Narratives On Hell
It is perhaps useful to reflect a bit about the different ways Catholics see hell. This will certainly not be new to any reader, but might be of some use for the non-readers of their acquaintance.
Probably a sizeable minority of baptised Catholics do not believe in hell. They are in most cases not aware that this is contradiction with Christian teaching. Hell is simply not on their radar screen, the priests they occasionally talk to accurately avoids the subject (he is so focused on being “nice”, you know) and, on the rare occasions when they darken the doors of a church, for example for a funeral, Father is so full of implicit heavenly promises the thought would never occur to them that hell really is an option. It is noted that some theologians of fame defend this position by making of hell an empty place – which amounts to the same, plus useless work, and also to saying that Jesus has been lying to us these 2000 years -. One of them was slated, if memory serves, to become Cardinal.
Then there is the “Hitler and Stalin” crowd. Yes, hell exists, but not for me or anyone I know. Normal people, nice guys and lads who are so good at telling jokes, can certainly not go to hell. Look, he invited me to a barbecue! Come on, this is a loving heart, how can he go to hell? These group are hardly pressed to say who goes to hell, because their scarce knowledge of history does not allow them to make even many examples of evil people. What is clear is that they must be seriously, seriously evil. Therefore, in their everyday life hell plays no role whatever, and “fear of The Lord” is to them a very abstract concept. One can be a sodomite suddenly died whilst sodomising his “partner” and they will never have the shadow of a doubt; “love” and all that, you know….
Then there are those who have been properly instructed. They know that Jesus’ insistence on hell can only mean hell is a concrete possibility for everyone of us, and why we cannot know the numbers, we do know the rules: if one dies whilst not in a state of grace, he is doomed. This group have a far more realistic expectation about their danger: they know it is real, and no one of the people they know is exempt from some degree of danger. These people have fear of the Lord, know what it means and teach their children to have the same attitude.
Now we can make a simple game, and try to estimate how many out of 100 baptised Catholics, say, in our country, belong in each group. Then we can go on theorising an abstract level of risk among the categories, obviously considering that those who do not fear hell will have very little fear of the Lord in their daily lives, and those who think hell is a very difficult place to land to will not be much better situated. Lastly, we can think of how the clergy will be situated who have, for an entire lifetime, kept the dangers of hell away from their sheep, or have not believed in hell in the first place.
Suddenly, hell becomes a very concrete possibility.