Indulge me for a moment

Well I needed something really ridiculous, I was getting worn down by the smug giggling defenders of religious censorship.

In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago — the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife — and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin…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.

Well no wonder dioceses want to remind Catholics of the church’s clout when it means the talent to do magic like that – it can give out a thing called ‘an indulgence’ which when cashed at the other end actually slices a bunch of time off a person’s sentence in Purgatory. Is that cool or what?! (Yeah I know Luther didn’t think so, but he hasn’t been around for a long time.) It’s like magic. You do certain ‘devotions’ and in exchange, just as if you’d handed over $19.27 at Target, instantly X of days or years vanish from your punishment.

How do they do it, exactly? Don’t you wonder? Or is it all automatic, and they don’t have to do anything, it’s all arranged somewhere else? The Times doesn’t say. Dud journalism, I call it.

There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it, until another sin is committed. You can get one for yourself, or for someone who is dead. You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.

They really have the details figured out, don’t they. They’re not amateurs – they don’t leave any loose ends. I admire that. It’s funny about the limit to one a day on plenary ones though – if you can do such a red-hot devotion that you can get rid of all your time in Purgatory in one shot, why can’t you just do it again an hour later after you’ve re-sinned? Why do they make you wait until midnight? (Or is it the next morning? Do they make you have a night’s sleep first? So if you have insomnia do you have to wait another day? Or will a nap do?) Don’t they care that you might get hit by a bus first? And what’s it to them anyway? If they don’t mind letting you have one a day, why can’t they let you have one an hour, or all you want? What’s the big deal? They have the exchange system all worked out, and it’s not as if they’re going to run out, so why not just hand them out as needed and earned? Bastards. They’re so fussy.

“Confessions have been down for years and the church is very worried about it,” said the Rev. Tom Reese…In a secularized culture of pop psychology and self-help, he said, “the church wants the idea of personal sin back in the equation. Indulgences are a way of reminding people of the importance of penance. The good news is we’re not selling them anymore.”

Ah, I see – the culture is too secular, so people aren’t going into little boxes to tell a priest about their sex lives, so the church wants people to start thinking everything is a sin again. Yeah, that will be useful, and healthy. And great that they’re not selling them, they’re just giving them out in exchange for some magic rituals. Much better.

The latest offers de-emphasize the years-in-Purgatory formulations of old in favor of a less specific accounting, with more focus on ways in which people can help themselves — and one another — come to terms with sin. “It’s more about praying for the benefit of others, doing good deeds, acts of charity,” said the Rev. Kieran Harrington, spokesman for the Brooklyn diocese.

Really? Then why not just do that instead of talking about indulgences? Make up your mind, dude. (I suppose he remembered he was talking to the New York Times. Once the reporter is gone it’s back to the ‘five years for ten hail-marys.’)

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