In these difficult days, we all deserve a little indulgence. Or so the Catholic Church would have us believe, as news breaks that it is returning to the Medieval practice of selling time off in purgatory in return for a little of the folding stuff (story here). After all, if a Southern Baptist like George W Bush can have a "crusade" and various Muslim sects can claim jihad, then why not?
These Indulgences are a way of re-focusing the faithful upon the need to do good deeds, to show, according to the church's Manual of Indulgences, a "greater zeal for the exercise of charity." To the outsider, a number of these so-called acts of charity do look remarkably self-serving: visiting churches, praying for the pope, pilgrimages to saints' burial sites. And, of course, the whole idea of an Indulgence is to turn Christian works into self-interest, to spare the sinner less time among the fires of damnation - theoretical capitalism as spiritual enlightenment, as it were.
Perhaps it is most appropriate the Vatican is exploring these ideas at this time of great financial testing. During a crisis brought on by loose controls on credit and easy borrowing, what better way out for believers than buying space in heaven on the opposite of interest-free credit: pay now, buy later.
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