UPDATE: Reader Pliny the In Between called my attention to yet another cartoon making fun of the Twitter Indulgences, this one from Pictorial Theology. It’s called “Face-the-Music Book”:
Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know Andrew Brown is an atheist. Or rather, “faitheist,” since, for someone who doesn’t believe in God, he spends an extraordinary amount of time defending religion. In fact, his defense of faith, and his attacks on his fellow atheists, go to such ludicrous lengths that I’m convinced that the Guardian keeps him on staff to provoke the torrents of blog traffic following each of his stupid pronouncements.
Brown’s latest is truly funny: a defense of the Vatican’s new indulgences involving social media. As you probably know, the branch of the Vatican involved in the remission of sin (“the sacred apostolic penitentiary”) has just declared that you can win yourself less time in Purgatory by following Pope Francis’s activities as he visits Brazil for Catholic World Youth Day (July 22-28; obviously more than a day). As the Guardian (not Brown) reports:
Mindful of the faithful who cannot afford to fly to Brazil, the Vatican’s sacred apostolic penitentiary, a court which handles the forgiveness of sins, has also extended the privilege to those following the “rites and pious exercises” of the event on television, radio and through social media.
“That includes following Twitter,” said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis’ Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. “But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet.”
In its decree, the penitentiary said that getting an indulgence would hinge on the beneficiary having previously confessed and being “truly penitent and contrite”.
Praying while following events in Rio online would need to be carried out with “requisite devotion”, it suggested.
. . . “What really counts is that the tweets the Pope sends from Brazil or the photos of the Catholic World Youth Day that go up on Pinterest produce authentic spiritual fruit in the hearts of everyone,” said Celli [Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Vatican's council for social communication].
I didn’t even know indulgences like this were still a going concern, since in the old days, when you had to grease a palm, the ludicrous nature of buying respite from Purgatory helped bring on the Reformation. But, yes, indulgences still around (see a list here), involving things like listening to scripture for half an hour. (I guess it doesn’t work if you devote only 15 minutes.)
To atheists, the whole business seems as ridiculous as it did to Luther in 1517, but for different reasons. There is no hell, no Purgatory, and the idea that you can buy yourself an accelerated ticket to Paradise by performing specific acts—with the acceleration specified in days, weeks or months—borders on lunacy.
Enter Andrew Brown, who defends the whole business in his new Guardian piece, “So the Pope’s Twitter followers get time off Purgatory. What’s the problem?” Brown, while granting that the ideas of hell and Purgatory may seem “absurd” to atheists, says that once you’ve accepted these ideas, it’s no weirder to get remission from following Twitter than from walking to Santiago. He poses a hypothetical:
But let’s suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the pope does have an informed opinion on what behaviour pleases God and benefits the soul. Does it then matter at all what technology he uses to spread his opinions? Is there anything intrinsically more ridiculous in following a devotion on Twitter than in the flesh, or on television?
The answer has to be no. The whole point of electronic communication is that it has effects in the physical world. That makes it real so far as I am concerned. If a love affair can be nourished in letters, it can be nourished, too, in email, or even, for very time-pressed lovers, in tweets.
When evangelical churches put their prayers up on PowerPoint displays, they don’t lose their spiritual effects through not being printed in books, or on service sheets. What matters is that the congregations say them and mean them. What might make them pointless is the sentiment, not the means of transmission.
And it is quite clear from the Vatican’s remarks that merely reading the Twitter feed won’t have any effect. What it is claiming is that following along with the feed and allowing it to stimulate your thoughts and behaviour as it is supposed to do will have a beneficial spiritual effect. Again, I can’t see that the means of transmission should make any difference at all here.
Well, he has a point. Once you buy into the whole corrupt and delusional system, does it matter whether you win less time in Purgatory by reciting the rosary or by reading the Pope’s tweets with a pious heart? Probably not. The problem is that Brown has no problem with this. He’s an atheist, and yet assumes “for the sake of argument” that the Pope knows exactly what God considers appropriate for a respite from Purgatory.
And what is characteristically Brownian is the fact that he spends a whole column attacking those who laugh at the idea of electronic indulgences, and defending the Church’s stand, while barely noticing that the whole idea is not only rotten, but false.
As Brown said, the remission of sin by following social media isn’t qualitatively different from that obtained by reading scripture or adoring Jesus in the Eucharist. What he doesn’t see is that the new indulgences simply underline the rapidly eroding credibility of the Church and the desperate (and humorous) measures it takes to hold its position.
As usual, Jesus and Mo say this in far fewer words:
h/t: Kevin, Grania, and a few other reader whose names I’ve unfortunately lost.