Retired priest: ‘Hell’ was invented by the church to control people with fear

By Koba | 2 July 2015
Urban Intellectuals

This video is of an interview retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong did with Keith Morrison of Dateline NBC back in August of 2006.

A partial transcript of the interview can be found beneath the video link:

Spong: I don’t think Hell exists. I happen to believe in life after death, but I don’t think it’s got a thing to do with reward and punishment. Religion is always in the control business, and that’s something people don’t really understand. It’s in a guilt-producing control business. And if you have Heaven as a place where you’re rewarded for you goodness, and Hell is a place where you’re punished for your evil, then you sort of have control of the population. And so they create this fiery place which has quite literally scared the Hell out of a lot of people, throughout Christian history. And it’s part of a control tactic.

Morrison: But wait a minute. You’re saying that Hell, the idea of a place under the earth or somewhere you’re tormented for an eternity – is actually an invention of the church?

Spong: I think the church fired its furnaces hotter than anybody else. But I think there’s a sense in most religious life of reward and punishment in some form. The church doesn’t like for people to grow up, because you can’t control grown-ups. That’s why we talk about being born again. When you’re born again, you’re still a child. People don’t need to be born again. They need to grow up. They need to accept their responsibility for themselves and the world.

Morrison: What do you make of the theology which is pretty quite prominent these days in America, which is there is one guaranteed way not to go to hell; and that is to accept Jesus as your personal savior.

Spong: Yeah, I grew up in that tradition. Every church I know claims that ‘we are the true church’ – that they have some ultimate authority, ‘We have the infallible Pope,’ ‘We have the Bible.’… The idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system, by any human creed, by any human book, is almost beyond imagination for me.

I mean, God is not a Christian. God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindi or Buddhist. All of those are human systems, which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition. I walk through my tradition. But I don’t think my tradition defines God. It only points me to God.

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  1. Jesus came to earth to keep us from hell. He told us hell exists but he also made a way for us so that we don’t have to go there. Believe in Him.

  2. That picture…hahaha…I remembered that place vividly. It was a little different, there wasn’t any fire but it was dark and the hole was an abyss. In the beginning, I remembered standing with a lot of people and then the ground smoothly shifted away. As I floated away I saw a small group of people with backpacks and books standing and sitting before a giant oak tree. I questioned myself why I wasn’t with that group. Anyways, it became dimmer and darker as I watched the giant oak disappeared in a distant. All of a sudden I was able to see a lot of people standing and looking in all directions in this dark place. Then the ground shifted again, this time it shifted into three cliff ledges. On each ledge, I saw an endless line of people in single file. Then all of a sudden the line started to move and people ran and dip into the dark abyss. I was so scared and there was no way to turn but run off the cliff in single file line. As I ran toward the ledge that I was on, somehow I stopped, crouched down, deeply cried out, “I can’t, I just can’t, I’m going through so…..” And an unexplainable, peaceful, and “fear-driven away” VOICE calmly said, “It’s okay, I know, I know”. Then I woke up. That was more than 10 years ago.

  3. Anyone who needs the fantasy of religion will find a way to embrace it as his or her truth.
    So long as it remains a personal private guide, it is acceptable but as it foils the non sectarian nature of our democracy it becomes a dangerous menace as the recent Supreme Court nominations confirm.

  4. Not from hope of heaven nor fear of hell do I any thing, but rather out of love of God and God's beloved. That doesn't mean there's no heaven, no hell. It speaks to what these mean. In that meaning is the root of the reality. We cannot encompass God within our understanding.

  5. Jesus came to earth? From which planet, or satellite? Is he from our solar system? Is he from our galaxy? Supercluster?

  6. You are so deserved Mister.
    You “think” there is know Hell because you “think”. You never know and heard the one who came who said the day will come that the evil ones will be punished and saints will be saved.
    You have to repent before it’s too late.
    Because if you die with this mind. Hell is waiting to welcome you.


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