09 December 2010

Go to Mass or Go to Hell

The Catholic Church teaches that its members must attend mass on Sundays and all other holy days of obligation under pain of mortal sin. This means that if they purposely miss mass, they commit a mortal sin and, as with all mortal sins, if they then fail to repent of and confess this before they die, God will condemn them to hell for all eternity. If you choose to sleep in, to stay home and read a book, to have a picnic with your family in the park, to do anything but sit, stand, kneel and—most important—hand over your money in church for an hour each week, then you risk frying in a lake of fire for your grievous transgression. While I understand the pragmatic benefits the Catholic Church reaps from people who still take this threat seriously and begrudgingly shuffle off to mass each week when they would otherwise actually enjoy their alleged day of rest to the fullest, it makes little sense from a theological perspective.

Why would God threaten believers with punishment for failure to attend mass? The most plausible justification, at least initially, is that he wants to encourage them to attend, in the same way that a parent punishes a child who skips school. The problem is that God inflicts a punishment identical to the harm to be avoided in the first place! We can presume that God wants believers to attend mass with the ultimate goal of saving their souls from damnation; the danger in not attending mass regularly is that one may stop believing and/or commit acts which are inherently wrong such as murder, theft or adultery and end up in hell. But threatening believers with the potential danger is absurd, as it unnecessarily increases the danger which believers face, giving them an easier and more certain avenue to hell. (Of course, hell itself is already infinitely unjust. Of course, God himself created the original danger. I’m just showing how it’s absurdity upon absurdity.) It would be as though the state executed drivers who failed to use their seat belts. That’ll show them to be more careful next time! Never mind that there’s no next time, either for the executed or the damned, and that they would have been perfectly fine without either punishment.

Of course, if God has purely selfish motives for demanding his believers worship him every week, we might have a different analysis. One might think that God, for every person he tosses into the everlasting flames, loses an infinity of worship from this person, but St. Thomas Aquinas argued the saved in heaven will delight in the suffering of the damned, so perhaps God’s interests are served no matter what. Then why go the whole charade of earthly existence? I would say that perhaps the drama is interesting, but God already knows how it’s going to end anyway. What’s the point of playing it out? It’s impossible to avoid absurd conclusions when one postulates an infinite being, and throwing in infinite rewards and infinite punishments doesn’t help. My intention here was just to point out one additional absurdity peculiar to Catholicism.

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now you know how I grew up. It's just sad. The waste of time when I could have been out having fun.

Anonymous said...

I got stuck going to a catholic university in my youth when I was already an atheist. I also had to take the theology classes. I was regularly booted from the class for asking questions. Now don't think I suffered with this... I rather enjoyed myself. In one class the priest was attempting to describe the difference between venial sin (a lessor offence) and mortal sin (the biggie offence) by using theft as a model. He claimed that stealing under $200 was a venial sin and of course over $200 a mortal sin. My hand quickly shot up "if I steal $199 from 5 people have I committed 5 venial sins or does it roll over to a mortal sin on the second theft." "Get out of this class" the priest said. "Well if you don't want to answer the question I certainly understand." I said. "Get out, get out!" he screamed and I just laughed on the way out. I flunked his class for some reason. I also switched over to a non religious university the second year when I could afford to pay my own tuition.

Katie said...

I just posted a blog about this actually

Church was Pointless
http://sharing-my-story.blogspot.com/2011/01/church-was-pointless.html

I also added your blog link onto my page because I really enjoy your writing.
Thanks for you time,
Katie Cohen

Anonymous said...

I also go to a catholic university.

Our teacher once told a story about a guy who broke up with a girl because she was an atheist. He wanted to be with someone whom he can go to church with.

Poor guy.

solomon said...

Church was pointless as well as atheism.