Re: [form-al confession]

Ernest Prabhakar (
Fri, 5 Nov 1999 10:55:48 -0800

</param>> Allows you to go to confession online, and receive absolution. =
It even offers=20

> a multiple choice for your sins, so you needn't think about them =


> If the different aspects of sin are separable, perhaps they could=20

be rebundled, anonymized, etc. I suppose to inquire about futures=20

markets for absolution is to miss the point entirely.

Don't laugh. That was one of the main causes of the reformation (as I =
learned in a This Day in History email for October 31st).

Most of you probably know about the sale of indulgences, how you could =
pay the church (or a bishop) to receive absolution from sins. It was to =
protest this that Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Door.

What I did *not* know was that there was an 'pseudo-economic' basis for =
indulgences. If my source is correct, the Catholic Church had 'rated' =
various holy relics in terms of their 'salvific' power. That is, a =
church with the bone of a saint had 'absolutory credit' for something =
like 70,584,123 venial sins. When the Church sold indulgences, it was =
(in theory anyway) supposed to track this against the value of specific =
relics. When a relic had 'saved all it could', presumably it would lose =
its efficacy. Like Y2K, I'm sure they assume it wouldn't happen in =
their lifetime. Of course, I would assume the supply would be renewed =
by new saints, which I imagine would be based on the good deeds done =
during their life. =20

I have a suspicion that penance was based on a similar sort of =
accounting. If that's true, then arguably the priests role in =
confession was just the information mapping of sins onto appropriate =
penances, which in principle could in fact be disintermediated by the =

The funny thing is that the Christian faith -does- in fact assign some =
sort of tangible value to sin. However, Luther's arguments was that:

a) all sin is essentially infinitely bad,=20

b) no human works (lay, saint, relic or otherwise) could make up for any =
of them. =20

c) it was Christ's work (death) on the Cross which balanced the cosmic =
books for all of sin once and for all. 'Sola Christi' (pardon my =
latin spelling)

d) we receive this only be faith 'Sola Fide'

e) we know this by the authority of scripture 'Sola Scriptura'

To put it in modern terms, human good works have finite positive value, =
human sin has Aleph-null negative value, and Christ's work has Aleph-one =
positive value.

So, to refer back to your original point, Lutheran (aka reformed) =
theology isn't susceptible to market manipulation, since I don't believe =
economic markets work in the presence of singularities (infinite =
values). However, if you accept pre-Reformation Catholic theology =
(I'm not sure if even they do), then good and bad works do in fact have =
a finite value, which in principle could be (and historically have been) =
traded on a market...

In my theology, for the record, the point of confession is to face up to =
what is wrong, and acknowledge the corresponding truth. The present of =
penitential activity or other human beings (or AI) is incidental, since =
it is primarily taking place before God.

-- Ernie P.

"Most people in mental health institutions could go home today if they =
knew they were forgiven."

(M. Scott Peck, I believe)