Hell: real or fake?

Hell: real or fake? March 31, 2018

Barry has already reported on the recurring story of “the pope says there is no hell … or does he?” but I want to point out some Profound Theological Questions the issue raises.
Let’s start with the Catechism, via the Washington Post:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

Here’s Profound Theological Question One: why are there scare quotes on “eternal fire”? Is the Catholic Church actually expressing sarcasm about the claim that souls suffer eternal fire? Or skepticism, or doubt, or “this is actually just a metaphor”? Related to that, what do they mean by punishments? Punishments plural? What do they mean “the chief punishment”? How many sub-punishments are there and what are they?
If you take it both seriously and literally, those details matter, in case they might apply to you. If you don’t take it seriously or literally they still matter somewhat, because it’s of interest to know what the God Managers feel comfortable threatening people with. It’s depressing to note how many priests and other clerics have been happy to inject chronic terror into the lives of the people who believe what they say.
The Catholic News Service gives us more on the pope’s view of hell in a story on the Scalfari conversation:

The alleged quotes ascribed to Francis directly contradict the many public remarks he has made in homilies and speeches confirming the existence of hell.

Meeting a group of children and teens during a Rome parish visit March 8, 2015, a female Scout asked the pope, “If God forgives everybody, why does hell exist?”

The pope praised the question, saying it was “very important” as well as “a good and difficult question.”

The pope assured the children that God is good but reminded them that there was also a “very proud angel, very proud, very intelligent, and he was envious of God. Do you understand? He was envious of God. He wanted God’s place. And God wanted to forgive him, but he said, ‘I don’t need your forgiveness. I am good enough!'”

“This is hell: It is telling God, ‘You take care of yourself because I’ll take care of myself.’ They don’t send you to hell, you go there because you choose to be there. Hell is wanting to be distant from God because I do not want God’s love. This is hell. Do you understand?”

That’s very interesting, it seems to me. They don’t send you, you go because you want to. Well then it’s not “hell,” is it. It’s not punishment. The fact that the Catholic church thinks it’s terrible is neither here nor there if you’re not the Catholic church yourself.

The church likes what it likes, and the rest of us like what we like. We like to go to the god-free place. That seems hellish to them, but not to us. The pope is saying people get what they want, and if it’s what those in the church think is icky they call it hell, but the fact remains that people get what they want in this version of theodicy.
It’s an oddly liberal view, really. Maybe he put it that way only because he was talking to children, but then again, maybe it’s how he sees it – his version of the Catechism’s “the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God.”
I wonder though if he takes seriously how warmly we embrace our separation from God, and how much we don’t want to spend eternity in God’s company. It’s the old Jean Brodie line, isn’t it – for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like.
There are people who think God is wonderful and amazing, and spend their lives projecting the qualities of goodness and amazingness onto this “God,” but that’s their thing, it’s not everyone’s. Some people like jazz and some don’t; some like climbing mountains and others prefer swimming; some love God and others think God is a shit.
Mind you, the pope himself may suspect that God is a shit. The Catholic News Service gives it away up there when it says “The pope assured the children that God is good but reminded them that there was also a ‘very proud angel’” yadda yadda – in other words yes God does this incredibly shit thing of creating humans and then consigning them to eternal punishment. It’s not much good saying “remember the proud angel” when you’re confronting the reality of that aspect of God, is it.
A God that does that is more evil than any human we’ve ever heard of, because even people who torture their own children to death don’t do it for eternity. Maybe they would if they could but they can’t, so it’s not possible for them to be as evil as that. None of us can be as evil as the God of most religions is.
The pope’s explanation, of course, makes sense only if you buy into the underlying assumption that God is top peak uppermost Good. “The pope assured the children that God is good but reminded them that there was also a “very proud angel, very proud, very intelligent, and he was envious of God. Do you understand? He was envious of God. He wanted God’s place. And God wanted to forgive him, but he said, ‘I don’t need your forgiveness. I am good enough!’”
It sounds terribly naughty if you’re starting from the goddy assumption that this God person is obviously best; then the proud angel just seems like a loser trying to steal some of the limelight. But assuming God is best makes the argument circular. Let’s not assume that, let’s assume God is just another gangster who’s taken over, and the proud angel is a rival. Then the proud angel’s envy just seems normal.
For all we know the proud angel is better than God the gangster, so then what? Well basically God has said let’s go our separate ways, and that’s where the story ends. It doesn’t have quite the drama, does it – but on the other hand it wouldn’t make children lie awake at night in terror.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Brian Jordan

    Hmm. Maybe hell’s just for angels, then?

  • Maybe it’s just where they throw the chicken bones.

  • Daz

    This god seems to be a protection-racketeer. He claims to protect us from Hell if only we agree to pump up his ego* by following the right ritual, believing the right things etc, while all the time it’s he who consigns us to Hell.
    * That’s another question. “What does God get out of being worshipped?” And the only answer seems to be that it stokes his ego in some way, just like any tin-pot human dictator.

  • Peter Cook does a nice job on that in the film “Bedazzled”.

  • Broga

    Daz: A human with such an insatiable need for flattery would be regarded with contempt. I think you have the answer. The invented God is based on a tin pot dictator dreamed up in ancient times. He is a usual means of exploiting the worshippers by priests who for some odd reason have special access to him.

  • Dianne Leonard

    Mr Deity, in a You Tube video, referred to heaven as “Our little celestial North Korea.” I can’t imagine how awful an “eternal life” like that would be, praising an egotistical imaginary being 24/7/365–it would get *real* old, real fast. I think heaven and hell are what we make of our one life, here on earth.As Richard Dawkins says, “We are alive, and that makes us the lucky ones.”

  • Steve Bowen

    It’s interesting that the Pope repeats the “fallen” angel story. There’s no biblical reference for that. It’s not orthodoxy at all.

  • Broga

    Steve Bowen : He invents what he needs to suit his convenience. The faithful swallow it unexamined.

  • L.Long

    Hell is “separation from gawd” and this is hell? How? I’m separated from it now and doing just fine, which really pisses off the xtians!

  • Ah well the Catholic church is much less Biblecentric than those pesky rebels against the Catholic church. That’s part of why the rebels rebelled – all this naughty heretical superstructure of Church Fathers and saints and yadda yadda. The CC has a funny habit of invoking “Church teachings ” as if they were self-evidently inerrant.

  • CoastalMaineBird

    Heard an interesting “proof” the other day.
    If Heaven exists, then Hell cannot.
    Why?
    Heaven is supposed to be a place of peace, love, happiness, understanding, and possibly unicorns.
    Imagine you’re in heaven.
    Imagine your son/daughter/spouse is in hell.
    You know (s)he’s in hell.
    Are you happy with that?

  • Daz

    @CoastalMaineBird
    Or, if you flip it around, it says that only sadists get to heaven.

  • Asif Hameed

    Some cruel gurus of religion have created this horrible idea of punishments in hell after death ,
    in Islamic ideology the Hell fire is worse than any other religion .
    I think nobody should tell a lie if there is no proof of it .

  • sailor1031

    @CMB: then maybe the Baptists really will be the only ones up there!

  • Brian Jordan

    @Ophelia
    The Pope has got his hat on
    Hip hip, hip hip, hooray!
    Now he’s become inerrant
    In all he cares to say.

  • Gaurav Tyagi

    Another very big contradiction in this God/Devil, Heaven/Hell concept is that Devil hates God. The so called sinners are supposedly punished by God through condemning them to an eternity of torture, hell fire etc. Devil is supposed to be the King of Hell. Devil himself hates God so, why would Devil punish the souls condemned to hell on God’s behalf? Devil should welcome and reward the sinners at the ‘Resort Hell’ in the same manner as God rewards his followers in an imaginary heaven.

  • Lady Mondegreen

    That’s another question. “What does God get out of being worshipped?” And the only answer seems to be that it stokes his ego in some way, just like any tin-pot human dictator.

    Peter Cook does a nice job on that in the film “Bedazzled”.

    A more recent example is Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother”.

  • Robster

    The whole question is moot, their hell and heaven threats are at best a stone age fabrication of ancient, ignorant goat herders, doing little more than reflecting the morality and knowledge of the times at which they were made up. Giving the notion serious consideration is giving it more credit than it deserves.

  • Well I’m not sure the consideration we’re giving it here can really be called “serious.”

  • Rob Andrews

    Why not. Purgatory is a creation of the medieval Catholic Church. This belief is not shared by Eastern orthodox or most Protestants.
    @Brian Jordan:
    Awesome poem.

  • David Fleming

    In understanding the concept of the Christian “Hell,” we would do well to first examine the origin of the source of the teaching — the Bible. And that study is akin to watching sausage being made. Not a pretty sight.