Pope Benedict XVI presides over a church that continues to promote the repugnant idea of original sin, writes Richard Dawkins in the Observer
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 Day.
"Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross."
More 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:
". . . 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."
Adam (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.
That's 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.
Ratzinger 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).