Will my religious beliefs seem this misguided to future generations? At the Musee de la Place Royale in Quebec City we saw a painting called The Catholic Ladder. It was created by Albert Lacombe in 1895. He used this visual depiction of salvation to convert people who were illiterate to Christianity. Lacombe was a missionary to the Metis, Cree and Blackfoot across North America at the turn of the century. According to Lacombe’s theology there were only two ways to go in life. You walked the Way of Evil and led a life characterized by things like lust and envy or you walked the The Way of Good characterized by things like hope and charity. Lacombe had no problem making judgements about which path people were on. Here a priest leads First Nations people from the dark path to the light one.
And here people like Martin Luther and Mohammed turn off the path of good towards the path of evil. Obviously Lacombe saw no value in any religion other than Catholicism. And at the top of the ladder Jesus sits in judgement sending people either to this hell replete with crowned dragons, fire and snakes orto purgatory which doesn’t look that pleasant either although there are ways to get out or to heaven where people are welcomed by Mary and Jesus and the angels.
I spent a long time looking at this depiction of Christianity. It made me sad. It made me angry. I’d like to think that over the last century Christianity has evolved into a faith that emphasizes forgiveness rather than damnation. I’d like to think we’ve gotten past frightening people into believing in the divine. I’d like to think Christians realize they don’t have a corner on the truth and understand just how much they can learn from other faiths. I’d like to think we realize choosing the way of evil or the way of good isn’t always black and white and determining what is good or evil can be very difficult. Sometimes a choice we were certain was good can end up causing harm to ourselves and others. I’d like to think that we don’t live our entire lives just focused on what happens to us after we die but rather focused on what we can do to bring the good things of the Kingdom of God to the people around us in the here and now. l’d like to think that but…… I know that fundamentalism is growing in all three of the world’s major religions and fundamentalism gives rise to ideas like the ones depicted in Lacombe’s ladder.
Perhaps it is good for me to consider Lacombe’s ladder because it reminds me that our theology needs to continue to change as we learn more about history and science, and as we learn more about ourselves as individuals and as a world community. It also makes me think about the fact that perhaps my religious beliefs will seem just as unpalatable to future generations as the ones in the Catholic Ladder are to me today.