A Very Strange Solution

I started this blog in part because my boyfriend and I have a problem.  Because of our religious differences, it’s hard to figure out how we could make our relationship work out long term.  The odds are uncomfortably high that, if he’s right about religion, I’m going straight to hell, and, if we ever ended up raising a family, my atheist influence could interfere with a proper Catholic upbringing, dooming my children and damning my boyfriend for playing fast and loose with his children’s souls.

It seems like our problems could only be solved by my converting to Christianity (which I can’t do as long as I honestly believe it to be untrue) or my boyfriend losing his faith or my boyfriend being converted to a more universalist soteriology (which would lower the stakes).  We’ve been together for a year and a half hoping something will work out, and we love each other enough to gamble religion won’t force us to break up.

But then, at Mass yesterday, I got a wacky idea for a loophole.

At Palm Sunday services, the priest used part of the homily to give a gloss on Matthew 27:25, the verse in the Passion story where the crowd of Jews calls for Christ to be crucified and then declares “Let his blood be upon us and on our children!”  The priest said that every year the Matthew text is used, he makes sure to explicate a verse, since many Catholics and other Christians have used the verse to justify brutal antisemitism. The priest explained that Christianity today does not hold Jews culpable for the death of Jesus.

He pointed to the post-Vatican II change in the Good Friday prayer for the Jews that is spoken by Catholics worldwide.  The Church no longer prays for the conversion of the Jews.  Instead, they pray:

Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant. Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption

Many Catholics take this to mean that it is not necessary for Jews to convert to be saved; the covenant God made with Abraham still holds and they are saved as long as they keep it.

Now, here’s the kicker:

I just so happen to be the daughter of a woman who is the daughter of a woman… who is the daughter of a woman who was Jewish.  My family hasn’t practiced Judaism for generations (we had the distinction of being kicked out of various Eastern European countries before general purges of Jews for the crime of being anti-monarchy), but according to Jewish law, I’m still technically a Jew.

What I’m wondering is: Would Catholicism would be satisfied if I just started keeping kosher?

I asked the priest after the service if my boyfriend could stop fearing for my soul if I started obeying the covenant, and the priest said it seemed plausible.  (I asked him if the Catholic church had a preference between Reform/Conservative/Orthodox/Haredim, but he was at a loss).  As far as I can tell from my Long Island childhood, it seems to be possible to be a rules-following Jew without believing in God.

So this does seem like a solution if our relationship persists to the point where the problem our religious differences becomes pressing.  Does anyone know if this is actually acceptable to Catholics?  It seems too surreal to be plausible.

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  • "As far as I can tell from my Long Island childhood, it seems to be possible to be a rules-following Jew without believing in God."This claim seems implausible to me (and highly influenced by the Long Island-ier aspects of your upbringing). I'm pretty sure there are passages in the (Hebrew) Bible that contradict this (e.g. some of the Elijah & Baal stuff), but I don't have them at hand. Care to help me out, Rebecca L.?

  • Kogo

    *The Church no longer prays for the conversion of the Jews.*Um, except that as of 2007, they're doing that again:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Friday_Prayer_for_the_Jews#Debate_after_the_Summorum_Pontificum_motu_proprio

  • Hey Leah – you might want to check out this post: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/pope-dont-evangelize-jews-really/

  • Anonymous

    It's not acceptable. This is a wacky interpretation but not unfortunately an uncommon one. Who did the apostles, particularly Peter, evangelize? The Jews. Had their practice of Judaism been sufficient, this would not have been done.

  • Kogo

    *It's not acceptable.*It's "not acceptable" meaning . . . what? You're going to hit her? Or just give her the Stink Eye?*Had their practice of Judaism been sufficient…*Who the heck are you to decide what's "sufficient"? Neither you nor your church have any particularly good understanding of the universe or the living things in it. Why should she have to live up to your standards?

  • Kogo, Leah asked about a Catholic perspective, and Anonymous provided one. Take a breath. 🙂 Leah, I have never found anything in Catholic doctrine that suggests that an honest atheist will go to hell. Look at the requirements for mortal sin; look at primacy of conscience; look at invincible ignorance. God doesn't send people to hell for making honest mistakes. People go to hell by refusing to be with God.

  • Sorry, Leah, but this sounds ridiculous. If the point is not to fear for your soul… how would abiding by various food/habit practices help him stop worrying? I quite doubt that if a god exists and hes's the OT one, that the rules themselves (and not somehow connecting them to… well… him) are the point. Does that make any sense?Plus, the Catholic Church, as far as I know, wants a monopoly on child-raising. Edit: apparently that changed, but I just didn't know it. [1] In any case, my recollection is that at Catholic marriages (including my own), we were asked if we promised to be open to life and to raise chose children faithfully in Catholicism. I thought that was still the deal, but maybe they change the wording with mixed faith marriages.The footnoted article still makes the point of saying that people should pick on faith and raise them in that.Sooo… would you raise them Jewish, exactly? Or are you mainly trying to find a way that the ceremony itself will pass the validation checks of the Church hierarchy?Anyway, those are comments in general about your "idea" 🙂 As you know about my particular situation… I would never, ever, ever advise a mixed-faith marriage… ever. It has been the most challenging event of my life, and I do mean that both in the challenging-equals-good-because-I've-grown and challenging-in-that-my-life-is-on-and-off-miserable.The largest issue is children. If you aren't having any… fine. But if you do, I don't think anyone can reliably predict what they'll think about their faith obligations to those children ahead of time. Suddenly one is looking at a child (and from the religious side, a soul) and can't help feeling compelled to want to protect that soul.If you'd like to talk about what it's like down the road a ways, I'd be happy to skype with you and offer more information. Mine is a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone, and as harsh as it sounds, I think my wife and I both agree that had we met after I was already deconverted, there is no way we would have gotten married.For us, it really comes down to the kid discussion… over and over and over. Also don't underestimate the peer pressure that will be foisted on believers by others — my wife has had a priest tell her that despite my non-belief, she is still obligated to fulfill her promise to raise them Catholic. I've never heard mention of compromise on that. I'd much prefer to agree on religious education/awareness (not indoctrination) and teaching universal knowledge-gaining tools and letting them pursue this topic when they're ready. I don't want to wage war in my home with conflicting beliefs thrown at a young child. It's not fair to them and thus I don't know how anyone could advise that someone must, no matter what, try to make their children believe X at as young of an age as possible.—Footnotes[1] THIS might be of interest. Has a section just about Jewish-Catholic marriage.

  • KL

    Leah, what an interesting question! I honestly have no idea. If you're really interested in pursuing it (now or in the future), I'd recommend finding a priest you like and trust to discuss it in more detail. He probably has a lot more knowledge and/or resources on the subject! The problem is that the Catholic Church doesn't make any definitive claims about who is or isn't going to hell; it all depends on the individual's conscience, intellectual state, etc. (as Dave pointed out).

  • I would say the Church goes makes one definintive statement about who goes to hell. Those who knowingly (intellect), deliberately (will), and gravely (objective) reject God's will. Only we can know if we are in that group; and we can only know it imperfectly (ie, mis-assessing the gravity of a sin). Does your boyfriend think you'd go to hell if you died today?

  • Kogo

    *People go to hell by refusing to be with God.*Where's god?*Those who knowingly (intellect), deliberately (will), and gravely (objective) reject God's will.*Why?

  • Anonymous

    Leah, would it be difficult for you to accept that salvation (i.e. belief in God) is given only by revelation and not by any earthy act? (I'm not sure how your boyfriend might feel about this) That as long as you try to be a virtuous pagan (/atheist/same thing) awaiting a revelation of grace would be the best thing you could do for your soul. I.e. Only God knows whether your soul is worthy of salvation — neither your boyfriend nor the church can know this, but indicate that you have done all you can.Wave the Protestant stick at the Catholic church!

  • Nicola

    Leah, I'm curious why the whole fearing-for-your-soul thing is such a sticking point for your boyfriend. The Christian line I've always heard is that we know there's grace within the Church, and we can't really claim to know about grace outside the Church. Obviously conversion would ease his mind, but I don't think very many Catholic or Orthodox people would say that the odds are pretty high that you're going straight to Hell if you die without converting. (In the Orthodox Church, at least, saying that ANYONE is going to Heaven OR Hell is quite uncommon; saints are basically those who are almost certainly in Heaven, and there aren't many of them.) The difficulty of raising Catholic children with a non-Catholic parent is something else to consider, but I don't think following the Tanakhic commandments would make that any easier.

  • KL

    As an aside — I honestly don't know much about this subject, but I'm curious about whether there is a difference (soteriologically speaking) between ethnic/cultural Jews and religious Jews. In other words, does the Catholic stance toward Judaism hold simply for the person who actively believes in God, or does it include the "Long Island Jews," to co-opt Leah's phrase, and others that are Jewish simply by heritage and culture? Is all that matters matrilineal decent and/or circumcision, or is personal, conscious belief in the God of the Mosaic covenant necessary?

  • I ditto Dave: "God doesn't send people to hell for making honest mistakes. People go to hell by refusing to be with God." The way Hell was explained to me as a child was not that the flames would be the worst part, but the utter separation from God. One can handle pain- one cannot handle that type of despair and darkness, which is why it is Hell. Being an Atheist is not a guarantee of going to Hell; we really cannot fathom the ocean of God's grace and mercy we live in!In terms of raising the kids, I presume your boyfriend would want them raised Catholic. If you do not object to this, and would not be that voice in the corner causing them to doubt God's existence every step of the way, then I think you're on a good path. I am not saying/ do not think you would be this way at all; I am simply lining up a possible problem. Causing a child to stumble is a grave matter in the Church, which is why I get so frustrated with my younger siblings' religion teachers sometimes. :/Hendy, I think you telling Leah this is ridiculous is not charitable. If she and her boyfriend are discerning marriage, this is a very important question. Also, raising kids in the Catholic faith is not indoctrination and yes, your wife does have an obligation to raise them so. Kids have other 2,000 years worth of knowledge and history to understand. I help catechize my little siblings, as well as help out in RCIA, and I love discussing their questions with them. I can only do this, however, because I know and understand the faith well enough. It's also fun because they help me learn more and grow in my faith as well! Raising them in belief is not about your belief; it's about formation of character, person and soul. I'll be praying for you, though.Catholic marriages are sacramental and open to life, period. In terms of it being acceptable to Catholics, I would say that while it is advised that Catholics marry Catholics, there is room for Catholics to marry non-Catholics, as long as both parties have a very clear understanding of family dynamics, raising the children, etc., so as to not cause more tension than necessary in the future years together. Do know that having parents who hold different beliefs can be rather confusing for a child, but if the pair is clear for their expectations of the children as a parental unit, that helps.I hope this helps, Leah! 🙂

  • Ash

    Since you asked…From my non-theistic position, you aren't debating anything that's real. The issue isn't the fate of your (non-existent) immortal soul, but the survival of your relationship. As such, it doesn't matter what a priest thinks or any other authority…only what your boyfriend thinks. As the comments above illustrate, the goalposts for salvation are infinitely flexible. So you don't need to convert him to atheism, only to a position that doesn't require you to go to hell (although you might try giving him "The End of Faith" by Barker, or better yet, try "The History of Hell" by Turner to help him understand its fictional nature). If he thinks that you eating kosher will do the trick, and you're willing to do it, then go for it. What I recommend you stop doing is asking Catholics what the requirements are for salvation, because they don't know any more than you do, and can't even agree within their ranks. It's romantic to know that you are willing to sacrifice for your boyfriend, but don't be willing to give too much, especially when you know his fears are all based on fantasy.

  • @Julie: are you serious!? Not charitable? How would I read this any other way than silly? Re-read the post; she wants to take on the external practices of a monotheistic religion that she is a distant descendant of a) to avert fear that she might go to hell and b) make it more likely that there won't be major objections to marrying a Catholic.The fears in (a) were never based on external practices to begin with, and the objections from (b) aren't ether. The beliefs would still be the same… so, why would I think that such a suggestion wasn't silly?Or how about this. Imagine a world in which Jews wear red and Catholics wear blue. If you approach The Church, they will let a red shirt and blue shirt marry with hesitation. Atheists wear green shirts and they frown much more on greens and blues. Also, those in reds and blues fear for the souls of greens.Then one day, your friend tells you that she found a way to stop others from worrying and to find an easier path toward marrying a blue shirt: just put on a red shirt!That's how I see the content of this post unless Leah clears it up.You don't get it re. "raising them as Catholics:" I'm the other parent and might not want them raised Catholic. Thus, I voiced that to Leah. She hasn't stated whether or not she even wants them raised Catholic and thus I'm suggesting that she should think this through.I'm interested in how a person educated on religious matters can have studied such matters and formed a conclusion that much of apologetics are false… and then sit back and say nothing while their children are told that such things are true.I do consider "raising a child as Catholic" to be indoctrination when their age is so young that they can't filter anything you tell them for truth content. My daughter knows that "Jesus is in mommy's heart" but doesn't have the slightest clue what that means. That's what I object to.@Leah: In trying to at least see something of what Julie is correcting me on, I apologize if my comment offended you. I didn't intend it as an insult, but more of a light-hearted comment. I was even surprised when I went back to check that there was no smiley face there, as I thought I inserted one. Julie and I obviously diverge. My strong comments are from the perspective of someone who is living what you're contemplating and telling you that it's insanely difficult, particularly around the area of children.Thus, I suggest that you heavily contemplate how you will approach that matter. I also suggest that you fully realize that you may very well agree on a plan forward now, but be unable to predict emotional impulses that will come into play from within and without once such a child actually exists.I sincerely apologize if you were hurt by my comment. I came on strong and I was perhaps untactful. As for the content of the post, I still stand by it. I think the adoption of Jewish practices does't address the real reasons the various objections/fears are present, and that marriage to a believer when you're firmly not one is going to be very, very, very difficult.

  • @Leah: oh, and as an addendum… if you already get along fine about religion, don't get in heated debates, don't get hurt feelings over disagreement, etc… then I may need to retract almost all I've said about the relationship itself, as such existence is completely alien to me and I have no place commenting on it.

  • Anonymous

    Without knowing the details of your situation, what strikes me as the real concern in this post is that you say that: "if he's right about religion, I'm going straight to hell."If your boyfriend actually believes that you're committing a sin so egregious that the loving creator of the universe is going to punish you for all of eternity, it is beyond my comprehension how he could date you, let alone consider having children with you.Basically, I hope for both your sakes that your above statement was dramatic exaggeration. If this is the case, then my personal (semi-Catholic) view is that you should not be worried about bizarre legalistic loopholes, and instead focus on living your life (and raising your hypothetical children) in accordance with Catholic principles: Compassion, Charity, Peace, and Love.

  • Lea

    Ditto Anonymous (the last one). The problem with a mixed-faith marriage is not that one spouse thinks the other one is going to hell (which is not even necessarily true, as people have pointed out). It's that they have too little in common on the most important things in life, which tend to become more important to people as they get older and the excitement of romance fades. That's the real problem with raising children, too.

  • @Lea: yes! You said it shortly and more succinctly than my attempts. Though, I would add that finding other common interests is not impossible. My wife and I were married about 2 years when I began to doubt and then deconverted.We have as a prime goal the hope of finding new common interests, ways to enjoy conversation, be respectful, and simply enjoy life now that we no longer share a common religious alignment. I think we're doing so-so on that, but just wanted to suggest that it's no impossible.We play games, read stuff together, she wants to read through material I'm reading about being more rational, walks, nature, learning more about all kinds of phenomena in the world, etc. There's quite a bit outside the Venn-diagram circle of religion, in my opinion.Though so many emotions and other belief-nodes are attached to that one slice of the terrain that it can, indeed, make things difficult 🙂

  • Andy

    I'm selling squares for when Leah just ups and converts. My money is on 6-9 months.

  • Am I the only one who finds comments like Andy's to be incredibly smug and obnoxious?Not knowing the particulars of your relationship, Leah, I wouldn't presume to offer advice to you. But speaking only for myself… I have to agree with Hendy that this could be a big problem down the road. I'm pretty sure I could marry someone whose religious beliefs were different than mine (in fact, I did). If it wouldn't be a problem for her, it wouldn't be a problem for me, as far as our relationship as a couple was concerned. But raising children would be a huge obstacle. I don't have it in me to simply sit back and let anyone offer religious instruction to my own children, instruction in beliefs I strongly disagree with, without saying a word. I doubt I could stomach sending them to any religious education class where those beliefs were presented as literal truth which students were required to affirm (although I'd be perfectly happy to teach my children about a broad variety of the world's beliefs – and I plan to, when I have them – so that they can make up their own minds).In my case, I have to admit, I dodged a bullet. My wife was a Catholic when I met her, but she was already in the process of leaving the church (I had nothing to do with it, as much as I'd love to take the credit!). Now we both attend a Unitarian Universalist church, one that's welcoming to atheists and theists alike, and where I have no objection to what I hear from the pulpit. It may be worth your while to look into, Leah, though I have to say that your boyfriend isn't likely to warm to UUism if being a Catholic is a core part of his identity.

  • My apologies for the length of this comment!For the first 2 1/2 years that my husband and I dated, he was agnostic. We didn't discuss it all the time, but every few months I would initiate the dreaded "religion conversation" and express how I wasn't sure how we could work out long-term, since I was a devout Catholic. Like some of the other commenters have mentioned, it wasn't that I was worried he was condemned to Hell — if anything, I've always felt that his heart was purer than mine and he was probably closer to Heaven than I was whether he believed or not. I was mostly concerned about eventually raising children, and I personally felt like something was "missing" in our relationship as we disagreed so profoundly on what is true.After those first 2 1/2 years, I broke up with him over the issue, despite the fact that we both loved each other. He was distraught, and he ended up turning to prayer, and before too long, real faith. I know that a cynic might interpret his new-found faith as his just trying to win me back, as if my breaking up with him was an ultimatum — but it wasn't. He's honest to a fault; he wouldn't say he believed in something unless he really did. For my part, I never anticipated that he would find God in the aftermath of our breakup.We got back together soon after that, and were married a couple years later. My husband considers himself a Christian, but he is not Catholic, at least not at this point. However, our young daughter has been baptized Catholic, and we fully intend to raise her in the faith. He has always been completely supportive of and cooperative with all of the Catholic things we do.I realize that it's very uncommon for a nonbeliever to suddenly sense the presence of God and do a complete about-face like my husband did. I deeply admire your desire and commitment to believe and understand the truth, wherever the quest may lead you, and from my perspective, you're doing the best thing you possibly can do for your relationship. I am not sure what you would be trying to accomplish in following Jewish law. From my understanding, you can still marry a Catholic in the Church as an atheist (it wouldn't be a sacrament if you're unbaptized, but still a valid marriage). If child-rearing is the main concern, I don't think keeping kosher would really have an effect — I guess according to Jewish law, your children would be Jewish, but I doubt your boyfriend would want them to be raised as non-believing Jews. You and your boyfriend would still disagree on religion. If you agreed to raise them Catholic, I would imagine that would alleviate some of his concerns, but I can readily understand why you wouldn't, since you don't believe Catholicism to be true. And so far as your soul is concerned, the whole faith=saved (and lack of faith=not saved) notion is a Protestant idea, not a Catholic one, so I don't see a need from your (or your boyfriend's) perspective to discover a substitution for that faith, especially via a dubious loophole.You have made such a firm commitment to honest belief — as you titled this post, your suggestion here is a very strange solution, and I don't think it rings true for you or most of your readers. I understand that you and your boyfriend are in a difficult situation. I think you are both facing it with very honest hearts, which is a beautiful testament to your love for each other and your desire to have a strong relationship. You say on your "Burden of Proof" page, "The only thing I want more than for my boyfriend and I to eventually end up on the same side is to make sure we land on the right one." I think that's awesome, and I think your best course of action is to stay true to that goal.I know, I know, I'm on an atheist blog, but I'm admitting it anyway: I'm praying for you, and for your boyfriend, and I sincerely hope that you are able to reach some common ground soon. 🙂 All my best to you both.

  • Andy

    Am I the only one who thinks ebonmuse doesn't have a sense of humor?

  • Blamer ..

    Ash already put forward what I was going to suggest about your relationship/marriage. So much so that I really want Ash to now comment directly on the prospect of children. Again it probably matters far less what the official Catholic doctrine proscribes, and far more where your boyfriend's comfort zone is, approximate boundaries, and plasticity.In addition, I think you'll need to be okay with asymmetry to reach an agreeable compremise. You may be cool with your kids growing up as Catholic as he is (same behaviors, ideas about faith, etc) but is he as cool with them growing up as secular as you are?Another factor that seemingly tips the balance, maybe he simply prefers they be taught what he was taught at their age.

  • Ash

    "The odds are uncomfortably high that, if he's right about religion, I'm going straight to hell, and, if we ever ended up raising a family, my atheist influence could interfere with a proper Catholic upbringing, dooming my children and damning my boyfriend for playing fast and loose with his children's souls."You could have just as easily written that if you are *right* about religion—and the (lack of) evidence puts the odds distinctly in your favor—then his Catholicism could interfere with a healthy upbringing, dooming future children to magical thinking, self-loathing, and an irrational fear of eternal torture. Even worse, they might eventually support laws that discriminate against homosexuals or further erode the right to choose. I'm just saying that it doesn't make sense to assume a Catholic upbringing as the default position since plenty of real harm can come from it (vs. the imaginary harm to their afterlives). I also can't help but notice that you are framing this situation as one where you need to do the compromising. I don't think you need to do that for yourself and I certainly don't think you should for your children. A healthy future might involve an agreement to avoid any religious teaching until they are old enough to decide for themselves, and in the meantime teach them the values you both share (including skepticism and critical thinking). If your boyfriend insists that they be brought up in the Catholic tradition, then you need to decide if you are comfortable with your children being taught claims and values that you disagree with. Or if he is comfortable with them also being taken to activities that promote freethought, science, and humanist values (assuming you would want to do something like that). I don't mean to sound callous about this. I'm sure you love each other and want it to work out. And the idea of ending a loving relationship over religious beliefs might be too painful to contemplate right now. But better to work this stuff out one way or another now than after you are married and pregnant.

  • Two quick notes before I go to bed and then more in the morning.1. My boyfriend and I both think the pseudo-Judaism is a really bizarre, stupid idea. I wanted to mention it because I thought it was funny and because the priest I spoke to seemed to think it was a plausible solution. The reactions by Catholics in-thread suggest this is not doctrine (thanks for the link, Lukas), so I'm going to take the point as moot.2. The Catholic commenters are correct that neither my boyfriend nor any Christian can make a 100% accurate guess about where my soul would end up if I were to die today — my boyfriend isn't any more certain than doctrine suggests. He just is extremely intolerant of risk; for him, it's like knowing your girlfriend has a ten-percent chance of developing a type of cancer that leads to a very nasty death. Just up the stakes of the outcome and amp up the error bars and you've approximated his concern. It's not any belief that I ought to be punished, just worry that the prognosis is bad.Again, any recommendations of Catholic theology that would push him toward a less terror-stricken soteriology would be much appreciated.

  • There's an interesting handbook that has some guidelines on where your soul is likely to go after death, it has rules and everything. I think it's called something like The Bible.Catholics like Julie above who claim some knowledge about hell (or lack of knowledge about how to get there) based on what they were told as children have abandoned their reasoning faculties for the authority of either their childhood teaching or the Church.The Bible states certain things that, as Catholics, people often take seriously:John 14:6: "No-one comes to the Father, but through me."Since you don't believe in the divinity of Jesus that's a problem.Mark 3:28-30: “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven all their sins and all the blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin. He said this because they [the Pharisees] were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit’.”I'm guessing you have denied the Holy Spirit and see many OT acts as evil.Also, Catholics tend to think that "resistance to the known truth" is also an eternal sin and would require a miracle by God to allow you access to heaven since you have had plenty of access to the "known truth".However, if you repent on your death bed, get baptised and confess your sins, accept Jesus as your saviour then you'll be fine, regardless of what kind of evil, debauched life you have led. Nice…PS. Please don't turn to Judaism, your sons will not appreciate it! Sorry, but that's one of my personal pet hates and I'd advocate prison for parents and doctors involved in it.

  • Benji

    Something similar to this came up on Friendly Atheist a little while ago. Link: http://friendlyatheist.com/2011/03/28/do-pastors-really-believe-in-hell/The long and short of it is that, in the controversy that surrounds Rob Bell's latest book, how many pastors, priests, what have you, actually believe in hell? At funerals, I mean.Money Quote: "When a pastor delivers a eulogy, though, all of them are seemingly in the presence of God… even the people who never went to church or who blasphemed God on a regular basis. (There must be a hell of a lot of death-bed conversions in their minds…)"

  • A Philosopher

    Leah, I'm an atheist who has been married for about twenty years to a theologically orthodox Catholic. It's worked out wonderfully well, so there's at least some small inductive argument in favor of the arrangement.A few points. First, there's no good reason in Catholic theology for thinking that you're likely to end up in hell – in particular, there's really no more reason to think that you'll end up in hell than there is to think that he'll end up in hell. Note that Catholic theology is consistent with a thesis of universal salvation – my own opinion is that it's really only with that thesis that it has any chance of standing up to serious philosophical scrutiny. (There's also a communal aspect to Catholic soteriology at times, which suggests a line on which what is to be saved or not is not each individual, but the world as a whole.)Second, you've probably already considered 1 Corinthians 7:14, but if not, it's a line that can sometimes be of some comfort in this sort of situation.Third, our children are being raised Catholic. I have no objection to that because, while I think much of Catholic theology is false, I also think it's reasonably harmless. The combination of having the kids raised Catholic and my atheism has never caused any tension in our family.

  • As usual, Seinfeld shows us the answer:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-8GIEQjqW8

  • Anonymous

    From the New Catechism:" 'Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.'This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:'Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.' "Those who recognize the Church as necessary for salvation but reject it are ineligible for salvation. But those who recognize the Church as necessary for salvation will surely accept the Church and, by extension, Christ. But you don't accept the Church as necessary for salvation, so this bit wouldn't apply to you. Instead, I would consider you ignorant of the Gospel of Christ, because if you weren't, then you'd have accepted the Church. If I accept the Catechism, then I would say that, through no fault of your own ("I honestly believe it to be untrue") you don't know that the Church is necessary for salvation, you're eligible for salvation by following your conscience, which is God's will articulated to even nonbelievers, as dictated in the final paragraph.

  • jen

    @Kogo: The comment about it not being sufficient refers to the fact that the Jews were not successful in bringing the Messiah simply by obeying the law as the Pharisees taught them would happen. Peter evangelized the Jews because keeping the law was not sufficient for them salvation-wise. It has nothing to do with my standards or anyone else's standards but God.As far as being a practicing Jew without believing in God, it's debatable. The Law isn't just a bunch of dietary requirements and such — all of them were meant to set the Jews apart as God's chosen people and as a people who were holy.(And as you mentioned, you and your boyfriend think it's a bizarre and crazy idea.)As far as where your soul is going to end up, none of us Catholics/Protestants/Orthodox can predict it. It's, to us, in God's hands and as we're not God, we can't say with absolute certainty that you're saved or not. Anglicanism has the idea that "Hell" is "separation from God" so maybe that is what's going to happen. We don't know and it's why I would do whatever I could to help you come to faith but I wouldn't get in your face about it and berate you about being hellbound. In the end, I can't change your heart for you. Not to mention, I'm a convert to Christianity and I remember how utterly annoying it was (and still is) when people get in my face about my faith.

  • Instead, I would consider you ignorant of the Gospel of Christ, because if you weren't, then you'd have accepted the Church.I do so love that spirit of Catholic charity.

  • @jen:,—| As far as being a practicing Jew without believing in God, it's debatable.`—Is this really all that debatable? Can someone please make a clear cut, cited case, for the validity of being a "valid Jew" (in the theological, not genealogical sense) simply via practice and not by actually believing in a monotheistic deity? When Leah introduced this, referencing Jews she witnessed on Long Island, I have in my mind the equivalent to "cultural Catholics." The Baby Boomer generation has in their mind, "once a Catholic, always a Catholic." Thus, they keep attending Mass and receiving communion despite believing that Christ was simply a "wise teacher," that birth control/contraception/abortion are permissible, and that it's not immoral to be homosexual (practicing or not).In other words… they're not really Catholic.This is how I see the "cultural Jew" topic as well. They are Jews by descent, not by virtue of being united in the theology of "Father Abraham" or something. Or am I missing something severe here?,—| It's, to us, in God's hands and as we're not God, we can't say with | absolute certainty that you're saved or not.`—Well, not according to Catholicism. They can know infallibly if you're a saint and, by extension, in heaven right at this very moment. Pretty amazing!

  • Ebonmuse: In this case "ignorance" is reflected in the statement "I don't know" that the Gospel is true or "I am unaware" that the Church is necessary. This usage isn't derogatory, it reflects the word's (etymological) true meaning: to be unaware of.Hendy: I'd definitely agree with your first part — Paul is pretty clear that we are not saved by works of the law. On the other hand, the fact that Leah is trying in this manner, that she really is seeking to obey the will of God even though she's unsure whether a God actually exists, is (in my opinion) greatly to her credit.As for your second point, there's big difference between a definitive statement that someone is saved (based on the overwhelming evidence of holiness in a person's life, for instance) and a definitive statement that someone is not. Christians shy away from the latter even as we embrace the former.

  • Anonymous

    How do you get the concept of Hell as just separation from God for those who knowingly reject Christ when you have verses like:Revelations 21:8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, thesexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and allliars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is thesecond death" ?

  • @Publinus:,—| … that she really is seeking to obey the will of God even though she's | unsure whether a God actually exists…`—But I was pretty sure this isn't what she's doing. As far as I can tell, it has nothing at all to do with following the will of god, but simply being willing to take on some external observances to put her boyfriend at ease.,—| Christians shy away from the latter even as we embrace the former.`—That much I agree with (whether that's done for good reason is another question) — I was mainly offering a counter point to jen, who said they (I guess "who?" might have been good to ask) shy away from saying anything at all.

  • jen

    @Anonymous: Revelation is a book of allegory. I don't take every piece of imagery literally.@Hendy: I've heard some Jewish scholars argue that a belief of God is kind of secondary to keeping the Law. All my religious studies material is still packed from my recent move so forgive me for not being able to cite chapter and verse on that.One thing that I *can* bring to this is the perspective of one who is married. In the nine years that I've been married, my husband and I have dealt with a lot of situations and issues where I don't know if we could have done it together if we didn't share the same faith. (I'm not talking anything light either — deaths of family members, me almost dying in childbirth, our son being premature and in the NICU, our son contracting a bronchial virus and almost ending up on ECMO…) My one argument for some unity in faith is that it does help in situations like that.With your boyfriend, the issue of how you raise the kids is a big one. Even if you choose not to become Catholic, you're going to have to be supportive of your husband raising them Catholic and you need to figure out how you're going to do that. (I'm assuming that the kids would be Catholic because it seems like that's the rule for marrying a practicing Catholic.)

  • @Publinus:,—| Ebonmuse: In this case "ignorance" is reflected in the statement "I don't| know" that the Gospel is true or "I am unaware" that the Church is | necessary. This usage isn't derogatory, it reflects the word's | (etymological) true meaning: to be unaware of.`—I know Ebon can speak for himself, but I just had to come back and re-read this. I'm sure you're well-intentioned, but I'm not sure that this is the meaning that was intended. Or, if it was, it's an endless justification loop that only terminates if you end up believing.In other words, I think a false dichotomy was presented:1) one knows the gospel and thus believes2) one is "ignorant" of the gospel and thus does not believeYou've left out two alternatives:3) one knows the gospel and doesn't believe4) one is "ignorant" of the gospel and [thus] believesIf you agree that 3 and 4 are possible, one can surely be quite familiar with "the gospel" and what it says and be a complete non-believer. I'm fairly confident that most, or at least many, believers are in bucket #4.Thus it doesn't seem like the two are correlated very well.I took the original comment to imply that only 1 and 2 are possible, and I heavily disagree 🙂 I could be wrong, and that wasn't the intended meaning.

  • @jen: if that's the case re. practice being primary and belief being secondary, I'm 1) shocked and 2) well, shocked.I can't even parse how that works and why anyone would live such a life.

  • Anonymous

    From Ebonmuse:"'Instead, I would consider you ignorant of the Gospel of Christ, because if you weren't, then you'd have accepted the Church.'I do so love that spirit of Catholic charity."Sorry if I wasn't clear, but my point was that no one who really knows that the Catholic's rendition of Christianity is the way to salvation would willfully reject Christ. In the sentences immediately preceding the quotation, I explained this reasoning, and in context, I think it makes more sense. I doubt that they would admit that someone could truly know Christ without doing what is necessary for salvation, and the only possible solution is that those who do not accept Christ as salvation do not really know him, and thus can still be saved by the next paragraph. Another position would be incoherent within the Catholic doctrine.I'm an atheist, not a Catholic (hence the conditionals and subjunctive in my original post) but I'm trying to see things from the perspective of the Catechism's writers. I think it's a good practice to try to see things from the other side of the religious-nonreligious debate from time to time, and especially helpful when the original post concerns opinions Catholics have on salvation.

  • Anonymous

    @HendyI did intend to use "ignorant" in a way similar to how Publinus described it — without pejorative connotations, and meaning "not fully understanding."I also intended that only #1 and #2 are possible. For #3, I've listed my reasons above: acceptance of the Catholic church is a necessary condition of knowing the gospel of Christ, so we can test whether or not someone really knows Christ by their acceptance of the Church.Much of the Catechism rests on the definition of "to know." In the Catechism, it seems to mean more than "to be aware of." From the Prologue and first sections:"FATHER, . . . this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.""He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength."Here, knowing Christ is used as a synonym for being saved. And if I understand #4 correctly (and I doubt that I do), I don't see how someone could accept the Church without knowing the gospel, much less being aware of it.

  • @Anonymous.Thanks for the clarification.,—| acceptance of the Catholic church is a necessary| condition of knowing the gospel of Christ…`—According to the Catholic Church, anyway.I guess it kind of strikes me as a tautology. "Knowing Jesus Christ" (whatever that means) "acceptance of the Catholic Church." Do they both imply the other such that #3 and #4 are absolutely ruled out? In other words, if someone tells you that the have "been saved" and "know the Savior" but aren't Catholic… is the logical conclusion that they really don't know the Savior?Or if someone at Mass on Sunday insists that they fully accept and believe everything that the Catholic Church teaches and stands for, is there literally no way you could ever be convinced that they don't know Jesus Christ?I guess I find both of those plausible.We're probably disputing over what "acceptance of the Church" means. We can't probe hearts is my point, and thus I can't see how we really can "test whether someone knows Christ," as you said above.

  • jen

    @Hendy: I said I remembered seeing the argument. I can't remember who made it and I know that it wouldn't fly for me — what would be the point of keeping the Law if there was no belief to follow it?

  • @jen: yup — we're on the same page. I didn't attribute it to being your particular stance, nor you subscribing to it. I'm nevertheless surprised it even exists 🙂