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Lying Down with a Cold Compress on My Forehead

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Every once in a while, something comes along that makes me think that if you could become a believer by sheer force of will, I’d do it.

And yes, this is the second post of the day.  And yes, I have read all about Malcolm Muggeridge.

But the new issue of Free Inquiry has come out, and with it a new installment of the depredations of Shadia Drury.  I give you the link, because this time the article is online:


And let you make of it what you will. 

In case you don’t remember, Drury is the columnist who has seemed to make a career out of making a hash out of the Middle Ages, with little forays into making a hash out of the philosophy of Edmund Burke. 

And with this article, she has a bit of my sympathy–if I were a Christian, I’d wince at the very idea of having Terry Eagleton as a champion.

But, with all that said, it appears that it doesn’t much matter if Ms. Drury can read the original language of the texts she’s supposed to be explicating, or even if she has access to excellent translations of them. 

I give you the following:

>>>To triumph, the Church had to obscure the cruel and callous aspects of the founder’s religion. For example, Jesus thought that there were only two alternatives—heaven or hell. On Judgment Day, each of us will be consigned to one or the other. This meant that someone guilty of a trivial misdemeanor may share the same fate as a brutal dictator. Without obliterating the abnormally vicious doctrine of hellfire, the Church invented purgatory<<<

That’s a direct quote.  I didn’t elide it.  I didn’t make it up. 

Shadia Drury thinks purgatory is the place people go when they have just minor sins, while hell is the place they go when they have major ones.

I’ll recommend a perusal of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and, yes, the works of Thomas Aquinas, which Ms. Drury claims to know a lot about and has even written a book about.  When Drury writes about Aquinas, she often sounds as if she hasn’t read him so much as she’s just made him up.

But all those sources could have told her what purgatory actually was, and saved her from making this error.

In the first place, nobody–and certainly not Christ–ever claimed that minor sins got you sent to Hell.  That can be determined from all four Gospels, and should be obvious in the story of the good thief.

In the second place, no matter how enormous your sin–even if you’re Hitler–it is forgiven if you ask for it to be forgiven.  And, going back to the Gospels again, Christ gives this ability to forgive any and all sins (no matter how major) to Peter, in the famous “you are Peter, and on this rock” speech. 

Which means that no matter how enormous your sin, you can go to Heaven. 

So what’s purgatory for?

Justice requires that if you do something bad, you pay for it some way.  And some people who commit sins pay for them on earth with earthly punishments.  Assuming those sins have been absolved–formally or by a perfect act of contrition–those people go directly to Heaven.  Yes, even if they’ve been Hitler.

But now let’s say Hitler has a change of heart on his deathbed, confesses and is absolved on his sin.

He is therefore destined to go to heaven, but he has received no punishment for the sins he has committed.

He therefore goes to purgatory to work off the debt he owes for the things he’s done, and only then does he go on to heaven.

A person who did not pay for his sins in life but had only small ones spends a small time in purgatory.  A person who did not pay for his sins in life but had very large ones spends a very large time in purgatory.

But purgatory is not a special place for people with just little sins instead of big ones.

Really, it wouldn’t take much more than half an hour to find out what purgatory really means.  You can even google it.

But Shadia Drury didn’t bother, for the same reason she never bothered to find out if her pronouncements on Aquinas and Burke had any positive relation to reality.

She’s a shoddy researcher and a careless one, but she cares more about making points with an audience that is apparently as ignorant of these things as she is than she does about her own integrity.

Written by janeh

October 5th, 2010 at 11:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Lying Down with a Cold Compress on My Forehead'

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  1. There’s something about religion that makes people who know nothing about it think they’re experts. And that includes both believers and non-believers. There’s a survey somewhere that apparently revealed that atheists know more about Christianity than Christians do. The online version was childishly simple – I got them all right except the one about the preacher during the Great Awakening.


    This woman, though, is way off base. Besides the bit about purgatory, there’s the thing about original sin, and tragedy, the works vs faith issue is off…I get the impression neither she nor Eagleton konw anything about either a single version of Christianity or the entire range of interpretations.

    I must admit I haven’t read Eagleton, and nothing I can see here or in a quick google would inspire me to add his works to my to be read list.


    5 Oct 10 at 1:10 pm

  2. Don’t trouble yourself. When an ignorant person lectures to those who wish to become informed, that’s a problem. When an ignorant person lectures to people who wish to be confirmed in their prejudices, it’s really more a hobby, like collecting license plates: it satisfies the participants while doing no harm to the rest of us.

    I’ve had ministers in a pulpit mangle scripture and doctrine, and been suitably upset. They were misleading people who genuinely wanted to learn. This is nothing.


    5 Oct 10 at 4:08 pm

  3. I didn’t get past the first paragraph which was what Jane quoted. What topped me was the reference to the founder’s religion.

    I’ve always thought of Jesus as being Jewish and Christianity as being a religon about Jesus. I’d say the apostles were the founders.

    Buy my knowledge of the history of religion is very small.


    5 Oct 10 at 7:37 pm

  4. I’m reading a book written by a well-known Australian journalist which, whatever its faults, is a pretty good read about the Australian cruiser, HMAS Perth, which was sunk along with the USS Houston in the WWII Battle of Sunda Strait.

    At one point in the story he describes how some of Perth’s crew visited the Greek island where “the Apostle Paul” was ship-wrecked and sheltered in a cave.

    Sigh! Kidz these daze.


    6 Oct 10 at 1:48 am

  5. “Apostle to the Gentiles”, I suppose, but I agree that he’s not normally called the Apostle Paul. I think I’ve given up on expecting people to know even the most basic and obvious details about the history and culture (including major religions, whether they believe in them or not) of their own societies. I’d even be glad if our national reporters realized that if they’re talking about a national or ocean-to-ocean tour or event that starts in Vancouver and ends in Halifax, they’re actually omitting large chunks of the country, particularly in the east? (And north, but they have to fight their own battles, I suppose.)

    And has anyone noticed how, in some circles, Thanksgiving seems to have become an opportunity for lambasting humans in the strongest environmentalist terms rather than expressing gratitude for it? I mean, reminders about the need for proper stewardship and care of the earth are all very well, but hardly needed or appropriate at this time of year!


    6 Oct 10 at 8:24 am

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