Jesus christ contradicts the pope: “there is no hell”
As in the times of Jesus.
Like the flames of hell.
RACHEL Our mobile unit has moved to the south of the city of Jerusalem, near a ravine that is known as the Valley of Gehenna. We are joined, as in previous days, by Jesus Christ, who walked through these places when they were not as densely populated as they are today. What’s your impression, Jesus? Has much changed?
JESUS A great deal, Rachel. In those days Jerusalem was very small. It was all contained within the walls. And this place was the dump.
RACHEL The dump?
JESUS Yes, it was the city dump. See that gate? In my time it was called the Rubbish Gate. In the evenings the women would go out through there and dump their food scraps, dried branches, dead animals, … Later the man who burned the rubbish sprinkled sulphur on everything and … whoosh! … it was set ablaze … [in exaggerated tone] Fire and brimstone!
RACHEL Listening to you, our audience will remember the descriptions of hell….
JESUS You’re right. That terrible lie came out of this same dump. And now, when I see what’s happening these days, I realize that it was the biggest lie of all, the one that has done most harm to the sons and daughters of God.
RACHEL What lie are you talking about that’s so harmful?
RACHEL But didn’t you preach about hell yourself?
JESUS I preached God’s love.
RACHEL Maybe you’ve forgotten, Jesus, but several times you referred to “the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” that there’ll be in hell.
JESUS I talked like that when I became furious at seeing so many injustices. I used to say “It’s better for you to enter the Kingdom of God lame or blind or crippled, rather than be healthy and whole – and burned with the rubbish of Gehenna.” I was referring to this dump.
RACHEL In any case, why do you say that hell is the greatest lie of all?
JESUS Because it does not exist and never did exist.
RACHEL Do you realize what you’re saying?
JESUS Of course I do.
RACHEL Just one moment, Mr. Jesus Christ. If my information is correct, believing in hell is an obligation of faith. Here it is in this book. In the year 1123 the Lateran Council proclaimed it, and more recently Pope Benedict XVI has also declared that hell exists.
JESUS Well, I say the contrary. You cannot believe in God and also in hell.
RACHEL For what reason?
JESUS Because God is love. How can you believe that God has created a torture dungeon ready to send people to? Would God make use of infinite torments, just to punish his disobedient children? That wouldn’t be God. It might be Herod.
RACHEL So, God doesn’t punish sinners?
JESUS God is like that father who had two sons. One was very good and obedient. The other was a rascal. In the end, the father embraced both of them, the good one and the roguish one.
RACHEL And all the scoundrels there are in this world – the ones who wage wars, who kill innocent people, who torture people cruelly – will they go unpunished?
JESUS Leave that in God’s hands. God will know what to do with that rubbish. But you, when your heart condemns you, don’t think about any hell. Remember that God is bigger than your heart and understands everything.
RACHEL What does our audience say about this does hell exist or doesn’t it? Is there eternal punishment or isn’t there? That topic is a hot one, and it seems to me that Jesus Christ still has more to say on it. Stay with us. Reporting from hell, I mean to say, from the Valley of Gehenna, this Rachel Perez, for Emisoras Latinas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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The Valley of Gehenna
The Valley of Gehenna borders the city of Jerusalem on the west. In was the place where human sacrifices had been offered in ancient times to the pagan God Moloch; they were abominations that caused the prophets to curse the valley (see Jeremiah 7,30-33). About 200 years before the time of Jesus there was a popular belief that the valley would become a fiery hell for those people condemned for their wicked deeds. Since the place was considered disreputable and accursed, it was made into a public dump for the city.
The abyss of “Sheol”
For many centuries there was no belief in hell among the people of Israel. They thought that after life ended in the visible world the dead descended into “Sheol”, a place located in the depths of the earth or beneath the seas, where both good and evil people would be mixed together and languish forever, experiencing neither joy nor pain. “Sheol” is mentioned 65 times in the Old Testament, always as a sad place where there was no hope for any change. The Babylonians also believed in a similar kind of place (Job 10,20-22; Psalm 88,11-13; Ecclesiastes 9,5 and 10). This same idea appears even in the book of the Apocalypse (1,18). The dogma of hell owes more to certain beliefs and philosophies of ancient peoples than to texts of the sacred scriptures.
The fire of hell
In the gospels the expression “fire of Gehenna” is often found in the mouth of Jesus, and it was always translated as “fire of hell”. During the Middle Ages belief in hell as a place with real fire became common among Catholic theologians. In the 13th century Thomas Aquinas disagreed with the first Church Fathers, who understood the fire of hell in a metaphorical sense: he held that it was a theological certainty that the fire was real.
More recently the Vatican spoke about this “fire” and advised people that it should not be understood as a real fire that burns. Is this a case of doctrinal flexibility? Subsequently, in May 1979, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the direction of Cardinal Ratzinger (later to be Pope Benedict XVI), taught that although the word “fire” is only an “image”, it should be treated with all due respect.
What does this “respect” mean? Mostly like it is intended as a synonym of “fear”. It would not be rash to think this is the case, since in the course of the history of theology the flames of hell, its boiling cauldrons and its crematory ovens have been perpetually present in the church’s preaching and catechesis. Such teaching has caused unspeakable and unnecessary suffering to whole generations of children and adults, creating a horrendous image of God, one that is totally foreign to what Jesus wanted to teach us.
Centuries of psychological terrorism
For centuries preachers, religion professors, priests, brothers, nuns and ministers have persistently taught young students and children about hell in lecture halls and catechism classes, with the aim of warning them away from the “mortal sins” that would send them straight to hell. The traumas caused by such psychological terrorism have been countless. Evidence of this instrument of torture is found in many paintings, illustrations and works of literature.
One of the most famous reconstructions of these terrorist sermons appears in the novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by the Irish writer James Joyce. The protagonist, Stephen Daedalus, with his conscience “made filthy by sin”, is terrified as he listens to a long sermon by one of his Jesuit professors. The following is a fragment from this sermon, similar to so many others that can still be heard in so many places coming from so many preachers:
Our earthly fire again, no matter how fierce or widespread it may be, is always of a limited extent: but the lake of fire in hell is boundless, shoreless and bottomless. It is on record that the devil himself, when asked the question by a certain soldier, was obliged to confess that if a whole mountain were thrown into the burning ocean of hell it would be burned up in an instant like a piece of wax. And this terrible fire will not afflict the bodies of the damned only from without but each lost soul will be a hell unto itself, the boundless fire raging in its very vitals. O, how terrible is the lot of those wretched beings! The blood seethes and boils in the veins, the brains are boiling in the skull, the heart in the breast glowing and bursting, the bowels a redhot mass of burning pulp, the tender eyes flaming like molten balls.
Among the innumerable works of art that depict this infernal torment there is one called simply “Hell”, painted by the Jesuit priest Hernando de la Cruz (1592-1646), which is preserved in the church of the Society of Jesus in Quito, Ecuador. Thousands of children have paraded in front of the painting, brought there by their religion teachers, who thus inculcate in them the terror of imagining themselves condemned to such a frightful place.
The dogma of hell
Belief in hell, defined as a place of eternal punishment by means of fire, was declared a dogma of faith by the Lateran Council in 1123. The Council warned that anyone denying the doctrine would be subject to prison, torture and even death. Before the dogma was proclaimed there had been longstanding theological discussions about the existence of hell: some Church Fathers, like Gregory of Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa, were of the so-called “mercy” school: they held that the fire of hell was only symbolic and the duration of the punishment would not be eternal. Opposed to them were the “rigorists”, led by Augustine of Hippo, who held that the fire was real and the punishment was eternal. After Paul of Tarsus, Augustine was the most influential Catholic theologian, and his influence has lasted to our own days.
The Lateran Council finally proclaimed belief in hell to be an obligatory dogma of faith. Two centuries later Pope Benedict XII (1334-1342) elaborated this dogma further in his Constitution “Benedictus Deus” (1336): By the common ordinance of God, the souls of those who die in mortal sin descend to hell immediately after death; there they are tormented with infernal tortures. In 1442 the Council of Florence declared that whoever voluntarily remained outside the Church would be condemned to that fearful, eternal fire. The present-day teaching about hell appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (numbers 1033-1037).
“He descended into hell”
The idea that a heaven or a hell – or even of a purgatory and a limbo – are concrete “places” is a tradition deeply rooted in the more traditional Christian theology. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) defined another of these “places” as a doctrine of faith when it declared that after dying Jesus “descended into hell”, a phrase that has become an integral part of the creed recited by Christians. The narrative of this descent into “hell” appears in one of the many apocryphal gospels, the “Gospel of Nicodemus”, which was considered heretical during the first centuries of Christianity.
The “hell” to which Jesus might have descended was different from what most people think of as “hell”. Rather, it was the place where the good people – those who had not died in a state of mortal sin – piled up, waiting for a “redeemer” to get them out of there, to “save” them. After dying, Jesus descended to that “hell” to rescue the “souls” of those who had died before him and were awaiting redemption – and to “take them up” to heaven with him three days later. That is the way it is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (numbers 633-637), where we find the following text, taken from an old Holy Saturday homily: The earth has shuddered and become calm because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and has gone to awaken those who had fallen asleep over centuries. … He goes to look for Adam, our first Father, the lost sheep. He wants to go to visit all those who dwell in the shadows and the darkness of death. He goes to free from their pains an enchained Adam and an Eve held captive with him.
The real “hell” to which Jesus descended was the dungeon in the Antonia Tower, where he was taken to be cruelly tortured by the Roman soldiers before being condemned to death. That “hell” existed in his time, and it continues to exist even today in the form of concentration camps, gas chambers, clandestine prisons, and secret cells where some human beings torture, kill and “disappear” other human beings.
Limbo is closed and hell is reaffirmed
In October 2004 Pope John Paul II instructed Cardinal Ratzinger to create a commission of theologians to research the question of limbo to determine whether it exists. The group worked for three years, discussing and speculating on that absurd topic. Finally, in 2007 they announced the definitive shuttering of the gates of that other “place” in the great beyond.
Limbo was a place designed in medieval times to satisfy the “logic” of the doctrine of original sin: it was the place to which unbaptized children were consigned, since they were stained with original sin and so could not enter heaven, but neither were they to go to hell since they did not have the use of reason and so could not sin deliberately. The Catechism of Pius X (published in 1905 and used during almost all of the 20th century) declares that in limbo the children “do not enjoy the vision of God, but neither do they suffer”. There is no mention of limbo in the new Catholic Catechism of 1992.
This theological invention for centuries caused enormous pain to mothers and fathers who saw their little children die, whether from hunger, curable illnesses, or any other cause, before they had a chance to give them the rite of baptism. Of course, the fear that their babies would end up in limbo and they would never ever see them again was a means for forcing families to get their children baptized quickly.
Demonstrated: hell exists, and it’s eternal
The idea that there were several “places in the great beyond” was so absurd that in his desire to “modernize” these doctrines Pope John Paul II, on July 28th, 1999, declared that hell was a “state” or “situation” more than a place: The images of the Bible should be correctly interpreted. Rather than a place, hell is the situation of one who freely and definitively separates himself from God. … Damnation continues to be a real possibility, but without special divine revelation we can never know which human beings, if any, have really been consigned there.
Years later, however, in March 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, concerned about the relativism that might result from such doctrinal “modernization”, sought to reaffirm again the importance of believing in hell: Jesus came to tell us that he wants us all to be in Paradise and that hell, of which little mention is made in our times, exists and is eternal for those who close their hearts to his love.
Gospel: good news
In his book Credo Hans Kung, one of the most solid contemporary Catholic theologians, writes as follows: Jesus of Nazareth did not preach on hell, even though he spoke of hell and shared the apocalyptic ideas of his contemporaries. At no time did Jesus show any special interest in hell. He spoke of it only indirectly and with fixed traditional expressions. In fact, some of the statements attributed to him might have been added to the gospels later. Jesus’ basic message was quite different. Without any doubt, it was a “gospel”, that is, “good news”, a joyful message, not a threatening one.
In another of his books, Eternal Life?, Kung writes: Unlimited psychophysical torture of his creatures, something so pitiless and depressing, so insensitive and cruel – would a God of love be able to contemplate that for all eternity, along with all the blessed in heaven? Does the infinite God really need such a thing to pay for a finite offense (sin, as an act of man, is a finite act!) or to reestablish his “honor”, as the defenders of the doctrine maintain? Is God such a merciless creditor? Is he not a God of mercy? How then can the dead be excluded from that mercy? Is he not a God of peace? How can he make discord and intransigence eternal? Is he not the God of grace and of love of one’s enemies? How then can he heartlessly wreak vengeance on his own enemies for all eternity? What would we think of a human being who satisfied his desire for vengeance with such hardheartedness and determination?
What God is really like
With his words and his attitudes Jesus gave humanity the essential images needed to form an alternative idea of God, one opposed to the punishing, vindictive, intransigent God who dwells in the minds of so many of his official representatives when they preach on hell. He also used parables to help us understand what God is really like. The well-known story of the “prodigal son”, which might better be called the parable of “the good father” (Luke 15,11-31), is one of the most important in this regard. The father’s heartfelt affection for the son who abandoned him is the best image of the affection that God feels for all of us.
In the 17th century the Dutch artist Rembrandt painted “The return of the prodigal son” in an attempt to give visible form to those paternal feelings of affection. With surprising theological boldness the artist painted the father’s two hands as they embrace the son in a way that reflects both the masculine and the feminine dimensions of the heart of God, for one hand is large and rough, like a man’s, while the other one is soft and delicate, like a woman’s. How would it be possible for such a God to organize a torture chamber for so many of his prodigal sons and daughters?