Memetics in the Catholic Church part 1
I talked about moral relativity in Christianity. Moral relativity serves the interests of the church and its associated core beliefs, in that it permits the church to adapts to different social circumstances and for its core beliefs to continue to be accepted regardless of the lower popularity of a peripheral belief, such as opposition to religious freedom, the support of slavery, the support of the death penalty, and other such issues.
One issue where we can see this clearly is in the Catholic Church's attitude towards "personal revelation", especially "Marian apparitions". Now, revelations present a special problem to a Church, because on the one hand, one cannot deny that God gives divine knowledge to people, otherwise the religion would be wholly untenable : on the other hand, some revelations could contradict the Scriptures or damage the Church's reputation. In "Demon-Haunted World", Carl Sagan discusses the policy of the Catholic Church as regards to such phenomena during the Middle Ages, and that only apparitions which promoted the moral and political interests of the Church were promoted as authentic.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there is only one paragraph on the topic of "private revelations" :
67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.
Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfilment, as is the case in certain nonChristian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations".
According to the International Marian Research Institute, there are four criteria that determine whether a Marian apparition is approved or not :
1) The first norm for evaluating miraculous events is that there be moral certainty, or at least great probability, that something miraculous has occurred. The commission may interview the visionaries, call other witnesses, visit the site of the events.
2) The second norm deals with the personal qualities of the subjects who claim to have had the apparition; they must be mentally sound, honest, sincere, of upright conduct, obedient to ecclesiastical authorities, able to return to the normal practices of the faith (such as participation in communal worship, reception of the sacraments).
3) A third category deals with the content of the revelation or message: it must be theologically acceptable and morally sound and free of error.
4) The fourth positive criterion is that the apparition must result in positive spiritual assets which endure (prayer, conversion, increase of charity).
This is interesting. From a memetic standpoint, it's not difficult to see why these rules were chosen. First, insofar as you determine what is "miraculous" and what isn't, you don't want scammers to try to divert the Church's reputation for their own gain. Secondly, you don't want your newly popular "revelator" to break off and start his own cult, or to reject the political authority of the Church. Thirdly, you don't want revelations that contradict the theological and moral direction the clergy is taking. Finally, revelations must be selected so that only those that have a positive survival benefit for the Church are favoured. That way the beneficial revelations can be cultivated, and the negative ones extinguished.
This is an article in two parts. Click here to read part 2.