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Countering an Irrational Fear of Hell

7/3/2007 - 3:30 PM PST

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By Fr. Robert J. Carr
Catholic Online

It is time to get Hell right in our teaching. One of the problems that has come to mind is the issue of people turning from God out of an irrational fear of Hell. Indeed, in the aftermath of my article on the Blasphemy Challenge, (Making Fools for Satan) I learned that some people take that challenge to free themselves from the fear of accidentally blaspheming the Holy Spirit and, therefore, accidentally committing what they believe, falsely, is the unforgivable sin.

Such fears are not uncommon and some with such diseases as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are tortured by this and similar phobias. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is actually an attitude that rejects God's grace, it is not a specific action.

How does one respond to those who have a false understanding of this sin? Jesus gives us a good standard to follow in the seventh chapter of Matthew, the final of the Sermon on the Mount:

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" (Matt 7:11 NASB)

If even evil people give good gifts to their children, why would the Heavenly Father not do more? Yet, we need to take this to the next level. If the Father is going to act even above the best of the most good, then can it not be assumed that He will act even above the best of the Forefathers of our country? They developed a standard of justice and punishment that was simple: The punishment must fit the crime. If that is the human standard, the divine standard must be even greater.

Generally, people who live in terror about going to Hell are the last people who should worry about doing so. Even so, the Catholic Catechism gives us a measure:

"God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want 'any to perish, but all to come to repentance' " (CCC 1037)

One must commit a serious sin and persist in it until death. Therefore, the concept of accidentally committing such a sin is just not possible. This act must be committed with full knowledge and consent of the will. It is done in a purposeful way that cannot be mistaken for an accident. People who maintain this choice are not hard to miss.

The third chapter of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, which is of course the sixth movie in the series, actually gives an excellent dramatization of this reality. Anakin Skywalker turns slowly towards the dark side of the Force. He has purposefully rejected the guidance that leads him away from the wrong path. Yet, this itself is not the ultimate act that leads him into evil. It is walking down that road to where he finally gives himself over to the emperor, a purposeful act on his part that solidifies his status.

However, it continues. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie is at the climax when Anakin, now Darth Vader, is blinded by his evil and turns to Obi Wan Kenobi. They are surrounded by a whole volcanic world where they meet. This, the former Anakin claims, is his new kingdom. He is completely blind to the fact that the planet is a wasteland.

Now the Star Wars movies are just stories, but the reality is such dynamics do exist in real life. I remember when I was involved in prison ministry. I ended up bringing communion in what is called the hole. That is better known as solitary confinement. There I met people seeking to be freed from their pain, but occasionally you would meet the intensely manipulative person blind to his reality. Just like that scene from Revenge of the Sith where Darth Vader is lost in his evil, so you meet the occasional prisoners who will call you over and demand that you get them something to which they have no access or some other but similar favor.

First, it is forbidden and second it is impossible, but most importantly it indicates a complete denial of reality. They are in solitary confinement separated from everything because of their inability to accept their reality. They just donít get that they are totally isolated. This is exactly the mindset you see portrayed in the budding Darth Vader: He does not get that he is the king of nothing on that planet.

This is a persistent narcissistic blindness that cannot be mistaken and may take years to manifest. The bible demonstrates it well in the hardness of heart of the Pharisees, in the manipulation of the bad thief on the cross and in the self-centeredness of the rich man who ignores the poor Lazarus in Jesus' parable. These states of existence are real, but you cannot accidentally enter them. One enters them by making real choices that slowly ...

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1 - 10 of 11 Comments

  1. Katie
    1 year ago

    Thank you so much for this. I don't feel so scare, alone and depressed. I pray so hard that none of relatives are there - one of by biggests fears.

    This fear is such a big part of my life I have had to be put on anti-depressants. I stopped going to church because I feared the fear coming back. I have terrible nightmares.

    Noone really understands.

  2. mike
    1 year ago

    you're all going to hell ( you're there already if you hadn't realised it ) all you who preach hell as if it really existed. Tortuous argument? - you've tied yourselves up in the knots of a hellish one.

  3. Maggie
    2 years ago

    I just wanted to say thank you because this article gave me so much comfort and clarity. It's amazing to know that other followers of Christ have the same worries and fears as me, and that I am not alone and that we can all seek comfort together from the lord.
    "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4)"
    Again thank you so much.
    God is so good!

  4. c
    3 years ago

    How is the fear of Hell "irrational"? Children grow up in households and in organized religions telling them that they must do this and that, and believe in the Church and everything it teaches and says to do, or else God will reject them, and they'll go to Hell where they'll suffer and burn for all of eternity. What's "irrational" is not that children believe this terrifying concept of Hell, and grow up believing in it, but that it's being taught and threatened to everyone by the Church and by Christians on the whole.

  5. X
    3 years ago

    Thank you.

  6. Jason
    3 years ago

    Fr. Carr,

    Thanks you so much for this article. May God bless you for your good work.

    I am a diagnosed OCD patient who has been dealing with depression for some time and got hit hard with a fear of my impending doom starting about 2 weeks back. It has been virtually all consuming and most of the information I've found (I'm an avid research junkie) has just made things worse.

    I am one to questions things to some degree and wonder about things but it was to a point of literally making me feel run down and physically ill. I was contemplating virtually everything in my mind wondering if it was a sin.

    This information has been amazing! And perhaps finally, I am slowly moving in the right direction.

  7. marian dobbs
    4 years ago

    would like to read more on this subject

  8. Garrett
    4 years ago

    My heart breaks for the commentators on this site, "trying to use logic" against this irrational fear, as I once did. The audacity of this article to call fear of Hell within Catholicism "irrational", as if to suggest that any such beliefs are rational to begin with. Christian teachings are child abuse.

  9. Tony P
    5 years ago

    Once upon a time I too was concerned about hell. Not anymore. The idea that a loving God would create humans out of nothing, give them a very brief life - a life filled with mostly unhappiness for most of the human race - and force them to choose a particular religion over another in order to avoid an eternity of TORTURE....well, that idea is my idea of insanity. Or one that can lead to insanity. If there is a God who cares about the human race, that God is not a monster. If I want to worship a cruel monster I suppose I could always set up a shrine to maybe Hitler. Not that I would of course. Understanding God as the creator of a place of eternal torture - and God had to create it else it wouldn't exist, right? - would make God appear to be many times worse than someone like Hitler. Just the opinion of someone who is interested in faith but sees nothing attractive about it so far.

  10. Eric Mosig
    5 years ago

    Thank you this is helpful. I have a 16 year old son that is currently tortured by fear of going to hell due to having bad "evil" thoughts. He is a very spiritual and shy young man and going on line for answers is more comfortable than approaching our parish priest at this time.


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