07 November 2010
Day 225: The Amber Spyglass
Those of you who remember your Western European (i.e. "world" history) will be familiar with the concept of Indulgences. These were basically Get Out of Hell Free cards from the Catholic Church, that you could purchase during the Middle Ages. Ah, apparently someone in the Catholic Church forgot that whole scripture about the camel and the needle and the rich guy not getting into heaven.* Well, in The Amber Spyglass, apparently you can have your sins forgiven by doing penance in advance through scourging and self-flagellation. As a side note I love that word because it comes from flagella, which is the tail of a sperm, among other things. How's that for an image? Priests whipping themselves with sperm tails, oh yeah, I'm not irreverent at all.
So enough with the potty humor (never!), I hate the idea that any kind of penance can account for the bad things a person has done. I don't think you can or necessarily should be forgiven for your sins, because that might give you the brilliant idea to go out and do more. What is the point of stopping if you can just pop into the local Papal Palace of Penance and come out with a supposedly shiny and pine scented soul? And let's be honest here: giving up some money, even a large portion of it, or hitting yourself (because you damn well know you'll go easy on yourself), is in no way equal to inflicting suffering on someone else, and the very idea that you can erase it is entirely misguided and kind of disgusting.
I am not saying that you should live forever in shame and guilt for the major screw ups you had when you slept with your sister's boyfriend or stole candy from a baby, but you should feel bad about it and it should be on your permanent record. The more serious the crime, the worse you should feel about it and the longer you should feel bad about it, but having a church absolve a murderer or a rapist or an arsonist or other violent criminal of their sins seems like perpetuation and perhaps even acceptance that people just do these things and we should move on with our lives.
Well, no, that's not right. Wouldn't the better thing be to say, "If you do this really bad thing you cannot get into heaven, never ever ever ever, no matter how much you wish you hadn't done it." Maybe it's harsh, but if evil is as black and white as God versus Satan, shouldn't the rules for getting into heaven be as black and white? Shouldn't it be just as wrong to kill someone drunk driving as it is to kill someone through premeditated murder as it is to kill someone for invading your home as it is to kill someone for defending yourself?**
It just seems a little too calculated to be able to go and buy or store up your penance, or even in some ways to go to confessional and have someone wave away all the bad things and say, "there, there, do better next time and remember to give to the church." I do think that confessionals are very useful for people who have done things that they truly regret and want to talk about, but taking the burden from them is like telling a teenager they have a curfew and then saying it's okay when they break it as long as they don't do it again (after they've done it for the fifth time in a row).
If religions are about making us into better people, I cannot see how this is possibly a good thing for our moral and/or spiritual health. I am sure the Catholic Church is not the only one religion that is guilty of this behavior, but it has such a long history that it's easy for the finger to get pointed that way.
*Matthew 19:23-24 and Mark 10:24-25 (they say it twice, bitches).
**Those last two are merely for the sake of argument; if someone is invading your home (and refuses to leave/is threatening you) or attacking you, by all means kill them.
***Believe it or not, I am not anti-religion, but I do think that logic ought to be applied equally across all aspects of our lives.
A fabulous summary of the book is over at Book Dweeb and a micro-review over at Books for Breakfast.