Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ending Univalence?

Many magical practitioners grew up in repressive Christian homes and as a result have a bad attitude toward Christianity. I'm not one of them. Before I became a Thelemite and joined OTO I considered myself a Hermetic Christian for a very long time, and I still believe that Christianity is a valid form of spiritual practice for many people. The argument that led me to leave Christianity stemmed from the religion's univalent theology - the idea that only Christians can attain salvation and practitioners of any other religion, no matter how virtuous or spiritual they happen to be, cannot. True, I could have kept the aspects I liked about the Christian system and dispensed with univalence, but that struck me as incoherent and dishonest. Univalence is at the heart of every major Christian denomination, and while it isn't necessarily spoken of in more liberal churches the idea is still there.

Or is it? Pope Francis has recently made waves in the Roman Catholic community by stating that non-Christians can indeed be saved. In fact, Francis' statement extends the possibility of salvation even to atheists, so long as they are virtuous people who perform good works. This apparently new doctrine is similar to Pelagianism, a strand of Christian thought opposed by Saint Augustine in the fifth century and suppressed since that time by the institutional church. According to Pelagianism, moral perfection is attainable through human free will without the necessity of preemptive divine grace, and as such it stands in opposition to the concept of original sin that is central to Augustinian theology.

“They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”


"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can... "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!".. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

This does, of course, still assume a universal standard of good as defined by the church, but it's a start. Asian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism have no problem with Christianity because according to those systems the Christian God is just another deity that they as adherents of different religions simply do not worship. The basic rationality of this attitude is hard to deny. The idea that any one religion has a monopoly on the truth is not only arrogant on the part of that religion's followers but flies in the face of human experience from the earliest beginnings of civilization. Based on the Augustinian schema, the Roman Catholic Church at one point created "limbo" as a destination for infants who died before being baptized, the thought being that even though said infants had not lived long enough a sin they nonetheless would otherwise by damned by original sin. Similarly, the problem of good men and women born before the arrival of Jesus prompted intense theological debate - could original sin mean that all of them were damned as well?

This new pronouncement from Pope Francis pretty much cuts through all that nonsense. If good people who don't believe can be saved now, clearly this has been true since the beginning of time. The rejection of original sin also eliminates the need for theological gyrations surrounding unbaptized infants. As I believe I've commented here in the past, much of the original sin doctrine is derived from a poor translation anyway. When Augustine read the Bible in Latin, the Greek word metanoia - that is, meta-awareness or enlightened consciousness - was translated as paenitentia, the root of the English repent. In Latin as in English, this word carries the connotation of redress for past wrongs, whereas metanoia does not. From that connotation original sin is trivially deprived by reference to the expulsion from paradise in Genesis, but without it the connection is far more tenuous.

UPDATE: Today a Vatican spokesman has "clarified" the Church's position on salvation by re-asserting that atheists do not in fact go to Heaven. I'll leave whether this is indeed what the Pope originally meant or retroactive damage control by the Vatican bureaucracy up to the reader. Still, even this more conservative clarification did include what sounds like an explicitly worded rejection of original sin, which to my way of thinking is a big step forward in terms of church theology.

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5 comments:

Hypnovatos said...

At least in that little excerpt, the term Good is not defined and left open ended. It is possible that even "good" is left to the viewer's discretion. Maybe Francis is a closet Thelemite trying to bring "Do What Thou Wilt" into the Catholic mind without using those words or naming the Beast :p

Scott Stenwick said...

You never know, though I would have to go ahead and read the whole thing to see whether or not I think that might be the case. My guess is that "good" is being defined by Francis according to the general schema of the Roman Catholic Church, but if not that makes this an even bigger deal than I first found it to be.

James Jordan said...

“Pope Francis said, 'The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation.'”

Pelagian or not, its true; God didn’t create us evil, or did he create us incapable of doing good. Nor can one jackass eating an apple when he was told not to remove from us the ability to do good with which God created us; nor does Genesis 3 say that it did so. Nor indeed does Paul say that it did so in Romans 5:12. “Adam’s sin brought mortality into the world and it passed on to all men” — that’s what Romans 5:12 amounts to, so how the hell do you get your Calvinist “born totally disabled” or “born totally depraved” Martin Lutherish crap out of that? The answer is: evil men just want to deny their responsibility in what they’ve done wrong so they invent this “born that way” crap, just like the gays. You do realize your Calvinist excuse for sin is equal to the homosexual excuse “Whaaaaa! I was born that way! I can’t help it!” Palease! Grow up.

“The Lord has redeemed all of us…Even the atheists…”

I think what he may mean is that the Lord has redeemed us all from the non-existent Calvinist “born that way” total depravity nonsense that some people think is real. So having been redeemed by the blood of Christ from this fictional woe, we are all (even atheists) able to do good. But I don’t think he meant atheists are going to heaven. That’s my interpretation. When he talks about "meeting one another there" he means meeting one another in doing good, not meeting in heaven. He's talking about the ability of Christians to participate with non-Christians in charity work or something. This has undoubtedly been taken a bit out of context. (I'm not Catholic though, so it doesn't matter to me anyway.)

James Jordan said...

I should add, Francis doesn't say word one about "moral perfection" but only doing good. Obviously one can do good without arriving at "moral perfection." Perhaps this would be where he would draw the line between what he is saying and Pelagianism (as commonly defined). I saw as commonly defined, because anyone who has actually read Pelagius' writings knows he did NOT actually say anyone can arrive at moral perfection without grace. The real difference between him and Augustine on grace was Augustine made grace come FIRST and enable or even strong arm you into believing (i.e. he was a Calvinist) while Pelagius believed that you believed by freewill, got baptized, and THEN grace became active in enabling you to keep the commandment "more easily" and move to higher levels of moral perfection than you could ever have arrived at without grace.

Scott Stenwick said...

@James: Basically, the reason that I think this statement is a big deal is that total depravity is at the heart of Augustinian theology, and this appears to be a rejection of that notion. As far as I know, the Augustinian model has been the official church position up until now, and as you say the entire concept of it is pretty ridiculous.