Skip to comments.Heaven and hell seem to be forgotten
Posted on 06/21/2006 8:03:30 AM PDT by Between the Lines
Belief in hell is going to you-know-where. And belief in heaven is in trouble, too.
That's the concern of some Christian thinkers, including Jeffrey Burton Russell, an emeritus professor of history at UC Santa Barbara, and author of the new book “Paradise Mislaid: How We Lost Heaven and How We Can Regain It” (Oxford).
Russell and other fretters aren't impressed by fads like the sudden popularity of the girl's name Naveah (heaven spelled backward) or polls that show most Americans believe in some sort of heaven.
The growing problem, according to Russell and others, is that the way U.S. Christians conceive of both heaven and hell is so feeble and vague that it's almost meaningless — vague “superstition.”
It's “not that heaven is deteriorating,” he says. “But we are.”
Gallup reported in 2004 that 81 percent of Americans believed in heaven and 70 percent in hell. An earlier Gallup Poll said 77 percent of ever-optimistic Americans rated their odds of making heaven as “good” or “excellent.” Few saw themselves as hellbound.
“The percentage who say they believe in heaven has remained pretty constant the past 50 years, but what people mean by it has changed an awful lot,” Russell said in an interview.
Some people are so confused they believe in heaven but not God — “I suppose it's a New Age thing,” Russell said.
But if today's notion of paradise is off base, and sentimental images of clouds, harps and cherubs are the stuff of magazine cartoons, then what's the best way to think of heaven?
“For Christians, basically, heaven underneath all of the decorations means living in harmony with God and the cosmos and your neighbors and being grateful,” said Russell, who studied hell and Satan for 15 years before first turning his attention to heaven in a 1997 book.
To Russell, it's healthiest to see heaven as starting on earth, not an existence that “suddenly happens when you die.”
What about hell and its fire and brimstone? “There is a tendency to over-dramatize hell in order to get (it) across to people,” he said, but it's simply “the absence of God, the absence of heaven.”
“Heaven has gradually been shut away in a closet by the dominant intellectual trends,” Russell writes. Likewise with hell: Russell cannot remember the last time he's heard that unhappy subject treated in church or in religious literature.
What happened? Russell's book is largely a heartfelt appeal against “physicalism,” the modern claim that knowledge comes only through the physical senses and empirical science.
Such an outlook is arrogant and unprovable, Russell believes, because it ignores humans' moral sense and the supernatural— including heaven and hell.
Among Protestants who share Russell's angst, perhaps the most outspoken is the Rev. David F. Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. He has spent years bemoaning the erosion of Christian teaching, through books like last fall's “Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World.”
Wells said in an interview that western Christianity is on the defensive against religious skepticism, secularism, materialism and consumerism.
He said that when Christian truth collides with the dominant cultural belief, promoted by psychology, that individuals should choose whatever they want, then “something has to give. And in our world today, in America and much of the West, what is giving is Christianity.” That includes the faith in “ultimate right and wrong” that undergirds heaven and hell.
So, many who say they believe in heaven are “projecting from their very best therapeutic experiences into eternity,” not meeting God “on his own terms,” he thinks.
A related question is who enters heaven.
On that, Americans are predictably expansive. A Newsweek/beliefnet.com poll last year asked, “Can a good person who isn't of your religious faith go to heaven or attain salvation?” Fully 79 percent said yes, with somewhat lower percentages among evangelicals and among non-Christians.
In Catholicism, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) declared that persons who do not know the Christian gospel but sincerely seek God “can attain to everlasting salvation.” The church decided that requiring explicit Christian faith was too pessimistic, said U.S. theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles, writing in First Things magazine.
But now, he cautioned, “thoughtless optimism is the more prevalent error,” with many Christians mistakenly assuming that “everyone, or practically everyone, must be saved.”
Still, the New Testament teaches “the absolute necessity of faith for salvation” and says that each of us faces just two possibilities, either “everlasting happiness in the presence of God” or “everlasting torment in the absence of God.”
I stopped here:
"Russell and other fretters aren't impressed by fads like the sudden popularity of the girl's name Naveah (heaven spelled backward) or polls that show most Americans believe in some sort of heaven."
Heaven spelled backwards is Nevaeh; not Naveah.
That is a misrepresentation of Catholic doctrine and of the Second Vatican Council's teaching. It's probably a misrepresentation of Dulles as well.
The Church teaches that God alone grants salvation and He grants it to whomever it pleases Him to grant it to. The Church reaffirmed in the document Dominus Iesus the Scriptural essential that Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Lots of folks are going to be in for the shock of their lives (deaths), including this author...
The Church has infallibly defined doctrine on salvation and that ain't it. This is:
"There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved." (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.)
"We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302.)
"The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church." (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)
Interestingly enough both spellings are used and for the exact same reason, backward spelling of Heaven. My guess is there is a lot of people who can't spell backwards.
B - A - C - K - W - A - R - D - S
You are correct in one sense, but I think you're wrong in another.
Salvation is only through the Catholic Church, however, you are discounting the power of God to provide the dying soul with enough enlightenment at the moment of death to choose or reject the Church. It's not defined, but certainly a theological possibility, since it does not nullify the words of Pope Boniface that salvation comes through the Catholic Church.
St. Dismas seems to be a type of this grace offered at time of death...
What are your thoughts?
Since they are beliefs....How does it matter what someone's conception of it is?
Isn't a humans' moral sense and the supernatural, including heaven and hell, equally arrogant and unprovable....as these are relative to a person's belief.
What ever happened to good old biblical truths....
John 14:6 I am the way the truth and the life and no man comes to the father but by me.
Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved
I'd say it's pretty simple and easy to understand that. Notice there were no references to the Pope or to people who just really love God. I don't know about you but I'll stick with the Bible, thank you very much.
If anyone needs a date for the apostacy of the Roman Church I think 1302 AD would be a good place to start.
Subject to the Roman Pontiff? Not bloody likely.We have no king but Christ!
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12 KJV)
--Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, No. 16 Vatican Council II November 21, 1964
I am not saying he is right or wrong and I have heard Catholics argue it both ways. Personally, I think this is an argument best left to be hammered out among the Catholics.
I think every last one of us will be extremely surprised by a lot of things, not least of which will be who made it ("Say, didn't I see you with shaved head selling books at the airport?" "Yeah, I came across this Gideon's New Testament someone left laying around about a week before the truck hit me.").
For folks teetering on the edge of accepting the call to God, DON'T FALL FOR THIS LIE...It will send you straight to Hell...
Find a local Bible believing church...Skip the fancy, ornate church buildings and people wearing robes...The Bible warns against these things...
Jesus said "Come onto ME, and I will give you rest"...Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, the life...No man can come unto the Father (God) but by ME"...
Call on Jesus...He will save you, without a church...But find a small local church anyway...
I'm not Catholic, but, no it won't. Catholics who believe in Jesus are saved. But you're partly right. The minefield of rules and regulations will just make it seem like you're in Hell. :-)
If one believes that conservatism is not so good and liberalism is not so bad, then he is less likely to be politically motivated. If someone believes in a lesser Heaven and a lesser hell, he will be less likely to pursue either.
How does that matter if they are just beliefs? We don't really know what will happen after we die. I don't believe that people act according to their belief in the afterlife, otherwise, how could someone that actually believes in heaven and hell, ever commit a crime...I think they would do it anyway.
I'm sure there are many saved Christians that attend Catholic churches...Why they would stay there is a mystery to me, tho...
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