christopher’s medal and went to heaven, then do you have to leave now that old Chris is no longer a saint? Do you get grandfathered in? What if you were waiting to be processed when he was de-canonized? Again, no information on this is forthcoming.

It seems to me that if the church is going to spend so much time spinning these things into existence, at least they should give better guidance to the believer when they get unspun.

2. Isaac - May 24, 2007

I agree, and honestly I think a lot of it has to do with tradition. For example like how people stand up and sit down when the preacher stands up and sits down. It seems pointless when people pray for people if they died and went to hell. God’s choice would be gods choice and he would be omnipotent. Its not like god would go back purgatory if johhny is being a good boy praying for uncle tom. what do you think?

3. Dwight Furrow - May 24, 2007

Yup. I guess imaginative ontology is just as hard as the real thing.

4. Abdul - May 24, 2007

Dwight –

You’re only analyzing the Christian ontological arguments though. The ontological arguments in the Islamic religion make much more sense. For instance, there is a purgatory in Islam, but it is only for those people who have been removed from hell. Muslims believe that most people who is sent to hell will spend a limited time there before being moved into purgatory, and later on into heaven after they’ve served their time in purgatory. Children and babies automatically go to heaven as they’ve done nothing wrong. The concept of original sin does not exist in Islam, therefore there is no need for baptism. Everyone is born with a clean slate. Everyone is responsible for their own sins and good deeds.

5. Thea - May 25, 2007

Whoo Hooo! That article made my day. I just found out that virtuous pagans get to live in limbo. All this time, I thought we went directly to Hell.

6. Kevin W. - May 25, 2007

Apparently I’d missed this post from earlier… now it’s time for me to have a field day with this one.

First, based upon my understanding of Catholic doctrine, this development seems problematic in the context of the old dispute regarding whether one can get into heaven based upon “faith alone”, or through “both faith and works”. In the case of unbaptized infants (and especially unborn, aborted ones), there is neither faith nor works; and of course, they are still stuck with original sin, since they haven’t been baptized.

This leads me to the question: if an infant who is unbaptized (has original sin), non-believing, and has not performed good works, yet can still be granted access to heaven, then on what justifiable & internally consistent grounds could so many others be condemned to hell? Does this exemption apply only to the children of Catholics, who would have inevitably been baptized? What if the infant was the child of Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists, and thus would never have been baptized anyways – do these infants have the opportunity to go to heaven as well? If unbaptized infants who have no faith and no good works in their favor can go to heaven, then what of tribal peoples (or any not introduced to Catholicism) who are unbaptized, have no faith, but may in fact have good works in their favor?

How can the doctrine of infants going straight to heaven without baptism, faith, or works, be reconciled with the concept of original sin (eliminated through baptism), or the teachings of getting to heaven through either “faith alone” or “faith and works”? I’d imagine some religious people could conceivably be resentful that an unborn child – whose faith and morality were never tested – may go straight to heaven, whereas others may genuinely struggle endlessly throughout their entire life with issues of faith and morality, only to fall short in the end.

Furthermore, this development could be construed to encourage the practice of abortion. The original piece (the subject of discussion in the Slate link) makes specific reference to the salvation of “unborn victims of abortion”, and of “infant victims of violence, born and unborn, who… are endangered by the ‘fear or selfishness of others’.”

If the God of Catholicism were to condemn unborn victims of abortion to hell, this would plainly be perverse, since they obviously cannot be faulted for being victims of abortion, which would prematurely deprive them of the opportunity for baptism and religious conversion. On the other hand, if aborted infants go straight to heaven, this would appear to be an incentive for abortion – by doing so, you are guaranteeing them eternal life in heaven. Why subject your child to the horrible temptations and sinfulness of this life (not to mention the inconvenience of raising them), when you can get them a straight ticket to the pearly gates on the Abortion Express? No matter how deranged or demented the parents’ motivations for aborting their child – even if they do it solely because they genuinely think it will get their child straight to heaven – it couldn’t possibly be construed as the aborted child’s fault, so the child would still be presumably innocent of any wrongdoing. The parents themselves may of course be (ostensibly) dooming themselves to hell in the process, but perhaps they felt that outcome was already inevitable, or that it was a worthy sacrifice for their child. If being the unborn victim of abortion is sufficient basis for being granted salvation in heaven, then on what grounds can Catholics oppose abortion, since clearly eternal life in Heaven is the greatest possible good imaginable?

Finally, it also occurs to me that most Catholics probably believe (or at least want to believe) that in heaven their spirit will be, to some extent, a reflection of their person or consciousness as it exists in earth. Admittedly, I have no idea what the official position of the Church is in this regard – whether or not your spirit, as it exists in heaven, contains any of the qualities that you had as a person on earth, including aspects of your personality or memory. However, I think most Catholics probably assume that there is at least some “continuity of consciousness” between their current mind and their spirit which enters heaven after they die. Surely in heaven they will remember their life on earth, and at least retain some aspects of their personality? I think that assumption must be a significant part of humans’ allure towards the concept of eternal life – after all, if there is no continuity of consciousness from this life to the next, then to what extent is that “spirit” in heaven really “you”? And furthermore, if there is no continuity of consciousness, to what extent should you, as a person right now on earth, care if that spirit survives?

Assuming, then, that this is indeed the case – that upon entering heaven, one retains some aspects of their memory and personality – what are we to make of the case involving an unbaptized infant, or an aborted fetus, or even a 100-cell blastocyst? According to Catholic doctrine, all of these are considered “people”, since life is said to begin at the moment of fertilization. What kind of “person”, then, is the 100 celled blastocyst – and if this spirit can enter heaven, what kind of “spirit” would it be? It had no concept of God or religion during its lifetime, it had no memory, and no personality. If the spirit is indeed partially a reflection of a person as they existed on earth (as most people seem to inclined to assume), and a blastocyst lacks any of the qualities most people would attribute to a person, would the spirit of a blastocyst then be fundamentally inferior or lacking in comparison to those of adults who have entered heaven? Would God simply extrapolate forward in time, giving the spirit of the blastocyst the qualities it “would” have had in the future if he/she had lived a full-length life? If this is the case, what would that mean for free will, if such an extrapolation can definitively be made?

These are the issues which occurred to me upon pondering this piece, and I certainly acknowledge that many others could be conceived of as well. Considering the convoluted logical gymnastics that would have to be performed in order to rationalize these issues, the only conclusion at which I can arrive is that the concept of heaven itself is simply incoherent.


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