May 28, 2013: Who is Going to Hell?

Posted on : May 31st, 2013 | By | Category: Still Speaking

Luke 18: 18-26

A certain ruler asked Jesus, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.” ‘ He replied, ‘I have kept all these since my youth.’ When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’  Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’

A couple weeks ago Pope Francis was offering a homily and in it he was talking about the importance of all humanity doing “good works” especially for and with the poor.  This is a theme that has shaped the Pope’s life. Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, has spent his life in ministry with some of the poorest of the poor.  So when he came to the Vatican he brought a new concern for serving the poor.  One headline from the NY Times read:  “Francis’ Humility and Emphasis on the Poor Strike a New Tone at the Vatican.”

Well, a couple weeks ago the Pope got himself into hot water, or at least contradicted one of the most steadfast doctrines of Catholicism, that is, the doctrine of salvation.  On paper at least, the official position of the Roman Catholic Church is only baptized Catholics in full Communion through the Roman Catholic Church are saved.  Everyone else is going to hell.  As the ecumenical movement of the 1950’s grew and with Pope John XXIII’s (23rd) Second Vatican Council, “other Christians” got a little grace and we Protest-ants (the root of the word Protestants) were finally included (or at least recognized) as part of the Christian family of faith.

But last week in a homily, Pope Francis really crossed the line when he said – everyone who does good works is saved – even atheists!  Oops!  Here is what he said in his homily which was a dialog said by him but as if between a questioning soul and himself:

[Pope Francis continued:] “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us.

‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists?’ Everyone!… We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

Personally, I’m glad Pope Francis is still living and dining with the nuns and working priests.  If he were residing in “the big house,” I’m afraid he might have been choked – I mean he might have choked – at dinner.  Other renegade Popes have met a similar fate.  God “calls them home” unexpectedly fast.

This was a huge leap forward for traditional Catholic theology.  It’s the kind of thing a priest might think – but never say publicly.  It’s the kind of thing that a Pope – who is supposed to be infallible – would never say publicly!  This weekend of course, the Vatican minders pulled back.  They said:

“After Pope Francis told the world that even atheists are redeemed, Vatican spokesman Thomas Rosica has issued a statement that the Pope’s words do not mean atheists are saved. They are still going to hell if they do not ‘enter’ the Catholic Church.”

Please note that at least so far, the Pope has not corrected himself.  Only the curia (religious politicos) have told the world “what the Pope really meant to say.”

Of course, you all know that I’m a universalist.  I believe that the love and grace of God is for everyone – no exceptions (universal).  I don’t believe in hell, and neither did Jesus.  The very concept of hell is completely foreign to Jewish or early Christian theology.  This is all a bunch of nonsense the religious politicos concocted from a terrible translation of a stinky, smoldering garbage dump called “Gehenna” which somehow evolved into Dante’s Inferno, known as Hell (“Inferno” is Italian for “hell”).   Dante, not Jesus, came up with this idea of hell and burning in hell.

As an interesting comparison, in Sunday’s LA Times there was a front page article:  “Women Becoming Priests without Vatican’s Blessing.”  It is a wonderful story about a woman who was being ordained a Priest in the Roman Catholic Church, without the Church’s blessing.  If you want to read the article, you can find it at:  LA Times

I loved the story!  This woman’s theology and mine are quite the same.  Lest you doubt how progressive we really are, after reading this story, you’ll discover that what we embrace as common the rest of the world finds “radical.”  The best line in the whole article was when the interviewer [who happens to be the same wonderful woman who wrote the Times article about us leaving the Presbyterian Church] asked the new priest if she was afraid, if she was fearful of what the Church might do to her – like, excommunicate her?  She replied,

“…the threat of excommunication is meaningless.”

It has happened to her once already, when she became a deacon in 2012. She ignored it then and ignores it now, she said, because

“If you are baptized, you cannot be unbaptized. If you are called to the table that God calls people to, you cannot be excluded.”

Now that is what salvation and grace are all about.

If you are baptized, you cannot be unbaptized.

If you are called to the table that God calls people to, you cannot be excluded.

If you are loved by God, you can’t be unloved.




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