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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Memetics in the Catholic Church part 2

The Catholic Encyclopedia concurs :

When the Church approves private revelations, she declares only that there is nothing in them contrary faith or good morals, and that they may be read without danger or even with profit; no obligation is thereby imposed on the faithful to believe them.


In essence, the Church is inserting himself as a judge of the revelations it cannot control - private ones - using the ones it does control - the Bible - as an ostensible standard, but really using this authority to ensure that beneficial revelations, and only those, are used for the good of the Church.

This distinction between private and public revelation is important to the Church. According to Cardinal Ratzinger, public revelation ended with Jesus Christ, and private revelation "refers to all the visions and revelations which have taken place since the completion of the New Testament". The article also explains that private revelations are to be accepted prudently, as they cannot be certain, unlike the Bible.

Interestingly, the fact that they end with Jesus seems to indicate that "public revelations" do not then include all the tussle that took place within the Church to decide which books of the Bible were revealed and which were not. Is this an indirect admission that such decisions were "private revelations", and thus less reliable and that we are not obliged to follow them ? Isn't that one thorny question ? And if the decisions related to the number and nature of the books of the Bible are not inspired, then how can we trust them to correctly pass judgment over inspired books ? Thorny questions ! Of course, we all know that the Councils were nothing more than a glorified popularity contest, but it still presents a theological problem.

But here is the biggest problem of all. In essence, the Catholic Church is saying "God can only say what we want him to say". How can we tell what is true revelation and what is false revelation, from an objective perspective ? In practice, people follow the same guidelines as the Catholic Church : everything we like is real revelation, and everything we don't like is not. Serial killers don't get real revelations, infanticidal mothers don't get real revelations, but when my life turned around, I got a real revelation. And so it goes. Yet is there any substantial difference between the two ? Both present the same outward results - life-changing experiences that lead to a change in behaviour.

There is also the circularity of only accepting "private revelations" that already fit the "public revelations". If there is no difference in essence between the two, then the argument becomes a battle of self-confirming revelations, as it was during the construction of the Bible. Who can say who is right and who is wrong in such a context ?

If there is a difference in essence between the two, then I'd need to be told what that difference is - how people in the Bible who get revelations and write them down are any different from any run-of-the-mill serial killer or infanticidal mother insofar as the revelatory process is concerned.

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7 Comments:

At 11/20/2005 9:48 AM, Blogger Boelf declaimed...

The Catholic church slides out of this quite nicely by essentially asserting that sorting out all that revelation is too complex for mere mortals. So the pope is invested with infallibility. So he can decide which books are god's word and which aren't as well as how revelations apply to modern situations like birth control.

 
At 11/20/2005 10:10 AM, Blogger Niels declaimed...

So that's how science developed: they just did everything _opposite_ how the church did it.

 
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