Friday, October 14, 2005

A Question

There are two main kinds of Christian bookstores: Protestant and Catholic. Typical examples include Lifeway Christian Stores (run by the Southern Baptist Convention) for Protestants and Pauline Book & Media Centers (run by the Daughters of St. Paul) for Catholics. Each one mostly sells books, with smaller amounts of things like jewelry, crosses, music, and kitschy knick-knacks. Furthermore, they tend to be very specific about which books they stock. You won't find any Peter Kreeft or G.K. Chesterton at Lifeway (I get the impression they only stock C.S. Lewis reluctantly), and you won't find any Francis Schaeffer or R.C. Sproul at Pauline (don't even think about Rick Warren or Dave Eldridge!).

Among the trinkets, there are typically some things of questionable appropriateness. At Lifeway, for instance, they'll have things about the Prayer of Jabez. I was at Pauline today (I bought me some C.S. Lewis and a JPII encyclical), and they had these little felt scapulars with a sewn-on patch that said something like "whoever wears this will escape the flames of hell." I think it said that it was Carmelite.

Okay, I'm confused. I have defended Roman Catholicism over and over to my Protestant friends and often been accused of being one (Anglo-Catholic, sure, but unless the Roman Catholics get themselves an Anglican Rite, it ain't happenin'), but I have limits. I think there's a difference between, say, a cross which says "in this is salvation" and a piece of cloth that promises the wearer escape from hell. That's a talisman, and it's more evocative of Voodoo and Paganism than Christianity. I understand the Marian doctrines, praying to the saints, apostolic succession, indulgences, sacraments, and papal infallibility (regardless on whether or not I agree with them), though having personal statues and medallions of saints seems very, very, awfully, really close to idolatry. I have enough trouble as it is understanding holy water and how the Pope can bless things like bottle openers, but these scapulars are too much. Could anyone provide me with an explanation of what exactly these pieces of felt are supposed to do? Call me an Anglican skeptic, but how is this not a way of trying to buy your way into heaven? Are these things endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church, or do they pretty much just look the other way?

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