Limbo and Poseidon


‘Consider the recent deliberations of the Roman Catholic Church on the doctrine of limbo. Thirty top theologians from around the world recently met at the Vatican to discuss the question of what happens to babies who die without having undergone the sacred rite of baptism. Since the Middle Ages, Catholics have believed that such babies go to a state of limbo, where they enjoy what St. Thomas Aquinas termed “natural happiness” forever. This was in contrast to the opinion of St. Augustine, who believed that these unlucky infant souls would spend eternity in hell.

Though limbo had no real foundation in scripture, and was never official Church doctrine, it has been a major part of the Catholic tradition for centuries. In 1905, Pope Pius X appeared to fully endorse it: “Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but they do not suffer either.” Now the great minds of the Church have convened to reconsider the matter.

Can we even conceive of a project more intellectually forlorn than this? Just imagine what these deliberations must be like. Is there the slightest possibility that someone will present evidence indicating the eternal fate of unbaptized children after death? How can any educated person think this anything but a hilarious, terrifying, and unconscionable waste of time? When one considers the fact that this is the very institution that has produced and sheltered an elite army of child molesters, the whole enterprise begins to exude a truly diabolical aura of misspent human energy.

The conflict between science and religion is reducible to a simple fact of human cognition and discourse: either a person has good reasons for what he believes, or he does not. If there were good reasons to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse, these beliefs would necessarily form part of our rational description of the universe. Everyone recognizes that to rely upon “faith” to decide specific questions of historical fact is ridiculous—that is, until the conversation turns to the origin of books like the Bible and the Koran, to the resurrection of Jesus, to Muhammad’s conversation with the archangel Gabriel, or to any other religious dogma. It is time that we admitted that faith is nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail.

While believing strongly, without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society. Religion is the one area of our discourse where it is considered noble to pretend to be certain about things no human being could possibly be certain about. It is telling that this aura of nobility extends only to those faiths that still have many subscribers. Anyone caught worshipping Poseidon, even at sea, will be thought insane.'[4]

[4] Truth be told, I now receive e-mails of protest from people who claim, in all apparent earnestness, to believe that Poseidon and the other gods of Greek mythology are real.

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 21-22

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16 thoughts on “Limbo and Poseidon

  1. Actually, limbo sounds like a reasonable idea. No suffering, but no golden harps either. :-)

    As for “good reasons to believe”, different people have different reasons. You mentioned one of them – it is considered ” noble” to believe in god. I think, mostly, professing a faith is a symbol of accepting certain social values and a sign of belonging to a certain group. Very similar to professing allegiance to values and symbols in a naturalization interview. There are many “good reasons” to believe. They are not limited to evidence, experience, or probability.

  2. St. Augustine…believed that these unlucky infant souls would spend eternity in hell” – Augie always was a little ray of sunshine —

    Now the great minds of the Church have convened to reconsider the matter.” – You’d think they’d go out and get real jobs.

  3. “There are many “good reasons” to believe. They are not limited to evidence, experience, or probability.”

    Some might question that, especially when it comes to evidence and probability.

  4. There are many ‘good reasons’ to believe. They are not limited to evidence, experience, or probability.” – I’ve yet to find them, much less consider their endorsement. I suppose some have a psychological need to join a fraternity, to belong to a tribe, to be a sheep waiting to be fleeced – I’ve never been one of them.

  5. “There are many “good reasons” to believe. They are not limited to evidence, experience, or probability.”
    Some might question that, especially when it comes to evidence and probability.

    I’m not saying that evidence and probability are not important. They do matter for certain types of beliefs, but not for others. Most moral beliefs, such as “all people have equal rights” (as I mentioned in another comment) do not have factual evidence whatsoever. They are just postulated. Try to find some facts that support this postulate about equal rights.

  6. We humans construct societies, and consequently, postulate rules for our society – those rules need not be beliefs, merely rules. To the best of my knowledge, there is no moral imperative, no belief system that says that I must stop my car when a traffic light turns red – rather, it is a rule of my society, based on an obvious need to regulate traffic in order to insure public safety. Our society has ruled that under the legal system we have constructed, all people have equal rights – that need not be a “moral belief,” per se, merely empathetic reciprocity.

  7. What is the evidence or probability supporting a belief that people of all races should be allowed to vote? What is the evidence that prostitution is a less honorable occupation than, say, massage therapy?

  8. What is the evidence or probability supporting a belief that people of all races should be allowed to vote?” – Is that a belief? Or is it, as I suggested, merely empathetic reciprocity.

    What is the evidence that prostitution is a less honorable occupation than, say, massage therapy?” – That, I can’t address, as I have no evidence that it is. Of course everyone has an opinion, but that isn’t necessarily a belief.

  9. … Empathetic reciprocity…

    Do you believe in empathetic reciprocity? Why? What is the evidence that if you help a stranger he would do the same to you? Isn’t it based on a blind faith in the golden rule and an unjustified hope that everyone else would do the same which seems to be possible only when someone (parents, church, society at large) indoctrinates children to follow this rule?

  10. Not at all – I can’t speak for anyone else, but I treat others as I would wish to be treated, whether they choose to reciprocate or not.

    You don’t get invited to a lot of parties, do you?

  11. This conversation is boring me, and frankly, I can’t see an end to it, so I’ll create one.

  12. I treat others as I would wish to be treated, whether they choose to reciprocate or not.

    That is fine, but I still don’t see any factual evidence why. Just admit — there is none. There is, actually, evidence that different people like different things. So, you may be even acting against evidence and probability that others would like how you treat them. :-)

    This conversation is boring me, and frankly, I can’t see an end to it, so I’ll create one.

    This is because we came down to a circular concept of reciprocity which only works when it works and doesn’t work when it doesn’t work. It’s not based on anything except itself. QED.

  13. agrudzinsky, I first met you on Think Atheist, I liked some of the things you said, and even commented on your own blog periodically, and you seemed like a decent person, but every comment I’ve seen you make on Kuba’s Knowledge Guild, has seemed combative and antagonistic – I’m really not sure why the change in demeanor. It seems uncharacteristic of what I’ve previously known of you.

  14. Sorry to disappoint you… It’s not really antagonistic — at least, I don’t view it this way. I like the topics Kuba discusses. I like the writing​ style. But I see a lot of statements that I consider cliche and disagree with. In particular, the stuff Harris says regarding science and moral values. Also that every belief requires evidence.

    I thought you, reason lovers, like skepticism and critical thinking :-). I love to consider views that challenge mine. Isn’t it the way to learn? I like your comment about rules. I’d like to explore the relationship between rules and beliefs. But you may be right, this can get boring and end up in discussing semantics.

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