The Hell Kerfuffle and Fussy Perfectionism

Recently, in this space and elsewhere, I defended Fr. Robert Barron from the charge of being “WRONG!” in his speculations about hell.  As I pointed out then, Barron represents a school of speculation, not only permitted by the Magisterium, but actually voiced by Pope Benedict himself in Spe Salvi.  Of course, right on cue, fifty million people showed up in my comboxes to argue urgently that HELL EXISTS (something Barron and Benedict do not deny) and to press ever and ever harder for their curious desire that it be as densely populated as possible.

“That’s not fair!  Nobody wants hell to be densely populated!  They just know it is and are speaking the TRVTH.”

Actually, no.  They don’t know that.  What they know is their favorite proof texts from the Bible, selected according to their pre-ordained conclusions, just as Universalists brandish their favorite proof texts “proving” the opposite.  We don’t *know* anything about the end of the story.  Which is why the Church prays–in hope, not knowledge–that all will be saved.  In the liturgy no less.  All Barron and Benedict say is “It’s better to hope that all men will be saved than to hope that some will be damned.  And since the liturgy encourages us to do exactly that, it’s permissible to hope (though human free will always means that anybody is capable of choosing damnation).  Indeed, it is *commanded* to hope since Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.  It is only forbidden to claim to *know*.

Now, for me, the interesting thing is that the exact same subculture of More Pure than Pure Catholics who are so eager to declare Barron (and, though they won’t admit it, Benedict) Teachers of Error for the crime of hoping, are also the same people who have, for years, complained at me for being a prissy perfectionist because I won’t “get my hands dirty” by endorsing political agendas that involve supporting sins the Church herself says are worthy of the everlasting fires of hell.  From torture, to unjust war, to supporting lying in order to deliberately tempt somebody to help commit murder for the sake of a photo op, to voting for candidates like Mitt Romney who spent years supporting abortion and transparently had not changed his mind one bit, to excuse-making for Ayn Rand’s hellish philosophy of contempt for the poor that makes Dives look like Glinda the Good Witch, the same subculture so *eager* to hope that most will be damned was, just a couple of years ago, telling me that if I didn’t “get my hands dirty” and support torture, or tempting clinic workers into committing gravely immoral acts for the sake of a photo op, or lying for Jesus, or voting for pols who advocated grave intrinsic evil, I was (to quote one egregious and embarrassing attempt to strongarm me into line) “spilling my vote upon the ground” (if you get my meaning and catch my drift).

Here’s reality: I do not and never have denied the possibility of hell for me or anybody else.  Nor, by the way, does Barron or Benedict.  The proof of it in my case is that I think that wanting to attain heaven and avoid hell is elementary Catholic instinct and not fussy perfectionism.  I make absolutely no judgment about how *other* people vote since that’s between them and their conscience. But I’ll be (literally) damned if I’ll let somebody strong arm me into voting for somebody who advocates grave intrinsic evil “for fellowship’s” sake”.  It would be great if the people who are so eager to hope for the damnation of most would consider the disconnect between that hope and their weird desire to portray refusal to support grave intrinsic evil as “perfectionism” and not as what it is: the bare minimum of human decency.

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