Tuesday, December 06, 2005


According to news reports, the Roman Catholic Church is about to jettison limbo -- or at the very least, consign limbo to limbo.

Yeah, I know all about limbo. I learned it with my ABCs in parochial school. And, like every other young Catholic of my time, I believed it. Limbo was a medieval solution to a thorny theological problem: If only baptized Christians can go to heaven, what happens to all those little babies who die before baptism? And what about the good folks who lived before Christ? Was Moses burning in hell?

Well, no. There was another place, the limbus inferni -- the edge of hell -- where newborns and Moses frolicked for all eternity, deprived of the Beatific Vision, to be sure, but beyond the lick of flames.

Today, it seems astonishing that we believed such nonsense, 400 years after the Scientific Revolution. Apparently, even the present pope has now decided it's time to tweak the theology. Of course, the theology needs more than a tweak, but that's another matter.

For myself, I am grateful that in high school I was taught by a group of remarkable Dominican nuns who downplayed the sillier aspects of theology and taught me science. Real science. Science with the word "natural" at the heart of the definition. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Well, maybe not eternally, but at least for a lifetime.

It turns out -- as I have discovered to my delight -- that Dominican sisters (and other women religious) are at the very forefront of progressive, truly ecumenical, science-respecting Catholicism today. They are way ahead of the pope on limbo and other archaic remnants of prescientific theology. More power to them.

Meanwhile, evangelical Christians are striving to deprive their children (and ours) of a self-respecting science education. I suppose if you believe there were dinosaurs on the ark that makes a lot of sense. But heaven help the children -- and limbo help the rest of us.