I have heard it said that when a baby closes its eyes, it perceives the entire world has gone away rather than just their ability to perceive it. I have often wondered how scientists can know such a thing, but I think that now I know. They must have witnessed this same behavior in adults and merely extrapolated backwards.
Case in point, Newsweek’s religion editor Lisa Miller has a new book out on Heaven and the various different notions of it. In an interview with Sally Quinn, Miller is asked whether she believes in Hell, to which she replies with an emphatic “no.” Asked why, she cites the dwindling polls numbers for hell. Hell is not hot right now.
Of course, we know that reality is not altered by poll numbers. President Obama’s poll numbers have likely fallen faster than hell’s, but he is no less real than when most believed in him back in November 2008.
It seems that some people believe that if enough people ditch belief in Hell, that perhaps Hell will be closed for lack of interest. No such luck.
The Church teaches the existence of hell because Jesus taught the existence of hell.
CCC 1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,“and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”
I would be interested to see how the poll numbers would change if the question changed. Instead of “Do you believe in hell?” how about if we asked “Do you believe that all people, no matter what they did in life, go to heaven?” If you asked them whether Hitler was in heaven, I suspect that the numbers would look drastically different. Most people, I suspect, would exclude Hitler from residency in heaven (whether or not God has is a different question). So, if Hitler is not in Heaven, where is he? The larger question, I suppose, is “what is not heaven?” The catechism answers that question as well saying “the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God.” In other words, not heaven is Hell, to be separated from God forever.
I would suspect that in any society throughout history that Hell’s polling numbers are inversely proportional to the virtue of that society. In our society, sin polls well. You can do the math. Yet I think that when thrown into the everlasting fire, having poll numbers on your side will be of little comfort.