When Galileo pointed his newly-improved telescope to the skies 400 years ago, he saw things he wasn’t supposed to see. He saw that the sun has blemishes; today we call them sunspots. He saw that the moon’s face was pockmarked. And, most importantly, he noticed that the planet Jupiter had little moons orbiting it with regular periods.
He wasn’t supposed to notice these things because, according to the Catholic Church, the earth was at the center of the universe and everything circled it. And, although the earth was imperfect due to the influence of humans, heavenly bodies were in the domain of God and were supposed to be perfect, not pockmarked and spotted.
So when Galileo started to make his observations public, the powers that be in the church hierarchy promptly called him to task. They demanded that he recant his heresy or be duly punished for it. He did recant, but he was still placed under house arrest for the rest of his life and forbidden to publish any more of this blasphemous claims.
In 1994, the Catholic Church basically said, “Oops, our bad.” I’m paraphrasing of course. But they did offer an official apology to the long-dead scientist.
It wasn’t that the church leaders of his day didn’t believe Galileo’s claims. He could prove it to them. They just had to look through the telescope themselves. They were smart enough to know that he was probably correct. They just didn’t want the word to get out to their flock; else the church would have had to admit being wrong for all those hundreds of years. That is something they could not do.
Today, though, the Catholics hold a much more open-minded view of science. In fact, just recently, the church sponsored a five-day conference on the possible existence of alien life forms in the universe and what the implications of the existence of such life would have for church doctrine. Or, perhaps, they just wanted to confer about how to make any aliens feel guilty.
The Vatican has its own astronomical observatory manned by an actual scientist. The pope has declared that the theory of evolution is a valid scientific principle and that only the soul was created by God.
That view has biblical backing. In John 4:24, Jesus said, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." So if God created us in his image, he is talking about our spirit, our soul, our essence, not our bodies. Human souls, if they exist at all, might not have evolved; it's outside the realm of science to say so. Our bodies, however, did evolve. That fact is as certain as gravity.
Now compare the Catholic open-mindedness with respect to science to the tightly-closed-and-shackled minds of protestant evangelicals regarding the same subject. They believe, as the Catholic Church did prior to Galileo, that the earth is no more than about 7,000 years old and it was created in the span of six 24-hour days by God. No amount of scientific evidence to the contrary can shake their ill-founded belief.
In fact, there are members of the fundamentalist pack who make it their life’s work to dig up so-called competing “evidence,” which they claim supports their young-earth worldview. They, of course, disregard the vast majority of the evidence that goes against their claims, and they tweak the rest of it so that it seems to fit perfectly with their contentions.
But with regard to other matters of daily interest, the conservative churches don’t seem to mind if a couple uses birth control, as long as they are married of course. The pill is fine; condoms are fine. Abortion isn’t, but even some moderately conservative Christians are willing to allow abortion under some circumstances.
Not the Catholics, though. As the cast of Monty Python in The Meaning of Life put it, “Every sperm is sacred,” at least to the Catholic hierarchy. There can be no birth control, not even condoms, and absolutely, positively no abortions for any reason.
It’s funny how both these branches of the same religion, Christianity, can be so far apart in their beliefs on social issues. Why are Catholic leaders so accepting of science, even the science that once seemed to contradict their bible, and yet so backward when it comes to something as simple and harmless as the use of condoms?
On the other hand, why are conservative protestants so uptight about evolution even in the face of overwhelming supporting evidence, yet they have no problem with killing off vast quantities of sperm for the purposes of preventing conception?
Of course, the most reprehensible denomination would be one that combines the reluctance of Catholics to condone birth control with the inane anti-scientific stance of the protestant right. I’m sure such a denomination exists.
On the other hand, there also exist denominations that blend the Catholic’s acceptance of evolution with the typical protestant approval of birth control. In fact, most mainstream protestant denominations fall into this category, including Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Disciples of Christ, to name a few.
My question is this: If all Christian denominations base their doctrines on the bible, which all claim to, and if the bible is supposed to be the infallible word of God, which many claim it is, then how can so many of them hold opposite beliefs on the same social issue?
Is the bible, the word of God, not clear enough? Oh wait, I guess it isn’t. So, a word of advice to the Almighty: If you decide to write another bible, write it yourself and make it lucid and timeless. Otherwise, you know that we humans are just going to screw it up again.
Now why would a perfect, omniscient being need to be told this?