Artistic License - Traditional Christianity
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This article is a list of common misconceptions held by people about Traditional Christianity. For examples of this in action and for misconceptions about other religions, see Artistic License - Religion
For specific misquotations of the Bible, see BeamMeUpScotty.Religious Scripture
Common Misconceptions About Traditional Christianity:
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- Although Christians may sometimes fall into the No True Scotsman fallacy as a defense, what looks like the fallacy may not always be: when Christians specifically break commands they have accepted as part of Christianity (for instance the commandment against murder), they are in fact No True Christian.
- But, as seen below, individual perception is very relevant, and many of the "rules" are vague enough to be interpreted like rigid dogma. In addition, by this notion, nobody is a Christian, since the vast overwhelming majority of sects directly violate Jesus' statements (such as theocratic power, for instance).
- In contrast, individual sects often have set rules for membership and standing in their particular denomination, such those outlined in the Catechism for Roman Catholics.
- Christians do in fact "pick and choose" which parts of The Bible are more authoritative than others, but not randomly. There are theological systems for it. In Scripture it would be called "rightly dividing the Word of truth".
- Then again, any individual Christian may very well ignore the aforementioned theological systems and come up with his or her own perspective on things.
General Beliefs and Theology
- "Jesus Christ of the Nazareth Christs": The word "Christ" means "the anointed one" (a translation of the Hebrew term "messiah"), a title that Jesus' followers applied to him based on what they believed him to be. All too often it is clear that people think that this is his last name. Outside of his circle of believers, Jesus would have been known as Jesus of Nazareth, or as Yeshuanote barnote Yosefnote . His enemies, despite how they are depicted in Jesus Christ Superstar, would largely have thought it heresy to refer to him as Jesus Christ.
- Catholicism is often claimed to be quasi-polytheistic by non-Catholics (veneration of saints and the Mother Mary). While humans in general tend to be polytheistic, Catholics don't actually worship the saints, including Mary, any more than they worship icons such as the crucifix. They usually get annoyed when people accuse them of this. The idea that they do was first coined by Pagans and directed towards all Christians, but the modern idea that this is the case is not much more than a rumour created by dissenting Protestants. In actual fact, when Catholics pray to the saints they ask them to 'intercede' with God on their behalf, the same way as one would ask a friend to pray for them.
- Muslims occasionally get things wrong about the Trinity (though they aren't alone in that respect). Aside from their idea that the concept of the Trinity is simply polytheism, they often think that the Trinity consists of God, Jesus, and Mary. This misconception is more common in Muslim countries without large populations of Christians who would tell them otherwise; Iraqis, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Egyptians tend not to fall into this trap.
- While we're on the subject of saints, a common misconception is the Roman Catholic practice of Canonization makes someone a saint. A saint, in Catholic teaching, is any human who has made it to Heaven. God makes them saints. Canonization is just when the Church has proofnote that the individual is in Heaven. This proof usually comes from miracles performed for someone who specifically prayed for that person's intercession. There is always a lengthy investigation of each "miracle" to rule out scientific explanation and falsehoodsnote .
- A large number of people misunderstand the Catholic teaching of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception was NOT Mary's virgin conception of Jesus—that's called the Incarnation. The Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary was herself conceived without original sin—which has nothing to do with a virgin conception. In truth, this error appears across multiple media.
- Specifically, the miracle of the Immaculate Conception was God preventing the transmission of Original Sin (which was Adam's curse after the expulsion from Paradise, to pass the sin of his transgression on to all his descendants, which she would have normally received from her father at the moment of her conception) so she would be spiritually fit to give birth to Jesus.
- Which leads some people, bizarrely, to use "immaculate" as a weird kind of word meaning "without any masculine interaction."
- Similarly, many non-Catholics are familiar with the concept of "papal infallibility," the dogma that The Pope is 100% correct when he talks about faith and morals. What most don't realize is that the Pope's words are only considered infallible when he is speaking ex cathedra (literally, "from the chair") meaning it only applies when he is explicitly invoking the infallibility or is otherwise considered to have the intention of doing so; in addition, he must not contradict Scripture nor another Pope who spoke Ex Cathedra, and it only applies to matters of theology, all of which adds up to some pretty strict and explicit criteria. To date, this has happened at least twice, while some put the definite count at seven times. Probably. It boils down to this: if the occasion meets these standards, God will not let the Pope speak wrongly.
- One notes that this is not "The Pope will speak rightly." There is a third option: he doesn't have to say anything.
- While the doctrine is understood today as giving the Pope a lot of power, at the time it was perceived as a way of LIMITING the Pope's power; if a past Pope makes an infallible statement, a later Pope cannot "change" this teaching if he doesn't like it.
- Question: Why were Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed? If you answered only rampant homosexuality (rather than an overabundance of various "sin" which included but in no way were exclusive to "sexual sin," as well as their 'violent crimes' against "outsiders", and generally being greedy, selfish bastards), you answered... wrong! See Ezekiel 16:49 for more details. Basically, their attempted rape of the angels was what drove matters to a head, convincing God that He had been merciful toward Sodom and Gomorrah for too long.
- It was also an utter failure of hospitality. The angels who visited would normally have awaited in the town square as they said, but Lot tells them that this isn't safe, and to come inside quickly. The rest of the townsfolk bang on the doors demanding for the newcomers, and despite the fact that Lot is willing to give his own daughters to be raped, they won't even accept this, proving that they have no kindness toward strangers. This and not homosexuality, is more the real reason they were punished, since "sin" is separation from God, and what better way to be truly separated than disjointed in inhospitality towards God's creation, humanity (and angels).
- Note that God had already decided to punish them before that incident. So it wasn't that incident in particular, though presumably that was part of a pattern of behavior.
- It should also be noted that Jesus said that there were worse cities than Sodom and Gomorrah—Capernaum, for one. This indicates that the "sin of Sodom" was neither homosexuality per se, nor inhospitality per se, but unbelief, and the unbelief exhibited by the people of Capernaum was worse than that of Sodom, because the people of the former town actually had seen Jesus' miracles and heard His teachings, but still refused to accept His message.
- The Number of the Beast is not three sixes in a row. 6,6,6 from an eschatological standpoint is utterly meaningless. The number of the beast is six hundred and sixty six. Or Six hundred and sixteen in some translations — to Latin. At the time, numerological significance of letters was widely practiced, and apparently the name added up to 666 in Greek and 616 in Latin.
- It's good to remember that the Revelation was written way before Arabic numerals were adopted in the region.
- The number 666 has significance in Roman numerals as well; it is the first six Roman numerals written backwards. DCLXVI = 500 + 100 + 50 + 10 + 5 + 1 = 666. 616 is DCXVI, omitting L, which was not used in some forms of Roman numerals.
- It also is said to be a reference to Nero's persecution, as the numerical value for "Nero Caesar" (his name in Latin) in ancient Hebrew gematria is 616, and for "Neron Caesar" (his name in Greek) is 666. "Nrwn Qsr" (a crude transliteration of his name to Hebrew according to gematria rules) is also 666. One interpretation of this passage is that it all refers to past events, but there are other interpretations where Nero serves as a symbol for... well, just about anything you want, really.
- Here's one that everyone gets wrong: The upside-down cross is not a Satanic symbol. It's a common symbol used by the pope in tribute to St Peter, who died by being crucified upside down because he did not believe himself worthy to die the same way as Jesus. In fact, many really by the book old school Catholics consider wearing an upside down cross is a more humble and respectable Christian thing to do than wearing a normal cross. Sorry, Satanists.
- However, it has to be said that an inverted crucifix (that is, a cross with a figure of Christ in it) is a very offensive thing. A cross by itself, inverted, has no offensive connotations. An inverted crucifix very much does.
- It's based on Fridge Horror. As Peter was not worthy enough, what if the same were true of Jesus?
- The pentacle, which (among other things) was used by Christians for centuries to represent the five wounds Jesus suffered on the cross, and to provide protection from evil spirits. It was a common Christian symbol as recently as the advent of the Mormon church. In Wicca, Onmyodo and most other non-Left Hand Path forms of Pagan belief, the symbol uses a meaning developed within alchemy: the five points are the five elements, and again as a "protection from evil" seal. The Satanist or other Left Hand Path version, the pentagram, is, for this very reason, an inverse (upside down) pentacle, which often gets confused with the upside down cross above.
- The most extreme haters of religion often adopt the inverted cross as a symbol. This says a lot about haters in general.
- Many would argue that the offensiveness of the upside down cross is dependent on the purpose behind the usage of the symbol. Like the Swastika, it can be utterly harmless (in the aforementioned Roman Catholic usage) or offensive (usually used in a mocking sense). The reason it is associated as Satanic or evil by many is because sometimes it really is used this way. Symbols are meaningless until they are given meaning.
- And others may argue that many of the individuals who try to use the inverted cross as a Satanic or evil symbol are likely completely unaware of the origin or original meaning -- they most likely assume they came up with it themselves. In taking something as a symbol and giving it a new meaning many hate groups will change it in some way too. For example the the Ku Klux Klan's cross is on fire and the Knights Templar use a red crucifix as their symbol - adding flames and changing the colour technically makes a new symbol. Seeing as those who would use an inverted crucifix as a Satanic or evil symbol didn't change the symbol, it could be argued that they didn't really change what it means.
- The various atrocities committed by the Israelites under Moses in the book of Deuteronomy are often presented as actual Christian teachings to deal with non believers, and contrasted with the teachings of Christ as the true meaning of Christianity. The thing is Deuteronomy is a collection of historic records (what's left of them anyway) and not actual teachings, not mentioning that they suffer heavily of Values Dissonance (the Israelite conquests described are not likely to be more cruel and barbaric than the acts of any other people in that era, plus the Israelites, as the 'chosen people' felt fully justified). Also, Deuteronomy came long before Jesus, and if his teachings are of any indication, he clearly disapproved of returning to those times. Seeing how 'Christian' literally means 'follower of Christ', it's not hard to guess why such arguments are ridiculous.
- The Book of Leviticus suffers from the same treatment, and many bring up its dispositions in "religion is right" vs. "religion is wrong" debates, completely ignoring the fact that it's ancient legislation, and as such, it was already rendered entirely obsolete by later laws, by the time the Bible was first compiled. While the Ten Commandments were given to Moses, Leviticus is, in fact, the laws administered by the priests of the time and many were purposely disregarded by Jesus.
- It's simple: Someone claiming that Leviticus/Deuteronomy gives an accurate description of how modern-day Christians act is mistaken, since most people don't read the Bible, let alone follow it literally (which, of course, you can't because it is a translation of a set of books that already contained an awful lot of metaphor). But often these passages are cited by opponents of Christianity (or at least biblical literalism) as a way of saying "If the Bible was written by God, and not just ignorant goat-herders, then why does it have all these outdated morals?" In these instances, the objection is only really justified when aimed at the fundamentalist sects. Although there, of course, exist apologetics to counter them, mainstream Christians, particularly Catholics, tend to disregard these old laws because they come from the old Jewish part of the Bible, which is seen as fragmentary and not entirely reliable (to paraphrase a Catholic priest I asked on the subject). Generally speaking, Catholics disregard Genesis as simply myth, or treat it as an allegorical story told to the early Jews. Either way, they have never taken it in the entirely literal sense that modern Creationists do.
- You have either lost a little in translation, or your priest was a bit mistaken on some subtle but important points. It is true that Catholics do not take the Bible literally, do not condone every action taken by the Isrealites, or see all of the laws in Jewish Scripture as binding. However, it is incorrect to say that Catholics 'disregard' or 'discard' the Old Testament, or view it as 'simply' myth (the incorrect part being the 'simply', implying myth means 'untrue' in every sense and therefore not to be taken seriously). There are many documents/writings that show that Catholics (among others) greatly respect and revere the Old Testament and do not view it as obsolete or superceded by the New Testament (although this view may be held by other Christian sects) - rather, it also contains many Truths about the faith, God's story with humanity, the gradual revelation of salvation and many foreshadowings (called 'types') of Jesus. This is why most Sunday Masses have a reading from the Old Testament, that usually ties into the Gospel.
- Despite centuries of studying and worshipping the guy, it remains unclear what Jesus really taught with regards to Old Testament law. On the one hand, there are passages like Matthew 5:38–39 where Jesus says "You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." The "eye for an eye" bit is a reference to Old Testament law, so it's clear in this passage that Jesus was setting up a contrast between the Old Testament and his own teaching. But on the other hand, there are passages like Matthew 5:17-19 where Jesus says "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." In this passage Jesus makes it abundantly clear that his teachings do not contradict even "the smallest letter" of Old Testament law (though it is often argued that "the Law" doesn't refer to the entire Old Testament but rather to specific parts handed directly to humans by God.) And note that these two apparently-contradictory passages are in the same holy book. Different people have interpreted it different ways. Things are complicated by the fact that most churches uphold the Old Testament books, including Leviticus, as being Holy Scripture in some sense, even though they don't expect their followers to obey all the laws within. (Indeed, stoning an adulterer would be considered really awful, even if you tried to justify it by pointing to Leviticus.)
- Jesus' mention of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" makes a lot more sense if you read it not as "Thou shalt not take revenge", but as "Thou shalt not take disproportionate revenge". It makes more sense because in that whole passage, Jesus is saying, "Here's what the Law says you should/shouldn't do, as a bare minimum. I say go further than the minimum." Jesus in many cases took the law a step further in his applications. Love your enemy as well as your neighbor, hate is comparable to murder, and lust is comparable to adultery. Divorce is comparable to adultery if you remarry, etc.
- Also, in the quote that was used earlier (Matthew 5:17-19), Jesus was referring to the fulfillment, or end, of the Mosaic Laws. So those quote in fact don't actually contradicted each other. Remember the bible also said "For Christ is the end of the Law, so that everyone exercising faith may have righteousness." (Romans 10:4) If you read through (especially) Acts and Romans, you'll see the Christians tossed at least 90% of the old laws because their job of caring for the Jews till Jesus came was done.
- The use of the word "fundamentalism" with or without a capital "F," to mean "people who are intolerant about religious matters," "people willing to use violence in support of their beliefs," or "religious people whom I don't like." In reality, the word fundamentalism has a variety of legitimate meanings. Capital-F Fundamentalism generally refers to a movement in Protestantism in the early 20th century that advocated a focus on the "five fundamentals of Christianity." (More info here.) Used in the lower case, it can refer to a number of factions within various religions (Catholicism, Islam, Mormonism, etc.) who believe that their interpretation of religion is more in keeping with the fundamentals than others'. The only justification for the current popular usage of the word is that it's been a pejorative for so long that "person I can't convince" has become a meaning of the word, which is sad but not without basis in reality.
- That's basic linguistic evolution. There are numerous cases in which movement names have become descriptors that don't relate well to the ideals of the original movement. The Epicureans were not 'epicurean' in the modern sense of the word, nor would Karl Marx want anything to do with many people labelled 'Marxists' (nor, for that matter, does a Bolivian Army Ending have to involve the Bolivian army). Further, while in popular usage the term is vague, various academics (e.g. Bruce B. Lawrence, George Marsden) have defined it clearer and more consistent terms.
- Also, the last book of the Bible is called Revelation, not Revelations.
- Claiming that God declared the human body sinful during the Fall of Man (after Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden). Actually, after being tempted by Satan to eat the Forbidden Fruit, Adam and Eve's (spiritual) eyes had opened, and they began to see everything as shameful, including their own bodies (they were unaware of their nudity until now). So, they attempted to cover them up by making "aprons" out of fig leaves (some versions of the Bible imply that only their genitals were covered with a single leaf) and hiding from God in the trees, but He calls them out on this. God did give them better clothing than the "aprons" after kicking them out, mainly because He had cursed the Earth with things like thorns as punishment, so their bodies would occasionally need protection from the harsh world outside; never did He say that they must be covered up at all times. Plus, He still loved and cared for them even though they sinned. 
- The origin (i.e., the Hebrew version of the Bible) states that "יִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם חֲגֹרֹת", i.e., they took fig leaves and made themselves belts (or aprons). God did give them leather shirts before He kicked them out, but it isn't clear why.
- God is a Jewish Mother and it was cold outside the Garden. You want that they should freeze their little punims off without a warm jacket?
- A common Christian interpretation of the coverings is that they're early symbols of Christ's death. Let clothing be a symbol for righteousness; Adam & Eve try to cover themselves with righteousness, but their efforts are inadequate - just some big leaves they've sewn together pretty roughly. In steps God and graciously gives them fabulous fur outfits that cover them perfectly, but it's come at a price - blood had to be shed to provide them. The blood of a lamb, perhaps?
- Slavery as described in the Bible deserves a mention of its own, because slavery in the sense described in no way resembles modern ideas of slavery. What we in the modern world have learned to abhor is chattel slavery: the stealing of people to become property to do with as we wish, often with the context of racial superiority. In ancient times, if you were poor to the point of starvation, you couldn't go down to the government's social welfare agency to get "food stamps" or the like. These things didn't exist.
- Often, you either indentured yourself and your family to have a place to live, in the service of someone else for a period of time—or you starved or froze to death.
- Indentured servitude also happened in some places with soldiers on the losing side of a war.
- The Bible and historical documents noted rules that supported that ancient slavery was generally indentured servitude:
- A slave's contract can be no longer than six years.
- If he was a male slave that was sold into slavery. A female slave, or anyone born into slavery, were slaves for life.
- A slave is not barred from owning property.
- A male slave who marries a female slave may, if his time in service is shorter than his wife's, take his wife and any children they have with him when he leaves service.
- A slave cannot be made to work while sick.
- If a slaveowner beats a slave so that he cannot work for two days, his contract is void, and his owner to be tried as a criminal.
- If a slaveowner beats a slave so that he loses an eye or a tooth, or kills a slave, his contract is void, and his owner to be tried as a criminal, and the owner must pay a fine to the slave's next of kin.
- Slaves were Jews first and slaves second. As such, slaves were actually required to rest on the Sabbath and High Sabbaths, and a slave's duty to his master was not permitted to interfere with his duties to God. For this reason, it was not lawful for a Jewish master to sell his slave to a foreigner, lest the foreigner refuse to respect these rights.
- On the subject of slavery, another thing people forget is that it was a very common practice throughout the ancient world; it was the way prisoners of war and peoples of defeated nations were treated. That's why it's not condemned in the Bible. Only later (when people were enslaved and mistreated on the basis of race) did the practice become seen as "Why doesn't the Bible condemn this?" In fact, as noted above, it does...just not the kind that the ancients were familiar with.
- A case could be made that slavery is largely incompatible with New Testament doctrine. Despite the fact that it was condoned, it would have conflicted with the "reversal of roles" theme that made Christianity popular among women and lower classes at the time.
- The problem is that these verses refer only to Israelite slaves, and even their share isn’t all that great, as socio-economic conditions would generally leave them no option but to return to their owner and undergo a very humiliating ceremony on the way, becoming an ‘eved nirtza‘, or ‘pierced slave’. They, along with non-Israelite slaves, or ‘Canaanite slaves’ (‘Eved Kna‘ani), are much worse off, as the text allows their Israelite owners to treat them like scum, and they were chattel that could be sold or inherited freely.
- Paul points out in Philippians that owning a 'brother' in Christ is rather against the spirit of following Jesus. And as shown across the New Testament, a brother (or sister) in Christ could be of any race. At the time, this was a massive leap in thinking about slavery.
- Still, it could be argued that even if slavery were a common thing at the time, it still doesn't justify God's lack of condemnation of it in The Bible. If we're looking at the book from a mythological perspective, it makes sense, but from a holy or "the right thing" view, it's not a very valid argument.
- Of course that can also be argued. Just because God doesn't directly condemn something doesn't necessarily means he is in favor of it. He didn't seem be very keen on it when it's the Israelites that are the ones enslaved.
- Matthew 7 "Judge not that ye be not judged...", is really misunderstood as a message of tolerance. The following verses point toward the scripture being a message against hypocrisy in judgement (rather than judgement itself). Romans 2:1-3 has a similar teaching about judging hypocritically.
- The Bible does not say that exactly three wise men visited Jesus, nor does it say they were kings, nor does it say they rode on camels. Their names aren't known either, and neither is said that one of them was black (although it doesn't say they weren't black either). It also does not say that they visited Jesus as an infant at the stable, they were simply said to have come when Jesus was a "young child" and at "the house". On that note, "young child" probably means three to six years old, which would mean "the house" refers to his parent's house in Nazareth. The grouping of 3 stems from the fact that there were three gifts, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Their depiction was later expanded into European, (black) African and Asian, to symbolize people all over the world worshiping Jesus (in the future).
- Nobody knows specifically when Jesus was bornnote , but there is a prevailing idea that the date accorded was an attempt to co-opt Aurelian's Feast of the (Birthday of the) Unconquered Sun or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, a festival that took place on what was, in the Julian Calendar, the Winter Solstice, December 25.note While the earliest hard evidence regarding Dec. 25 as the date of Christmas is from 336 A.D., and it wasn't made an official festival until 379, there is evidence that the date was already being put forth by the integration of several strands of thought. The formulation of the date of Christmas actually has to do with the attempt to set the date of Good Friday and Easter, for the purposes of smoothing out the liturgical calendarnote . After years of argument, two dates were generally held for the timing of Good Friday: the Eastern Church claimed the date of April 6, while the Western Church observed March 25.
- In order for this to make sense, we need to concern the idea of "Integral Age", the extra-Scriptural, though apparently widespread, Judaistic idea that the great prophets of history had all died on the same day as their conception or birth. This gives the dates extra significance of being candidates for Jesus' birth or conception, and eventually March 25 took prominence. To the day, March 25 is celebrated as the Feast of the Annunciation (or Incarnation), when the Archangel Gabriel visited Mary and related a certain request to her, and upon her acquiescence conceived the "Eternal Word of God" in her womb. Anyone remotely familiar with pregnancy can make the nine month jump to December 25. April 6's nine month jump led to January 6, which is celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany (the visitation of the Magi). Combine that with the "Chronicle" of Hippolytus of Rome (which precedes Dies Natalis Solis Invicti by a good three decades) stating that the birth of Jesus "took place eight days before the kalends of January", and suddenly it seems more like Dies Natalis Solis Invicti was a political statement and a paganization of a significant date to Christians.
- Also, a further point to reference the date was put forth by St. John Crysostom (died 407 A.D.), as regards the Bible's record of Mary visiting her pregnant sister, Elizabeth. This took place during the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, when her husband Zechariah was performing priestly duties in the temple. Zechariah was in the eighth of a 24-class priestly system, so, calculating backwards from the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. (Rabbinical Tradition fixed the class on duty during that time), Zechariah would have been serving Oct. 2-9 in 5 B.C. (again, the modern year system may be a bit off) when he was visited by the angel and told his elderly and infertile wife would conceive and bear his son. Mary's sudden conception visit six months later puts us in March, and the nine month pregnancy leap leads us to late December.
- The misunderstanding here regarding who ripped off whom has several roots. First, was that there was virtually no conflict during the institution of the festival; Christians examined Aurelian's ideas, took a shine to them, and functionally baptized them, giving them new Christian significance without having to impose a whole new methodology on everyone around them. The Birth of the Unconquered Sun was re-appropriated to refer to the "Sun of Salvation" or the "Sun of Justice", as in, Jesus himself. This "baptism" is actually quite common in nascent and/or rural Christian communities, which is why there is a disconnect when festivals and celebrations that look decidedly un-Christian (or, at least, are missing the cultural images of a certain set of "Smells and Bells") and Pagan are witnessed by casual observers. note Also important in the idea of Christmas originally being Pagan are the theories proposed by Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, who wanted to demonstrate that the festival of Christmas was one of the early "Paganizations" of Apostolic Christianity into Catholicism, and by Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, who wanted to demonstrate the Catholic Church adopted Pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the Gospel. Both theories agreed on the assumption that, since the Julian calendar, which dated from 45 B.C. listed December 25 as the Winter Solstice, the date had a pagan significance prior to its Christian one. Jablonski merely noted the correlation of the technical designation of Dec. 25 and thus concluded that the Roman Winter Solstice had a significance prior to Christmas. Hardouin failed to challenge the assumption.
- Further, the particular sun-centric date was foreign to either of the two Roman temples of the sun. The one to whom Aurelian's clan belonged celebrated its dedication festival on August 28, but by the second century, both temples had fallen into disuse and neglect by the second century, when the eastern sun cult Mithraism was gaining ground. And none of the above had ceremonies dealing with Equinoxes or Solstices.
- SO! To sum up, the idea that Christmas has pagan roots is utterly bogus. It is the taking of dates featured in the new testament, combining them with an (admittedly extra-Scriptural) Jewish (not pagan) theory about the lifespan of Jewish (not pagan) prophets. That they adopted Aurelian's festival is more of a checkmate in that he gave them more material to work with. Instead of allowing him to copyright the sun for Roman Paganism, they put it in the service of Jesus Christ.
- Actually, a lot of the former fails to acknowledge that the Good Friday was originally structured as based on Mediterranean Sun rebirth dates (see the numerous solar imagery in John, and you'll get the idea), so it does have a pagan origin, albeit a far more subtle one than Sol Invictia. Furthermore, Mithraic cults did have celebrations about the Sun's rebirth, though they were never public and probably did not affect the development of Christmas much. Finally, Christian proselytism did play up Christmas as based on the Winter solstice across Europe, as nearly all native religions did celebrate the mid-Winter as the Sun's rebirth.
- That is a possibility. Of course it is also a possibility that they simply chose the date of Good Friday and Easter to coincide with what the scriptures said about Jesus being crucified on the Friday after Passover and rising again on the Sunday after Passover. But you be the judge.
- Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute according to biblical canon, nor did she wash Jesus' feet or pour perfume on him. All we know of her is that she followed Christ after he purged seven demons out of her. Word of Dante later identified her with an unnamed "woman who was a sinner" (probably a prostitute) who did do those things. It's quite unlikely, though, that these two women were one and the same, since Mary Magdalene is mentioned a few pages before the unnamed woman in the gospels.
- Film works have done this, likely for artistic or pragmatic reasons in terms of telling the story without turning the work into a tediously long analysis. The 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told condensed much of the Biblical stories—including shoving Mary Magdalene into the role of the unnamed woman that was to be stoned. Memetic Mutation might have gone off from there.
- To add to the confusion, a woman named Mary did anoint Jesus with perfume in a separate incident, shortly before his death—but this was not Mary Magdalene but Mary of Bethany, the one from the "Mary and Martha" story.
- While there is naturally quite a bit of debate about the divinity of Jesus and certain specific details of his ministry (e.g. whether he had disciples, whether he personally claimed to be the Son of God), the consensus among the vast majority of scholars of antiquity, even the non-Christian ones, is that a Galilean Jew named Jesus did actually exist, that he was baptized by John the Baptist when he was around 30, and that Pontius Pilate ordered him to be crucified. The idea that Jesus was a purely fictional character is generally considered to be refuted by professional historians.
Recent History & Events
- There were attempts to smear Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI by claiming he was a Nazi because he was drafted by them at age sixteen (membership was mandatory at that point). Not only was the Pope never a Nazi, his family had to keep moving house because of their strong anti-Nazi beliefs. The 'Hitler Youth' part of the equation never even happened - they told him to join, and he got a note saying he was excused. Not exactly a leader of the SS here.
- Oh yes, and his fourteen-year-old cousin was taken away and killed by the Nazis because he had Down Syndrome.
- And he deserted from the army during the war, hardly the action of a rabid National Socialist.
- The Catholic Herald has been under attack for several years now for publishing an article claiming that the books of Philip Pullman should be piled up and burnt. Pullman has even put (what we are told is) the offending Herald quote in his book and the controversy is such that it has actually become a long-standing part of Pullman's introduction and featured on the BBC's Big Read. The truth? The Catholic Herald never said anything of the sort!. While book burning is mentioned in the text, it is done so in the context of ridiculing the furor of Moral Guardians over the alleged anti-Christian nature of Harry Potter at a time when there are children's fantasy books such as His Dark Materials which ARE rather explicitly anti-Christian; the woman who wrote this wasn't saying that Pullman's works should actually be burnt. Here's the actual article (apologies for a few minor typos, the CH recently digitized their entire archive and the speed-typing shows somewhat). In short, what the Herald actually said was:
"THE CONTROVERSY over Harry Potter
is still brewing in the USA. Parents in South Carolina are pressing their Board of Education to ban the best-selling children's stories. "The books have a serious tone of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil", said one mother, in her deposition to the board. "No doubt the books are attracting attention precisely on account of their success: they have sold 30 million worldwide. But if
one was going to start banning
books, there are numerous candidates that seem to me to be far more worthy of the bonfire
than Harry. The children's market is glutted with tomes a million times more sinister. This is particularly true in the area of fantasy fiction, which appeals to children as they approach their teens. One such is the trilogy by Philip Pullman, entitled His Dark Materials."
- In response to the continued controversy and the quip at the BBC's Big Read, the Catholic Herald completely re-printed the original article and added a response by its author, Leonie Caldecott, who said that "the tactics of the author and his supporters have not been exactly honourable" (which is a bit of an understatement) and goes on to add that "Since no clergymen have [publicly denounced Pullman and his book] the millionaire author has had to make do with an Oxfordshire housewife".
- Adolf Hitler was a Catholic…or not. The entire issue is very unclear, but that doesn't stop people on both sides invoking the Hitler Card in intense flame wars. Though Hitler claimed to be Christian and to be doing the Lord's work, some research doesn't show Hitler to be entirely Catholic. The Other Wiki has a page on his religious beliefs. Basically Hitler certainly wasn't atheist but his actual religious beliefs remain unclear. He didn't like some elements of Christianity, and supported ideas of other religions.
- Semel Catholicus, Semper Catholicus - unless excommunicated, of course.
- And on that note, the 1917 Code of Canon Law, still in effect throughout the remainder of Hitler's life, imposed the penalty of latae sententiae (i.e. automatic) excommunication on any Catholic who joins a secret society (e.g. the Thule Society, which Hitler was claimed to be a member of).
- Also, there is a claim that Hitler and Goebbels incurred latae sententiae excommunication (under the current canon law) by taking part in a Protestant wedding. They then sued to get out of paying their church tax (collected by the state), and were refused on the principal that a man is not allowed to profit from his own wrongdoing.
- Also there was a significant amount of Catholic opposition to the Nazis. Though there were Catholics who supported Hitler, there were many Catholics who openly condemned Nazism on various issues. Many Catholics opposed the killing of disabled people, (called Aktion T4) by the Nazis and the Bishop of Munster even preached against it. Hitler finally cancelled Aktion T4 due to this opposition. Though the killing of the disabled continued in a less systematic manner, it hardly seems that the Catholic Church was fully behind Hitler. Also the Nazis engaged in a lot of persecution of German Catholics and there are many Catholics who were killed by Nazis and are considered martyrs.
Christianity and War
- The Crusades were not, originally, as much of a religious conflict as their reputation implies. They actually originated when the Byzantine emperor called for support in repelling a land-grab by the Seljuk Turks. The then Pope, Urban II, a respected world leader seeking to unite Europe, consolidate and reunite the fractured Church and take back Jerusalem from the invaders, called for a crusade against the invading forces. In this war over land, the Seljuks (the "Muslim" side of the war) had some Christian allies, and the "Christian" side likewise had some Muslim allies. It only later devolved into a purely Muslim-vs-Christian conflict after Louis VII of France, in the Second Crusade, took a detour to sack Damascus, betraying his Islamic allies out of Greed.
- The conflict in Northern Ireland between "Protestants" and "Catholics" has much less to do with religion than the labels imply. The religious labels are used (mostly by the media) as easy identifiers for two ethnic and cultural communities whose grudges against each other spring not from religious differences but from historical wrongs (England invaded and subjugated Ireland). Many of the people most deeply involved in the conflict today do not believe in God at all, yet will still use the religious label as a way to identify with their community. The main sides in the conflict are actually known and self identified as the Republicans (who want Ireland to be a unified Republic) and the Unionists (who want Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom).
- The historical wrongs referred to themselves involved religion heavily though. While there had already been Anglo-Irish conflict since the Norman conquest of Ireland, it was exacerbated by King Henry VIII's split from the Catholic Church, in which all of his subjects were legally obliged to swear an oath acknowledging him as head of the new Church of England. Most of the Irish Catholic populace refused, sparking violent rebellions. Protestant settlers from England and Scotland were settled in Ireland, predominantly in the northern province of Ulster, to insure a loyal population there that would help the English maintain control of the country. This led to centuries of sectarian violence that was aligned with the politics laid out above. Of course there were many aversions, with prominent Irish nationalists that were Protestants (Wolfe Tone, Roger Emmet, etc.) and many Catholic loyalists, but it was definitely a conflict exacerbated by religion, though other facts were definitely involved as well. While not all Irish Republicans were or are Catholic, nor all Irish Unionists Protestant, the majority of each ideology do align with these faiths, due to the historical reasons elaborated above. That's not even to mention conflicts such as in the Balkans, explicitly involving three-way clashes between different Christians (Catholic vs. Orthodox) and Muslims, that were similarly aligned with ethnicity at the same time.
Christianity and Other Belief Systems
- People who claim that Christianity is based on earlier religions are, unless they mean Judaism, very sorely mistaken. There is no actual historic proof that this is the case. Indeed, there is nothing in what we know of the original Pagan beliefs that we can even draw a respectable parallel with. This, however, has not prevented bunkum, such as Christianity supposedly being based on the Mithraic Mystery Cult, appearing from the mouths of respected and intelligent people, such as the ones who run the QI panel game. Quite apart from the fact that we know almost nothing about the Mithraic Mystery Cult, everything we do know contradicts all of the claims made. This is merely the very tip, of the very tip, of the colossal iceberg of earlier beliefs that people regularly claim Christianity is based on. One of the more amusing being the supposed 'virgin birth' of Horus. Long story short: Isis gathered the various parts of Osiris and rebuilt him, she then brought him back from the dead for a single day so that she could, er, conceive with him. Yes, creepy undead whatnots are still whatnots.
- This is a classic double bind. Any feature of a given religion either will or will not resemble things in other religions. Now the Christian-baiters argue that if it does, that "proves" it was "stolen", but if it does not, that "proves" how "unnatural" Christianity is. As C. S. Lewis remarks, the only way one could NOT expect to find resemblances between Christianity and other religions would be by assuming that all other religions are COMPLETELY false.
- Isis couldn't find Osiris' whatnot. Instead, she carved him a new whatnot out of wood. Uhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh, "wood".
- Osiris himself is still a pre-Christian use of the dead-and-resurrected god-figure. As are Baal and Dionysus. The latter in particular has a backstory so similar to Christ's that some fundamentalists think he was inspired by Jesus... in spite of having been worshipped long before he was born. Though admittedly, his actual personality was the polar opposite.
- It is true that stories of Osiris, Baal and Dionysus, are all pre-Christian and deals with the dead-and-resurrected god-figure like many mythologies. However the way these characters die, how they originated, and how they we're "resurrected" are drastically different from each other and from the story of Jesus. In fact those stories don't have too much in common at all. For example some "experts" claim that the story of Jesus is based on the stories of Dionysus. Now there are several versions of the story of Dionysus, some of which even deny him ever having a human mother. But anyway to make a long story short: Zeus came down from mount Olympus, has "whatnots" (repeatedly I might add) with a human woman named Semele, she becomes pregnant, Hera gets jealous and tricks Zeus into killing Semele. Zeus out of remorse takes the fetus that was in her womb and sews it on his thigh until that baby aka Dionysus was born. So similar to the backstory to Jesus? Not really. Based off each other? A bit of a stretch. It would be like saying that dragon ball z is based on the story of Jesus simply because they used the Back from the Dead trope on their protagonist as well.
- Dionysus' religion is often framed as being reminiscent of early Christianity, however, Dionysus was worshiped as a death and rebirth deity, dying annually and resurrecting annually in accordance with the seasons. The cults of Dionysus may have valued wine and bread very highly... but they valued it because they were hedonists. The bread and wine in Christianity is a re-enactment of the last supper and are symbolic of Christ's body (bread) and blood (wine). While some of the various Dionysus cults do have some very vague reassembles to Christianity, in that they are both religions, this doesn't mean they based off each other. The Dionysus dying annually and rebirth annually dates as well as his birth are not on the same dates as Jesus - of course the whole Dionysus dying and coming back (once again) thing entirely depends on which version of the story you read. And who worshiped him - some Greeks didn't see him as the god of death and rebirth. Seems like those guys couldn't really keep their story straight at all. Many versions claim he dies in the WINTER and was reborn (technically not resurrected ) in the SPRING. No matter how you look at it, their deaths are not even close to the same dates, seeing as Christ supposedly died in SPRING and was resurrected in the SPRING. If you are wondering why Christ dies AND is resurrected in the Spring specifically, you need look no further than the Jewish Passover, which takes place in Spring and was celebrated by Jesus and the apostles at the Last Supper, just before he died. Also Dionysus death and rebirth by Zeus all happen before he was ever actually born. This version where he was alive and reborn was a completely different version. This version claims that Demeter( the goddess of harvest) was the mother of Dionysus, though others say Persephone (goddess of the underworld wife of Hades). Only thing they could really agree on was that he was the son of Zeus.
- It should also be pointed out that the symbolism of the deaths and resurrection of Dionysus and Christ are in fact different. According to most theologians Dionysus' death was meant to symbolize the dying and regrowth of the Greeks harvest, which died off in winter seasons and grew back in spring, differing greatly from that of Christ. To understand symbolism in Christ’s death one would have to look at the story of the first Passover (many historians believe the fact that Christ’s death and resurrection centers around Passover isn’t a coincidence). During the first Passover the Israelites had to sacrifice a lamb (a sacrificial lamb) and used it blood cover the tops of their doors to protect their first born from the angel of death that god down on Egypt. How does it this have any connect with Christ? Well Christ has been called “the lamb of god” in several of the canonical Gospels, implying his death was sacrificial. So many assume that Christ's death was in some ways meant to symbolize the lambs that were sacrificed during Passover, who’s blood was then used to protect the Israelites from God's final plague, and whose bodies were used in the Passover feast. So their symbolism when it came to their deaths and resurrection isn't so similar at all.
- As for their birth dates, the scriptures never actually mentions when exactly Jesus was born so its really impossible to say that Dionysus and Jesus was born on the exact same day, and believe it or not early Christians actually celebrated Christmas in early January for years before changing the date to December 25th. So it would “supposedly” coincide with their biblical dates.
- Also through close examination one can see that many of the stories of Dionysus and Jesus are nearly the exact opposite from each other. For example Dionysus came to King Pentheus by his own choice to prove his divinity ( because no one believed him) and to punish the king for not worshiping him. Jesus on the other hand was captured and brought to Pilate because of the rumors of his divinity. Jesus didn't try to prove he was divine, he just didn't deny it. Also, Dionysus murdered King Pentheus when he didn't believe him, while Jesus was executed by Pilate. So really what was the similarity there? Was it just because they both appeared in front of an authority figure? Pilate was the Governor of Judea and not a king, he worked under Caesar. The king mentioned in the story of Jesus was Tiberius, so Jesus never actually appeared before a king.
- Some people have claimed that Jesus' date of Resurrection is also historically unknown. Some even suggest a death in January, for instance, which is pretty funny considering 1.) the famous last supper feast Jesus had with his follower was a Passover feast. A holiday celebrated in Spring. 2.) All versions of the Christ story talk about Pilate trying to let Jesus go - which was customary during Passover (which was also in Spring) to let one prisoner free. The scriptures were pretty specific in describing the event. It mentioned he was executed that following Friday. Where he was killed was Golgotha, Calvary, and how long the execution took was 6 hours. Which really puts in question exactly which texts claimed he died in January, seeing how it pretty much contradicts half the story as well as making it implausible. Also it destroys the symbolic connect between Christ and Passover.
- Some also claim that the iconography of the early church is nigh identical to that of Dionysus, for example. Which is an impressive claim considering that NO physical description of Jesus is contained in ANY of the canonical Gospels and that the official imagery of Jesus did not really appear until about the 6th century AD - seeing as how the Christian church banned imagery from their church for centuries because their beliefs were based on the view in Judaism that having imagery of their deities were wrong.
- Similarities between Christian or Jewish events and those of other religions:
- These people may be referring to certain stories in the Bible. There are some very similar tales across holy texts, perhaps the most common being an angered deity flooding the earth. Hinduism features a man being swallowed by a fish, which can be linked to the story of Jonah. Interestingly enough, the large number of flood myths is taken by fundamentalist Christians as evidence for their belief in a global flood. After all, if the world was flooded you would expect people to remember it!
- There is also the logical fallacy that, since certain modern Christian festivals have some imagery that was subsumed from pagan/local customs, that must mean that the holiday itself that they are used to celebrate is based off the same pagan roots. Suffice to say, the idea of a Christmas tree, Santa Clause, the Easter bunny, Saint Patrick, etc. do not appear anywhere in any Catholic (or, indeed, Christian) Bible. It's the equivalent of saying that, since we now celebrate July 4th by setting off fireworks, the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration on that day in order to appease local firework manufacturers.
- While it is kind of true that Easter has some symbolic things in common with pagan beliefs, it's more complex than that. and Easter does in fact have much more than "a vague "baptism" of being Jesus' Resurrection" you see early Christians use to called the celebration of Christ’s resurrection “Pesach,” the Hebrew word for Passover; today, most languages use a variation of that name: “Pesach” in French, “Pascua” in Spanish, “Pasqua” in Italian, “Pashkë” in Albanian and “Pask” in Swedish. This Christian holiday and festival is known as Pascha in non-English speaking countries. So most cultures don't even call the holiday Easter, it's just us English speakers who call it that. Our English word, Easter, comes from a stranger source: a pagan fertility goddess named Eostre (also known as Astarte or Oster). The festival of Eostre always took place around the spring equinox; so early Christian missionaries in Europe (only in Europe mind you) gradually melded the festival’s name, timing, and some of its symbols, into the Christian celebration.“The missionaries adapted a tremendous amount of the cultures from where they were doing their work into the faith, in large part to make people feel comfortable,” says Ace Collins, author of Stories Behind the Traditions and Songs of Easter. “Eventually, the Christian celebration took the place of the pagan festival.” So Easter doesn't really have pagan roots seeing as how many cultures don't even call the holiday Easter or celebrate the pagan aspect of it, and even then Easter or Pesach was celebrated by early Christians long before they added in any pagan traditions in to it, this a similar case with Christmas as well.
Charity Work and Philanthropy
- The Catholic Church gets a bad and rather undeserved rap for being uncharitable. The argument usually goes that since the Church has a lot of really nice buildings they must be sucking up money that could be used to feed Romanian Orphans. Of course this is very politically naïve; countries aren't poor for no reason, mostly it is because governments have been sacking places in Africa, Asia, and South America for centuries. Western powers will actually step in to replace democratically-elected leaders with puppets who are subservient to them in order to make the sacking easier. Want an example? How about Brazil, Guyana, Guatemala, Iran, India, and half of Africa? And here's the thing: throwing aid money at a region can actually destabilize it because, as it turns out, dictators tend to take that free money and turn it into guns or supplies - and that's if the food doesn't get left to rot on the docks. What has this got to do with the Catholic Church? Well, it turns out they ARE helping people, and they are doing a damn sight more than the people who accuse it of being greedy. Have a look at this.
"The Catholic Church is very visible in healthcare services in Africa. She, of all religious groups and private agencies working in the healthcare industry in Africa, has the largest number of private hospitals and clinics providing Medicare and, in some cases, free medical treatment for HIV/AIDS, pregnant women, and people suffering from malaria. This happens even in those African countries where the Catholic Church is not a majority. In Ghana for instance, Catholics make up about 30 percent of the population but control more hospitals than any other private agency in the country. In Africa, the Church works in 16,178 health centers, including 1,074 hospitals, 5,373 out-patient clinics, 186 leper colonies, 753 homes for the elderly and physically and mentally less able brothers and sisters, 979 orphanages, 1,997 kindergartens, 1,590 marriage counselings centers, 2,947 social re-education centers and 1,279 other various centers. There are 12,496 nursery schools with 1,266,444 registered children; 33,263 primary schools with 14,061,000 pupils, and 9,838 high schools with 3,738,238 students. Some 54,362 students are enrolled in higher institutes, of which 11,011 are pursuing ecclesiastical studies. There are in Africa, fifty-three national chapters of Caritas, thirty-four national commissions of justice and peace and twelve institutes and centers promoting the Social Doctrine of the Church." — Aid and Development in Africa, Stan Chu Ilo, (Pickwick).
- Note: These naive/idiotic arguments should be distinguished from the principled debate over the Church's stance on condoms in HIV-ridden sub-Saharan Africa. On the one hand, you have genuinely concerned Catholics who think the Church is doing everyone—including itself—a disservice by remaining staunchly opposed to condom use, which might be affecting HIV infection rates for the worse, the effect of non-use on family size (which is negatively correlated with prosperity) aside. On the other hand, you have concerned Catholics who think the other concerned Catholics are abandoning deeply-held Church doctrine without any justification in Scripture or Tradition and essentially advocating an acquiescence to modern immorality. Both sides here have points that must be taken seriously if one is a serious Catholic, but there is a tendency among outsiders and less-serious Catholics to conflate this debate with the more foolish points.
- The condemnation of "the Church's stance" a) assumes that people who ignore "the Church's ban" on adultery and fornication will be deterred by "the Church's ban" from using condoms while they are committing adultery and fornication; b) ignores that the African countries where AIDS is epidemic are countries where the Catholic population is small to nonexistent.
Heaven & Hell
- Hell. Any time Hell is depicted as "the Devil's domain", typically with Satan sitting on a throne of skulls, idly twiddling his pitchfork while the damned are marched by in chains. The Bible clearly teaches that Hell (well, the Lake of Fire at least) was always intended as a punishment for Satan, not as a kingdom. The closest analogue to a realm of the dead is Sheol or the grave — a place where the dead go, but not for punishment or reward. It seems to be a place where absolutely nothing happens.
- This misconception comes from the line in Paradise Lost: "Better to rule in Hell, than serve in Heaven." However, it is obviously just metaphorical. The text states the non-literal aspect explicitly: "You'll find no realms there."
- Satan does have some autonomy in Paradise Lost; he breaks his chains and founds a city (Pandaemonium). However, it's clear that he's still being tormented (both by the fires and by the absence of God), and that he has no actual power over the damned.
- The traditional view of Fire and Brimstone Hell is due to distinctions Lost in Translation. The word "Hell" is used as a translation for FOUR words used in the initial writing of The Bible in its original languages: Sheol, Hades, a single mention of Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4), and Gehenna. Sheol is a Hebrew word and Hades is Greek; both mean the same thing, the abode of the dead for all humans, whether good or bad, at least until Armageddon, and used in conjunction with Ecclesiastes 9:5 would refer to Cessation of Existence. Gehenna is a Greek word that when translated means "Valley of Hinnom", which was a trash dump where garbage filth, corpses of criminals, and the like were burned. Jesus re-purposed this word to refer to the future eventual end and Karmic Death of the wicked, whether human or demon, and also has the same symbolic meaning as the Lake of Fire in Revelation. Not everyone agrees whether it is a place of eternal torment or eternal destruction. Unfortunately, Bible translators usually translate all four words as "Hell", despite that Gehenna has a different meaning from the first two, thus causing a lot of confusion.
- On that note, it's important to dispel the idea that Jesus descended into Hell, as in, actual Hell. He didn't. Yes, that's right, the phrase most Christians repeat every Sunday, "He descended into Hell", isn't referring to actual Hell. It's another case of English translators using Hell for four different words; in this case, Hell is referring to Sheol, the place of the dead. Jesus descended into Sheol to take the souls waiting there into Heaven, which was then opened; he wasn't saving souls which were previously damned by God the Father. Well, this is all relatively, speaking, of course. If you really want a Mind Screw, consider the fact that Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and most likely Sheol exist outside of time, and the concept of actual time passing between events in eternity gets a little screwy. Also note the theological fact that Jesus' death is the only event EVER to exist in and out of time, and gets even more confusing. Were the souls actually waiting in Sheol for thousands of years? The fact is, no one's completely sure. The important thing to note though is that Heaven, Hell, and the like function on a completely different system of space and time than the physical universe does, and that when the Theologians/the Bible say things like "enter Heaven" and "descend into Hell," it's merely putting physical aspects into supernatural things we can't understand.
- Sheol can also be interpreted as 'asleep in death', referenced by Jesus saying Lazarus had merely fallen asleep when he'd died. So Jesus either entered an extra-physical realm or was 'asleep' for three days. Either way, he did not enter Hell.
- Or more simply, as Sheol is the realm where all the dead go, saying Jesus descended into hell (read "Sheol") is a way of affirming that Jesus truly died (as opposed to seeming to be dead) so that the Resurrection is truly a reversal. Modern translations of this creedal element often render it as "He descended to the dead." There is not necessarily any mission that Jesus is up to during this time. While later tradition (described above) says that he was preaching to the souls in hell to bring them to heaven, First Century Jews did not believe that the Righteous Dead ever went to Heaven, which was merely the abode of God. The Righteous awaited a Resurrection of the Dead into new bodily life on Earth at the judgment day and coming of the Kingdom of God. This is why the ancient creeds speak only of the Resurrection of the Dead (which happens to everyone at the same time) as opposed to dying and going to Heaven (which happens on an individual basis after death).
- On that note, any time Satan is depicted as an "opposite but equal" force to God the Father or Jesus. The passage cited as his backstory (whether it is or not), in Isaiah, depicts him as a fallen angel. Angels are definitely not equal to God.
- Dualism influenced some sects of early Christian Gnosticism, & some were quite open to the possibility of two equal deities. Then the Council of Nicaea decided to take issue with some creative differences found in Gnostic beliefs, wrote up a Creed, & set up shop.
- Beyond the issue of relative power or lack thereof, Satan is believed to have already been defeated via Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection, and is at this point on borrowed time waiting for the other foot to come down.
- The classic appearance of Satan as a red-skinned, goat-hooved, barb-tailed, goatee-wearing, and horned man does not come from Scripture. It emerged around the 19th century representing the faun Pan as a symbol of pagan decadence, becoming associated with sin and then with Satan. As for the Bible, the closest it gets to describing Satan's appearance is in 2 Corinthians 11:14, which warns that: "even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light."
- As a technical matter, Christianity does not teach that good people go to heaven when they die (though Popular Christianity embraces this idea). The most ancient understanding of the person, inherited from Judaism, is of an individual who is a psycho-somatic whole, a unity of body and soul/spirit/breath. Therefore, to live fully, one had to be embodied. The early Christians, as with the sect of the Pharisees, believed that life after death involved not living in some alternate spiritual plane of existence, but a Resurrection of the Dead in a new, glorified body. Jesus' Resurrection, according to the early church was, in the words of St. Paul, "the first fruits", that is, the first of many to come at judgment day with the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Heaven was, according to the most ancient cosmologies, the domain of God in the Creation (think of it as God's loft in the city), not a separate dimension (see, Genesis 1:1), and was never intended to be the final resting place of anyone. In fact, according to the Book of Revelation, the New Jerusalem and the Kingdom of God come to earth from Heaven, to dwell with God's people rather than the other way around. As with hell, heaven has been affected by the writings of Dante and medieval piety. The ancient creeds speak only of the Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting (in resurrected, bodily form) here in the Creation.
- Anything that depicts or refers to dead souls as angels. Angels are not the souls of the departed. They are a separate Order of Creation and were on staff from the Beginning. Of course in Catholicism at least some souls do act as intercessors and provide guidance and miracles. They are called Saints.
- Regarding the hierarchy of angels (from Catholic theology, though common in general Christianity and often in works that need an angelic army or government system) there are nine orders of a celestial hierarchy — from least to greatest: Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim. Michael, the angel who cast Satan from heaven, has proven difficult regarding which order, exactly, he belongs, to — the most common interpretation of his position, as you may have guessed from the trope, is as an archangel, which is the position accorded to him by St. Basil and a good many Greek Fathers, in so far as he is the prince of all angels. St. Bonaventura, on the other hand, refers to him as the prince of the Seraphim, the highest order of the angels, whereas St. Thomas Aquinas places him as prince of the Angels (lowest choir). This latter interpretation makes sense when considering the role of the angelic hierarchy as regards the degrees of their servitude — in a reverse from the human way of doing things, the higher orders of angels actually serve the lower orders.
- Following the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas and the writings of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, the division is more on nature rather than status. Archangel is not a choir so much as it is a title. Under the hierarchy listed by those two theologians, the only angels whose nature was sufficiently close to temporal to fall were the Cherubim (meaning Satan must have been one as well, though he was "unique" and his references tend to depict him more like a suped-up Seraphim). Of course, this goes into the nature of the soul as well and the intellective and sensitive powers. Animals possess only sensitive powers, angels only possess intellective powers (and thus the only sins an angelic being can commit are envy and pride, as the others require a body, and thus the sensitive powers), whereas humanity is horizon (possessing both). It also demonstrates why a demon (fallen angel) cannot be redeemed, since they are eternal (there is no concept of "when" so "when" would they be able to change?).
- Note the above is all Word of Dante. In the Bible the only thing said about Angelic hierarchy is that Michael is higher than the others.
- Actually, "Archangel" simply means 'chief of angels', so by definition, there can only be one. By extension, many people believe that Archangel Michel is Jesus before his coming to earth.
- Purgatory, as Catholic teaching goes, is not a third place where souls go after they die. Don't confuse it with other portrayals on television, either. It's a place/state where the souls of folks who are headed to heaven are cleaned up of the effects of their sins before they enter the Pearly Gates.
- In other words, a Christian should die with all serious (or mortal) sins confessed to God. If you're very contrite, you don't go to purgatory before heaven since your soul is that squeaky-clean. Often, such folks are recognized in the Catholic Church as Saints. Fail to confess your sins at all, and Hell is your only destination.
- Catholics believe that the damage we cause from forgiven sins leaves tarnishing on the soul. As St. Paul notes, purgatory removes such impurities "with fire" before the soul can enter heaven, for "Nothing unclean can enter heaven."
- A good analogy of purgatory is what happens if a young child is given a drink, purposefully spills it, and regrets it. The child can say "I'm sorry," and the mommy says, "That's OK." But there's still a mess to be cleaned up from the effect of the spill. You can also think of purgatory as the "front porch" of heaven, where God gives you a thorough scrub-down of any remaining impurities. Your mom loves you and wants you to come in for supper, sure. But you're going nowhere if you're tracking mud inside.
- Not even Catholics can tell you how or what goes on in purgatory, or how long the process lasts.note To help in cleaning yourself up from the effects of sin before you die, the Catholic practice of plenary indulgence began. It has very specific rules to complete. It is NOT the same as "buying your way into heaven" or "working your way to heaven." Historically, a few rich people and misunderstandings in almsgiving made indulgences seem like heavenly bribes. Today, nothing is required to be given except a person's devotion to the practices (defined by the Pope) that allow the indulgence to help clean you up, reducing your "time" in or eliminating the need for stopping in purgatory.
- For those playing at home, the word "purgatory" isn't found in The Bible; hence, the concept does not exist in the Protestant tradition. But then, neither is the word "Trinity." Yet, the concepts are there for both. See 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 to start. The book of 2 Maccabees, which isn't in many Protestant versions of The Bible's Old Testament, also shows support in praying for the dead to help them find purity so as to complete their journey to God.
- Or better, start at 1 Corinthians 3:10 and the few verses before it, and see how Paul introduces the reference to "fire". It shouldn't be difficult to see why Protestants think that Catholics have to stretch & change the passage in order to find the concept of Purgatory.
- The relevant details: The topic was the work of various ministers of the gospel—one person building on a foundation laid by another. ("like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.") That warning leads straight into Paul's teaching that the fire reveals the sort of work each person has done. In other words, the fire isn't applied simply to people who've been judged to need cleaning up—it's applied to everyone's work, in order to reveal its quality in the first place. (And arguably, it's specifically the work of every minister who labors to build up the Church, not a general concept of revealing the quality of every Christian's works.)
- This really isn't the place to be making definite claims that the concept of Purgatory actually is found in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15—or that it isn't found there.
- One of the most prevailing myths about Catholic Missionaries is that they are there to force something on people. There may be other Christian groups that do do this, but the RCC is not one of them. The main point of a mission is humanitarian aid, missionaries become missionaries for the same reason people volunteer for other charities - they want to help people! The first buildings established by a mission tend to be rudimentary medical facilities, then moving on to schools. It is generally the people themselves who ask for them to build a church. Missionary work is some of the hardest and most dangerous on the planet, the fact that missionaries protect the communities they join and are often celebrated by them, and the fact that the mission brings things like sustainable water, food, health care (including medicines for people with AIDS), education, good moral teachings, and hope to billions is entirely lost on most people. When a missionary priest approaches a tribe they can ask him to leave, and he has to go! The priest is there only as long as the people want him, he is NOT allowed to force Christianity on them - THEY have to come to him! That's right! During the mission the priest (and often volunteers) will go and build pumps, a hospital, a school, and start teaching people to read. The actual teaching of Christianity happens when the priest asks people if they would like to learn about the faith, the people then come to the priest to find out about Christianity and it is often them who ask for the priest to build a church. Oh yes, and the priest is not there to force another culture on the people or tell them that their current beliefs are wrong - often a missionary will be the only person making sure the local children know their own damn history and culture. The Vatican has numerous letters on file thanking them for the word of God, including one from a tribe of native Americans, which is written on tree bark.
- Unfortunately, for most of Christian history, spreading the cross was not such a rosy act. At that point, the religious authority was inseparable from political authority, having large populations of non-Christians in your domain is seen as a failure in asserting dominance. Missionaries of the old ilk generally do not leave when asked, and can usually call on the local colonial power to help. Witness the Bloody Verdict of Verden, where Charlemagne executed 4500 Saxons for refusing to convert. The inquisition of Goa, India (like their Spanish counterpart), while they did not directly punish pagans, still allowed the enactment of extremely anti-Muslim/Jewish/Hindu laws as "encouragement", and punishment for recidivism is generally not pleasant. Furthermore, successful missionary work could entail the replacement of the former local culture and religions, which can be considered a crime in of itself. And things really heat up when Christians try to convert each other (e.g. the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars or the Thirty Years' War against the Protestants). It's really only in the modern world and with the recognition that correcting someone's religious affiliation is not the most important goal that a much more in-depth and humanitarian missionary work can flourish.
- The Thirty Years War wasn't really about Christians trying to convert each other; it was about a war of succession and political-religious loyalties that quickly devolved into a prolonged mercenary war where everyone realized that they would be worse off financially if the war ever stopped, and kept finding excuses to keep it going. Individual armies had a mixture of Catholics, Calvinists, Lutherans, etc. regardless of the denomination of their commanders or princes. A great number of soldiers were forcibly conscripted and soldiers would sometimes provoke wars with other armies to avoid returning home, or conduct raids and pillages to make up their (lack of) pay. Back then many soldiers were paid mainly by the loot they could gain too.
Morality in Practice
- Where do the vast majority of Christians stand on alcohol, gambling and legal drugs such as tobacco? They are fine, so long as you do it in moderation and do not let them harm yourself or others (which in the case of gambling means don't take more than someone can afford to lose). Most of the rest, typically the newer less traditional end, take the view that humans have proven that they cannot do such things in moderation and so you should not do it. Alcohol, gambling, etc. are not evil; letting those things rule you is.
- Much debate is possible about the attitudes of various Christians toward sex, and there have been very many problematic statements made and repressive attitudes held by Christians. However, a work does fail Religious Studies forever if it claims or implies that The Bible or any mainstream Christian denomination (including Catholics and mainstream fundamentalists such as evangelicals) actually teach that you shouldn't have sex because Sex is Bad. As opposed to "you shouldn't have sex unless you promise to stay with the person forever."
- You are also wrong if you believe that the Catholic Church teaches that sex is solely for procreation, and that all forms of birth control are wrong. As of Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae, the Church teaches that sex has two purposes: procreative and unitive (bringing the couple closer together and helping preserve the marriage). The Church is opposed to artificial contraception, maintaining that artificial methods disrupt both the unitive and procreative aspects of sex; however, natural methods, such as Natural Family Planning (which, by the way, is NOT the Rhythm Method) do not disrupt these aspects and are permissible.
- Specifically, Catholicism requires 4 facets for the sex to be considered a "good" act. It has to be Relational, Unifying, Humanistic, and Fecund. It can satisfy that through the law of double effect though, meaning intent, course, and principle can lead to it even if the result is not the production of life. Doing less is considered a privation, or lessening of the act (sort of like cutting down a redwood forest for the sake of obtaining a single toothpick). That said, natural family planning is a sufficient method.
- Also, the Catholic Church does not teach that infertile couples are simply not meant to have children. While the Church is opposed to prevalent artificial reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization, the Church does support ongoing research designed to treat the underlying causes and conditions of infertility, allowing couples to have babies naturally. This means that infertile couples can still have sex, and they are permitted to use fertility drugs or other treatments to assist conception or assist in consummating the act, so long as these methods do not attempt to substitute for sex and do not harm any conceived children. So, Viagra and fertility drugs are allowed, but in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination are prohibited since they involve a substitute for the sexual act. Also, the process of in vitro fertilization can create fertilized eggs (embryos) that are not transferred back into the womb - some fail to develop and "die" before they can be returned to the woman's body, others are frozen, sometimes indefinitely, and others may be destroyed. As life begins at conception in the Catholic view, this is equal to abortion, and another reason for the prohibition of in vitro fertilization.
- Also, the more exact stance is that using condoms is still better than unprotected sex. The Catholic Church does not look kindly on sex before marriage (or slightly more liberally, without intent to marry or without being in love, which brings in different cultural matters), but they are against that more than they are against using condoms at all, and the general advice is that you should not be having sexual intercourse before marriage (CCC 2353). Period.
Science and Christianity
- The notion that the Middle Ages, particularly the 'Dark Ages' (now referred to as the 'Early Middle-Ages') were a time of darkness where religious leaders suppressed scientific advancement has in fact been widely discredited and is now considered untrue by most historians. Many inventions were actually promoted by the Church, which also worked to preserve Pagan writings and built scientific experiments into the very fabric of the Vatican. And don't forget that many priests were also scientists, or rather, most scientists were also priests. Here is a list that just shows the notable ones, including Henri Lemaître, a Belgian priest, astrophysicist, and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven and the guy who originally proposed Big Bang theory. One of the most important theories in modern physics. There's also the Pontifical Academy of Sciences or the Vatican Observatory, one of the oldest scientific institutions in the world. The irony here is that the people who regularly claim that Christianity stifles research and the acquisition of knowledge are failing to do any research themselves. There is also the Francisco Ayala issue. What with him being a former priest and famous evolutionary biologist, or Gregor Mendel You know that guy with peas who pretty much figured out genetics and was a Monk.
- Likewise evolution. The claim that the Catholic Church/the Pope opposes evolution is still used today. Especially egregious considering that evolution is part of the Catholic catechism. Creationists are not representative of most Christians and some of the older, traditional branches embraced the work of Charles Darwin within a few decades of publication. For the first decades after Darwin, the Church took no official position at all. However, in the debates over Modernism (1910s-1930s mostly) it tended to get bashed, so Pius XII put out an encyclical in 1950 clarifying (among many other things) that it didn't oppose any part of the massively well supported theory. Before that there was no official position at all, but some individual priests/theologians/etc opposed it; but it is indeed accurate to say that the Church never opposed evolution.
- In fact, the foundation of the molecular basis of evolution (genetics) was first laid by a Catholic priest, Gregor Mendel, experimenting with pea plants about the same time as Darwin.
- For that part, the infamous case of Samuel Wilberforce, the Anglican Oxford Bishop who opposed Darwin's ideas, is grossly misrepresented in popular history. He is usually mocked for supposedly making bad arguments and resorting to simply mocking Darwin's theories with bad jokes about monkeys; in reality, he was a highly intelligent man and most of his arguments were based on orthodox scientific theories of the time- and were so good and insightful, Darwin himself took them on board and worked to modify his theories in response and went on to regard Wilberforce as an outright genius. With regards to the infamous 1860 debate between himself and Darwin's supporter Thomas Huxley, Wilberforce (even if he technically lost) gave as good as he got, the two became friendly afterwards, and the debate itself- which is often presented as the Trope Codifier for Science vs Religion-, was actually a pretty jovial affair, a lively intellectual debate that was initially famous mainly because both sides thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
- Not only does Catholicism accept the notion of the Big Bang, but it was actually Msgr. Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest, who originally theorized it.
- In point of fact, the term "Big Bang" was originally supposed to be disparaging, and the person who coined it, Fred Hoyle, backed a "Steady State" theory that held that the Universe has always been more or less the same. Why? Because he was an agnostic, and thought that the Universe having a definable origin in time was too much like Biblical creation.
- However, when the Pope wanted to refer to the Big Bang as the moment of creation, Fr. Lemaitre explicitly advised him against it. Lemaitre was enough of both a scientist and a theologian to realize that mixing science and religion was not a good idea.
- Basically, the Catholic church officially is completely fine with scientific theories detailing the history and development of the universe... up to a point. One of the major points of Catholic doctrine is the concept of Creatio Ex Nihilo, or "Creation out of Nothing" and the "Prime Mover". This is the idea that there was nothing before the point the universe started and that God set the act of creation into motion. The "Big Bang" theory actually made the reconciliation of science with theology easier, as it gives us a date of Creation (previous theories seemed to indicate that the Universe had existed literally forever), and indeed some scientists rejected it at first because it was too Biblical (!). Everything that happens after that point is fair game for scientists.
- Actually, the Big Bang and any possible preceding states are fair game. When we talk about Creation Ex Nihilo, we mean the Nihilo. Creation from absolutely nothing, substantial physical laws are not nothing, nor are space and time. The concept of Mu might be a good analogy, it's something that cannot even be described, because to do so would be to give a form of being to it.
- Don't forget the very real (and completely different from the way Dan Brown depicts it) 'Vatican Secret Archives' (in this context, the word "Secret" is closer to what we would call "private"), better known as the Papal Archives. To quote the official site:
"More than 1000 years of history on 85km of shelving. The Archivio Segreto Vaticano has served the Holy See for 400 years and is one of the most important and renowned research centres in the world. It is a treasure trove of peerless precious documents; millions of papers and parchments that can be assessed by scholars of all nationalities and faiths."
- Unfortunately, the fact they ARE open to scholars of all faiths (and none), and that this is thoroughly decent of them, is entirely lost on a lot of rather militant and ignorant people who continually demand access to what they think is 'a sealed vault full of all their dirtiest secrets'. Thanks a lot, Dan Brown. The actual vault contains every letter ever sent to the Vatican, including the famous divorce correspondences of a certain Henry Tudor (a strange fellow who ruled most of a pious if somewhat backwards little island off the coast of France), and a letter written on a roll of tree bark from a Native American tribe thanking the Church for the word of God.
- The idea that Galileo was persecuted by the Church for his teachings is also false. Quite apart from the fact that he was overturning several thousand years of research, the theory he proposed was eighty years old by the time of the trial. Both Galileo and Copernicus, the guy who proposed the theory, were Catholics, and Copernicus was a priest. So why was Galileo actually put on trial? The story is hard to pin down exactly but the major reason is that he got on the backs of the scientific community and was an asshole to the pope, a former supporter of his. Galileo was basically told that his theory didn't have enough proof for him to go round saying it was fact and told him to stop teaching it. Galileo would later publish another scientific book without incident.
- Galileo was very difficult as a personality. He has been suspected to have suffered from a mild form of Autism. It is safe to say that he was in serious, often very personal dispute, with the contemporary scientific figures. This being the Renaissance and most institutions of learning in Europe (and many leading scientific figures involved in disputes with Galileo) associated with the Catholic Church, the Church became involved in these disputes.
- The Galileo Affair is also touched on in the Useful Notes for Heresies and Heretics.
- Also worthy of note, though it may seem obvious to many : the Galileo Affair has absolutely nothing to do with the question of whether the Earth was flat or round. A surprisingly high number of people (including many Catholics) somehow believe that Galileo revolutionary claim was that "the Earth was round, in contrast to the dominant opinion at the time that the Earth was flat", a statement which is amazingly wrong. The fact that the Earth is round and not flat is known since Antiquity (being easily proven through basic geometry) and had never been forgotten (see for instance Dante's The Divine Comedy: Hell is a cone going through the spherical Earth, down to the center of the spherical Earth (which, once crossed, means that gravity is reversed), Dante and Virgil emerging on the Southern Hemisphere).
- The "God of the gaps" fallacy, despite its use and its common perception as a means of disproving the existence of God, was actually formulated in the first place by the Christian evangelist Henry Drummond and several other later theologians who felt that using God as the direct explanation for currently unexplained natural phenomena ended up limiting God to the unknown rather than acknowledging Him as the creator of the known. Here are what some prominent Christian thinkers had to say about the fallacy:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know.
Charles Alfred Coulson: There is no 'God of the gaps' to take over at those strategic places where science fails; and the reason is that gaps of this sort have the unpreventable habit of shrinking.
- Whatever other hang-ups young-earth creationists have with evolution, they generally don't believe that Satan or God put fossils straight into the ground without living dinosaurs to produce them in the first place. They don't think Satan put them there because they don't think Satan has that much control over the physical world, and they don't think God put them there because they don't think an omnibenevolent God would deliberately deceive humans in such a way. YE creationists do actually believe that dinosaurs lived, died and were fossilized; they just think this all happened on a much quicker timescale than most scientists do.
Other Common Misconceptions
- Most Christians, quite simply, do not believe in The Rapture/7 Year Tribulation/One World Conspiracy popularized by the Left Behind novels/films, and if they live outside America, they probably don't even know what it is. It is a relatively recent theory and mostly held by Evangelical Protestants, and generally ignored in other Christian Traditions. Eschatology (Study of Last Things) has been discussed and debated since the very earliest days of the Church and the only things generally agreed upon near universally by Christians are Jesus is coming back, he will judge the world, and Heaven and Earth will be destroyed and remade. To make things even more complicated, there is even debate about what that last part even means, ranging anywhere from a Reset Button on current existence, to some sort of utopian new world, to a merging of Heaven and Earth, to any number of other theories. For instance.
- That faith and works are mutually exclusive, or that the doctrine of works is unbiblical. There's whole sections both supporting and rejecting Luther's doctrine of Sola Fide. And at least one passage that says both are necessary. Take That Jack Chick!
- Really, the issue here is more one of cause and effect, as no one on either side of the argument really disagrees that anyone who has faith will demonstrate that faith through their works; the question is whether good works in and of themselves can provide "saving grace" to the believer independently of that believer's faith in God. The heart of the matter is the questions: "Can a 'good person' go to Heaven based on their good works even if he or she doesn't believe that Jesus Christ's sacrifice was necessary to save mankind from their sins?" and "Are works required as well as true faith, or are works simply the natural demonstrated result of true faith?"