“The Pope is offering time off in purgatory to people who follow him on Twitter.” - Sky News, 2013*
Reading this, I couldn’t believe my eyes! Is the Roman Catholic Church STILL holding onto this medieval superstition?
“In the final analysis, the Catholic doctrine on purgatory is based on tradition, not Sacred Scripture” – New Catholic Encylopedia
Not quite as bad as hell, an everlasting place of excruciating torment for the wicked and anyone guilty of mortal sin during their lifetime, purgatory is a halfway house for people who commit venial sins; people who, with sufficient prayers, masses, indulgences and, most important, the funds to pay the priests for all these vital little extras, may at some unspecified time in the future be paroled. Now it seems pressing the ‘Follow’ button on @Pontifex entitles you to extra time out from the fiery furnace. Heaven knows how many days you earn for a retweet or favourite, but I imagine the Pope will be sending out vouchers for every Extremeunction - bringing centuries of extortion and fear-mongering bang up to date!
But is there any basis for believing in Hell, Purgatory, or indeed the ‘after life’? In order to find the answers, we first need to trace the source of such beliefs, to find out whether there is any foundation for them.
“The …..common view holds that ……..there is some positive punishment…..In the Latin Church it has been generally maintained that this pain is imposed through real fire.” – New Catholic Enyclopedia
Cue Ancient Babylon, home of Nimrod and many uncanny practices still in use today. Fortune-telling, omen-spotting, entrail-reading, runes, star-gazing and communing with the dead all have their roots in this magic-obsessed city. (Incidentally, Babylon also invented the fiscal system, which, considering recent history, some may regard as the ultimate nightmare!)
Ironically, atheists’ refusal to believe in a separate, invisible soul is backed up by scripture. Here, death is clearly shown to be a state of total unconsciousness, a dreamless sleep from which, according to several Bible verses (particularly the Lazarus account) people will ‘awake’ to a physical resurrection when paradise is restored on earth.
“There is no dichotomy [division] of body and soul in the O[ld] T[estament]….The term nepeš [ne’phesh], though translated by our word soul, never means soul as distinct from the body or the individual person….The term [psy-khe’] is the N[ew] T[estament] word corresponding with nepeš. It can mean the principle of life, life itself, or the living being.” – New Catholic Enyclopedia
The Mosaic Law did not allow for any form of spiritism whatsoever - in fact it was forbidden on pain of death for the nation of Israel - and it wasn’t until Greece began to stride the world stage that afterlife philosophies began to take root.
In the fourth century CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine, unable to quell the rise of Christianity by other means and determined to unite his empire, cunningly infused original gospel teachings with pagan beliefs such as the immortality of the soul, the trinity doctrine, and – that most terrifying concept of all – eternal hellfire! The Biblical word rendered as ‘hell’ in many versions simply means ‘grave’ or ‘death’. (Hebrew - sheol; Greek - Hades)
“The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.” – The Jewish Enyclopedia
Constantine’s ‘miraculous conversion’ marked the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire from which the rest of Christendom developed, combining Bible accounts with Babylonish rites and practices while keeping generations of adherents in ignorance. The Dark Ages had truly begun and the Bible was unavailable to the majority of people until the 16th century when William Tyndale translated the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. His aim - for ‘even a plowboy’ to understand scripture - was not appreciated by the church; hardly surprising as, from the Vatican to house churches, Christendom has done more than any other organisation to promote spiritistic practices. According to one spiritualist I met some years ago, “the church already preaches life after death – all mediums do is prove it!”
What harm does it do? Well, for one thing, the whole concept of life after death is a cruel deception, especially for people who have lost a loved one. Believing they can communicate through a spiritualist medium can lead to all kinds of fraud and extortion; even if the medium is basically well-meaning, it can still open the floodgates to a very dangerous world.
“….The nether world…..is pictured as a place full of horrors, and is presided over by gods and demons of great strength and fierceness.” – The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Boston, 1998, Morris Jastrow, Jr)
But the worst sin to my mind is the reproach beliefs such as hellfire and purgatory create towards God. Would a loving Father, even a sinful human one, hold a child against a fire until he screamed in agony? Is being damned to everlasting torture even just for the amount of sinning humans can fit into their three-score years and ten?
I doubt it.