Open Thread: Secret Religious Teachings

This great comment by Rollingforest in another thread got me thinking:

When they go door to door, Mormons like to present themselves as Christians with minor but important improvements on Christian doctrine. These missionaries make sure to forget to mention or to gloss over the huge changes in dogma that becoming a Mormon requires (multiple Gods, belief that polygamy was Godly in the past and could be again in the future, absolute submission to the decrees of the Prophet, baptism of the dead, three levels of heaven, the belief that the Native Americans are descended from Jews who turned their back on God, the ability of believers to become Gods of their own, etc). These beliefs are only taught to a person after they’ve been sucked in, gradually becoming more receptive to drastically changing their world view. This process is called “milk before meat” and it is the church’s primary method of conversion. Here is an article by a Mormon defending this practice and complaining that Google allows people to find out truths about the Mormon Church that it isn’t ready to tell them yet.

http://www.mormontimes.com/article/15891/Jerry-Johnston-Milk-before-meat

I was incredulous when I clicked on the link, but it’s exactly as the comment described it: a Mormon editorialist who’s frustrated and upset that non-Mormons can so easily find out about the more secret and esoteric teachings of Mormonism without converting – which is, according to the author, “an easy way to do yourself more harm than good”.

What this really means is that Mormonism has some ideas so off-putting, so outlandish, so bizarre, that the church leadership deems them too dangerous to teach to seekers and newcomers. It’s only after a person has already become a Mormon – after they’ve already invested time and effort into the religion, after they’ve integrated it into their identity and personal life, after the cost of walking away has become much higher – that the church believes they can safely learn these things.

But then it occurred to me that Mormonism isn’t the only religion for which this is true. There are other religions which have teachings meant only for the elect, teachings which they’d be highly embarrassed to see disclosed and discussed in public.

So, since we’re all fearless, icon-smashing atheists, let’s blow the lid off of them and let in the daylight.

This is an open thread to discuss and highlight these secret religious teachings. My intent isn’t to list embarrassing episodes of hypocrisy in a church’s past, or verses from their holy books that aren’t widely known, but actual doctrines that are a recognized, accepted part of its teachings but that are supposed to be known only to those within the church (or just a subset of those within the church). If there are teachings or historical facts that aren’t exactly secret, but which a church would prefer not be generally known, those would also qualify. Of course, the fact that a religion even has secret doctrines may itself be a secret doctrine.

I can think of a few, but there must be more I don’t know about. What can you come up with? If you have them, please try to include references and citations – since members of these religions are probably going to deny that they believe these things!

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • TK

    The Frisbeetyrians teach that when you die, your soul lands on the roof, there is no ladder available, and everybody is too chicken to climb up and retrieve it….

  • Bob Carlson

    Here is an article by a Mormon defending this practice and complaining that Google allows people to find out truths about the Mormon Church that it isn’t ready to tell them yet.

    This sounds reminiscent of Gnosticism. In Jesus Potter, Harry Christ, Derek Murphy’s theory of the origin of what became orthodox Christianity was that it was formed by communities who hadn’t yet reached the final stages in the initiation process to Gnosticism, whereupon they would have been informed by Paul that Christianity was entirely spiritual and that the crucifixion and the resurrection were merely metaphorical, involving no Jesus in human form. Evidently, Mormons have the same problem of finding people sufficiently credulous to buy into all the gobbledygook in a single brain-washing process.

  • Nathaniel

    Scientology, just to get the obvious out of the way.

    Now someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m under the impression that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have some beliefs that they like to keep close to their chests.

  • http://ww.noforbiddenquestions.com NFQ

    This is a great idea, but I’m having trouble thinking of much right now. (Going to be working really late tonight, though, so if any more come to mind I’ll be back to comment again.) I think it’s tricky in part because most of the older, more established religions today have had their extremely off-putting and outlandish ideas normalized by the passage of time.

    The general process Rollingforest and you describe, though, sounds like a definition of how Scientology operates. The whole thing comes in levels, and there are levels within levels, and information is revealed to you only when you “level up” enough to get to them. Virtually all their teachings are secret to varying degrees. Operation Clambake already has a library of secret Scientology documents including Operating Thetan levels.

  • http://shelter.nu/blog/ Alex

    I was going to say Scientology and Jehova’s Witnesses, but let’s move on to Catholics that must believe that the Eucharist truly turns into Jesus’ real blood and meat (so, not symbolically; actually). One could chuck up a whole slew of Christian denominations for many literal interpretations of the Bible and their doctrine (Noa’s ark really happened, Job, Genesis as written, etc.), but they’d be too many to mention. However, I do find it fascinating listening to Sunday School and then compare it to the grown up version where the literal version of it sways between the two.

    Oh, and Scientology. Did I mention Scientology, the most bat-shit crazy “religion” currently out there next to Rastafarians?

  • Ms Monday

    Forgive me, but isn’t it somewhat counterintuitive to ask atheists about information that only the truly faithful would learn? And why would you care to know at all?
    The only use I can see from learning an individual’s particular inner musings and crazy spiritual dreams is how to mock them in a way that stings harder or angers them quicker. I suppose there’s mild allure in the temporary entertainment of finding religious quirks to laugh about, but really, talk about an easy target. We all know religion seldom makes sense without a little blind creativity and a lot of wishful thinking. Why bother?
    If anything, looking at examples of extreme faith should be an education on how religion works. This gradual slope of replacing logic and reasoning with emotional reasoning and mob mentality creates a separate reality in the minds of the religious. It’s just like the way good guys are always supposed to win in stories, or the way certain fandoms seem to reach cult-like status. Religions take the heart’s ability to redefine reality to a new level by bringing the risk/bonus of eternity and fortune into the picture. Suddenly it’s not just reading certain stories because you like experiencing life in a different way; it goes past even investing extravagant amounts of money on an odd pastime, hobby, or desire, but instead to the gambling of destiny itself, or defining and seeking the worth and maintenance of the soul.
    We use any number of items, activities, and concepts to avoid reality. The difference is that religion never stops avoiding. After years of building on the exquisite ecstasy of living dramatic duels if good and evil and years of discovered control and in a mindset that can effectively wish away the discomforts of reality, one becomes steadily more grateful, dependent, and protective to the source of this mysterious stabilizing force. Past our usual tendency to invest and be lenient with stories and ideologies that feel right and give us joy, we eventually become able to take extreme action–like murder, huge donations, suicide, the ability to deny or tune out facts.
    Of course, that shouldn’t automatically make religion the all-out blight on society some make it out to be. After all, these same feelings, this same detachment from reality, can also be seen in things like politics, sports, love, and patriotism. We have a natural tendency to want to bend the world with our minds, to stretch opinions, and make crazy decisions through the guidance of misplaced emotions or the opinions of our peers.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I laughed when I read this, because I immediately thought of an interesting twist on the premise.

    There was so much that I learned about the Jehovah’s Witnesses AFTER I left.

    Because the truth about the JWs (its origin, Charles Taze Russell’s crazy beliefs and lifestyle and questionable activities, connections with freemasonry, pyramidology, the Great Schism between the Bible students and the JWs, the innumerable wrong eschatological predictions, the innumerable doctrinal changes, the mansion in CA, purchased for the patriarchs, Miracle Wheat, CTR’s divorce and his wife’s accusations of child sexual abuse/incest, tacit, and even explicit, complicity with Nazi regime, etc., etc..) is hidden from their members in their insular communities, so that they don’t question the veracity of the TRUTH.

    Who the F knows what the Governing Body gets up to at Bethel in Brooklyn.

    They are probably performing some crazy rituals behind closed doors.

  • Samnell

    I don’t think Transubstantiation is really a secret religious teaching, considering it’s been one of the most defining public elements of Catholicism for at least the past five hundred years. It’s very, very, very crazy, so crazy that many people will refuse to believe that a billion people actually think it’s so. But it’s about as public knowledge as the fact that the religion is run by men in dresses who go on and on about traditional gender roles.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I would say that the thing that the JWs try to hide somewhat at first, when out witnessing, is the obsession with demons.

    I call the JWs a cult of demonology.

    Their lives revolve around demons much more than Jesus or Jehovah.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Also, the JWs demonize the UN as a sign of the end times.

    But, they secretly applied for NGO status with the UN.

    It was a huge scandal.

    But, most JWs don’t know about that either.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Much as I like the idea of this post, I’m not optimistic that we will learn anything we don’t already know. The fringe and obviously cultish religions have been pretty much exposed and the mainstream religions seem to have given up on gnosticism (as far as we know)and unless the Pope or some close minion is going to chip in with “It’s secretly all bollocks” I think we’re in for thin pickings on this one.

  • Valhar2000

    Ms Monday and Steve Bowen: The purpose of this exercise, as I understand it, is to contribute to the dissemination of this kind of information, so that it will be more accessible to other people who do not know about it and are therefore in greater danger of being sucked into these cults than they would be if they were better informed.

    I, personally, am not that well aware of the exact degree of crazy that the JWs achieve with their doctrines, and with the specific secrets they keep, so I found Sarah’s comments interesting.

  • keddaw

    This is not as bad, or as unusual, as you think. Except given the topic at hand it kind of is, but here’s other areas that do it:

    Science: Newton was wrong but we still teach it to kids and only after many years do they get access to relativity and quantum mechanics.

    Philosophy/psychology: There is no such thing as the self. But this is phased in gradually after lost of other things that reduce people’s shock at hearing this.

    Philosophy/psychology: There is no such thing as free will. As above.

    Ethics: It isn’t really wrong to torture a baby for fun. This is part of a debate about how much the public should be allowed to know about what philosophers think in their ivory towers – basically Moral Error Theory.

    Ethics: Death doesn’t cause the individual harm. As above.

    I remember hearing about teaching and it was called “Lies To Children”. It is the untruths we tell children so that they understand in their own terms what is going on in the world and until they understand the lie they will not be able to grasp the truth. Which sounds so much like a religious apology it’s no wonder they jump all over it.

  • Stephen P

    Can’t think of anything beyond what has already been posted, but it’s perhaps worth mentioning that the whole of Mark’s gospel was probably originally secret doctrine. And there was also a “Secret Mark” which may have been subject to a second level of secrecy, or may have been written after the first gospel leaked out.

  • Stephen P

    @keddaw: no, Newton was certainly not wrong, and his work is certainly not just taught to kids. His system of mechanics does not apply at very high velocities and in very strong gravitational fields, but in conditions normally encountered it is perfectly applicable. Indeed one of Einstein’s starting points for relativity was the assumption that Newton’s work was correct (but perhaps not complete). In fact you’d have to look hard to find many applications of mechanics where Newton’s work is inadequate (GPS is the only one I can think of offhand).

    I’ll let others deal with your ethics.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    keddaw,

    I won’t speak to your philosophical pronouncements, as it’s not my area of expertise, except to say that these aren’t settled arguments. Anyway!

    Physics classes teach Newton, yes, but Newton wasn’t “wrong” so much as “imprecise”; competent teachers inform the students that Newton’s equations are modified by relativity and quantum mechanics/dynaimcs; but the maths are a bit beyond what they’re ready for and Newton serves as a close-enough approximation. Heck, even Newtonian physics taught without calculus (as most high school physics 1 courses are) is wrong, but without the requisite technical knowledge it’s just not possible.

    Kids are of course free to learn calculus on their own. I remember my junior year chem class we were talking about electron “orbits”, and we asked to see Schroedinger’s equation for an electron in a hydrogen atom. Our teacher humored us; we must have stared at it for weeks trying to figure out wtf it said. Sure, I get it NOW, but without building up that “wrong” knowledge it’d be impossible.

  • Miles McCullough

    Many Christian churches including the Roman Catholics admit that many verses and even whole chapters of their bible are fakes, though they use a greek word, pseudoepigraphies or some such like.

    It’s kind of difficult in that there’s so many theological disagreements between denominations, but many adherents are also willing to say that such-and-such deviation by another denomination from their doctrine is just another path to god and not really a heresy. Only isolated, focused cults that reject the label of other groups can maintain a strict theology and secret knowledge.

    Americans aren’t very familiar with the Orthodox Christianities of Ethiopia or Iraq or Armenia or the Far East where things get very syncretic and a whole new level of crazy is born. Hell, I know someone who is a Catholic Buddhist and sees no conflict between Jesus and Buddha, heaven and nirvana and reincarnation, despite long and heated conversations between the two of us. It’s very weird, and it hurts my head. I guess if you can believe in a literal trinity you can believe anything.

  • OverlapingMagisteria

    Transubstantiation in Catholics is sort of like a secret doctrine. Even though it is official and accessible, most Catholics don’t believe it and don’t even know that they are supposed to. A Catholic friend of mine recently found out about this and was very surprised.

    For all forms of Christianity, I’d put the fact that the authorship of all the gospels is unknown. Everyone assumes that they were written by Matt, Mark, Luke, and John but priests themselves know that this is not the case. It’ll even say so in the note in any good Bible. Again, this is not exactly forbidden knowledge, but it certainly ignored.

  • Miles McCullough

    @keddaw

    Philosophy/psychology: There is no such thing as the self. But this is phased in gradually after lost of other things that reduce people’s shock at hearing this.

    There’s no such thing as the permanent self, though whether in the short term experiences can be condensed into a coherent consciousness or self is an open-question, I should think.

    Philosophy/psychology: There is no such thing as free will. As above.

    Depends on the definition: the ability to choose as you wish exists, while the ability to choose unpredictably is an open question in that it is unknown how much effect quantum indeterminacy has on consciousness, and how precise a probabilistic prediction has to be before it can be considered determinism.

    Ethics: It isn’t really wrong to torture a baby for fun. This is part of a debate about how much the public should be allowed to know about what philosophers think in their ivory towers – basically Moral Error Theory.

    Morality is often shorthand for the consequences of actions on the experiences of minds. In this sense morality isn’t so much a commandment on stone as a calculus of the heart, and any result is subject to measurement error or inadequate understanding of the consequences, but this doesn’t invalidate all moral knowledge any more than measurement error or the quantum gravity problem nullifies kinematics.

    Ethics: Death doesn’t cause the individual harm. As above.

    True, but it still causes others fear and anger and grief, requires society to spend more resources of security, and nullifies any chance those persons might have had to contribute to society, all of which is incredibly harmful.

    I remember hearing about teaching and it was called “Lies To Children”. It is the untruths we tell children so that they understand in their own terms what is going on in the world and until they understand the lie they will not be able to grasp the truth. Which sounds so much like a religious apology it’s no wonder they jump all over it.

    Another explanation is that universities aren’t allowed to law down accepted wisdom among philosophical experts, because the accepted wisdom is largely atheistic and most people consider that discriminatory to religious beliefs. So teachers are hamstrung and have to come up with “students aren’t ready” to get rid of their own cognitive dissonance.

    We would be better off if we taught kids humanism, consequentialism, skepticism, rationalism, and empiricism from primary school onwards imo, but good luck getting that to happen with all the popular resistance and legal impediments based on freedom of religion.

    That was pretty fun actually. Anyone else have some ethical matters I can pronounce on from the authority of my armchair? :D

  • KarateMonkey

    Itn’t there a largish denomination that had it’s origins as one of the groups that predicted the end of the world wrong. A bit of re-interprutation after the fact, and now one of their doctrines is that on X day in the 1890s (I think) Jesus moved from point A to point B in heaven.

    I want to say it’s the Seventh Day Adventists, but I’m not sure about that. I’m nearly certain that it started as part of the same branch that lead to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Does anybody else know which group this is?

  • KarateMonkey

    Wikipedia to the rescuse. This is what I was thinking about. See also the Great Dissapointment.

  • assclown

    Since we’re on the subject of eschatology, EBiblefellowship.com says that judgement day is in May this year.

  • Jormungund

    I’d put the fact that the authorship of all the gospels is unknown. Everyone assumes that they were written by Matt, Mark, Luke, and John but priests themselves know that this is not the case

    I told this to some Christian friends of mine a while ago and they were in disbelief. For some reason the popular opinion on this that Luke sat down and wrote out the gospel according to Luke, Mark sat down and wrote the gospel according to Mark, etc. Telling people that the books of the New Testament were written by unknown authors around 30-100AD makes them think that you have no idea what you are talking about.

    As for something you probably didn’t know about a religion: Seventh Day Adventists don’t believe in immortal souls. I’m almost temped to say that they are weird materialists when it comes to your mind and body. They don’t see any meaningful difference between your ‘soul’ and your physical body that has your brain that must physically work in order for you to be conscious. They think that when Jesus returns you will be given eternal life only through the physical reanimation of your body since you lack a supernatural soul that can meaningfully exist separate from your organic brain.
    The plus side is that they don’t threaten people with hell. They think that when Jesus returns he will choose not to reanimate the non-believers so they will continue to be regular dead and will not be tortured. Because you can’t spirit-magic someone’s soul to hell if they don’t have a soul.

  • M.

    Tucson, AZ was for a while plastered with those “I am a Mormon” billboards. You’ve probably seen them – “I ride a motorcycle, see how cool I am, and oh yes, I am a Mormon” type of stuff.

    I toyed with the idea of gathering together some funds and buying a billboard stating something along the lines of “Mormons believe God came from planet Kolob. No, seriously, that’s what they believe!” – or some other appropriate bit of the “esoteric teaching.” Alas, there are always better causes to spend money on…

  • Jessa

    Here are two great ones from “The Journal of Discourses,” which contains sermons and writings by early church authorities and was once common in Mormon homes. However, most Mormons today have never seen a copy and don’t know these things were ever taught in their church.
    1. Adam-God Doctrine taught by Brigham Young – Adam is “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do”. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p 50)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam%E2%80%93God_doctrine
    2. There are people on the moon and sun taught by Brigham Young (forgive me the long quote).
    “Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet that shines of an evening, called the moon?…when you inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the ignorant of their fellows. So it is in regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain. It was made to give light to those who dwell upon it, and to other planets; and so will this earth when it is celestialized. Every planet in its first rude, organic state receives not the glory of God upon it, but is opaque; but when celestialized, every planet that God brings into existence is a body of light, but not till then.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 271)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_cosmology#cite_note-29

  • Christoph

    Transubstantiation may not be a “secret” of the Catholic doctrine, but the teachers of said doctrine do not exactly make it known either – probably because of how off-putting it actually is to people. If I had a dime for every Catholic who was either unaware of transubstantiation and then was subsequently aghast that they were literally supposed to believe it, I would be very rich today. The best are ones who are unaware of it, don’t believe it and then also believe that you – a dirty non-believer – has made up such a thing off the cuff to make them look and feel bad. (LOL)

  • Alex Weaver

    Forgive me, but isn’t it somewhat counterintuitive to ask atheists about information that only the truly faithful would learn? And why would you care to know at all?

    1) a substantial fraction, possibly a majority, of atheists, were raised religious and were previously religious before recognizing the falsity and, generally, intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the religion in which they were raised. This is not exactly an esoteric secret.
    2) the original post hints at several reasons an atheist would want to know, including personal amusement, a display of rational and appropriate refusal to extend to religions the unearned deference and privilege they often believe to be their due, and an altruistic desire to publicize the actual doctrines of sects in order to prevent religions from pulling a bait-and-switch by sucking people in and getting them emotionally, socially, and perhaps financially invested in the church before revealing to them the enormity of the doctrines to which they are expected to assent, and to thereby impose honesty on organizations which would otherwise actively avoid it.
    3) on a side note, I find it really jarring when people use the term “counterintuitive” as though it were a serious and compelling objection to a novel idea. Do you possibly mean something else?

  • 4oz of reason

    Not only did God come from the planet Kolob, that’s where heaven is. And after the resurrection, Earth’s surface will become glass, and everyone will be issued a stone with their “true” name engraved on it. Do not lose your stone! If you do, you will not receive cake. (Okay, so the cake thing isn’t explicitly doctrine…)

  • Hendy

    Re. all the claims about transubstantiation, I don’t think it’s nearly as “secretive” as people are making it out to be. When it’s plainly printed in The Catechism like so:

    At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. (1333)

    and

    It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. (1375)

    then I wouldn’t say it’s exactly hidden. As a former Catholic, my view as an orthodox and devout one was that parents and schools just don’t do a very good job teaching kids and whoever else about the actual doctrines. I still think that’s the case and that other non-Catholic Christians are probably more “fervent” about believe, more Bible-centric, know their doctrines/creeds, etc. Catholics often to have the view that it’s almost like being “a Jew” — it’s more about culture/birth circumstances than anything professed.

    I see the transubstantiation dealio as more a symptom of ignorance and belief-as-social-adhesive rather than anything related to secretiveness.

    Does that make sense?

  • Hendy

    Oh, as a side note, if you actually debate a Catholic who believes this, though, you won’t get very far. The “substance” changes, but not the “accidents” (outward signs). Thus, only some supernatural “essence” is what gets transformed. Since it would be disgusting to actually eat a piece of blood-soaked flesh, Jesus was kind enough to leave it appearing like bread as you wolf him down.

    Taste, smell, touch, etc. — the thing’s still a piece of wheat. Microscopically and molecularly, you would not see one bit of difference. But it is different.

  • Abeille

    Catholics…
    • Baptism is necessary for salvation. This includes miscarried children. Children who are miscarried, either spontaneously or intentionally, are deserving of Hell. They can only “trust” that god will take mercy. Its not exactly a secret but most Catholics aren’t aware of this and believe that all children go to heaven.
    • Pet’s and other animals don’t have immortal souls. Again, not a secret but not necessarily well known. Many Catholics believe they will see their pets again or that God will resurrect their pets in order to make them happy.
    • “Holy Innocents” does NOT refer to children who die before reaching the age of reason and/or baptism. (Also not a secret but not well known.) It is actually the children who died under Herod’s orders. Children do NOT have a free ticket to heaven.
    • Abortion is ALWAYS wrong, even in the case of saving the mother’s life. Not a secret but, like most Catholic rules, not necessarily well known. You CANNOT have an abortion. HOWEVER, (loop hole!) you can receive treatment that will ultimately kill the baby, so long as the baby’s death is a side effect. Like… if a pregnancy is a tubal ectopic pregnancy, the section of tube the baby is in able to be removed as “diseased.” However, removing just the baby from the tube, leaving the tube in tact, is abortion and a mortal sin. Same as if the baby attaches to any other organ.
    • While not exactly a secret but even less known, with Catholic Doctrine, one cannot deny one’s spouse sex. A couple may only abstain so long as both parties are willing to abstain and either party has the right to revoke the abstinence. It is a -mortal sin- to deny your spouse and you must confess it with a priest.

    I think I read somewhere that about half of Catholics dislike female alter girls, as the point of being an alter boy was to introduce the concept/vocation of priesthood. As women cannot be priests, the side that doesn’t like the girls serving fear that they’re taking up valuable space that could be going to the boys. Thats not really a teaching- just “feelings”

  • Leum

    • Baptism is necessary for salvation. This includes miscarried children. Children who are miscarried, either spontaneously or intentionally, are deserving of Hell. They can only “trust” that god will take mercy. Its not exactly a secret but most Catholics aren’t aware of this and believe that all children go to heaven.

    This is no longer the case. At Vatican II the Church quietly released The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church which establishes the concept of the “people of God”:

    Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues (126); But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.

    The main reason this new stance was adopted was to avoid the embarrassment of saying the Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust were burning in Hell, indeed, most mainstream (i.e. non-evangelical or charismatic) Christian churches maintain that the Christian church has no mission to the Jews (i.e. Jews are already saved by the covenant of Abraham) for a similar reason. The doctrine of the people of God has the effect, as my Catholic religious studies professor puts it, of making all people secret Catholics provided that they strive to do good and even includes atheists.

  • stag

    I am surprised no-one here has mentioned Islam. Here are some of its less well-known doctrines.
    1) All non-muslims will go to hell for eternity
    2) Heaven’s reward includes exotic, beautiful young maidens for your pleasure (guys are going to enjoy that more, I imagine)
    3) The Qu’ran existed in heaven from all eternity
    4) The Muslim community is obliged, as a whole, to subject other nations to its rule.
    5) Islam is a political entity as much as a religious one.
    6) Men are allowed to starve their wives if they refuse sex
    7) Men are allowed to beat their wives in certain circumstances
    8) Apostates from Islam should be killed.
    9) Jesus will return and vindicate Muhammad’s message
    10) Muhammad was involved in at least 70 battles, in the vast majority of which he was the aggressor. (He also engaged in rape, pillage, torture, and genocide, and encouraged his followers to do likewise. No, honestly – he did.)

    People concentrating on Catholic hidden doctrines should probably look elsewhere. There isn’t really anything that the Catholic Church hides from the world at large strictly in terms of its teaching. The doctrine of Baptism being necessary for salvation still officially stands in the Catholic Church, but it is true, as Leum states, that Vatican II marked an important shift. I would say to Leum, however, not to believe everything his professor tells him. The teaching has never been interpreted in the strict sense that only baptised Christians will get to heaven. Catechumens would be a counterexample even from the earliest times.

  • Abeille

    I focused on the Catholic beliefs because it is that which I grew up with.

  • karen

    It’s not an official church teaching, but most people would probably be shocked to hear that Christians are sometimes told to pray that God would allow a tragedy in the life of an “unsaved” loved one in order to bring him/her to faith.

    I remember pastors and youth leaders saying things like, “Sometimes God allows a person to hit rock bottom and only then will their sinful heart be broken enough to prompt them to finally reach out to God.”

    We were never told explicitly to pray for something bad to happen to someone we loved, but it was definitely implied. Kind of a “tough love” thing, as I thought at the time, but it’s horrifying now.

  • lpetrich

    Jormungund, there’s a whole article on Christian mortalism or “soul sleep” in Wikipedia, which mentions lots of theologians and groups, like the SDA’s and JW’s, as supporting that notion. That’s consistent with most naturalist / materialist / physicalist theories of mind, unlike the more orthodox position of mind-body substance dualism.

    BTW, that’s not contrary to the notion of Hell — one could be reconstituted and sent to such a place.