Getting Tested on a Quasi-Catechism

Getting Tested on a Quasi-Catechism September 1, 2012


I’m skipping around in JT’s questions, so, today, let’s take a look at #2:

What parts of Catholicism do you now accept? Which do you reject?


  • Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  • Do you believe in heaven and hell? If so…
  • What are the criteria for entry into heaven? Into hell?
  • Were you to find out today that disobeying the ten commandments meant entry to heaven and abiding by them landed you in hell, would your behavior change? If so, how?

Any others you feel are particularly relevant would be awesome to read.

Let me take the last one first. My friend Squelchtoad posed a dichotomy to me as follows:

Suppose I could demonstrate to you beyond all possible doubt that one of the following two propositions was necessarily true:

  1. There does not exist a supreme being.
  2. There exists a supreme being (In the sense of an eternal, omnipotent, and omniscient creator of the universe) who commands that people rape one another, abandon any children they bear, and cause as much senseless pain as possible to humans and other animals

Would you—could you—hope that (2) was the case instead of (1)? Are you prepared to hope for an “objective” Moral Law if that law will be deeply contrary to your current (ungrounded) moral beliefs, or do you simply want those beliefs validated?

It’s not quite the same question as JT’s, but, from my point of view, it’s higher stakes.  I care more about right action than I do about reaping any benefits for taking right action.  So he (and all y’all) can pose follow-up questions to me here once you see the answer I gave Squelchtoad.


Did Jesus rise from the dead?

Yes, but this something I think is likely because I think Christianity is true, not something I was convinced of first that then upped the posterior odds that Catholicism was true, so I don’t have much interesting to say on this.  Back in the pre-conversion archives, I wrote a post explaining why I found the historical debate unproductive and unlikely to be convincing even if it were true.

Some Catholic claims are out of the realm of empiricism: there’s no test you can do to distinguish between a consecrated and unconsecrated wafer, so no one could ever be convinced of transubstantiation by physical evidence.  You end up believing it because you believe something else that either seems trustworthy enough as a truth-telling thing that you take their word for it or because you are convinced of the truth of some proposition from which transubstantiation logically follows or is highly likely to be followed.

The resurrection of Christ isn’t in quite the same category; the claim does have physical consequences, but I’m so far removed from them that they’re very difficult to check.   It’s easier to figure out ways that the claim could be falsified (no references to a resurrected Christ before, say, 4oo AD should be enough to make anyone doubt), but, absent those data, it’s a massively unlikely event that depends on the kind of evidence that tips the balance on transubstantiation.


Do you believe in heaven and hell?  What are the criteria for entry?

Yeah, but these are pretty fuzzy beliefs.  Dante’s Divine Comedy isn’t canon any more that Lewis’s The Great Divorce is.  And a lot of the source material is similarly allegorical.  So I don’t think any conception of the afterlife that gets down to the harp-and-halos level of granularity is very likely to be accurate.

I don’t care that much about what they’re like, not when the task of living a good life is already enough work to be going on with.  I don’t find it very helpful to thing about Heaven and Hell in goal-language (“What do I have to do to get in?”) since that triggers my sneaky, gaming the system ways of thinking.  I find it more useful coherent to use consequence-language (“In what ways do I fall short of being in heaven/sharing in the beatific vision/being Christ-like and how can I progress toward that fulfillment?”).

The Catholic church doesn’t claim to be the only channel of God’s grace, but it’s the only one we’re confident in.  So, analogously, if you had a headache, I wouldn’t be sure that rubbing your temples or standing on your head wouldn’t work, but I’d tell you I was only  confident in Advil, and that’s what I recommended you take.


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