Is the Pope Catholic?

As more evidence the world has truly gone mad: The Pope has declared there’s no such thing as hell. In a bizarre yet entirely logical way, it makes perfect sense. Read on.

You’ve heard the expression, “Is the Pope Catholic?” It’s a figure of speech used to point out that the answer to a particular question is unequivocally “yes”.

Now that the Pope has come out against the existence of hell, I suppose we’ll have to abandon that expression.

Controversy erupted this week with reports that Pope Francis denied the existence of hell. Quoted by an Italian journalist who is both a friend and frequent interviewer of the pontiff, Francis reportedly said that sinners who die without eternal salvation “are not punished” but that instead their souls simply disappear. “There is no hell,” he unambiguously declared.

Interestingly, in the uproar that followed, the Vatican tried to smooth over the rather stunning statement but nevertheless stopped short of expressly denying it, saying that the quote was a “reconstruction” of the interview and not a transcript.

The uproar over the Pope’s statements raises an interesting psychological point: Do you value something more only if you know you can lose it?

From a Catholic perspective, losing hell is quite a shocker. Catholics, like most other religious people, believe in an afterlife when you die. If the afterlife isn’t based on merit, then what’s the point of justice? What’s the point of the Ten Commandments or any other rules you’re obliged to follow?

The issue is broader than whether you’re Catholic, or even whether you’re religious at all. The real questions are: What is justice? And is it merit-based?

Such an issue applies to everyday life as much as to religion or government. A child’s concept of justice is formed by how his or her parents treat him, as well as other significant adults. Are the adults/parents arbitrary and capricious? Do they seem to care about enforcing right and wrong consistently? Do they practice what they preach, or at least explain in terms the child can understand why some rules apply to children and not to adults? As a child, are you punished the exact same way for forgetting to put out the trash as you are for skipping a week of school or stealing from the local store?

It doesn’t matter what you think about religion or wider human affairs. Justice is part of all of our personal lives, whether we stop to think about it, or not. Whether or not we think about justice as an abstract concept, issues of justice affect us from the time we’re old enough to have feelings or opinions about anything.

I don’t think the Pope’s comments are accidental. The Pope is a democratic socialist, if not an outright Marxist. People who subscribe to this point-of-view often don’t believe in merit. To a socialist-minded Pope, the idea of justice applied to the afterlife is probably too chauvinistic, racist, sexist or just too rational for his tastes. Pope Francis is not a man who yearns for a meritocracy, neither on earth nor in the afterlife.

I’m not at all shocked to hear him suggest there is no hell. However, it would come as quite a shock to the nuns and priests who taught little Catholic children in the 1950s and 1960s, wouldn’t it?

You don’t have to be Catholic or even religious to be appalled by the Pope’s remarks that there is no hell. What he’s really trying to say is that there is no rational, merit-based justice, no accountability, no personal responsibility or – at the deepest level – no law of cause-and-effect.

In that respect, this Pope is a sign of our times. We live in a culture where any idea of self-responsibility, self-determination and individualism are stripped from our minds from day one. What do you think political correctness is all about? It’s a war on the individual’s right to live his own life as an end in itself, while simultaneously taking full responsibility for that life.

That’s the deeper reason why liberty and freedom are fading away in so much of the world. That’s why when you read about the art, attitudes, and ideas of periods of history like the Renaissance or the Enlightenment, the eras that gave us Michelangelo’s David, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and ultimately gave rise to liberty and the United States, you can see that we’re truly living in the anti-Renaissance right now.

The good news is that justice matters, no matter what crazy Popes or other irrationalists try to tell us. Justice is rooted in the law of cause-and-effect. IF you act according to a code that goes against your nature and interests as a rational human being, THEN in some sense you’re going to pay, even if only internally and psychologically. Until this particular Pope came along, I thought this was an issue on which secular-minded psychologists and religiously oriented Popes and priests could agree. Apparently no more.

In order to fully value something – including life itself – it’s necessary to grasp that you can lose it. Life is as much about keeping and maintaining what’s important to you as it is creating and discovering it. I’m talking about both material and non-material values here. Throwing justice out the window is like throwing meaning and purpose out the window. We simply can’t do it, not if we wish to survive and flourish as the human beings we are supposed to be.

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