Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Freedom and Hell

I very much liked this post on Vox Nova about the question of Hell and human freedom.

As I said early on in this blog, I am one who is inclined towards a soft universalism; I admit at least hope that all may be saved, though not presumption.

Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons over the past year or so, I have become more ambiguous on the question. "More ambiguous" in the direction of finding it more likely that many people do go to Hell.

I still hope they don't. I still hope Hell will be empty. But whereas there was a time when I was secretly suspecting this was likely even, given what I knew of God, what I know of humans (myself foremost) now inclines me to think this hope really is more of an improbable one (though, perhaps for that very reason, all the more triumphant if it be fulfilled.) I hope it's not true, but if I had to bet, I would now say that it is spiritually healthier to at least imagine that souls are falling into Hell like snowflakes than to vision it as empty.

One reason for the shift in my imagination (though not my hope!) is that I used to be very much inclined to excuse humanity on the grounds of human weakness, on hypothetical factors mitigating culpability, on moral "duress" or invincible ignorance. This was perhaps a point of intellectual cowardice for me; the three people I love most in this world seem obstinately set (in their own ways) on the path to Hell, and my own chances of salvation don't look great a lot of the time either! My own is really the only I should be making any such judgments on, of course, but in some ways the question of the damnation of others is scarier exactly because it isn't ultimately in my control, I can only do so much.

However, recently I've been somewhat less lenient (towards myself and others), taking on more of a stoic resignation to love in charity in spite of the "seemingly" (from a human perspective) "inevitable" damnation of the objects, in the hopes that this charity might save both them and myself somehow, even if I soon enough do need to shake the dust off my sandals on a personal level. Which is why I really find comfort in this Karl Rahner quote from the Vox Nova article:
Even if I could assume that the most abandoned criminals in world history, capable indeed of anything, are really miserable creatures made so by heredity and environment, even if I were to defend the whole world, I must be prepared to admit that there is one person who cannot be defended and that he knew, although he did not want to know, although he repressed it, although he had a thousand good excusing causes: and I must have the courage to be this one.
The World is not an excuse. It may seem merciful to try to excuse people because we imagine they "never" could be otherwise, but I think this is despairing of both human freedom and God's grace. God gives all sufficient grace for salvation; people make themselves who they are. If the latter sometimes seems almost reason enough to despair, the former is always more than reason enough to hope.


dominic1962 said...

I came to a similar outlook a few years ago, except that I went from basically apathetic to traditional. Today it is looked upon as a sort of closet Jansenism, but in reality it is merely the position of practically every single doctor and saint. Approved visions (I'm thinking Fatima since you make mention of it) don't talk about the great hope that practically everyone is going to heaven, no, on the contrary it is souls plunging into hell like snowflakes. This, of course, being perfectly in line with the centuries of Doctors, Saints, auctores probati, etc. etc. and well, not so much with von Balthasar and friends.

Of course its more spiritually healthy to imagine innumerable souls consigned to eternal hellfire, our own possibly with them. What good is it to have warm 'n fuzzies about most if not everyone going to heaven? It is very much akin to the new funerals we usually see. What is the point of praying for the repose of the soul of this person that was just mini-canonized? This is about the most uncharitable thing one can do, give sweet sounding but ultimately empty lip service. The dead are not helped by us blubbering about how "nice" they were.

The same thing applies to a number of "old" teachings. It seems to me, people need this sort of "fear of God" thing put into them. It certainly can be overdone or wrongly done but nothing really encourages better than that nagging fear. I'm thinking specifically of limbo and the necessity of baptism. I know a number of cases of babies baptized by their mothers or nurses because of a well founded fear that they might die or the conditional baptism of still born or natural aborted babies. It wasn't a terror or utter dread, it was simply they knew the simple Baltimore Catechism version of the faith and that the unbaptized go to limbo. If you don't want the kid to go to limbo, baptize him quick because in that same vein they knew they could do that. How many people would even think to do that today in similar situations? Why bother? They are "innocent" children who would be going to heaven anyway.

What sent St. Ignatius Loyola across the world to foreign lands to work amongst the people? Sure as hell wasn't "social justice" or some such nonsense. He had a well founded fear that all these multitudes of Indian and Chinese pagans were headed straight to hell. Is it any wonder that the missions today are often a joke? Why bother working for the salvation of these people when they are just "anonymous" Christians anyway?

No. Its much healthier for all of us (clerics, "lay clerics", simply laity etc.) to think along the terms that the unbaptized babies are going to limbo (which is hell), pagans, Jews, schismatics, heretics (yes, all your buddies and coworkers) are all on the path straight to hell and not only them but probably so are your pew-warming Catholic pals. So are you because even though you know better, your sloth and lukewarmness waste that gift.

dominic1962 said...

Ultimately, it is God's grace that saves. The grandeur of this salvific work of God is precisely in its gratuity. I entrust my salvation to the Most Blessed Trinity, to the B.V.M., my patrons and all the saints and pray that I will cooperate with the grace God grants me. The same goes with everyone else, I will do what I can to work for their salvation but I will also know that if they are damned it takes nothing away from the glory of God the beatitude of any and all of the Church Triumphant or my own beatitude if I should be fortunate enough to get there.

Thus, I certainly hope and pray for everyone's salvation (myself, my family/friends, neighbors, et reliqua) but the traditional teaching on the fewness of those that will be saved doesn't bother me.