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October 08, 2006


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I'd just like to point out that, while that is my website, I agree with Skeptico (which should be clear, but I'm jus' sayin').

Maybe this will convince Catholics that the whole damn thing is made up. But I'm not holding my breath.

Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I was always struck by how there was a reason for everything. The Church is an organism that has spent nearly two thousand years building and tweaking a rococo structure of if-thens and whereas-therefores. It's impressive as hell, but I gradually realized that I didn't accept the root axioms from which the whole briar patch had sprung. I think a lifetime in the Church can ensnare the unwary with an unwarranted confidence that all of the minutiae of the faith have explanations. Well, they do, but ...

The discussion over limbo will be one of those painstaking Vatican exercises where documents will be sifted, Biblical passages will be bandied about, tradition will be examined, and then a pronouncement will be made that -- no matter how different it is from past practice -- will be described as merely a clarification of long-held doctrine. Just watch.

My reflections on the "superiority" of the Romish strand of Christianity: Axiomatic Catholicism

It's like the old "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" squabble.

Tell me how big an angel is supposed to be and how big the pinhead is, and I'll work it out in seconds. Without that info, you're stymied.

As if it mattered anyway!

I don't disagree that it's weird to suddenly propose sweeping theological changes for no reason at all (of course, as the original doctrine was based on no reason at all, maybe it's not that surprising ...), but I'd just like to point out that it's a common mistake to believe that papal infallibility means that the Pope is supposedly infallible all the time. It doesn't.

Actually, he is infallible only when he says, in effect, "The following statement is infallible ..." That is, he has to specify that he is being infallible. (He also has to be talking about doctrines of faith and morals that all Christians are to believe in.) This is irrational enough in itself (if he is ordinarily fallible, how do we know the decision to make a statement infallible was correct or not?), but at least it's not as sweeping as the common misconception of papal infallibility makes it out to be. And as far as I can tell, limbo is not one of those things which has been defined ex cathedra under papal infallibility.

Wikipedia has a decent summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_infallibility

Big Al beat me to posting the exact first thought that went thru my mind as I was reading the post.

But now, I'm curious what's going to happen to all the poor souls that have been in limbo all this time...unbaptized babies for one (lucky souls!). And all the people that ever lived and died before jeebus was born, amongst others. So, do they get a free pass to heaven? Hell? Who decides? It's all most confusing, I sure hope the poop can enlighten us further.

Whats missing from the post is the reason this discussion was raised. Now in the Christian faith infants who die before they could be baptised go to limbo because though they have no sin of their own, they still bear the original sin and thus cant go to heaven, since they cant be blamed for this they go to limbo instead (according to some priests, people who live moral lives but fail to beleive in god also end up ther). Now in the muslim faith, dead infants go straight to heaven.

So basicly it sums up to marketing, worship our god and you get extra benefits :)

Fearing a loss of followers from other fates with better offers, The roman church is looking into ways of making their faith more appealing. This isint the first time this happend, in the midst of the creation of the protestant faith, Roman faith reacted with guilded crowns, golden churches, organ music from greath composers and of course, funny hats. Post WW2 passion atheism bought seats and sermons in languages spoken by people who havent been dead for two millenia.

We all know where this is going of course, virgins. Islam promises 72 of them and its only a matter of time before the catholics get into the act, 76 to motivate a switch, and where the catholics go the rest of christianity follows, but not wanting to be outdone they will all offer more.

This virgin bidding war should actualy be fairly slow (despite the fact that all sides are promising ficticious benefits) but I expect an average virgin count of 164 within two years and a doubling of the number every two years after that.

Let me qualify my comments by saying I am not a god believer. But I do feel terribly sorry for the grief and sadness the concept of limbo has caused catholic women for hundreds of years. Believing that their little loved one would NEVER be able to get to heaven must have been a psychological torment.

And now for the catholic church to say that the concept of limbo has served its purpose and they are going to abolish it, smacks of a policy of deliberate psychological and emotional abuse.

It is no comfort to those thousands or perhaps millions of women who are now dead, whose babies died before they were baptised. They spent their lives in agony believing their babies were lost to god. What a terrible thing to do to believers.

There's no conflict here. Pope Benedict is saying that all the other popes in history were fallible. He must be right - after all, he's infallible in matters of Church doctrine!

Next topic of urgent discussion should be: "Can the omnipotent God create a rock so heavy He can't lift it?"

We all want to know the answer to that one!

Next topic of urgent discussion should be: "Can the omnipotent God create a rock so heavy He can't lift it?"

I'm going to commit heresy here and use science to solve a religious problem. First, let's make a few assumptions clear:

1. God can make a rock of any non-infinite size and mass without worrying about conservation of energy.

2. God can make his strength as high as he wishes, meaning he can exert an arbitrarily large, but non-infinite amount of force.

3. If the problem does not say or heavily imply that a law of physics is being violated, it isn't. Therefore, we can assume that conservation of momentum holds, but conservation of energy doesn't.

So, given these constraints, God can create a rock of any weight X. Then, he can choose to exert a force of X + 1, which he can use to lift the rock. So, it would seem he could always lift any rock he creates.

But wait a second... lifting is relative! You don't lift the earth by moving a pebble away from it, even though it does move by conservation of momentum. So, if God creates a rock significantly heavier than any other body in the universe, he has nothing to prop himself against in order to lift it!

But wait another second! What if he creates another, even bigger rock to prop himself against? Then he could lift that first rock, but not this one. He'd have to create a third rock in order to lift this one, leading to an infinite progression. There will always be a rock in the universe so big that God cannot lift it, but which God can arrange to lift in the future.

Then, the question needs to be clarified. Does it mean a rock that God can't lift at the current time, with no more creations? Then yes, he can create a rock that big. But if it means a rock that he could never lift, no matter what he does, then no, he can always overpower his past self by creating a bigger rock.

Now, let's consider the case where God can create rocks of infinite mass and can exert infinite force. This then reduces to the problem of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. We end up having to divide infinity by infinity. If God has powers to change math (which he must, since in Biblical times, Pi was exactly 3), he can choose that in this case infinity/infinity is greater than 1, so he can then move the rock. The answer in this case is that no, he cannot create a rock so big he can't lift it.

As I see the question "when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object," when a force meets an object, either the object moves, or it doesn’t.

If the object moves a micron, it's not immovable. If it stays put for even a microsecond, the force isn't unstoppable.

That’s all there is. You cannot have an unstoppable force and an immovable object in the same universe.

I don't know just how much "torment" the doctrine of limbo used to cause people who had lost unbaptized infants. I'm old enough to have been taught the concept of limbo in catechism, back in the days before Vatican II. Limbo was considered a neat way to dodge the nasty business of infant damnation (which Sinclair Lewis had so much fun with in Elmer Gantry). If the infant had not been shriven of original sin via baptism, then it could not go to heaven, but hell would be altogether too cruel. The nuns in catechism described limbo as a place of perpetual happiness, lacking only the complete joy of those permitted to look upon God (which is reserved only to those in heaven). It sounded pretty cool, like a low-stress version of paradise (since some of us were worried about being in heaven and bumping into various saints and departed family members -- to say nothing of Jesus himself -- and probably be found wanting).

Like St. Christopher, who was retired from the church list of saints when it turned out he was without historical record, limbo faded after Vatican II failed to enshrine it as a formal teaching of the church. While Roman Catholicism is big on tradition, limbo's lack of doctrinal champions is likely to move into into the Vatican's dustbin. As for the babies who were once thought to inhabit limbo? Rome will announce that their fate is known only to an omniscient, omnipotent, and all-merciful God. That will mean (wink! wink!) that they're probably in heaven by special divine dispensation (hey, God can do what he wants!), but you didn't hear that from us!

And sorry, Infophile - all bets are off when you divide by infinity. Maths doesn't go there.

I have a picture in my mind of men in funny hats walking under a pole to a raggae beat. "Do the Vatican Limbo, mon."

It took them nearly 400 years to admit that Galileo was right

I don't think they did, Skep. All I think they did was take his works off the "banned on pain of excommunication" list.

BUGGER! Now it's a missing end bold tag! This site is cursed - I never miss off HTML tags on other sites, or if I do, it doesn't hit the whole site.

I was talking to a lawyer friend of mine about the limbo nonsense the other night.

He reckons that all those babies who've missed out on centuries of Heaven because they've been cooling their hells in limbo all this time should have a pretty lucrative class action against the Almighty :)

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