Hope & Hell: A Comment on Spe SalviPosted by josh
Hope & Hell: A Comment on Spe Salvi
José M. Castillo
MOCEOP- Granada, Spain
The Pope does well to ponder all the positive things that the Christian hope offers to the world. However, with all due respect, I dare to say that a disoriented hope can become a dangerous one. I say this because even the suicide bombers that take the lives of those that they consider to be enemies of the faith, do this because someone has put in their head the idea that death is only an instant, while the pleasures of paradise are eternal and without end.
It is evident that, in these cases, religious hope becomes dangerous and frightening. Naturally, the Pope has not wanted to make any sort of similar insinuation. But it would not have been so bad if, instead of accusing human reason, the Enlightenment, and modernity, Benedict XVI would have warned us about the excesses of hope that de facto have not been anything other than inhumane aggressions against human rights.
An eloquent example would be the fourth Lateran council (1215) which decreed that, if a person fell ill and should refuse to receive the sacraments of the Church, they should not have to receive the care of a doctor. Hope in life eternal was put before the rights of a human life—and Benedict does this without realising it. With the Enlightenment, human and civil rights were born (1789); Rights that were condemned by Pio VI, in 1790. From the time of John XXIII until today, popes praise human rights, but the Vatican has not signed off on them.
The hope of another life could make sense of this, it could help better support those in adversity and suffering. But the motivations that base themselves in the ‘hereafter’ can be dangerous for those of us ‘here’. John Dewey rightly pointed out that ‘Men have never fully used the powers they possess to advance the good in life, because they have waited upon some power external to themselves and to nature to do the work they are responsible for doing’. From here, among other things, springs the anti-clericalism that has done a lot of damage to religion and to the Church.
For, anti-clericalism ‘is the idea that the ecclesiastical institutions, despite all the good that they do, are dangerous to the health of democratic society’ (R. Rorty). It is not good that people think this is the case. There are many believers who, for religious reasons, do a lot of good in this life. For this reason, the stubborn ‘spiritualists’, from the moment in which they pose the centre of their life as not being in ‘this life’ but in ‘another life’, can become useless or even dangerous.
The acceptance, tolerance, and hope in another life may be very helpful for those that suffer without a cure—like a terminally ill person. But when we face problems that we can cure with our own effort and struggle, it is stupid and even cheeky to make a call for religious hope and then turn your back rather than to show your face. For the rest, if someone comes to tell me that they have forgiven me or they love me because God has forgiven or loves them, I will tell them to keep their forgiveness and affection.
I say this because this person doesn’t love me; they only love their self. It is this hypocrisy that so often permeates religion. Hypocrisy from those who say they love others, but in reality, love no one. Forced to hear admonishments that we need to love everyone ‘for God’ or ‘for eternal life’, which end up coming from refined egoists that aren’t even aware of their egoism. They maintain an appearance of humility that stinks of holiness.
One final comment, something on hell. The pope affirms its existence. And the basis for this is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 133-137). However, the existence of hell is not a doctrine of faith. What we know in faith is that ‘those that die in mortal sin are condemned’. But it is not a matter of faith that someone might die in mortal sin, not even Judas. Moreover, during the second Vatican council, there was a bishop who requested that the Council affirm that there are persons condemned to hell. But the Council did not accept the request. Because (to use religious language) in this world no one can know that which happens in the other. So, hell, as usual, contains a contradiction. Even the cruelest tyrant has used punishment to achieve some goal. Hell is the only punishment that, being eternal, does not and cannot have another goal other than to cause suffering.
If God is the Father that defines himself as Love, then how can He do a thing like that? Can unlimited Goodness produce and maintain unlimited Cruelty? Naturally, for those of us who believe in the God of Christianity, this God is just. And He must bring about justice. But how? When? Where? I prefer to hold on to these questions instead of making affirmations that, in the end, present God as if He were the cruelest of tyrants.
This article was originally published on December 7, 2007 in MOCEOP, an Andalusian Magazine for alternative religious information.
Castillo has written numerous books on ethics and theology. Most notably, Dios y Nuestra Felicidad (Desclee, 2002), Espiritualidad para Insatisfechos (Trotta, 2007) and La Iglesia y los Derechos Humanes (Desclee, 2007).
Most recently, La Humanizacion de Dios: Ensayo de Cristologia (Trotta, 2009). His forthcoming book is called, Fuori dalle Righe: il comportamento del Cristo (Cittadella, 2010).
Castillo is heralded as ‘one of the most profound and stimulating scholars on the International theological scene’ (Fr. Alberto Maggi).
You can read more on Castillo’s blog, Theology Uncensored.