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Going to Hell

All this recent talk about who's in hell should turn our thoughts to some serious theology.  One leading authority, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI), wrote in an early book of his:

The depths we call hell man can only give to himself. Indeed, we must put it more pointedly: hell consists in man's being unwilling to receive anything, in his desire to be self-sufficient. It is the expression of enclosure in ones's being alone. These depths accordingly consist by nature of just this: that man will not accept, will not take anything, but wants to stand entirely on his own feet, to be sufficient unto himself. If this becomes utterly radical, then man has become the untouchable, the solitary, the rejector. Hell is wanting-only-to-be-oneself.... Conversely, it is the nature of that upper end of the scale which we have called heaven that it can only be received, just as one can only give hell to oneself. (239).

Such an account would seem to place many a liberal (in the broad sense of one who believes in his moral and political autonomy) in hell.  For more on hell see Fr. James V. Schall's conversation (about 3/5 of the way down).  He has another, brighter take on hell here

Thorough investigation of politics demands serious understanding of theology, including this most unpopular (and most unpleasant) notion of hell.  Instead of the Five People You Meet in Heaven, we should consider issues such as whether one of the pleasures of those in heaven is contemplating the sufferings of the wicked in hell.

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Discussions - 16 Comments

Two points --

(1) Have you read C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce?. It's in keeping with Cardinal Ratzinger's thesis.

(2) ... we should consider issues such as whether one of the pleasures of those in heaven is contemplating the sufferings of the wicked in hell. -- would you elaborate on that? On first blush my reaction is, "You can't possibly mean that." But perhaps I misunderstand your meaning.

Don, #2 is actually proposed by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica. I'll leave to your pleasure your own take on the back and forth he initiates.

Thanks for your recommendation of Great Divorce, one of many books on my long list.

Thomas Aquinas? Pffft. What might he know about anything theological? :-)

I shall attempt to wade into Summa Theologica. I can't promise full immersion. But I shall wade.

Interesting perspective on hell.

Hell is God's mercy.

See 15:48

http://www.realcatholictv.com/free/index.php?vidID=vort-2011-04-21&ssnID=148

"...we should consider issues such as whether one of the pleasures of those in heaven is contemplating the sufferings of the wicked in hell."

So, if that's true, one is allowed to indulge in the most sadistic sort of schadenfreude - in Heaven? Heaven is like a license to think and feel like the wicked did on Earth. Oh yes, what a pleasure, to imagine the endless sufferings and punitive misery of those in Hell.

If Karl Rove were God, all of that would likely be so.

That sounds like a right-wing tea-party notion of heaven, for sure. Self-serving, self-exonerating, uber-convenient - replete with delusions of grandeur.

no, t Schadenfreude would reflect anyone's pride, not just right-wing or left-wing. Understood thus, it would truly be sinful--but that is not the principal pleasure or purpose of heaven or of hell either.

So, if that's true, one is allowed to indulge in the most sadistic sort of schadenfreude - in Heaven?

That was my first reaction to Ken's post as well. It seemed oddly dissonant. He pointed me to Aquinas's Summa Theologica, which is available online in PDF format. But I have not yet the energy or courage to wade into it.

The high-level basis of The Great Divorce is that hell is where the trajectory of people's desire to shun others and be separate from them takes its final form. He uses the analogy of a city, but in this city everyone is miles from everyone else. And the spirit and mood of those in this hell is dark, bitter and lonely.

It's been a couple of years since I've read it so I do not recall if Lewis touched on how those in Heaven would view those in this Hell. Lewis was anything but dogmatic in his view of such things ... so my guess is he would not have endorsed a view of the Heaven-bound celebrating the misfortunes of the Hell-bound.

“The Great Divorce” is a favorite book of mine. A part that best illustrates what we are talking about is the section where a woman tries desperately to convince her husband to abandon his self-centered spirit and choose the life and love of Heaven. After a long debate, the man refuses to accept God’s grace and mercy, and is swallowed up by selfishness. At one point in the debate she says, “…Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenseless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed?”

After she can no longer do anything for her husband, the woman goes on her way, seeming to forget all about him. When this is questioned by the “observer” as being unloving, we are told, “It must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves.”

You see, those in heaven will neither rejoice over those in hell, or mourn them. They will no longer even remember their existence. I believe they will have much better things to think about.

You see, those in heaven will neither rejoice over those in hell, or mourn them. They will no longer even remember their existence.

That negates Ken's original query:

... we should consider issues such as whether one of the pleasures of those in heaven is contemplating the sufferings of the wicked in hell.

Of course nobody can be certain. But it's great fun speculating.

Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves.

This is not just a collective concept, but a personal one as well. At some point a person chooses to go one path or the other. And in keeping with the Lewis theme of trajectory taken to its limit ... those who choose the path of misery get it. I have seen many a person of advanced age like that. It is a sad thing to witness.

What is frightening is how easy it is, among the thorns of this existence, to make that choice and stick with it.

In a nutshell -- "Hell is God's mercy because Heaven would be torture for someone not ready for such perfection and beauty."

That's also a theme from The Great Divorce, if memory serves.

It's sometimes hard to tell who is influencing who with these things. Lewis wrote The Great Divorce in 1944. Joseph Ratzinger was born in 1927, putting him at the ripe age of 15 at the time of the publication. Lewis himself would no doubt credit those before him.

It is nice to see an idea resounding through Christianity because it makes it sound like truth. I get more squeamish about anyone's predictions about Heaven because of so many conflicting opinions. Has no one else here been bombarded with the controversy over the ideas in Rob Bell's book, "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived."? I haven't read it, but hear about from people who think he's prophetic and more who think he's a heretic. He doesn't seem to think much of Hell and certainly seems to find not mercy in it.

On the other hand, a Baptist minister told me that if a person were not already filled with joy all the time, he would not get into Heaven, whatever he believed. Here I had always thought that when I left my flesh behind that depression, thwarted desire, all sorts of unpleasant things I cope with in myself would fall away with it. He was delicate enough not to say outright that those things would keep me out of Heaven, keeping the topic general. What he said did not have the effect he was looking for, to make me miraculously joyous, but it did give me an increased sympathy with atheists. (Though why any atheist is ever upset about being told he could be excluded from a Heaven he doesn't believe in has always puzzled me.)

Michelle's answer, that we will not remember those left behind may speak to the "no more sorrow" aspect of Heaven, but deprives us of memory which is part of the soul, isn't it? Must I not remember father and mother and all?

On the other hand, a Baptist minister told me that if a person were not already filled with joy all the time, he would not get into Heaven, whatever he believed.

Wow.

I'm left to wonder if he himself would say he is "filled with joy all the time" and if he really meant it.

The underlying assumption there is that a truly born again person is instaneously transformed in all aspects of life.

I do not subscribe to that concept. I've never, ever seen it ... certainly not in myself, and in no "Christian" of any stripe.

I do subscribe to the reality of transformation over time. That I've seen ... in myself and in others ... who endeavor to take on God's grace to effect the change.

That, by the way, is the basis of Dallas Willard's books, The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ.

If you've not seen or heard Dallas Willard speak, it is a treat. He is a man of great intelligence coupled with an unusual gentleness. It's a compelling mixture.

I'll watch for Willard.

That pastor: the context was in marriage counseling. His contention was that scripture says Christian marriage should be like Heaven on Earth. Therefore, my marriage is actually like Heaven on Earth and if I don't see it that way or am unhappy in my marriage, not apprehending the proper joy in the Lord, then I do not appreciate God's will and will not appreciate Heaven. Remaining married for duty, honor in doing what I said I would do to the death, because it is right thing to do, to do well and set a good example for our children and others, to maintain the proper order of things, even because God ordained it: all wrong, all a bad attitude, because my heart is out of order, lacking the proper joy that would make the marriage like Heaven on Earth. There is logic to it, I suppose.

I can accept that I am simply not a good enough person to succeed in life on Earth, but trust to God's grace for the hereafter.

Wow! I wonder if that minister were married himself, and if his wife thought her marriage was "filled with joy all the time"? I find his philosphy a little self-centered. After all, “real” godly joy and love are not supposed to be focused on ourselves at all, our feelings, needs, desires, etc. (BTW Kate, in light of your discussion of marriage, you might find “The Screwtape Letters” of interest, esp #18)

But then, I may be misinterpreting his definition of “joy.” Does he mean “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires,” (Webster’s) or is he referring to JOY as Lewis describes it in “Surprised by Joy”? (By "joy," Lewis meant not mere pleasure but the sublime experience of the transcendent, the glimpse of the eternal that is only fleetingly available in earthly loves and aesthetics… a joy to be found in the Creator who himself invented both world and word, person and personality. – Dr. Bruce L. Edwards) If the first, no Christian on earth can attain that goal, if the second, then every Christian, who is by definition filled with the Holy Spirit, is "filled with JOY all the time", even when they don’t “feel” it.

And to clarify, Kate, I did not say that you would not remember your departed loved ones. Love will never die, it will only grow richer and more blessed. I said that the memories of those in hell will not forever have the power to torment, either in the sorrow of guilt and regret, or the “pleasure” of malice.

Mechelle -- Your clarification is very good. I agree with it.

I enjoyed Screwtape. My copy is out on loan, (probably permanent loan) but maybe Google e-books has it for cheap and easy perusal. Thank you.

I don't think that nice man (and he is a nice man) has read C.S. Lewis. I declined to be counseled any further and so haven't got a grip on his teleology and connected theology. He may not really have a solid intellectual grip on it, either. My sense was that things like depression and marital discord just do not belong in the Christian life as far as he was concerned. I would prefer they didn't, too. I would also ban mosquito bites, bad manners, wrinkles, chronic pain, and other maladies from colds to cancer, but God didn't ask me about those, either. I seem even more stuck with the mood disorder than with the marriage as I could opt out of the latter more easily. I know from that man's congregation that he would not ban the divorced from Heaven, but apparently he sees a "depressives need not apply" sign on its gates.

I know about the kind of joy you reference in that it always shows up at the bottom of every pit I find myself in. I also note Don's mention of transformation through it, as in, when young, before God demanded my attention, a bout with depression meant whole lost stretches of days lived in internal and external darkness. I haven't been like that since, which is something like 35 years of much better than awful. That's such a good thing, as who has got time for all that? In addition, people do not see it on me, save a couple of sons and a daughter-in-law -- we see it in each other.

But I do hate being bullied about joy, happiness, and what others suppose are God's expectations for me.

Inresponse to your first question, the guy's wife is very chirpy. Although, perhaps she doesn't dare get obviously out of sorts as she would be clobbered with theology.

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