Now here’s a topic near and dear to my past. As many of you know (or perhaps don’t), I’m a recovering Catholic of the Roman variety. When I was just a wee one, throughout my prepubescent years, I was indoctrinated, primarily by nuns, but often by priests, with the concept of the Society of Saints. Just about every day was dedicated to some Saint, and we were instructed to pray to that saint to intercede with God or Jesus or Mary or someone (never fully explained) to give us whatever it was that was that particular saint’s specialty.
For instance, St. Christopher was the patron saint of travel, and my parents hung St. Chris medals on their rear-view mirrors. According to legend (but not history) he purportedly gave a lift on his back to a child of ever increasing weight, and , when he complained about the burden, was told that he bore the Christ child and the sins of the world on his back. Sometime after I reached the age of reason, the Church disclaimed any historicity to the legend and removed him from the Calendar of the saints. So much for St. Christopher, not to mention quite a few others.
So we children were inoculated with this belief that once upon a time there were these holy people that walked the earth, and were so Christlike that after they died, they went to heaven, and eventually some earthbound proof (miracles attributed to them) was cited to substantiate their canonization as “official” (scare quotes added) saints.
What brings the saints to mind is the recent canonization of a nun in Australia, their first saint no less, and the big deal they are making of it down under. Reading this, along with all the brouhaha surrounding the fast track canonization of that fraud Mother Teresa, I can’t help but wonder – what’s the point? Why does the Catholic Church go through this long drawn out process to actually lay the title of “Saint” on some past Catholic’s shoulders? I’ve concluded that it’s just brilliant marketing, and nothing more.
The dogma of the church holds that if you live a good life, follow god’s word, and worship him as you are told, then, without any sins on your soul, you’ll go to heaven. By definition, a person who goes to heaven under this scenario is a saint. All good Christians aspire to sainthood, regardless of whether it’s officially recognized by the church.
During the entire existence of the church, presumably a sizable portion of those saintly creatures that have already made it to heaven are up there enjoying the fruits of their goodness with Jesus and all of the official saints. The only thing different is that they are not recognized down here by we lowly humans, because they did not generate sufficient recognition during their lifetimes for being saintly material, and no miracles have been attributed to them since they passed on to the great beyond. That’s the only difference between those millions or hundreds of millions of good, but dead, humans whose souls have gone to heaven, and the official ones like St. Augustine and Sts. Peter and Paul (and Mary) who are recognized by the church.
So why limit our acknowledgment of saints to just those with an official imprimatur? It’s a marketing decision, pure and simple. The official saints are no better or no worse than all the rest of the unrecognized saints. They are all still saints, and it’s sainthood the church celebrates. The church knows that in order to maintain their flock, to keep them in line tithing and praying and adding memberships, they must be able to point to hard, concrete examples of those who have gone before who made it to this place they have no other evidence for. If all they did was preach about the existence of heaven, using it as the goal to attain, without some evidence that it actually exists, they run the risk that Catholics will eventually wise up to them, and Catholicism would fall to the wayside like the myriad of past religions that could not sustain themselves and disappeared into the dustbins of history. But if they have “proof” of the afterlife, some miracles attributed to someone who made it there, along with a steady ad campaign for the Sainthood of this person or that nun, it might be enough to keep the flock inside the fence, so to speak.
If Ivory Soap stopped telling you how good it was at cleaning your body and your clothes, eventually people would stop buying it in favor of the soap that DID pound you over the head, relentlessly, with the efficacy of their product.
The Catholic Church is one of the oldest and largest corporations in the world. It is in business, and its business is selling itself and its superstitions to gullible people who feel a need to believe in those things the Catholic Church sells – redemption, salvation, life after death. One of the marketing strategies to selling their product is to point to happy customers who have preceded them.
If it had no happy customers blurbing its product, it wouldn’t be here today. Saints fill that function.
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I think the lack of official acknowledgment for all those people is probably more linked to the first step of canonization – making sure they’re thoroughly orthodox, obedient, etc.
Also, the cults of the Saints were a matter of common devotions of the faithful before it was an official process of the institutional church. It had a a lot to do with needing someone they could relate to better than God made man – it’s why Mary Magdalene was so popular in the early days of Christianity; she’s a hardcore sinner who still managed to be a good Christian. I think the cult of the Saints still serves the same function in the lives of the laity, but I also agree with your assessment of why the hierarchy made it into a process of endorsement – dangling the carrot on the stick.
I’m not Catholic. I can understand the “goodness” aspect of sainthood, but I don’t get the “miracle” part. I am sure there have been many truly good, self-sacrificing people out there. Why isn’t that, and an expressed devotion, enough for sainthood? We can all aspire to be good, but can we aspire to perform miracles? If not, then doesn’t that limit the inspirational force of sainthood?
The miracles are necessary to show the connection between the spiritual world and our material world. Without them, there is no evidence that there IS even a supernatural reality. That’s why Christians jump on just about anything out of the ordinary as the result of divine intervention to justify their beliefs, with hilarious results.
I watched on TV today an interview with a survivor of that plane crash that killed Ted Stevens, the Alaska Senator, a few months back. He wasted no time giving credit to god for his survival, ignoring the fact that his god killed a few people in order for him to give him that credit.
Why don’t people see that the same god that can save you from the results of a plane crash can prevent the crash in the first place? It’s because they want so badly to believe in that god, that they throw logic out the window.
Honestly, between the whole thing with the saints and the Trinity, I just consider Catholicism a polytheistic religion at this point. There are lots and lots of people in the world who totally DO worship the saints, and just refuse to call it worship. Especially the Virgin Mary.
Yes. I intended to add that point into this post, then realized I was already too windy, so thanks for bringing it up. I have good readers and rely on them to fill in the blanks I leave. 8)
When you talk about your past like this, it’s easier to understand why you’re an atheist now. For example,
That’s a bunch of malarkey to me, too, and the weird thing is – like many of the RCC’s doctrines – this one also happens to be in direct contradiction to what the Bible actually teaches. Now, there are people who would contest my claim, but the argument would be a moot point here. All I’m saying is, I fully understand why so many fallouts from the RCC become atheists. Organized religion – yuck.
Wow. We agree!
Interestingly, I’ve also had the comment from knowledgeable Catholics that what the rank and file nuns and priests taught me was in direct contradiction of official Catholic doctrine. Can’t remember the specifics of it offhand, but if I do, I’ll post it later.
Wouldn’t have made any difference to me, because even official Catholic doctrine is downright moronic. Much like the Bible (which the Catholic Church really doesn’t emphasize much).
To me, your comment about the Bible is an overgeneralization, but perhaps you were just writing quickly without much regard for specifics. If so, no big deal, but I would ask: Can you cite a few examples parts of the Bible you believe to be “downright moronic?” I’m guessing your comment applies primarily to the Bible’s spiritual [what you would probably call supernatural] claims. If not, do you really believe that everything in the Bible is “downright moronic?” I ask because when I read the Bible, I’m easily able to find verse after verse that provides wisdom that – if applied – would revolutionize human interpersonal relations. I find accounts and stories that are corroborated by history, archaeology, etc. Of course, I’m not claiming that history or archaeology supports every single account and story, either. I’m just saying: you give off the vibe that it’s a “total wash” but I just don’t think that’s an impartial assessment.
Funny that you’d quickly curtail your claims by saying not every single account and story could be corroborated, yet you’re quick to jump on SI’s biblical comment as applying to everything.
Perhaps you could share some of these many verses you claim “provides wisdom that – if applied – would revolutionize human interpersonal relations” with us?
The Catholic Church in Australia needs to raise its profile somehow. Maybe a new saint is just the thing to raise interest. They seem to have had some difficulty recruiting new seminarians and ordaining new priests for the past couple of decades.
I should have mentioned what appears to be a successful Catholic Outreach program (see link in my previous comment):
…Theology on Tap program, which attracts between seven and eight hundred people to P.J. Gallagher’s Irish Pub in Parramatta on the first Monday of each month. They drink, socialize and hear speakers on theology, faith, the Church and life in general.
Protestants hold pot luck dinners, Catholics meet at the pub; give the Catholics a point on this round.
Can you cite a few examples parts of the Bible you believe to be “downright moronic?”
The entire book of Revelations.
I’m easily able to find verse after verse that provides wisdom that – if applied – would revolutionize human interpersonal relations.
You can find much of the same from such sources as the Bhagavad-Gita, the Dhammapada, the Analects, Mo Tzi’s doctrine of Universal Love, and so forth. That was another factor in turning this ex-Catholic away from Christianity. Values were universal, not the monopoly of a particular religion. Yeah, I know some Christians try to find a way for their own religion to take credit for that, but it doesn’t fly with me.
I think originally, the cult of saints served as a replacement for polytheistic beliefs. Remember, a lot was done to make Christianity marketable to different cultures (my favorite perhaps is the shortening of the top of the cross to look more like Thor’s hammer). Nowadays, I think it may serve to make believers feel like they have a better chance of getting through with their prayers. The Big Guy is busy, so the wait time could be long but Saint What’s-her-face’s prayer line may be shorter, and if your need is in her area of expertise, well then, that should work out perfectly, right?
Perhaps the desire for a local saint is another one of convenience, thinking that the local saint would be more inclined to answer the locals’ prayers, more easily reached because he or she is local, or both.
When I was a kid, my mom and I were dependent upon her sisters for things, and so we ended up going to a Catholic church for awhile, which meant I had to go through the motions of being confirmed. I have to admit, picking George felt cool because of the dragon slaying. I would bet that a believer would get some kind of boost from that. Poor George may be off the saint list now, though. I’m not sure. Of course that might upset England and be a poor marketing move.
One of those “conveniences” is that local saints are good draws for local businesses.
Follow the money. Imagine what would happen to the local economies of Lourdes, France, or Fatima, Portugal if there were no saints.
I agree that values are universal, and I think it’s no surprise that other religions arrive at many of the same truths. After all, when the Samaritan acted appropriately, Jesus didn’t condemn him for arriving at the same values sans belief. IOW, that many of the world’s religions preach overlapping values is not an argument against any of the world’s religions. At least, that’s the way I look at it.
I’m sorry you find my concern for precision “funny.”
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” James 1:19
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
Since you agree that there are universal truths that any religion could, and have, come up with, what’s so special about this one? Do you really think humanity couldn’t have figured this out before the Bible? I doubt it was some deep dark secret until James (i.e. the author of James) brought it to the light of day.
Yeah, James 1:19 is kind of a difficult verse to hate on, isn’t it?
I didn’t say there was anything “special” about it at all.
Well, I think it’s always been the case that a significant subset of humans can’t figure this out – before and after the Bible. Wouldn’t you agree?
I didn’t say it was. Philly asked for an example of a verse that – if heeded – would revolutionize interpersonal relations. I gave him one. There are several others like it, and that’s why I raise an eyebrow whenever people make across-the-board judgments on the entire Bible. It makes me wonder if perhaps they’re just cherrypicking.
This is why we hate to argue with you Cl.
No, you didn’t say that in those words. But you DID offer it as an example of something the Bible offers to “revolutionize interpersonal relations”. Sounds pretty special to me, and the implication is that it’s something we would find only in the Bible, and nowhere else, when in fact we lowly, ignorant, un-inspired humans could arrive at the same conclusion without even knowing what the Bible was, much less reading it for interpersonal relationship advice.
“Listen much, keep silent when in doubt and always take heed of the tongue.”
“When anger arises, think of the consequences.”
Kung Fu-tzu (Confucius)
Nothing original in James, but cl never said the verses had to be unique to the Christian bible, nor appear first in it. I’m sure the Raellians and Scientologists have some choice morsels of wisdom as well, having the luxury of copying from a wealth of human history. Likewise, the Christian bible’s moronic verses aren’t necessarily unique or made their first appearance there either.
Personally, I find 1 Corinthians 13:11 especially amusing since what’s more childish than playing make believe? There’s a verse that could change the world if applied.
Btw, there are plenty of verses which address deception and deceivers as well. Hard to hate on some of them as well, but apparently easy to ignore even for a believer of sorts.
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” James 1:19
Except God, I guess, right? Psalm 2:12…