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

By Koba | 2 July 2015
Urban Intellectuals

(Image: YouTube / screengrab)

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. In July of 1999, John Paul II said there was no physical, burning, forever tormenting "hell." (you can google "John Paul II no hell" and see it all over the place, and also the head Vatican Latinist, Reggie Foster, mentions this in his clip from the movie Religulous). I am sure a lot of Protestants (non-Catholic Christians) believe there is a hell, however what priests and Popes say does not pertain to Protestants, who follow the Bible exclusively. When I went to the Baptist church, we didn't worry about what the Pope said – didn't pertain to us – so I find it a bit silly to see non- Catholics arguing about this, because it's Catholic doctrine being discussed here, not Protestant. This is an issue just for the Catholics – what a Catholic priest or Pope says doesn't pertain to the Protestants, so just ignore it! As a Catholic convert myself, I have to point out to the Catholics that there is this thing called the infallibility of the Pope. Technically, if JP II said there is no "hell fire", then a good Catholic should accept what he said. But I know many who don't. But nonetheless, the Pope said it. You may not like it, you may not agree with it, but John Paul II himself said. It's Catholic doctrine now, whether one likes it or not.

    • Who gave the pope his power? Who made his opinon leading? Religeon is not real. The church controlls people with gear and guild. It’s not healthy!!!

    • Yes, there is a hell, but not in the way that men have been taught. Hell is the grave, so what he said is right, but is this what the Catholic church teaches?

  2. Heaven and hell dwells in the mind. It can create hell or create heaven in it's day to day living. There is a war going on in our being. Once our senses are in control there will be good thoughts and peace within self.

  3. It is sad to hear a priest/pastor describe Heaven as a place of reward. I hope he will one day see it as the place our loving Father has prepared for us, so much that he was ready to offer the very best he had in order to spend eternity with us. The only thing he asks us to do is to believe in this. Not so hard -is it? :-)

  4. i know nothing and i know thoes who claims about knowing Jesus and The Father knows nothimg.
    I have no opinion on God , I feel he is very near to me and I don’t want to create distance by knowing him .
    I love the bells of church , walls of church praying childrens and men and women flavour of compassion in the surroundings there. I ignore the knowers there to avoid distance from Jesus.


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