This story is sometimes told:
During the reign of a particular emperor in China, the role of the historian was becoming more significant. An historian sat in the Emperors throne room and recorded events, as faithfully as possible, and the Emperor paid close attention to this process.
One day, the Emperor sentenced a man to be beheaded, and the man was executed immediately. However, it was not entirely clear that this was an act of justice or an act of anger. The historian recorded the event:
“The Emperor, on becoming angry at so and so, had his head cut off, seemingly unjustly.”
The Emperor, on reviewing the writings of the historian that day, became angry and insisted the historian change the record to reflect the emperor’s belief that the act was just. The historian duly noted in that day’s journal that the Emperor insisted that the record of that day’s execution be altered, and that the historian refused.
The next entry in this historical record read something like this:
“Former historian so and so was executed under the orders of the emperor, who was angered by the historian’s refusal to alter the record of the emperor’s previous unjust order of execution.”
…. And the next recorded event:
“Yet another historian was executed by order of the emperor for refusing to change the record of the emperor’s increasingly unjust behavior towards historians….”
And so on for a few more iterations, until finally this:
“Emperor has finally acquiesced to the power and privilege of the historian and regrets the execution of so many scribes. The record of the Emperor’s injustice will stand.”
Did this really happen? I don’t know. It was told to me in all apparent earnest by a learned Chinese scholar (a Chinese scholar of Chinese historiography) and my impression is that it is a story that has been told among Chinese historians and historiographers over the last few millennia. Kind of like an early version of those funny xerox pages that got passed around among the office cubicles in the days before email. Only if the boss finds it, you may get your head cut off. (Which is, I suppose, what makes it such a great story.)
In a more recently developed and less interesting culture, the Western Catholic Church, we may have a similar situation developing. It is a little different because it is slower moving (in time) and the “Emperor” — the pope — is not as wise.
The story probably begins before this, but one of the early rounds of denial came when Galileo Galilei was threatened with imprisonment or execution, forcing him to recant his assertion that the Earth is not at the center of the universe.
In 2006, the Pope fired the Vatican astronomer because this astronomer failed to accept the Pope’s particular creationist view. That astronomer, Father Coyne, was the director of the Vatican Observatory for 28 years and an outspoken supporter of a theistic version of Darwinism.
Coyne was replaced with a Jesuit Father named Funes, who’s expertise lie in the area of disk-shaped galaxies.
Now, Funes is spouting true heresy. He claims that there could be life on other planets, including intelligent life. Moreover, he claims that life elsewhere in the universe, even if it is human like, may exist without original sin.
This is, of course, a technicality, but an important technicality. Original sin was bestowed on all of the “children of Adam” … who were really the children of Eve, because you can never be absolutely certain about paternity in internally fertilizing mammals … in the Garden of Eden for mom and dad having eaten of the forbidden fruit. Until certain tenets of String Theory are confirmed, it would be difficult to assert that The Garden of Eden is or was a hyper dimensional complex space existing in several different planetary systems. No, a Pope would have to figure that the Garden was on earth.
In other words, Funes’ view is OK if we believe in a single Eden and see humans as descendant of the denizens of that place. But it is not OK, don’t you think, if we consider humans to be a) one of many similar beings; and b) the only ones to be saddled with original sin?
The worst thing you can do as a Catholic is to die without Baptism. This is why, if you are not a Catholic and don’t want your child baptized, don’t leave the child in the care off any Catholics, even for a few minutes, alone. Your baby will be baptized. (I am not making this up. I’ve seen it happen.)
Not that Catholic baptism is so bad … it’s not like Protestant baptism, where there is a real risk of drowning. With Catholics it is just a little sprinkle on the face, like someone gleeked on you. Nobody’s pushing your head under water. But I digress….
My point is that this looks like an example of the academic-types up to their old tricks again. This astronomer, Funes, gets himself “in” at the Vatican, presumably by assuaging the concerns of a science-weary pope. Then he comes up with this crazy idea that humanoids exist elsewhere in the universe that are just like us but without Original Sin. That means they go to heaven, possibly with a brief stop in Purgatory if they were a little bad in life. But this is a different deal than the earthlings get!
You see, all humans who are not baptized … well, the best they can hope for is purgatory for eternity. Hell, if they were really bad. But Heaven is simply not an option. Once the word gets out that the Vatican thinks there is a group of humanoids who are in a sense, more ‘chosen’ than any earthling, all hell will break loose. If I can say that. (I think I can say that.)
His ass, in my opinion, is totally grass.
Is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?
Pope Evicts Astronomers
Pope: Science Ruins It
Abducted by Aliens … and dropped off at the Grand Canyon
The Night I Was Almost Abducted by Aliens in Boston