Purgatory and Other Insanities

Once again listening to Irrelevant Radio,  I have learned something, I thought purgatory was a dead issue (as it were) but have been schooled on this issue.  And listening to them describe it, I understand the theology of the Catholic church is even more screwed up than I realized when I left the church.

For the purposes of demonstration, I am going to use my own mother as an example.  Not because I believe she was exceptional (although she did make the best chocolate chip cookies in the world) but rather because she was rather typical.

Her mother was the granddaughter of an Irish immigrant and they took their church pretty seriously.  Mom was baptised, went to Catholic high school and spent her adult life married to one man.  She stayed home to raise five kids (one adopted), was a teacher by profession and especially in retirement was active in a number of charitable causes.  She was in church pretty much every week for her whole life and spent most of that life devoted to the service of others. She died seven years ago from recurring breast cancer.  I am pretty sure that if you took all her deepest darkest secrets down to the district attorney’s office, she wouldn’t have gotten so much as a traffic ticket.

As I said, she is actually pretty ordinary.  Perhaps your own mother or grandmother fits this profile pretty well.  I know lots of people whose thumbnail biography would sound the same.

So, lets look at this biography from the point of view of the Catholic church.  Which we should preface by saying that they preach that our merciful god sent down his son to die for all of our sins, some 2000 years ago.  So, lets see how that applies in practice — like for my mom.

Even though Jesus died for our sins, the church teaches that my mom was born with original sin on her soul.  OK, don’t know why Jesus didn’t die for original sin, but wait, they conveniently provide baptism to wash away original sin.  Of course, mom was baptised, so her soul was washed clean.

Unfortunately, she then had the bad sense to grow up and reaching the “age of reason” (7 years old!) she was wise enough to know good from evil and therefore capable of committing her very own sins.  I am not entirely sure Jesus died for these sins, because the only way to get rid of them was to go to confession (which the church also conveniently provides!)

Now, let’s imagine what kind of sins a seven year old girl could possibly commit living in a small town in the 1940s.  OMG, maybe she took a cookie when her mom said to wait until after dinner.  The horror!

The rest of her life is spent sinning (I don’t know, maybe gossipping and playing cards?)  and then trying to wipe those sins away so that she doesn’t die with any mortal sins on her soul.  Considering that the last six months of her life were lived in extreme disability including a kind of dementia caused by brain tumors, I doubt she was capable of committing many sins.   However, she was still receiving sacraments, so that should have got her all caught up.

So, of course now she is (mostly likely) in, well no, not heaven — but purgatory!  At least according the folks at Irrelevant Radio!  Yes, they say she is still not pure enough to go into presence of god.  OK, not her personally, but pretty much everyone.  According to them she still has some sinfulness to sweat out before she can go to heaven.  It was said that Mary, as Our Lady of Fatima, said that a little child (who was asked about) would be in purgatory “until the end of time.”  You should have heard the epicycles that were spun out as Father tapped danced around that one!  But the point remains, even after baptism, confession and communion, you still end up in purgatory!

So the bigger question remains, “What the hell did Jesus die for?”  In the grand scheme of the universe, what sins did my mother (and billions like her) have on her “soul?”  Are they really saying that if Jesus hadn’t died, that god would have sent her to hell because Eve ate forbidden fruit?  And this from a “loving, merciful god?”  More like a vengeful lunatic if you ask me.

Two thousand years after Jesus supposedly died for our sins, the devil is still running around and hell is wide open for business — to hear the church tell of it.  And without appealing to the cases of say Hitler, Pol Pot or Stalin (whose actions I would agree would possibly call out for eternal punishment) how is hell even remotely moral as a destination for the vast majority of humankind?

Recently I was in a kindergarten classroom and a little girl was sadly sitting in the corner.  I asked her why she wasn’t in her seat.  She looked downcast and said, “I was talking out of turn.”  It seems to me that hell, for most of mankind, is like making that poor little girl sit there until she turns 65.  Or maybe even worse than that.  But that is god’s plan for us unless we get sprinkled, confessed, anointed and so on.  And even after all that, it’s still suffering in purgatory “until the end of time.”

I thought one of the supposed benefits of religion was solace in times of trouble.  Some solace!  Thank you god for saving my mother from the sufferings of cancer so that she can go suffer in purgatory until the end of time.   No wonder your your believers are so often found on their knees begging for mercy.

As for me, I am quite able to stand on my own two feet, knowing that death is comfort enough for the suffering.


8 thoughts on “Purgatory and Other Insanities

  1. The doctrine of Purgatory makes perfect sense when viewed through values set forth by our Western Heritage.

    Justice is a preeminent concept and forms the basis for civil society (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle).

    God is Nature’s God, the God of Providence, God the Judge (Declaration of Independence).
    (the three branches of government divided so that the power of God to rule over men did not fall into the hands of one man, a single group of men or a single institution)

    So when a crime gets committed, there must be punishment and a reckoning.

    The value of the stolen cookie must be paid by the thief, in addition to being punished for the theft.

    In Catholic theology, the sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession provides forgiveness for the sin and punishment (Penance).

    But a reckoning must also take place to satisfy the requirements of justice.

    The Catholic theology holds that charity, prayer and fasting account for the reckoning during our lifetime.

    However, if the reckoning has not been completed during life, it must completed in Purgatory after death.

    If we understand the Western concept of justice, then the Catholic concept of Purgatory can also be understood.


    • Which only begs the question, what “crime” have the vast majority of humanity committed to need to complete their sentence after death? And who has been harmed? How was the eternal, omnipotent god harmed by mother or anyone like her?


      • Paine,

        Since God is perfect, we must be perfect if we want to spend eternity with him.

        Most Christians focus on God’s mercy and generosity since those are the attributes He and we take most pleasure in.

        But the sin and punishment aspect of Christian doctrine teaches us about proper behavior and disposition.


      • Then it seems to me that god should understand us most of all, that we are fallible, have drives that sometimes go awry, that our thinking that is not always rational and so on. So there should be no need for purgatory, as he would know that we are doing the best we can with the tools we have been given.


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