About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What, no more Limbo?

According to the magazine Philosophy Now, the new Pope, Benedict XVI, is apparently considering to do away with the Limbo, that no man's (or woman's) land where people who happened not to know about Jesus but where nonetheless good, ethical human beings, used to end up. Some of the greatest minds of antiquity, like Plato and the Roman poet Lucretius, are in Limbo at the moment.

Limbo (from a Latin word meaning “edge,” as in between Hell and Heaven) allegedly also hosts unbaptized children, those who died after the coming of Christ but didn't have time to go through the sacrament – usually because God in his infinite (but rather inscrutable) wisdom decided to kill them with cancer or a genetic defect within days from their birth.

The theological conundrum, such as it is, consists in the fact that Plato, the children, and others, don't deserve to go to Hell, because they didn't do anything immoral. But thanks to Adam and Eve and their “original sin” (which, as you might recall, consisted in eating from the forbidden fruit of knowledge, obviously a no-no for jealous gods), they can't go to Heaven without been cleansed by baptism.

The decision is the result of discussions that have been ongoing since last year among “experts” at the Vatican (rhetorical question: how can someone be an expert about things that don't exist?), with the new Pope having been on the side of eliminating the idea since he was head of what used to be the Holy Inquisition (it now has the slightly more reassuring name of “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”). While it is true that Limbo never really achieved the status of official doctrine within the Catholic Church, I can't help but being concerned for Plato and company. Perhaps more importantly, the abolition of Limbo would make a large and beautiful section of Dante's Divine Comedy, well, doctrinal heresy. Will the classic Italian poet be put in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the list of books forbidden to Catholics)? Fortunately, that shameful list was abolished in 1966. There is progress, after all.


  1. The RCC has made provisional statements (that became church doctrine) down through time, that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible.

    The Bible says that 'it is appointed unto man once to die...and then the Judgement.'

    One would have to work unusually hard at thinking uncritically to misinterpret such a straightforward statement.


  2. Of course, the elephant-in-the-room question this situation raises is, Why did God let the Church believe Limbo existed in the first place?

  3. Don't worry, NGA. There's always some ad hoc "explanation". If there's none right now, it gets invented on the fly anyway.


  4. No gods, no masters, no limbo (or any of the rest of that supernatural, mindnumbing claptrap.

    You're born, you live, you die. Finis

  5. I don't know about that, dennis.

    just attended the funeral of one of the finest men who ever lived. (my dad) And I think your position is going to be exceptionally hard to prove to someone who has lived their life close to someone who walked sincerely and authentically before God and other people.

    Have you ever been to a funeral where there is no fear or regrets when it comes time to bury the loved one? That was the kind of experience that I had this week.

    My dad had mentioned to me that he had been to funerals where atheists (or their children) were laid to rest, and that was a completely different situation.

    We, otoh, had dozens of the hundred and some people attending my dad's funeral say it was one one of the most uplifting events they had been to. ??? Strange, huh.

    At the end of life, beliefs do matter.

    So there's something good about aspiring to be good,(i.e. having an upright heart) even if you are certain that there are hypocrites in the world.

    I'm gonna really miss my dad, tho. He helped prop up my (so-called) 'left brain'. :)

  6. Really, cal, I don't see your point. What does the fact that you (and others) honored your dad at his funeral because he was apparently a "good man" have to do with anything regarding his "faith" - or beliefs at the end of his life?

    Are you saying that atheists cannot be held in high esteem, treat people fairly, be loved, have no regrets, etc?

    I find that most xtians believe that sentiment to be true, which is an unfortunate consequence of the brainwashing within the church.

    As an aside, I find it hard to believe that anyone alive could really say that they have no regrets - but perhaps that's just me.

    This is not intended to be a slam against your dad - so, please don't be offended - it's just your argument :-)


  7. I just remembered another reason why it would be a shame not to have limbo anymore. When I'm explaining to my "normal" friends what is a postdoc, I always tell them it's to be in limbo: not a student anymore, but not a professor yet. Now, I don't know which one is heaven or hell there, but I sure know postdocs are not in heaven. Damn it...


  8. Cal, I'm sure your Dad was a good man- but not because of religion, belief in a supernatural or any of the other mumbo-jumbo floating around. He was a good man because of himself.

    If it makes you feel good thinking that he "is in a better place" - ok. But don't ask the rest of us to accept that.

    My Dad wwas ok too - when he wasn't drunk. He was also a lifelong Roman Catholic. Go figure.

    My Mom was a beautiful and wonderful woman too, although she had her weaknesses as do all of us. She was not religious at all, but she was a far better person than my Dad. But when she died 33 years ago that was it. She exists only in the memories of those of us who knew and loved her. She isn't with Jesus or God or anything - she is gone except for the great memories

    No gods , no masters, no claptrap. Finis

  9. Just out of curiosity, I wonder what John Paul would say about this.

  10. "I'm sure your Dad was a good man- but not because of religion"

    I do feel deeply disappointed for persons who have had unjust fathers. That really should have been my lot in life. There is no doubt in my mind that a wicked father sets far bigger hurdles in front of his children to trust and believe that there is anything worthy or authentic to be believed in, especially if one cannot even form a trusting, or dependable relationship with the person to whom one should matter the most to.

    That is a real issue, to be sure.

    My natural parent's families were RCC, too. I marvel at the impact that the church has had on the a lot of world, and most of it has not been remarkably constuctive, either. It's nothing less in my mind than what Christ took issue with, with the Jewish religious people of his time. He said they were "white washed tombs":

    'you look good on the outside, but on the inside, you're filled with dead man's bones.' ( a loose parphrase.)

    So now that we know what the negative example of religion represents itself as, we can reasonably conclude that there must exist an authetic, postive one in contrast to it.


  11. I have the habit of travelling the roads less travelled and recently came to a small town in South Africa where i duly visited the local graveyard (historical interest - not religious) to find there that unbaptised children were buried seperate from those already admitted into the faith...just an aside i thought to share with you....


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