A Theological Mulligan

Here's my theological musing for a Friday evening. Feel free to skip it if it's not your flavor.

The snow kept people away from Panera today, which left us with some down time at work. I got into a conversation about faith with a girl who works there. Alisa is a nursing student with a good sense of humor. She was raised Catholic, so she was asking me about what kind of church I ministered to. After I explained it to her she said, "I'm sorry to inform you this, but you know that because you're not Catholic you're going to hell." She was totally joking with me, and I got a good laugh about it. She admitted after being raised in the Catholic church, she is now turned off to churches of all kinds. Unfortunately it would take a long time for her return to a faith that she could very much use in her life.

It's sad to see all these bitter Catholics, but I'm always running into them. A few days ago I posted about the Roman Catholic church and their distorted view of Jesus' mother Mary. I'm not trying to dump here, but I ran into another story that shows some flaws in their teachings. As I was listening to the NPR Religion Podcast this week, they reported a story out of Rome that the Catholic church might be repealing their doctrine on limbo. No, this has nothing to do with the lowering of a pole so people can maneuver their bodies underneath. Sorry if this disappoints.

Limbo was a belief developed in medieval times by Catholic theologians to explain what happened to the souls of good people who died before Jesus lived. But more relevant than that, being "in limbo" describes the state of infants who passed away before they were baptized. Catholics hold to the belief of original sin- that all human beings inherit the guilt of sin committed by Adam in the garden of Eden. Believing that it is necessary to be baptized to receive forgiveness from those sins, Catholics practice infant baptism a few days after a baby's birth. If a baby dies before he/she can be baptized, the baby cannot go to heaven or hell, so it is in limbo- a sterile middle ground. I would envision it as the waiting room of your doctor's office, but I've never been there so don't hold me to that.

So now advisors of the pope are recommending that they abolish limbo and come up with a better explanation of what happens to these babies. The problem I have with this is that it conflicts with the Catholic Church's doctrine of infallibility. Catholicism teaches that the church is incapable of being wrong. This is why the sex-abuse scandal has been so damaging to the state of Catholicism: because they were undeniably wrong.

I swear I'm not trying to kick a guy when he's down, but this is another place where Catholicism is messed up. There's an important lesson to be learned here: leave room for do-overs. I don't object to the Catholic Church admitting that they want a second chance at some of their theology. I actually love that. It's refreshing to be able to admit that you don't have everything figured out [hence a core value of Echo being "mystery"]. But Catholicism left no wiggle room for being wrong. When you start off claiming infallibility, you've got nowhere else to go. So when something doesn't click the bar gets lower and lower until you're scraping your butt off the floor.

Here's where I stand on the subject: the church is comprised of flawed people therefore the church is flawed. It always has been, and it always will be. Our job is to admit that we're a work in progress and not feel the pressure to know everything about everything. To be fair, it's not only the Catholic Church that has made this error. But that's a whole 'nother post.

So congrats Pope Benedict, no longer must babies be forced to do the limbo rock. What a relief.