In December 2013, a hoax began circulating on the internet claiming that Pope Francis had called a Third Vatican Council that, among other things, purged a literal hell from Catholic doctrine. ‘This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God,’ Francis purportedly said. ‘God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace… Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.’ The piece quickly went viral on Facebook and other social media platforms – minus the element of parody. The remarks did not seem too out of line with the new Pope’s own attitude of embrace over condemnation.
This January, an article in the US online magazine Religion Dispatches offered some clues as to why the story took off so dramatically. ‘Millennials Invent New Religion: No Hell, No Priests, No Punishment’ went the title. The author, the Rev Candace Chellew-Hodge, described how her students at a community college in Columbia, South Carolina, when tasked with inventing a new religion, uniformly avoided ‘a concept of hell, or any form of punishment for not following the prescriptions of the religion’. When asked why they had avoided hell, one student replied that ‘Religion today is so … judgmental.’ Chellew-Hodge took this to mean that her students lacked a ‘full-featured understanding of religion’, and so overlooked ‘the core ideas of human suffering, the concept of discipline, and the very real threat of punishment’.
Chellew-Hodge’s understanding that punishment is an essential feature of religion, and her students’ confidence that it need not be, might seem to represent a simple generational divide. That so many young people in the US identify as ‘spiritual but not religious’ at least partly results from their impression of organised religion – particularly the Protestantism that has long dominated the US religious landscape – as judgmental, exclusive, and punishing. This longing for a feel-good faith with a friendly deity might help to explain why so many fell for the Pope Francis parody and why they were so disappointed that it was untrue. But the longing for a hell-less faith cannot be attributed to a contemporary generational shift alone. Time and again in the history of western Christianity, this longing has surfaced, only to be subdued and hell reaffirmed as not just scripturally but also morally necessary.
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Author: Kathryn Gin Lum
Keywords: Gehinnom, Valley of the Son of Hinnom, Moloch, Hinnom, valley of Ben-Hinnom, Valley of Hinnom, Ge Hinnom, Sons of Hinnom, Heavenly reward, Reward in heaven, Going home to heaven, Heavenly home, Loved ones in heaven, Die and go to heaven, Heaven, Do we go to heaven when we die, Where do we go when we die, Going to heaven, Heaven bound, Heavenbound, After death, After life, Afterlife, Annihilationism, Annihilation, Cast to hell, Cast down to hell, Chains of darkness, Damned go to hell, Death, Death state, Departing soul, Departing spirit, Destroyed in hell, destructionism, Dieing, Dominion of the grave, Do the wicked go to hell, Eternal fire, Eternal judgment, Eternal judgement, Eternal punishment, Eternal torment, Eternal hell, Eternal pit, Everlasting fire, Everlasting judgment, Everlasting judgement, Everlasting hell, Everlasting hellfire, Everlasting hell fire, Everlasting pit, Everlasting punishment, Everlasting torment, Everlasting torture, Ever lasting fire, Ever lasting judgment, Ever lasting judgement, Ever lasting hell, Ever lasting hellfire, Ever lasting hell fire, Ever lasting pit, Ever lasting punishment, Ever lasting torment, Ever lasting torture, Eternal hellfire, Eternal hell fire, Eternal torture, Eternal soul, extinctionism, Fable hell, Fabled hell, Fiery hell, Fire not quenched, Fire unquenched, Gehenna, Gehena, Gehenna fire, Gehena fire, Go to hell, Grave, Gravedom, Hell, Hele, Hellfire, Hell fire, Hell forever, Hell real, Hades, Immortal spirit, Immortal soul, Immortality of the soul, Immortality of the spirit, Kill the soul, Lake of fire, Life in hell, Lost souls in hell, Never ending fire, Never ending hell, Placed in hell, Punished in hell, Punished for eternity, Punished in hell for eternity, Reserved in hell, Rich man Lazarus, Rich man Lazaras, Roasting in hell, Send to hell, Sent to hell, Sheol, Sleeping in hell, Soul's immortality, Soul in hell, Soul punished in hell, Soul sleep, Soulsleep, Spirit in hell, Tartarus, There is no hell, Torment in hell, Tormented in hell, Underworld, Under world, Undieing worm, Undying worm, Unquenchable, Unquenchable fire, Waiting in hell, Wicked punished in hell, What happens when I die, What happens when we die, When the roll is called up yonder, Where do the lost go when they die, Where do the wicked go when they die, Wicked hell, Worm does not die, Worm won't die, Worm will not die, Worm dieth not, Worm do not die, eternal reward, in the hands of an angry God, purgatory, limbo, Origen, Rob Bell
Bible reference(s): Deuteronomy 32:22, 2 Samuel 22:6, Job 7:9, Job 11:8, Job 14:13, Job 17:13, Job 21:13, Job 24:19, Job 26:6, Psalms 9:17, Psalms 16:10, Psalms 18:5, Psalms 30:3, Psa 31:17, Psa 49:14-15, Psalms 55:15, Psalms 86:13, Psa 88:3, Psalms 116:3, Psalms 139:8, Pro 1:12, Proverbs 5:5, Proverbs 7:27, Proverbs 9:18, Proverbs 15:11, Proverbs 15:24, Proverbs 23:14, Proverbs 27:20, Isaiah 5:14, Isaiah 14:9, Isaiah 14:15, Isaiah 28:15, Isaiah 28:18, Isaiah 57:9, Ezekiel 31:16, Ezekiel 31:17, Ezekiel 32:21, Ezekiel 32:27, Amos 9:2, Jonah 2:2, Habakkuk 2:5, Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:29, Matthew 5:30, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 11:23, Matthew 16:18, Matthew 18:9, Matthew 23:15, Matthew 23:33, Mark 9:43, Mark 9:45, Mark 9:47, Luke 10:15, Luke 12:5, Luke 16:22-23, Acts 2:27, Acts 2:31, James 3:6, 2 Peter 2:4, Revelation 1:18, Revelation 6:8, Revelation 20:13, Revelation 20:14
Source: “Hell-bent,” Aeon.
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