Now, this was a few years ago, and no, I will not name the Parish or the Priest. I really doubt that either Priest where I play the organ would give me these answers. This came from my journal.
I admire the Catholics, having been raised Fundie. Most will quite adamantly tell me that the Bible was written by men. Of course, this always makes me want to ask what makes it special. I once asked a Nun what I needed to believe to call myself Christian, and her response was “That God loves you unconditionally”. (While lovely, this response was weird to me too. A God who will throw you in hell [or prevent you from being in his presence, since some folks say that hell is being apart from God] for not believing in Jesus — well, that, by itself, is one heck of a condition.) The Fundies are much more adamant in their answers, so all of this wiggle-room is just weird for me.
I once asked Fr. X if he believed in Hell. He replied, “No”. “I don’t believe in Hell, I don’t believe in Purgatory, I think they are simply punitive control measures added into Christianity.”
Me: But there are multiple references to the eternal, unquenchable fire in all four gospels – were they added to the words of Jesus? One that I clearly remember is “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two hands and go into hell, into the unquenchable fire.” That’s pretty clear, in the words of Jesus. If there is no hell, what does THAT mean?
Fr: “Well, I think it is very likely that it WAS added later. But I understand it to mean that we should be willing to take extreme measures to avoid sin and to follow the teachings of Jesus. “
Me: Then you’re saying that the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally? Even the passages that are supposed to be the teachings of Jesus?
Fr: “Yes, exactly! There are a lot of things in the Bible that we know are not literal – Creation stories, the Flood, talking donkeys, the sun standing still, etc.”
Me: Yes, we know there was no Adam and Eve, and Creation stories are a fable. But I was always taught that the very reason Jesus needed to die was to be the ultimate sacrifice, that would cleanse humanity of Original Sin and keep those who accepted His Sacrifice from going to Hell. But we know that there there was no Original Sin and you just said there is no Hell. So why did Jesus need to die?
Fr: “Well, God sent Himself down as an example for us. God needs us to follow the good example of Christ and rise above evil behaviors. And Christ was committed enough to die for this message. He needs us to be more like Him, better than human! I’m not sure he actually rose from the dead. And I’m pretty sure God does not need or want blood sacrifices.”
Me: So he died because he was committed to the message? He died because God / Himself – needs us to be something other than he created humans to be? I agree that human nature can be completely repulsive, but we ARE tribal apes. Calling human nature original sin doesn’t work. And, do you think Jesus of Nazareth was God Incarnate? You said “God sent himself” – but you do not seem to believe that he rose from the dead.
Fr: “I think it’s very possible that he was just a Man, and was inspired by God. God spoke through him, “The Word Was God”. And, remember, evolution is real and the creation stories are myth. God may have simply set evolution in motion. We were not created perfect, we are always evolving. Jesus wanted us to evolve toward God.”
Me: I like that, but how do you get through Easter Week? If you believe what you just told me, how do you manage to say the Creed at Mass?
Fr: “Well, the Creed is just a statement of the Church’s History”
— At that point I felt so sorry for him that I told him I needed to go.
He was not the only Priest to tell me that the Bible is not literal, there was no Original Sin, Jesus might not have literally been God Incarnate, there is no Hell – – oh, but most say there is a Heaven for believers! This was the only conversation I wrote down though.
A Priest who was more Deist than Catholic. A true historical scholar. A Priest who had to jump through major belief hoops just to get up and preach. And I really doubt that he’s a rarity. I felt so sorry for him. He was such a nice guy. He died quite a few years ago now. I still tell people what a great guy he was. I hope, for his sake, that his version of Heaven exists.