Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Coupons for Hell

Here we have religion at its silliest, or close. The New York Times reports -- under the teaser “For Catholics, Heaven Moves One Step Closer” -- that the church is bringing back indulgences. That doesn’t mean ice cream for breakfast or sex before marriage, but a “sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife.”

Indulgences, which, like many religious rituals, somehow come across as both inordinately complex and insultingly simple, are “a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago,” but are being brought back, in part, to remind Catholics of “the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.”

Confused? I think that’s part of the point; unless you’re confused about the church’s clout, in which case, get thee to a pew, stat. Another attempt to explain this, from the article:
According to church teaching, even after sinners are absolved in the confessional and say their Our Fathers or Hail Marys as penance, they still face punishment after death, in Purgatory before they can enter heaven. In exchange for certain prayers, devotions or pilgrimages in special years, a Catholic can receive an indulgence, which reduces or erases that punishment instantly, with no formal ceremony or sacrament.

There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it. You can get one for yourself, or for someone else, living or dead. You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1857 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.
Way to reduce God to a haggling bureaucrat. (“Well, you can get out of the Saturday shift if you stay late on Thursday and Friday. But that’s my best offer.”)

One church “announced that any Catholic could receive an indulgence at any of six churches on any day, or at dozens more on specific days...” I believe the Charlotte Stone Crabs are offering a similar promotion this summer: A free indulgence for everyone in attendance anytime a Stone Crab steals a base in the fifth inning!
“Why are we bringing it back?” asked Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who has embraced the move. “Because there is sin in the world.”
Well, that, and because there aren’t many people in church. In short, business is bad:
“(Indulgence is) not that easy to explain to people who have never heard of it,” said the Rev. Gilbert Martinez, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, the designated site in the New York archdiocese for obtaining indulgences. “But it was interesting: I had a number of people come in and say, ‘Father, I haven’t been to confession in 20 years, but this’ ” — the availability of an indulgence — “ ‘made me think maybe it wasn’t too late.’ ”

Getting Catholics back into the confession booth, in fact, was one of the underlying motivations for reintroducing the indulgence.
You don’t say. I’m sure that many other businesses suffering through a downturn wish they could, say, knock a few hours off Purgatory every time you buy a lawnmower. Maybe they should just start saying they can. I expect to see signs going up in windows soon: "50% Off (Your Time Spent in Spiritual Prison!!!)"

I’ll give the last word to the eminently sensible Karen Nassauer, a 61-year-old retired hospital social worker who attends Mass nearly every day, and is quoted in the article:
“I mean, I’m not saying (that bringing back indulgences) is necessarily wrong,” she said. “But I had always figured they were going to let this fade into the background, to be honest. What does it mean to get ‘time off’ in Purgatory? What is ‘five years’ in terms of eternity?”



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny -- I read your first phrases as "sex before breakfast" and was like right on!!

8:16 PM  

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