Catholic Doublespeak

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Catholicism is the most double-speaking version of Christianity I have run across. Does the habit of double-talk arise from some innate vice or moral failing? No. I chalk it up to Catholicism’s unenviable position of needing to make sense not only of hundreds of years of writing that became the Bible but also over a thousand years of Catholic teaching. Catholic writers have an added burden because they do not retreat from scholarship. Accepting modern scholarship means that the Catholic Church needs to incorporate new ideas (such as evolution) while at the same time being unable to ditch its old concepts (such as the garden of Eden).


As a fan of irony, I adore the doublespeak in the Catholic tradition. Here are some examples.


"Catholic" Church: The term "catholic" means "universal" and "broadminded." Wishful thinking.


Eucharist: Catholics say that the bread and wine literally are the body and blood of Jesus Christ. What does this mean for bread made of wheat to literally be flesh and wine made of grapes literally to be blood?


Sins and Punishment: A Christian’s sins are forgiven. This fact is inconvenient to the church, which wants to threaten congregants with punishment in the afterlife. So the Church invented the doctrine that your mortal sins might be forgiven, but the punishment for those sins still needs to be remitted. Thus confession, penance, purgatory, etc. What good is it to forgive a sin but not remit the punishment? I’m sure there’s a smooth Catholic answer.


Sins and Absolution: Christ forgives sins, but the clergy found a way to horn in on that action. Christ forgives, but the ordained priest absolves. If Christ forgives your sins, why do you need a priest to absolve it? To give priests power over you.


Papal Infallibility: In the 19th century, the pope claimed infallibility. Previous popes had infallibility and just didn't know it. And what have popes used this awesome power for? Only to affirm the doctrine that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven, by design a totally unverifiable event that distinguishes the Catholic church from its rivals. Not to settle the controversy over evolution? Not to say that Catholics should support civil rights? Not to describe a cure for cancer? Popes claim tohave the ability to divine God's own truth but rarely find cause to do so.


Garden of Eden: Which is true, evolution or the garden of Eden? One is backed up by modern science, the other by Church teaching. The Catholic answer: both.


Double Meaning: Does the Old Testament reference to “Lucifer” mean a mortal king, as modern scholarship concludes, or Satan, as church tradition would have it. The Catholic answer: both. Does the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah refer to a pregnant young woman (modern scholarship) or to the Blessed Virgin Mary (gospel interpretation)? Again: both.


Salvation and the Church: There is no salvation outside the Church. What does that mean? Very little. If you want to think that a non-Catholic is going to Hell, this doctrine backs you up. If you want to think that a non-Catholic is not going to hell, you can usually plead invincible ignorance and say that the Church saves that worthy person despite their apparent separation from the Church.


Salvation and Free Will: Does God know ahead of time what choices you are going to make and which afterlife you'll end up in? Or do you have free will to make each choice as it comes to you? The Jesuits have adopted the "middle knowledge" view that you have free will even when God sets up a situation in which He knows exactly how you will respond. In other words, you have free will, just not so's you'd notice.


Jesus' Merit and Saints’ Merit: Is the merit that Jesus put under the church's control infinite, sufficient without the works of the saints? Or do the saints contribute to the storehouse of merit? Yes and yes.


Praying to Saints: Catholics are careful to point out that they don't "pray" to saints, only to God. In what sense is it not praying when a Catholic uses a spoken or meditated formula to plead for supernatural aid from a spiritual being in the sky? In the sense that Catholics define it as not praying.


Particular Judgment: The early Christians believed that they would be resurrected on Judgment Day and given eternal life. Learned Greeks in the early church era believed that the soul left the body after death to be rewarded or punished. Which side has the Catholic Church come down on? Both.


Purgatory: Was purgatory invented in the Middle Ages? Catholics define purgatory not as an underworld of fiery punishment called "purgatory" (the place invented in the Middle Ages) but as the process of purification. Since the doctrine of purification existed before the Middle Ages, and that process is retroactively called "purgatory," no, of course purgatory was not invented in the Middle Ages.


Purgatory and Hell: Is Purgatory like Hell (Gehenna)? It's a fiery, subterranean hell where sinners are punished for their sins, but it is defined as entirely different from Gehenna, a fiery subterranean hell where sinners are punished for their sins.


Sign of Contradiction: If the nonbelievers agree with the Catholics, Catholics take it as a sign that they are wise and right. If the nonbelievers disagree vehemently with them, they take it as the sign of contradiction, an indication that they are right.


God: Is God one or three? Is Jesus man or God? Was Christ begotten or eternal? Did Jesus have a divine will or a human will? Answers: both, both, both, and both.


Jesus Christ: Christians are supposed to worship and obey Jesus Christ. But how can the clergy get the authority they want if the faithful are thinking about a Galilean saint who never mentioned bishops or priests? By declaring that the Church is Jesus Christ.


November 2006, Dec 06, Jan 07, Sep 08


PS: This rant owes its inspiration to Wikipedia and its articles on purgatory, etc. —JoT


Catholic Doublespeak in the News


2008 September: Pope concedes secular authority in France
Pope Benedict nee Ratzinger conceded to a new understanding of church-state relations in France. The church no longer expects state sanction, just mutual respect. He says it's because the French can now be trusted to govern themselves without anti-Church bias. Actually, it's because Sarkozy advocates "positive secularism." The pope has lost, and he takes credit as if it were his idea.


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