Saturday, October 07, 2006

Abolition of limbo now in limbo

I was highly amused to read this week that the Pope has decided, after lengthy investigation and consultation by the International Theological Commission, to consign the concept of ‘limbo’ to the dustbin of history. Limbo, commonly understood to be some sort of halfway house between ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, has long been something of a headache for the Catholic Church. It is supposed to be the eternal resting place of unbaptised babies (because they would not have been cleansed of ‘original sin’ - of course.) and anyone unfortunate enough to have lived before Jesus. Which all seems a bit unfair doesn’t it? But that was the problem: the Church wants us to believe in the concept of a loving and forgiving god; yet this same god is apparently quite happy to condemn the souls of millions of innocents to an eternity in purgatory. How can we possibly reconcile these two different sides to the almighty? Hmmmm. It’s a real chin-stroker alright.

Prior to the 13th century, it was taught that all unbaptised people went straight to hell when they died, but that was considered a bit harsh on babies who could not possibly have committed any sins yet. And so ‘limbo’ came to be. A place where people would suffer no pain, but neither would they experience the ‘Beatific Vision of God’. In 2004, Pope John Paul II commissioned an investigation with the task of coming up with “a more coherent and enlightened” way of dealing with the fate of innocent infants. The results of that investigation are now known and limbo, it seems, is going to be consigned to, well, philosophical limbo. It’s out. Passé. It was never official Catholic Church teaching anyway and, in the words of Pope Benedict himself: “It has always been only a theological hypothesis.” (Unlike the rest of the Church’s beliefs and teachings of course, which are all based on solid facts and hard evidence.) But isn’t it nice to know that there are people out there spending their time mulling these things over? That people are taking over two years of their precious lives to come to the conclusion that a concept patently made up to plug a theological gap (which has now become inconvenient), a place that clearly does not and could not exist, doesn’t exist?

What unmitigated, abominable nonsense of the highest order! Nonsense on stilts, to borrow Jeremy Bentham’s legendary phrase. Nonsense sent to Nonsense College and awarded a PhD in Advanced Nonsense with honours, presented by Professor Nonsense of the International Committee for the Advancement of Nonsense. Never mind the fact that there is just as much evidence for the existence of limbo as there is for the existence of heaven or hell: none whatsoever. A colossal waste of time.

But the matter is still not satisfactorily resolved. For it appears that official abolition of the concept of limbo will be held up for another year. A suspended sentence, if you will. So we now have a situation where the proposed consignment of limbo to philosophical limbo appears to be in, um, limbo.

I’m going for a lie down.

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