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IRS Workers, Lawyers, Protestants, Catholics and (Other) Sinners March 27, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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Conformity is treasured in the modern day. I can’t imagine it is much different now than any other time in history. Those geniuses that made the leaps of progress were frequently called heretics and dangers to society.

Socrates is now some kind of heroic figure, but he was judged by his city to be guilty of corrupting the minds of the youth (here read “contributing to the delinquency of a minor”, in modern law-speak). His crime was asking questions, which inspired his followers to ask questions, from which we now learn the Socratic teaching method. It’s a way of getting students, and wise men, to think by questioning the questions they are being encouraged to ask and the theses they are being asked to accept. Then, either ask the questions in a new perspective, or ask entirely different questions posing brand new theses. It was fine until they started asking about the political regimes and the social structure (here read “distribution of wealth and power”). Asked what he felt his punishment should be, he suggested they feed him and provide him with a per diem, for the rest of his life. The way I read the story, they agreed, and provided him one free drink before dinner.

I read with great interest the stories of several excommunicated by the church, and in hindsight, too many times, it sounds a little too much like the result of a power struggle, and a little too little like any actual heresy was being promoted. Certainly someone nicknamed Pedro the Cruel, who, the story goes, persecuted clergy and church members alike might be deserving of this. But several people who were judged by the papal authority to be “excommunicated,” and thereby forfeiting any hope of eternal salvation, according to those authorities, after being in hell for years, were recommunicated by the church.

This doesn’t sound right. Did these Popes and Bishops have God’s ear, or was God telling them in spite of their own wrath, that the people they were excommunicating would officially be kept out of heaven? It’s like a kind of eternal prison system- now you’re locked in hell; now you’re released and free to roam about heaven. Add a belief in purgatory not supported very well in the Old or New Testaments, and you have a whole new dimension The problem is, we don’t have the voice of God pronouncing these judgements. We have finite human beings making, they claim, infinite judgement calls. The ref made a bad call, coach, what can we do? Accept the score and suck up the penalty. Oh wait, here comes an instant replay. Or, the head ref discusses with the ref and they decide to remove the penalty.

My son played flag football last year, and made it all the way to the playoffs. In the last round of the championship game, in the last quarter, one of his team mates got a foul that cost them 15 yards, and ultimately, the game. But the call was fair. Everyone saw what happened, and the official, a human, explained to the other humans why that was a penalty, and the cost of what had been done according to the rule book.

But with these excommunications, it’s a human declaring an eternal divine judgement call, based on their interpretation of the Bible, or based on their feelings of affrontery, or based on their own lust for power and money. A call which may be reversed at the whim of the next human. What makes this fishy is one of my favorite verses about God, that He doesn’t change. If God declared to the pope that someone was excommunicated and eternally hellbound, why would God change his mind and declare to another pope, or to the same pope, “we’re cool now and he can come to heaven?” Highly dubious.

So it was, that Joan of Arc was excommunicated and burned at the stake for her crimes, and then, oh, nevermind, she can come to heaven now. That whole burning torturous murder? Um. er… ah… We’re sorry! Now she can be venerated as “Saint Joan of Arc.” King Philip the fair was excommunicated for not respecting the authority of the pope. “Ah, yes, quite, I’m personally declaring myself as co-equal with God, and kicking you out of eternity in heaven because you don’t like me.” How humble that pope must have been! How many know that Robert the Bruce, future King of Scotland and legendary hero, was excommunicated later for a killing he may or may not have personally committed, on his way to the throne? The English see Robert as a villain, the Scots revere him as heroic. Which means this quite likely had to do with power, as much, or more, than with sin.

Copernicus and Galileo were not officially kicked out of heaven, but they were strongly suspected of heresy and ordered not to teach. Their books were banned until 1758. At least they weren’t burned at the stake. 116 years of continual denial of scientifically verifiable facts about the earth’s position, an insignificant planet in a huge universe, did no favors to the relationship of scientists and science to the church and doctrines.

In the 20th Century, in 1962, for voicing an opinion not popular today, but popular then, that schools shouldn’t be racially integrated, two people in Louisiana were kicked out of the Catholic fellowship. After they recanted publicly they were let back into the church. Whether they repented or not is only God’s knowledge. But that one I have to agree with. In an absence of Love, can God be present? “…for God is Love.” (I John 4)

For speaking against any one of the popes, many were excommunicated. There’s a rumor all it requires to get kicked out is claiming that he’s a fallible human being just like all of the other humans on the planet. The “doctrine of Papal Infallibility,” was a popular ditty back in 1860 and 1870 and again in 1950 when they declared emphatically that Mary the Mother of Jesus ascended into heaven without facing physical death. Funny, none of the books that made it into the Protestant canon assert that one. Wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_infallibility asserts “This authority is considered by Catholics to be apostolic and of divine origin.” But if the pope, and all who hold the office, are infallible, why did any of them ever recant on an excommunication from another “infallible” pope, or from themselves? Oh, there they answer, it’s only on certain matters and has to be something a council agrees to. Then it’s not real infallibility, as argumentum ad populum is a logical fallacy. (Just because a bunch of people agree on something doesn’t make it a fact. But followers are going to follow.)

Notwithstanding, the founders of the Church of England, and the leaders of the Protestant reformation, were declared not worthy of heavenly inheritance by the Catholic church despite years of thoughtful, prayerful study that ultimately resulted in the Bible falling into the hands of commoners in our own language. Don’t let the commoners read and think for themselves. Make them submit in fear of the church. But “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) So if I’m frightened the church is going to kick me out, how unloving is that judgement? Why would I join an organization that teaches this but lets me fear their judgements? Wycliffe’s work was banned by the Church authorities. John Hus begged the church authorities to prove him wrong with the scriptures before he was burned at the stake.

Jesus too was considered a rebel in his day. He was a friend of sinners, like Matthew, a tax collector. Like Mary Magdalene, notorious by prior reputation, but forgiven by Jesus. If he forgave sin because he knew a heart was repentant, I have to say hallelujah, me next, please. Not only was he a friend of sinners, he did unauthorized work on the Sabbath day. Like healing the guy born blind. How just plain wicked is that?!

Those Protestant Christ followers are similar rebels, making up their minds after they read the Bible for themselves. They decide that “one mediator between God and Man” cuts out the confessional box, and penance. They decide that wine and bread is still wine and bread and the symbolic nature of the act doesn’t mean the elements are transformed into blood and flesh. It used to be called a doctrine around me, I affirm solemnly that I heard it called that, but now they’re saying transubstantiation isn’t a “doctrine, but a theory proposed to explain how Christ can be present in the Eucharist. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than just agreeing that “where two or three are gathered in [His] name, there he is in their midst.(Matthew 18:20)” Or does it?

I’m sorry if I’m stepping on your favorite dogma’s tail.

Does it boil down to the individual’s heart and their own personal relationship with God? I certainly hope so. Maybe God requires that if we’re following Jesus, we befriend “sinners” that the more pious among us wouldn’t associate with. I’ll let you decide for yourselves who the modern-day equivalent of “tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners” are, those were Jesus’ less-favored friends back in his day.

Perhaps we should befriend workers at the IRS, people who’ve had affairs or divorces or both, lawyers, Protestants, and even Catholics, among other more modern-day “sinners.” I know a lawyer and he’d love another friend. Anything to not be the butt of another lawyer joke. I don’t want to be a blind follower necessarily, but please don’t burn me at the stake when I think out loud and ask questions and make statements about what it says and what makes sense to me. Maybe the youth need someone to help them ask the right questions in the right way, so they can learn how to think differently.

Maybe I’m wrong, after all, I’m not infallible. I’ll take a lesson if you’ve got one. Oh, and yes, I would love a drink, but hold the hemlock if you please.