A local philosophy professor I showed it to, said he wouldn't change a word, and I think you will find enough original and interesting thoughts to make it worth the reading even if you do not care about the original controversy.
Neuhaus dealt with the shock through theology, as you would expect a preacher's son to do. I, however, am an economist by training. I know, may God have mercy on my soul. So, as you would expect, I checked the statistics.
The young Neuhaus was right to think the preacher was engaging in "church talk." If 37,000 people had been dying every minute in 1943 the human race would have been reduced from a little less than two and a half billion to zero in less than seven weeks. Even today with more than six billion people the death rate is close to 100 per minute not 37,000. Given that some of the 100 are infants and children whom nearly everyone agrees will not go to hell, and some adults do take advantage of God's grace and go to heaven, the preacher was probably off by a factor of more than 400 to one, unless that was a particularly bloody minute in World War 2.
Apparently, Neuhaus did not question the death rate implied by the preacher. Instead Neuhaus excused himself from the responsibility of spreading the Gospel by believing that God would not damn anyone to hell, all would be saved and go to heaven, in other words universalism. Among other things this gives him the freedom to focus on "first things," including important aspects of the Catholic Church's political agenda, rather than last things.
Father Neuhaus, like Hans Urs von Balthasars whom Neuhaus cites, claims that even though there is no doctrine that says all are saved, we can still hope that all are saved. Neuhaus emphasizes the difference between a hope and a doctrine by writing, "The Hope that all will be saved is precisely that, a hope. It is not a doctrine, never mind a dogma."
Dale Vree and others have argued that various texts from the Bible and church documents deny us even the hope. You can read these arguments in the January and July/August 2001 issues of the New Oxford Review, and in numerous letters to the editor, these are not available on line.
For those of you unfamiliar with economist's jargon the expected cost is calculated by multiplying the probability of an event, in this case eternal damnation, multiplied by its cost, in this case the pain, loneliness etc. of hell. Rational actors according to standard economic theory make their decisions by calculating expected costs and benefits.
This line of reasoning is important even if we reject the hope of an empty hell. Many a Catholic sinner, perhaps most, hope that they will repent of their sins and go to heaven, but if any sin merely increase the chances that you will end up in hell the price of the sin is still an infinitely long stretch in hell, because any fraction of infinity is once again, still infinity.
Similarly, a rational actor could be motivated to go out and practice both the new evangelism of Pope John Paul 11 and even the old evangelism of St. Isaac Joques and the North American Martyrs even if there was some chance that hell was empty.
All of this assumes that humans are rational actors which maybe even more unrealistic than the Neuhaus assumption that we will all be saints. To effectively motivate people to progress through the early stages of their spiritual growth we may need to convince people that hell is populated. As the song, Amazing Grace, says, "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, twas grace my fears relieved." Neuhaus does not emphasize the need for even an early stage in our spiritual walk that involves a fear of hell.
Just as one might suspect that Neuhaus is trying to excuse himself from evangelical effort, one also might suspect that his critics are trying to excuse themselves from pursuing spiritual growth. If so, this is a dangerous attitude, Jesus warns us, "For anyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough: but from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away." (Matt. 13:12) It is not safe to rest on a minimal effort. We need to move beyond the fear of slaves to the love of sons.
Neuhaus took the Pope's words out of context. The Pope's point in the chapter was there should be more, not less, preaching on heaven and hell.
The Pope makes no effort to explain how Judas could be in heaven in spite of the passage, but Neuhaus does. Neuhaus writes that some theologians have suggested that evil people are simply annihilated. This is perhaps even more theologically suspicious than the hope that all are saved.
But if one is really intent on extracting Judas from hell I would recommend the following. Yes, it would have been better for Judas if he had never been born, but Jesus did not say it would have been better for Judas if he had never been conceived or formed in his mother's womb as the Bible might of put it. If we assume that babies who die before they are born go to heaven, which seems to be the general assumption currently, then one could assume that Judas would have been better off not being born, but was never the less in heaven.
Not that I would push that one very hard. One could imagine Jesus saying, I was pretty clear that Judas, and many others were going to hell, you went the long way around the block to convince yourself otherwise. But if you insist on hoping that Judas is saved you might as well be orthodox about it.
Universalism is a common temptation for theologians, from Origen to Hans Urs von Balthasars. Even some of those who accepted the hard teaching of an eternal hell, have attempted to minimize it. For example, C. S Lewis argued in the The Problem of Pain that the soul that was tossed into hell was to a human being a little like what the ash is to the original log, a left over residue but hardly a real human being as we are.
Here are a couple of articles that I did get published.
An article on vouchers published in the New Oxford Review
There is a lot more original thinking of this site, sure you can read other sites but they will simply repeat what you have already read.
The New Testament shows great interest in how the Old Testament foreshadows the events of the New. This essay shows how what happens to many New Testament figures is foreshadowed by Old Testament figures of the same name. I believe this is a miracle and powerful evidence for God and our faith. A number of professors have been impressed by this. Check it out, and see what you think.
The rest of web site has tips on better AM radio reception, the better to bring in EWTN, and directions for getting Catholic books into public libraries. See my homepage.
Tell me what you think. Here is my contact information..
Last updated April 10, 2020