This examination of Hell and Judgment by God was facilitated by a discussion I had with a friend at the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Airport while we were awaiting a flight home after a conference. Our discussion was launched by some Protestant Evangelical missionary types who were standing around with Bibles and literature asking passers-by pointed questions. One such question not necessarily directed at my friend but in his direction was:  “Do you know if you would go to heaven if you died today?” was met with His response: “No. But neither do you.” This response, while every bit as rude as the question, seemed spot on.

He sat down and we continued our discussion. We had been speaking about the viability and propriety of a married secular (diocesan) priesthood.   However, the provocations of our Evangelical Protestant preachers led his to remark something to the effect of:

“Where do they get off? How is that helpful at all? Could you see Jesus doing that?”

I responded,“Well, Jesus certainly could be pretty fierce.”

To which he said, “Are you kidding me? Jesus preached a kingdom of God’s love and forgiveness. “

I said, “Yes, we know that is where Jesus is coming from, but ‘woe to you Scribes and Pharisees’ shows that Jesus preached severe consequences for evil-doers.”

He said something to the effect that Jesus didn’t damn people to Hell as these preachers were. I responded with surprise saying “Are you telling me you don’t believe in hell?” He said that damnation did not make any sense.  Or something to the effect of “I believe in hell I just don’t believe anyone is there.” Then he cited the fact that the current pope, Benedict XVI stated that there is a hell but we (the Church) do not think anyone is there while he was Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the council on doctrine.  I responded that I found that very hard to believe. At which point, he corrected himself saying that what Ratzinger said was that we ‘hope’ that no one is there.  I said that sounds much more like something Ratzinger would have actually said.

I responded that it was defined by council that the devil and his angels are damned.  He then put his index fingers near over either of his ears and said ‘the devil…oooh’.  This total dismissal of extra human beings having free will and/or their free will having consequences I thought rather myopic. It also makes me strongly suspect that his disbelief in a straightforward doctrine of hell and judgment does not come from Anselm, as he claims, but rather from a more Enlightenment sensibility.

We then agreed that believing that there were no humans in hell is an orthodox view, or at least it is a position that can be supported by orthodox Catholic belief since it is a very real possibility. While at the airport I said “I think this is a real possibility”, but I thought it was not the case.  This judgment is not proportionate with the evidence we have, or perhaps better, the evidence we face.


The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus – Heinrich Aldegrever Source – Monsterbrains.blogspot

However, I am sympathetic to my friend’s oppositions if not his positions. What I mean is that I agree to disagree with his assessments of the protestant’s evaluation of Divine Judgment. For a Calvinist the nature of election is that Hell is for other people. One suspects that behind rigorous piety of the is schudenfruede—the joy at others’ suffering. For the Puritan, the “great” thing about knowing the divine mind is not that the Lord saves some but rather that He damns most and you are not included in the most.

By contrast, “Hell is other people” for Sartre perhaps because he is projecting.  Perhaps he thinks other people may be fact as petty and vicious as Jean-Paul himself.  No Exit is also ambiguous; is it that hell is ‘other people’ no matter who the self is?  Or is it only that hell is other people since Paradise is contained within the person of Jean-Paul Sartre? Either way, while existential atheist philosophers have their insights, “Hell is other people” only illustrates what’s wrong with Hell, not what’s right with it.

As for my friend, he takes a third position. For Sartre, “Hell is other people” for Calvinism “Hell is for other people” for My friend, “Hell is for other than people”.  Hell is for the devil and his angels and no one else.  Given that the devil is thought to be banished from discussion of theology and life with the ease of making a child’s funny face the “other than people” which are the fallen angels do not warrant much conversation to say nothing of consideration.   However, this is to dismiss the wisdom of the Church in ‘sending’ or rather recognizing that there are fiends in hell. It is a real possibility for non angelic persons as well.

Stating that the nature of God requires us to assert universal salvation as an extension of his benevolence robs the council of its meaning.  More importantly it does not square with the evidence that faces us. What is this evidence?  It is not that our resentment loves to belong to a group so that we can send outsiders to hell as in Calvinistic theology.   It is not even to assert that group is a group of one as in Sartrian philosophy.  Nor is it that hell is for purely mythical creatures like angels falling from the sky like stars. The evidence is that evil is real.  We can willfully chose evil and in doing evil, we face real danger.   This real danger is both urgent and visceral.

This real and present danger that pervades our moral lives is all smoke and mirrors according to my friend.  For by a very simple argument he can illustrate that hell must at most be symbolic. Everyone thought to be damned or most likely damned, like say, Hitler, has a mother. His mother we would assume is a good person that would be counted among the just. As such, Hitler’s mother with the beatific vision could not stand that her son be in Hell, for a woman who would want torture could scarcely be human. Since Hitler’s mom as a saint in heaven would be inhuman if she thought it just that her son is in hell, her inhumanity is proof that Hell is naught.

The question is not “Is hell human or inhuman?” but if “Is hell just?”  Both Heaven and Hell are inhuman; that’s why they are Heaven and Hell.  I tried to mention in counter distinction to the inhuman argument regarding heaven and hell that Jesus countered the critics of the Resurrection by pointing out that we neither marry nor are given in marriage in heaven but we are ‘like the angels’.  I hope unlike my friend’s evaluation of ‘like the angels’ we are not merely the subject of empty myth and wishful thinking but rather as Jesus is trying to point out life in Heaven outstrips certain human categories such as sex, marriage and children.  It is very much possible in the hyperrealism of heaven that the sentimentality of a mother’s nearly inordinate love of her child is not the primary or the just/merciful consideration on the propriety of perdition.

It is always “others” involved in the various descriptions of hell by those who both believe in it and those who dismiss it and this ‘otherness’ is why I am at least suspicious of the versions presented.  I believe in hell because I can FEEL it.  Hell possesses, through its beachhead here on earth, the power to imperil us all.  The intimacy of evil and hell to every human being can be seen in Solzhenitsyn’s reflections on evil and “evil people” in The Gulag Archipelago: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

I do not say this because of the fiendish regimes of Nazism or Stalinism that presented and oppressed millions in the last century. I say it more importantly because the beach head does not consist in the souls of some evil group or other, but rather the beachhead exists in my individual soul, and according to Solzhenitsyn, in the individual soul of each one of us. The closest thing one can do to belittling a person’s kindness is to belittle their fiendishness. For the fear of Hell is one in the same thing as the love of Heaven.

Atheist existential philosophers are quite fond of the saying “Death gives meaning to life” for they believe that the finality of death gives us a measured and therefore measurable life to then judge and find meaning in. Ironically, this points to the same weakness in Buddhist thinking about the afterlife.  In Buddhism there really isn’t an afterlife, there is only life after life after life. A test without an end is not only not gradable it ceases to be a test.

Life after life after life is not an answer to death; it is only to question death indefinitely. Now if death gives meaning to life by setting a time limit, then Hell and Heaven give meaning to death by showing the fruit’s of one’s life encapsulated in one’s death.   Death being the end of the story is rejected by reason in that Good and evil are more powerful than life itself.  Good and evil are what give life zest and humor and goodness. If death were the end of the story then reality would be more than uncomfortable; it would be unlivable.

Likewise the conclusion that evil men get a longer sentence in purgatory rather than a permanent residence in the middle of the lake of fire is to very much say to the wicked, “Continue your ways. God will save you in spite of your deeds, your witness, your relations with God or fellows such is the goodness of God.” For any fool can easily see that there is no downside to wickedness if salvation is known to be universal.

What’s more to the point or the heart of the matter is if salvation is an abstract ‘knowing’ at all.  This is what troubled me about those protestant evangelical types at the airport claiming to know their own salvation was guaranteed no matter what. Salvation is a doing because salvation is a loving, much like a marriage. One might, with some accuracy know if a marriage was successful at the end, how is such a thing ‘known’ in the middle?  A Catholic response to “Are you saved?” or more pointedly “You must be assured of your salvation, or you certainly have no hope in Christ.” Is “As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13).” (cf.   This answer reflects a “both/and” answer to a question that is presented as an “either/or”.  This specific topic deserves its own extended discussion.

If this ‘no hell’ theory is correct, it would seem that failure is not an option, cosmically speaking.  Failure not being a cosmic option does the same thing that Solomon actually dividing the child in two does. It robs the King of His Wisdom. The threat must be real in our minds, because like Job we do not know God’s motives. If we did, we could deceive the Judge.

As Chesterton points out in Orthodoxy, we see life as a story full of personalities and choices not merely as a drawing board of God shaped triangles and human shaped squares the interactions between are all geometrically determined. The real trouble with universal salvation is that it has the same effect as the grave being the final word on life. The grave says all men die, and thus end up in the same nowhere despite their efforts, despite their loves, despite their fears, despite their faith.  Universal salvation says not only that life is a dress rehearsal, but that it is a totally unnecessary one as the opening night cannot help being perfect. This is not God as benevolent King but God as Geppeto.

The dominant Christian movement against the totalitarian overtones of monism and its corollaries and philosophical parallels is the dynamic of freedom for the Good. As we do the Good, we become more ourselves in the image of God. So that, by doing the Good we might know the Good as we likewise know the Good to do the Good.  Our knowledge comes from the energizing power of doing the good. This is the phenomenology of the good as we drink it in, as it flows over us. There is a substantial difference between it and the phenomenology of evil.

Knowledge of evil does not come from doing evil. Doing evil only blinds the one eyed man completely. Knowledge of evil tells us to avoid doing evil. The clinging to good and the running from evil does not suggest that one take the mathematical monism which is the basis of Anselm’s calculation as a straightforward or totalizing truth. For, it may be the case that threats against the innocent are ultimately empty as in the vignette of Solomon’s wisdom. The very effectiveness of the threat depends on and persuades us in this partial and temporary existence not knowing that the threat is empty.  Indeed it a constituent part of our very existence not being able to know that, almost by definition. Furthermore, the woman of the stillborn child in the story of Solomon’s wisdom is of course a villain and not merely an innocent subjected to capital threats.

It is indeed difficult to understand how evil presents itself and represents itself in world history if it is merely the not good. If evil is only the perpetual blundering of the morally incompetent rather than the pernicious planning of the wicked, it could be excused if not understood that one might see all offenses of villains pardoned.  After all, if such is the case, all evil is mere keystonery in the eyes of God and not malice. However, as I alluded to earlier, the actual effect of necessitating God’s Benevolence as equal to a guarantee of universal salvation is to unleash the most monstrous conclusion that there are no monsters.  For if monsters too are saved, what does salvation mean to humans who till this point thought it necessary and fitting to be saints to gain heaven?