Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gay Marriage and Revival of Theology of Hell

Fascinating news from California these days. It’s looking as if the implementation of gay marriage is going to usher in a new golden age of Christian theological discourse. About those inconvenient topics we keep in the dusty cupboard where old no longer convincing doctrines like limbo get stored.

Suddenly, people want to talk about hell again. And talk. And talk some more.

While reserving the right and privilege to send others there.

Yesterday’s Bilerico blog had a report by Storm Bear, who was on photographic assignment in San Francisco Monday, about the collapse of a musician playing outside City Hall as gay couples were married inside (

It seems the musician was celebrating the historic occasion. Hence, when he collapsed, rather than seek to assist him, one of the “Christians” protesting the marriages chose to hover over the apparently lifeless body of the hapless man, chanting, "Satan got you!" and "What is the devil whispering in your ear about now?" The Christian protester then declared that his God had killed the musician for loving fags.

Fortunately, the final line of the story indicates that a priest in the crowd reported that the man was breathing when he was placed in an ambulance.

A revival of hell. Of language about hell. Who knows what might spring from this theological renaissance? Perhaps a renewed interest in the early Christian doctrine of apocastasis, the belief that, in the end, God will redeem the world and every creature in it? The belief that, since in Adam, fell we all, in Christ the new Adam, we all rise.

I’m intrigued by those who know so confidently that others are headed to hell. My own divinatory skills have never been so keen.

Oh, I’ll freely admit that there are times the baser angels of my nature entertain the fleeting thought that it might just be nice if there’s a good hot seat warmed up and waiting in hell for this vexatious soul or that one.

But no sooner do I entertain that thought, than a less-entertaining reminder pops into my head: if I pray each day that my trespasses be forgiven as I forgive those of others, what fresh hell am I hurling myself towards if I want anyone to be consigned to hell?

I’m inclined to follow the theology of 20th-century Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, who did, in fact, call for a revival of belief in apocastasis. In Rahner’s view, it makes no sense to talk about a God of love who desires the salvation of the entire cosmos, while hoping or wishing that anyone is in hell. Rahner chooses to believe that the love of God ultimately triumphs over all evil, such that the whole cosmos is caught up in the divine redemptive energy of God’s love.

The church—many Christian churches, though admittedly not all—has consistently taught that no one can know with certainty that anyone else is in hell. A corollary of that teaching is the insistence that we cannot call ourselves faithful followers of Christ and wish anyone in hell.

So that divinatory ability of some Christians to look into the souls of others and see that they are destined for hell: it really does interest me. If only God can see (and judge) the hearts of others, where does the skill come from?

Could it be . . . Satan?

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