By now you’ve heard of offsets. In our politically correct world, it’s no longer acceptable to burn coal to produce electricity, because it produces carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and who knows how many other “oxides” that haven’t even been invented yet. It’s no longer acceptable to drive to the grocery store to pick up that loaf of bread, because your car is belching hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. Not to worry though, because they’ve now invented the carbon offset. Pay someone to go plant a tree and you will have atoned for that trip to the grocery store in your gas guzzling SUV. (Never mind that they drove to go plant the tree, plus a separate trip to buy the tree too.) Companies can continue to pollute by buying carbon offsets to atone for their sins. They pay somebody else to do some environmentally friendly thing, such as building a wind or solar-powered generator. It’s a system that makes little sense, having spawned such ideas as the “Carbon Farming Initiative: Management of large feral herbivores,” more commonly known as killing camels.*
My favorite offset though, is the Ignorance Offset, which “allow[s] you to offset your own or someone else's ignorance by supporting the increase of knowledge elsewhere.” Maybe you or someone you know could benefit from one of these. Just kidding about the you part of that – Stand Firm readers are of course some of the smartest readers in blogdom.
Anyway, one of the original offsets was a medieval offset promoted by the Roman Catholic Church. This specific offset was offered to those who “couldn’t” participate in a crusade, but had available cash. Originally, if you participated in a crusade, you received an indulgence which immediately granted you temporal relief from the punishment for sin, as well as relief from purgatory. Since a crusade was viewed as a pilgrimage of sorts, many of the initial participants weren’t soldiers, but rather Joe the serf down the road who wanted to join the cause carrying his pitchfork and obtain the crusade indulgence. Since these hangers-on bogged down the war machine, the Catholic Church came up with a new and improved indulgence. Rather than go on the crusade yourself, you could instead pay the amount of money that was required to support a soldier, and still receive the indulgence. This was a “win/win” situation for everybody:
- It allowed the common folk to receive the coveted indulgence.
- It kept non-soldiers from getting in the way and sapping the resources of the military campaign.
- It kept the Roman Curia’s coffers filled.
- It was an incentive used to attract crusade supporters to offset Islam’s promise to their warriors of an immediate trip to heaven with its attendant feasts and eternal sexual gratification if killed while participating in the jihad.
Needless to say, the promise to the Islamic warrior is false, and so is the indulgence to the Christian. Everyone’s punishment for sin has already been accomplished by Jesus on the cross. There’s no working, or contributing, your way into heaven. Those who put their faith in indulgences are really putting their faith in their own good works, and placing themselves under the curse of the Law.
While the crusade indulgence no longer exists, indulgences in Roman Catholicism still do. Faithful Catholics labor under the fallacy that they must make satisfaction for their sins. If you know someone like this, the most loving thing you can do for them is to gently speak the Gospel to them, and show them how they’ve erred in their doctrine. There are no offsets needed in the heavenly kingdom.
*Thanks to Anthony Watts for pointing this one out.