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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1114 COMMENTS

    • Jesus spoke more about Hell than any other figure in Holy Scripture. HOWEVER, other than embelished verses, over 90% of the time, Jesus relates damnation to economic injustices committed by rich people, NOT based on “accepting Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior”. The evidence just isn’t there for any other interpretation.

  1. Yes The God exis. The existance of The God can’t be explained or expressed through yourself.if there is any one better idea, men innovated that from nature. Who created the natur?? There must be another Mighty Natur. You know The God exist bt you are unwilling or shy to accept this…

  2. He, That he is ! he will always be…greater is he that, hide not in the dark but! Carries the light.. Yet! St Thomas was he not the same way? For all that he writes is closer too the unspoken truths yet, walks closer too God Laws?

  3. There is a Christ waiting to receive anyone who goes to Him and hasn’t yet been thrown into Hell! There is a Hell waiting for everyone who despises Christ and hasn’t yet come to Faith in Him. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (i.e. Jesus Christ), that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish (i.e. in Hell) but have eternal life” (John 3.16).

  4. The priest obviously only based his views from his own opinion and not at what is written in the Bible. It doesn't surprise me anymore as Roman Catholic Church don't even read the Bible and even to those who did, they never understood it. Worst, they didn't believe it.

  5. He….He….He…..and the Bible of eons ago……really should be updated to today’s Society and its standard moralities…..and ‘SHE’ should be added EVERYWHERE…..to add credence to those Writings……beyond that…..Hell is a horrible fear tactic to get people to ‘act’ in moral ways…..just as ‘heaven’ is an inspirational tactic to get people to do things in order to go there after death. And beyond that, all religions are coersive and place ‘power’ in the hands of males-generally. It’s a systematic imbalance where fairness and honor exist for some. It’s an acceptable state of being for ‘man’kind but is actually an insane idea. The best we, as humans, can do is to live good—even great lives, achieve goals, study and learn, raise our offspring to be happy, healthy, contributory people whose accomplishments will include caring for others, caring about all life-forms, and achieving goals which help humans move forward to find answers for a sustainable ‘Heaven’ on the planet(s) we are fortunate to inhabit. And happiness for one person may not be the same for another person, thus subjectivity is intertwined in our daily lives. It adds all the elements that make our individual lives meaningful.

  6. Hel , the concept of Norse mythology. Most xtian beliefs are from Norse, Greek and other mythologies older than christianity. They just copied it, changed the names and spelling. Do not need a degree in religion or theology to know this.

    • Actually, he is Very Much a Christian…
      Read your own words again, and ask the forbidden question…
      Who Wrote The Bible?
      The answer is simple and one you are not going to like, Men. Men who are the "authorities" the preachers, the popes, the "leaders" of the religion. Never forget that.
      A deity did not pick up a pen and manually write it.
      The Bible is a compilation of stories… yes Stories of Men's experiences that have been retold over and over for years until someone… some average joe… wrote them down, accuracies, errors, exaggerations, mistakes, contradictions, borrowed myths and all.
      The goal of the Bible is to provide a source book of morality cautionary tales to people.
      All Gods, even YHVH, demand people be responsible for their Personal experience living in this world.
      It is the religious Organizations that went beyond this simple basic concept.
      Initially the intention was good, but people in numbers are not that bright. They want others to give them a simple framework so they don't have to "think" just follow the formula like a cooking recipe. One of the 7 deadly sins… Lazy.
      But life is not that simple, never was.
      And the temptation to build an "Army" is something all religions must resist, because who is the enemy?
      Really, who? Other humans just like you? Why enemies? Why divide people? Because they do not believe Exactly like you do? Are you saying you are equivalent in mind to that of the entire universe to judge? That any man… or even a group of human on this relative speck of dust can grasp the complexity of actually BEING an entire universe?
      Really?
      Jesus kinda got that point. And as such had a very profound affect on the religion he was a member of, Judaism. He was a Jew, and a Good Jew.
      But even in his chosen faith, the "Clergy" was using the religion to control and tax the masses for their own gain.
      All people know now, are the sound-bite memes screamed from the pulpits instilling fear and anchoring self shame.

      His observation on "born again" is dead-on. Only Humans want to hold other humans back from maturing and they do it for a very good reason… Control and Profit.
      Yes it is that sad and shameful.

  7. So the majority of Chinese and Russians don't believe in a religion. Governments want to control their people by condemning religious practices. What do these people believe in if they have grown up not ever knowing there is a bible or God? These governments see religion as a threat to their control of their people. My sister thinks God made the earth in 6k years. What about fossils? She even disowned several of her children who are lbgt. She doesn't accept their choices in life and she can't be around sinners. She uses her religious beliefs to manipulate and not be accountable for her alcoholism!

  8. Interesting ideas, but not Biblical. There will be a Last Judgement. The wheat will be separated from the chaff, the sheep from the goats. Yes, there are consequences to actions and inactions. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life". Every Christian knows this — one would think a Bishop would know it too.

  9. Hell, demons and the devil are real….This Episcopal bishop/priest doesn't know what he's talking about… There's evil in the Church right now….The current Pope saying Jesus' death on the cross was a failure….shameful. They need to weed out these frauds. I've seen demons/ghosts/angels, I've seen people get possessed, I've heard spirits talk about hell, purgatory, Lucifer, Jesus, God, the archangels, Cherubim, Seraphim, Nephilim, various demon names, etc. It's very much real..

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