A Reader Has Questions about Hell and Dissent
First of all, thank you for all your work. While I have learned a lot from you, I must say the best thing I ever got from reading your work has been the discovery of the Where Peter Is blog. For that, I owe you much.
Thank you so much for your kind words!
There are a couple things I would like your thoughts on. If you could point me to your previous writings, if any, on the topics below, I would love to read them. If you haven’t and address any of these topics as an “A reader writes…” blog entry then… that would be neat!
One of the things you’ve written is that hell is filled only with the souls of people who actually want to be there. I’ve always had a hard time agreeing with that. It seems to me that all the anti-Francis groups genuinely believe they are defending the church. If their dissent were to actually lead them to hell, my thought is that they’d say, “Oh no! I thought I was serving Jesus! I didn’t want to be here!” Satan can after all deceive people into thinking they are doing good. And this is one of the hard things I have with the concept of hell and an all loving God: that people get there “accidentally” or because they were deceived. I would like to know how this meshes with your thought that only people who want to be in hell are there (which I may not be understanding fully). It seems hell could be filled with a lot of surprised souls who were genuinely seeking Christ. Your “view” (for lack of a better word) almost seems to lead to the argument used by once saved Christians that once saved Christians who convert to Catholicism were never actually saved (the sinners prayer “didn’t take”) i.e. that Christians who end up in hell even though they thought they were defending Christ and his church never actually wanted to serve Christ and defend his church.
I think we are on different pages when I speak about the damned “wanting” to be in Hell. I think that, by definition, it is not possible for those who are filled with repentance for their sins to be in hell. Somebody who genuinely despises sins to which he was hitherto blind and seeks mercy will certainly find it. God is not hoping for us to screw up so he can damn us, grinning cruelly as we beg for pity while he cites some bureaucratic regulation stating that we passed the expiration date and so are damned whether we desire him or not. Hell is “the definitive self-exclusion” of a soul from the society of God and the communion of saint. The gates of hell are barred from the inside. It is not something God does *to* us but something we do to ourselves. We are punished by, not for, our sins. So if somebody *genuinely* believes that an objectively evil act is the right thing to do, they have not killed the life of grace in their souls and are still seeking God, albeit wrongly. Think of Huck Finn. His whole world has taught him that the worst thing he could possibly do is help a slave escape. Man and God are both (as far as he can tell) urging him to do the “right thing” and turn Jim in. It’s a passage that still make me cry and my cheeks burn with shame as an American. (Trigger warning: Twain, as passionate an enemy of slavery and Jim Crow as ever lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, deliberately wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to capture as closely as he could the regional dialects of his youth. He wrote this scene to deliver perhaps the most savage indictment of the warping and twisting effect slavery had on “Christians conscience” that has ever been set in print. That means extensive use of the N word here.):
I went to the raft, and set down in the wigwam to think. But I couldn’t come to nothing. I thought till I wore my head sore, but I couldn’t see no way out of the trouble. After all this long journey, and after all we’d done for them scoundrels, here was it all come to nothing, everything all busted up and ruined, because they could have the heart to serve Jim such a trick as that, and make him a slave again all his life, and amongst strangers, too, for forty dirty dollars.
Once I said to myself it would be a thousand times better for Jim to be a slave at home where his family was, as long as he’s got to be a slave, and so I’d better write a letter to Tom Sawyer and tell him to tell Miss Watson where he was. But I soon give up that notion, for two things: she’d be mad and disgusted at his rascality and ungratefulness for leaving her, and so she’d sell him straight down the river again; and if she didn’t, everybody naturally despises an ungrateful nigger, and they’d make Jim feel it all the time, and so he’d feel ornery and disgraced. And then think of me! It would get all around, that Huck Finn helped a nigger to get his freedom; and if I was to ever see anybody from that town again, I’d be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame. That’s just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide it, it ain’t no disgrace. That was my fix exactly. The more I studied about this, the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman’s nigger that hadn’t ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there’s One that’s always on the lookout, and ain’t agoing to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared. Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself, by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was the Sunday school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you, there, that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.”
It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray; and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was, and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie-and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie- I found that out.
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter- and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather, right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking- thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time; in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him agin in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”- and tore it up.
Huck thinks he is going to hell. But in fact he is choosing to “join Jesus outside the camp” and endure suffering for doing his will. He is, in a word, obeying his conscience, which is always pleasing to God.
Grave Sin involves three things: grave matter, sufficient knowledge, and freedom. Without all three, you don’t have a grave sin and you may not have sin at all. Many of the people who are at war with Francis have highly questionable knowledge of what they are talking about. Others may have little freedom for all sorts of reasons known only to God. Most argument on the internet involve only the question of grave matter. Is this or that attack on Francis right about the facts? Does it state a just case? I think virtually none of the stuff spoken against Francis is objectively sound. But I don’t for a minute suppose that makes me capable of knowing the interior dispositions of the people making such arguments, much less their eternal destinies. Many of them seem to me to be deranged. Some of them seem to me to be liars. But even then, I don’t know why they are crazy or why they may feel it necessary to lie. The heart is a puzzle box beyond my reckoning. So I leave it to God. Having myself experience many times the shock of realizing, “Dear God! How could I have been so blind?” I trust that God in his own time will give revelation to all who really want it. Or at least, that he will try. What I can’t know is that all will accept it. The warnings about Hell are warnings that it remains possible for a heart to say, and really say and mean, “NO! I WILL NOT LISTEN. LEAVE ME ALONE!” The hope is that some who think they are saying that will discover, as Huck Finn will be shocked to discover, that they were saying “Yes” to God with all their heart in defiance of a false and evil gospel.
You and those at Where Peter Is (I’ve asked them too about this topic) have written much about how the “traditionalists” who attack Pope Francis use the same arguments that protestants use against Catholics, especially in how they use the “fall of Pope Vigilius/Liberious” to justify why they don’t need this / a pope. What I have not heard addressed is the specific issue that this behavior undermines the traditionalists’ ability to counter protestant arguments (since they’re using the same ones!). Are they so focused on attacking the Pope that they’ve intentionally “left that part of the battlefield” unguarded? Or has that never been a part of their battlefield to begin with? This absolutely boggles my mind i.e. that it never hits them such that they say,”Wait a minute… weren’t protestants using these same arguments again US? Maybe we should rethink our position.”
You’d think that would occur to them. But then, one of the things that frequently strikes me about Traditionalists is how little they actually know of the Tradition. I once wrote a series on Catholic Social Teaching for the National Catholic Register. When I covered the Church’s teaching on the Common Good, virtually the whole article was just biblical, patristic, conciliar, and papal quote after another. Didn’t matter. I was informed in the comboxes that I was a Marxist and a socialist. Much of Traditionalism seems to me to hark back ton 1956 Cleveland as the glory days of the Church. It is, ironically, a thing younger than the Beatles and almost entirely a creature of the internet and right wing media from the past 20 years or so. It evaluates the Holy Father’s teaching not in light of the Tradition, but through a lens of American culture war shibboleths and a few selected passages from Catholic right wing folk heroes. It is shockingly ignorant.
All these attacks on the Pope, the inability to see that they are using the same arguments they used to defend against, and the seemingly obstinate refusal by commenters on the Where Peter Is blog to consider any possible orthodox explanations of Francis’ actions has enlightened me to something. I used to think (because I’m no scripture scholar) that the “666” or the mark of the Antichrist that is to be stamped on the hands and foreheads of everyone during the reign of the Antichrist must be metaphorical, surely. Because if someone proposed to start stamping foreheads with 666… I think Christians would know who that person really was and the charade would be exposed. It would be too obvious. So it had to be metaphorical. Now, after seeing what is going on, I’m not so sure. I can see that it might be entirely possible for some Christians to find a way to justify putting that mark on their forehead. I don’t know what that justification could possibly be but I now don’t doubt that they’d come up with a few. I can now actually envision a path to that happening. I don’t think Trump is the antichrist by any means but given how, as you have written, many Christians seem to have sold their souls for him, I think he can provide a small glimpse into how it could come about ie that the Antichrist could force people to put the mark on their foreheads and for those people to not to see the antichrist for who he truly is.
I don’t’ have any particular views on 666. I gather it is symbolic of giving one’s mind and labor to the glorification of a false messiah (the letters in “Nero Caesar” add up to 666, If memory serves). I don’t read Revelation as “future history”. But I do think that Revelation is presenting us with a liturgy-based reading of the struggle of the Church against the world system which seeks not only to oppress but, especially, to seduce the Church. And I do, in fact, regard Trump not as *The* Antichrist but as very obviously *an* antichrist (! John says they are a dime a dozen). And given the stupid, mindless spite of his Cult, which is willing to offer itself as human sacrifices over things as idiotic as wearing a mask to get a loaf of bread, I could certainly imagine them wearing a literal mark if he commanded it. But I doubt that will happen. I think End Times speculation is pernicious and a waste of time. Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Thank you for your time and for all the work you do.
God bless you for your kind words! May God bless you and yours through Christ our Lord!