Conversations: Limbo and Poseidon


Sappho
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.

Galene
What is the doctrine of limbo exactly?

Helena
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.

Sappho
Indeed. 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.

Galene
Wow. Can we even conceive of a project more intellectually forlorn than this?

Helena
Hardly. 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?

Sappho
Well, 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.

Helena
We know that 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.

Sappho
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.

Galene
But, 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.

Helena
Well spotted! 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. Although, 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.

(Based on: Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 21-22)

See other: Philosophical Conversations

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5 thoughts on “Conversations: Limbo and Poseidon

  1. So I gather that faith in the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster is out of the question —

  2. If you’re trying out a new accent, you left out: “ya’ll”

  3. Down here, it’s not Mae West, it’s nearly everyone who says “Y’all”. Except when one is addressing several people, in which case it’s “All a ya’ll”

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