Indulgences

The Protestant Reformation was kicked off on the issue of indulgences. This was a practice of the medieval Roman Catholic Church: to oversimplify, the pope could release your soul, or someone else’s, from time in purgatory as a reward for you doing a good deed. Like, mmm, I don’t know, giving money to the church. Just thinking out loud.

Pretty tidy arrangement. Do whatever bad deed you’re into, pony up a little cash and you’re good.

We still have these today, especially for the rich and famous. So Al Gore’s house can have a carbon footprint the size of Montana, but it’s OK, because he buys carbon offsets. (He owns stock in a company that sells the carbon offsets, but that’s neither here nor there.) Bono can spend over a grand to fly his hat first-class because he also spends a lot of time asking other people to give their money to the poor. Obama can run a drone war and get a pass, because he’s not George Bush he supports gay marriage (now).

But that’s just the low-hanging fruit. We do this too. I don’t want all the moral demands of worshiping the living God, but I do give money to charity, so I’m good. I dealt with Hard Person A earlier today, so I should be OK to ignore Hard Person B tonight. I’ve already moved 5000 miles for Jesus; do I really have to engage with the homeless guy I pass on the way to work?

Indulgences are just one more way we seek to justify ourselves. One more dead-end street. There is none righteous, no, not one. The less we try to explain that away, the better the Remedy will look to us.

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