“The core Catholic claim”?
In the latest New Yorker, Adam Gopnik has a rather snarky review of a few recent works on Galileo. Towards the end, he offers an explanation of why the Church wouldn’t tolerate his views at least as hypothesis:
Whatever might be said to accord faith and Copernicus, religion depends for its myth on a certain sense of scale…. Man must be at the center of a universe on a stable planet, or else the core Catholic claim that the omnipotent ruler of the cosmos could satisfy his sense of justice only by sending his son here to be tortured to death begins to seem a ittle frayed. Scale matters. If Clark Kent had never left Smallville, then the significance of Superman would be much reduced.
There could be some superficial merit in the argument about scale here: Pascal, for example, said that “the eternal silence” of the universe’s immensities terrified him. But, notice, it was the silence, not the immensities, that frightened him, and difference in scale was not the most important thing:
Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.
All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill.
But what struck me was the ignorance displayed in Gopnik’s throwaway summary of “the core Catholic claim” which seriously misrepresents the core Catholic belief in redemption through the death and resurrection of Christ. Many Christians, including even many Catholics, may hold something like that view of the atonement, which in turn, of course, repels many others. Another reason for profound regret at the low level of knowledge and understanding of the faith.