Much to Confess

Abby Zimet

A Shameful Thought for the Day

by Richard Dawkins

    Pope Benedict XVI BBC
    Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican spokeman Federico
    Lombardi meet BBC journalists before recording the pontiff's Thought for
    the Day.
    AFP/Getty Images

    Was it for this that I broke the habit of years and accepted the Guardian's invitation to listen to Thought for the Day?
    Was it for this that the BBC, including the director general himself,
    no less, spent months negotiating with the Vatican? What on earth were
    they negotiating about, if all that emerged was the damp, faltering squib we have just strained our ears to hear?

    We've already had what little apology we are going to get (none
    in most cases) for the raped children, the Aids-sufferers in Africa,
    the centuries spent attacking Jews, science, women and "heretics", the
    indulgences and more modern (and tax-deductible) methods of fleecing the
    gullible to build the Vatican's vast fortune. So, no surprise that
    these weren't mentioned. But there's something else for which the pope
    should go to confession, and it's arguably the nastiest of all. I refer
    to the main doctrine of Christian theology itself, which was the
    centrepiece of what Ratzinger actually did say in his Thought for the

    "Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross."

    shameful than the death itself is the Christian theory that it was
    necessary. It was necessary because all humans are born in sin. Every
    tiny baby, too young to have a deed or a thought, is riddled with sin:
    original sin. Here's Thomas Aquinas:


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    ". . . the original sin of all men was in Adam indeed, as in its principal cause, according to the words of the Apostle (Romans 5:12): "In whom all have sinned":
    whereas it is in the bodily semen, as in its instrumental cause,
    since it is by the active power of the semen that original sin together
    with human nature is transmitted to the child."

    (who never existed) bequeathed his "sin" in his bodily semen (charming
    notion) to all of humanity. That sin, with which every newborn baby is
    hideously stained (another charming notion), was so terrible that it
    could be forgiven only through the blood sacrifice of a scapegoat. But
    no ordinary scapegoat would do. The sin of humanity was so great that
    the only adequate sacrificial victim was God himself.

    right. The creator of the universe, sublime inventor of mathematics, of
    relativistic space-time, of quarks and quanta, of life itself, Almighty
    God, who reads our every thought and hears our every prayer, omniscient,
    omnipotent, omnipresent God couldn't think of a better way to forgive
    us than to have himself tortured and executed. For heaven's sake, if he
    wanted to forgive us, why didn't he just forgive us? Who, after all,
    needed to be impressed by the blood and the agony? Nobody but himself.

    has much to confess in his own conduct, as cardinal and pope. But he is
    also guilty of promoting one of the most repugnant ideas ever to occur
    to a human mind: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness"
    (Hebrews 9:22).

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