The Pope said,
“Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”
It’s just too much, isn’t it? And I take this very personally. “The Church no longer believes”? I was stopped in my tracks at that one. But surely it’s not a matter of believing or not believing. What we believe can be erroneous. But what the church says, surely, is more than believed it is known. Surely, they know that they know that they know, as they say in church. Surely what they know is a certainty because they know it to be ordered by God. Surely, they were told what they know by God, directly. Surely, it is God’s indisputable word. What is the Pope saying? ‘No longer believe’?
“There is no literal Hell?” There’s no hell? How can there be no hell? Then where do all the bad people go? If there’s no hell then where does The Devil live? Or is there also no Devil? If there’s no Devil who is causing all the wars and famine and the common cold. If there is no Devil who is hiding socks that go into the washing machine as a pair and come out as singles? And who made that cricket guy get involved in match fixing? Hmm?
But wait. He said there was no ‘literal’ hell. So is there a figurative hell? Is it inhabited by a figurative devil? I can totally appreciate a figurative devil. I can thoroughly appreciate a figurative hell. It makes sense to me that hell and the devil are practical anomalies, describing life on earth, inner peace and happiness, or the lack thereof. Because why should the people who do bad things to us be allowed to live good lives and wait till they’re dead before the figurative Devil gets hold and whisks them off to eternal damnation in the pit fires of figurative hell. Eternal damnation for the evil ones needs to start now. Now! It needs to start here on earth where we can see it. Yes Lord, let it be! At least, let it be so for those who have hurt me. Vengeance is God’s. So let’s set God on them. Now! – Perhaps I’m missing the point.
I grew up on “God’s going to strike you down”. “You’ll live with the devil in hell forever, you naughty little girl”. “You devil child”. “You’d better say Hail Mary 50 times if you don’t want to go to hell and swim in the lakes of fire for eternity”. The Nuns carrying that threat did their best to rescue me from the fate of Hell. Redemption was found in learning, then reciting chunks of the Bible, sitting in a dark corner alone in a dark room repeating ‘Our Father who art in heaven etcetera one hundred times, and the imposed flagellation of cleaning floors on hands and knees, or having the backs of my thighs, or the palms of my hands hit hard with a stick or a ruler, and all this before the age of eight. I grew up in figurative Hell.
No, it wasn’t my Mother. Mother was love. It was the Nuns. The sadistic daughters of God. My very first fear was the fear of God. It was a very clear fear gained as soon as I had vague powers of comprehension. Mine was fear as in terror and trembling, tears and trauma. “Beating upward to God’s throne in loud ‘excess’ of shrieking and reproach”; begging Him not to strike me down; promising to be a good girl if He’d please not punish me by striking me down, or sending me to hell.
Now here comes this Pope Francis saying he’s changed his mind. There’s no place called Hell. God is nothing but ‘infinite love’. Well, it’s too bloody late now, isn’t it? The damage is already done. There is Fear of God! God is not condemnation? What? Then, why did I have to go to confession to avoid that condemnation? ‘Confess and be forgiven’. They said. If there was no condemnation why did I have to sit on my knees and beg to be forgiven? I was raised in that same Catholic Church of this Pope Francis. I did my First Holy Communion. I was ‘Confirmed’. Confirmation is a Church of England thing, I know. But I was covering bases. Otherwise it was burning in the Hell fires with the devil for eternity for me. I tried to be good, but my nature was naughty. ‘Character full’, is a better way of putting it. Fear? I alone knew the meaning and loneliness of that word. Do you want to talk about Hell?
He said “Hell is a literary device”. A what? I am so offended by that. Has God lost his mind? It’s a metaphor now? A metaphor? I take issue with all Popes right there. How dare they spend 2000 years torturing us with the threat of Hell? How dare they inspire artists to paint it, poets to write it and priests to preach it only to come two thousand and fourteen years later and call it a metaphor, a ‘literary device’? How dare they? What’s wrong with them?
This seems like a good time show them their literary device in action; to introduce some of the condemnation that God apparently failed to effectively achieve. To demonstrate to them, figuratively, Hell! Perhaps there should be another inquisition pertaining to belief in Hell. Perhaps we should do to those high up in the Catholic machine what the great papal dynasties, the Borgias and the De Medicis did to those who crossed them. Because we Catholics, or former Catholics or lapsed Catholics, or whatever you want to call us, have been crossed. We have been lied to by fraudsters if Hell is a ‘literary device’. ‘Figuratively’ we can send the perpetrators to Hell. We should condemn them to eternal literary device. We should show them condemnation. They could be dressed in rags, and shackled, then marched down to St Peter’s Square and…….. well, vengeance is God’s. He’ll be His own instrument. How about that? We could poison their food. That’s what the Borgia Popes did. We could send them to those Nuns. They could be lynched and excommunicated. That’s how the De Medicis dealt. Am I being excessive? But, we’re talking about the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church excels at excess.
Ok, God says I’m being unforgiving. God says “Forgive”. I must forgive? Did God really say that? Did he really mean literally “Forgive”, or is forgiveness also a literary device?
The Pope eludes to the fact that Adam and Eve didn’t exist? The Devil doesn’t exist. Hell doesn’t exist. Well, what does exist? God exists. I refuse to relinquish God. Did God say ‘let there be light’? Yes, dammit, he did. I refuse to relinquish a single piece of Catholic indoctrination. That indoctrination is part of my foundation, and I don’t want to be rescued from my foundation by a metaphor. My early life’s torture at the hands of the Catholics is my comfort. I feared Hell and I liked it.
So, here’s some truth as chosen by me. – God said, “Let there be light”. After he said it there was a Big Bang and voila! A few planets and a bit of a cosmos were created, and there was light. Lots of it. Then God and the Angels got busy with designing and tweaking, perhaps a little twerking, and there were fish and dinosaurs and birds and plants and seas and land and etcetera. And then he made Adam and then he made Eve. Then he made a snake with an apple and there was knowledge and there was fornication and Voila! There was humanity. Then an arrogant Angel fought with God and was packed off to Hell to live in lakes of fire and that Angel became The Devil and since the very beginning The Devil has fought with God for souls. God’s punchline (your heart’s desire) is better than The Devil’s punchline (lakes of fire) and so we all want to go to Heaven. It’s in the Bible. It must be true. Unless the Bible is also a literary device. Someone said “Popes come and go, but The Word is constant”. It’s those damn Popes who tweaked the Bible in the first place, and twerked The Word and insisted that their results be called constant. Now that The Word is made constant they can’t just change their minds. “No longer believe?” Who ever heard of such a thing? It’s simply bad form. Reprehensibly bad form.
Is The Bible a literary device? I mean, we know a whale didn’t really swallow Jonah. What else didn’t really happen? Was there really Sodom? Was there Gomorrah? Was there a virgin birth?
The way I see it, if the church changes its mind about one single thing it calls into question everything and the idea of the church changing its mind, the idea of The Word being inconstant is too traumatizing. It’s too traumatizing for speech. I feel the nig of trauma coming upon me at the mere contemplation.
So, you can imagine the excess of my relief when it was pointed out to me that the Pope didn’t say any of it. None of it, at all. The whole thing was a hoax.