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The Politics of Heaven and Hell

Robert Royal: Heaven is in Heaven and the New Jerusalem cannot be brought to Earth by our efforts; only God will bring perfect justice at the Second Coming.


Shortly after I arrived in Washington years ago, I reviewed a book with the same title as this column. A friend warned about reviewing books by that particular author – our late lamented colleague James V. Schall, S.J. – because if you start, he said, you won’t have time for anything else. And that was before the supernova of titles that Schall the Great turned out in his seventies, eighties, and even nineties.

Ignatius Press is republishing The Politics of Heaven and Hell this fall with an introduction by another incisive and prolific writer, Robert Reilly. A good thing, too, because in our current chaos, when it seems almost impossible to get sure footing about anything, this relatively neglected volume not only uncovers sure foundations. It explains the ways by which we’ve mixed up eternal and temporal things – and put the times out of joint.

Schall’s central insight is that our central traditions of both faith and reason agree that politics is an important, but circumscribed realm. If we were the highest beings, politics would be the highest science, said Aristotle. That wise pagan – Dante calls him “the master of those who know” – knew that we are not the highest beings. There’s God, for starters, and His Creation, to which we owe deference. Ignore them, and the inevitable result is chaos, suffering, servitude, tyranny, and death.

The ancient Hebrews learned this well before Aristotle. Schall notes how little attention political theorists pay to the Old Testament, the history of a small and obscure nation – Israel – that survived, improbably, down to our own time, with incalculable influence on the history of the whole world. It did so not because of any special policies or virtues: Jewish history is a record of graces given and refused, of return and consequent flourishing, of many rounds of ignoring God, decline, and renewal through Him.

The overall lesson: nations are great not because they accumulate power or wealth. Power and wealth come and go. And aren’t all they seem anyway. Nations are made great, however insignificant they may be in earthly terms, because God makes them so and they conform themselves to God.

Christianity, of course, limited politics in a special way, beginning with Jesus’ famous distinction between the things that are Caesar’s – the arrangements necessary to human flourishing (even, sadly, taxes) – and the things that are God’s. Those few words had immense, cascading effects in the Christian tradition.

And not only in thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Suárez, Bellarmine, etc. Countries historically touched by Christianity still mostly protect beliefs about ultimate things from control by politics – indeed, believe that right can and should challenge might. That separation is absent from Muslim societies, ideological regimes like China, or traditional societies where the ruler is regarded as a kind of mortal god.

But it’s not only on high intellectual or social planes that these truths prove themselves. As we’ve seen only too clearly in modern times, when politics becomes the “highest science” men become not philosopher kings, but beasts. The totalizing political systems of Communism, Nazism, and Fascism were killing machines on an unprecedented scale.

And recent decades have given birth to what the Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko calls the “demon in democracy,” a new totalitarian temptation wherein everything is defined by political ideology. We worry over “polarization,” but there’s a deep geological fault in our politics, far more radical than that. The absence of religion in the public square, with its moderating effects, is a large factor in this development, since once the true God departs the false god of the state arrives.

Even good public impulses then become poisonous – and unlimited. For example, we’ve just seen what can happen when a proper effort to right racism, a historic wrong, is made the measure of everything. Everything becomes “racist” that is not explicitly “anti-racist” – according to someone’s definition, which may differ from someone else’s. Not surprisingly, demands for absolute political justice then turn into “canceling” and anathematizing people who show the slightest deviation from an ideological line – i.e., injustice.

Historic racial inequities need to be fixed, but does injustice only involve race – with occasional bows to gender and class? Andrew Sullivan, a brilliant writer, recently resigned from New York magazine because it couldn’t bear his criticism of “cancel culture,” despite his being gay and liberal on some issues, conservative on others (and somehow also aspiring to be Catholic).

He pointed out that it’s places like the New York Times that really don’t understand a just “diversity.” The Times seems poised to cave in to employee demands that staff reflect the racial makeup of New York City: 24 percent black and more than half “people of color.” And there must be “sensitivity training” – i.e., ideological indoctrination – for everyone.

Sullivan notes that there are other underrepresented groups at the Times. Only 37 percent of New Yorkers, for example, are college graduates – who are overrepresented in the newsroom – as are Asians and Jews. Should some of them resign?  If you wanted fairer proportions of New Yorkers, 10 percent of staff would have to be Republicans, 6 percent Hasidic Jews, and 33 percent Catholic.

It may be a long wait for that because ideologues only care about certain “facts” and rarely have a sense of irony – or humor.

Which takes us back to the politics of Heaven and Hell. Heaven is in Heaven and the New Jerusalem cannot be brought to Earth by our efforts; only God will bring perfect justice at the Second Coming. The road to human hells, however, always lies wide open.

The larger perspective that religion affords us – including elements like human imperfection, sin, forgiveness, tolerance, the limits of earthly politics – does not mean that we need to be any less passionate in pursuing justice and fairness. But it does mean we have to be vigilant and measured about our own motives and the results of our actions. We have on good authority: “Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness.” (Lk. 11:3)

Robert Royal

Dr. Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

EDITORS NOTE: This The Catholic Thing column is republished with permission. © 2020 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info@frinstitute.org. The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Gays and Muslims: How will liberals deal with Muslims killing gays? [Video]

The Vortex talks about Orlando, Gays, Liberals and Muslims. Message: The Catholic Church wants to save gays from Hell. Islam wants to send gays to Hell.

TRANSCRIPT

All the victims at the gay nightclub who were murdered over the weekend need our prayers. Fifty people, 50-plus souls were on the scene, and the very next moment, they were standing before the judgment seat of Almighty God — as we all will be one day. Life can seem so certain one moment and over the next, in a twinkling of an eye. We must always be prepared to die.

The murders bring about a very interesting point of a larger discussion. The liberal alliance has brought various factions together, with one common goal: to end Catholic morality’s influence on Western civilization.

There are indeed some strange pairings in this liberal alliance: homosexualists, the Democratic Party, the mainstream media and Islam. Whatever differences Islam and liberals have, they have been willing to overlook them to join forces against the common enemy of Christianity, specifically Catholicism.

So, for example, from ISIS and the Islamic world you hear threats against Rome — loud threats, so loud that Italian army soldiers now stand at the ready fully armed with machine guns in very plain sight around the boundaries of Vatican City. And you hear from various gay groups that the Catholic Church hates gays — that we are homophobic, that we are a threat, that we need to have our non-profit status revoked, that we need to be monitored and so forth.

One point needs to become very clear to all those who wish to paint the Church as an enemy of gays: We want you saved. Islam wants you dead. And let’s be very clear: The Catholic Church wants to save gays from Hell. Islam wants to send gays to Hell.

Just last month in the Middle East, these horrific images of a man being thrown off a building to his death were released. His “crime”: being gay in a Muslim country. Again, Catholics don’t hate gays. But Islamicists do. It wasn’t Catholics throwing that man to his death. And it wasn’t a Catholic in the gay nightclub murdering dozens of same-sex-attracted men and women.

But this whole situation does pose a very difficult conundrum for the whole liberal alliance. Gays hate the Church because the Church teaches about the immorality of homosexual acts. And Islam hates the Church because it was born from a hate of the Church and has always had as its object the overthrow of Christianity.

Up until now, the liberal mainstream media has been happy to be complicit in giving Islamic terrorism a pass because it had common cause with undermining Catholicism in the culture. The liberal alliance was happy to make common cause with Islam because they had a common enemy: the Catholic Church. So whenever an Islamic terrorist murdered a group somewhere, it could be whitewashed and follow-up stories done on how Islam doesn’t really have a widely accepted notion of jihad and violence, and how the various terror acts were “isolated,” or the individual was disturbed and so forth. But Islam could never be approached as a problem in itself. That would be shooting an ally in the back.

Well, this past weekend radical Islam shot one of its own allies in the back; more than 50 souls were dispatched into eternity as a result. So now the conundrum: Random victims were not targeted but homosexual men and women. Islam hates gays and wants them dead, and this is a fact that the liberal alliance of homosexualists, Democrats and the media have simply not said out loud.

Well, now they have to.

The liberal alliance may finally have to come out and say for the whole world to hear what should be blindingly obvious to the whole world: Islam hates gays and wants them dead.

But that admission will cost the liberal alliance. For all their common cause with wanting to undermine or even eradicate Catholicism, the Church does share some core principles with Islam regarding morality. Pope John Paul II was able to use those shared beliefs about sexual morality in the U.N. Cairo Conference back in the 1990s to fend off an attempt by Western nations to embrace abortion and contraception as human rights. By working with various Islamic nations, the Church was able to beat back the initiative.

This move by the Vatican angered many Western powers who want to push sexual immorality, and the Church came into sharp focus as a threat to their new world order. So the liberal alliance of gays, news media, politicians, Hollywood, all banded together and began their relentless pounding of the Church. To the extent that Islam could be conscripted, even indirectly, all the better.

Up until Orlando, the strange alliance between gays and gay-hating Islam was able to hold. Now, it’s over — or, at least, it should be. What remains to be seen is how this will be handled or massaged in the media. Will the Muslim killer be painted as a lone extremist who does not represent “peaceful” Islam? Will media reports devolve into story after story about the need for gun control? Will the murderous action be whitewashed as an act against “Americans” and “our way of life” instead of the full-on truth that Islam hates gays and wants them dead?

Now that Islam has broken ranks with the liberal alliance by attacking a key component of it in the homosexual ideology, what remains to be seen is which enemy will the liberal alliance choose to attack more: Islam or the Catholic Church? Since Satan is behind the liberal alliance, the homosexual ideology and Islam, it’s pretty certain the Church will be the one continuing being attacked once this has all receded from the headlines.

The liberal alliance will move on with business as usual.

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No, Women Are Not Obliged to Vote for Hillary by Sarah Skwire

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

It’s one of Madeline Albright’s most famous lines, and she’s brought it out on any number of occasions. Starbucks even put it on a coffee cup. I understand why. It’s eminently quotable and suggests a kind of tough-minded sisterhood that can be appealing. I can see its ready application, for example, when helping a drunk friend get home safely from a party or when holding another mom’s infant so she can use the restroom in peace.

But Albright should have been a lot more careful before she applied her signature line to what she sees as an obligation for women to vote for Hillary Clinton in the democratic primaries. Because the minute that you take her line out of the context of relationships among people and move it to the political context it loses whatever tough-minded charm it has, and it becomes a bullying, sexist, prescriptivist piece of obnoxious nonsense.

I don’t believe in hell, so threatening me with it has never had much purchase. But to the best of my understanding, for religions that do believe in hell, the things that get people sent there are sins against God or against other people. Taking a political action that someone doesn’t agree with (voting for someone other than Hillary Clinton) doesn’t seem to fit that bill in any way. Suggesting that it does mingles church and state in ways that sit uncomfortably with long American traditions.

And even if voting in a way that Albright thinks is wrong is a sin that leads to damnation, if Albright really is a believer in eternal torment and hellfire, she should probably be led by the many New Testament verses that counsel believers to use gentle correction and instruction toward those who have gone astray.

If Albright isn’t a believer in eternal torment and hellfire, she might be well advised to keep theology out of her politics entirely.

But even if we leave aside the myriad objections that arise when a bullying and inaccurate theology is dragged into the political realm, Albright’s insistence that women have a duty to vote for Clinton because she is also a woman remains moronic.

It is sexism of the oldest and most annoying type. With one comment, Albright managed to suggest the following:

  1. Women should shut up and vote the way they are told to vote.
  2. All women should vote the same way.
  3. All women have the same interests and objectives.
  4. Women who have made choices others disagree with have chosen incorrectly and must be brought back into line.
  5. Women cannot be trusted to recognize (and vote in favor of) their best interests.

Women have, over the centuries, gotten quite practiced at responding to these particular bits of idiocy. So while it’s disconcerting, at best, to hear this tosh from a woman of Albright’s stature and experience, it’s not particularly challenging to formulate an intelligent response. In fact, one thing that makes Albright’s comment so maddening is that, to many women, it seems so incredibly retrograde when applied to politics. It ignores the very real progress made by 21st century feminist thinkers in recognizing the different kinds of lives lived by different kinds of women — from different classes, of different colors, with different religions, of different sexualities, and in different bodies. By shouting right over that kind of nuance, Albright’s comment sounds like it’s stuck in the feminism of the 1960s.

But it’s worse than that. In its gender essentialism — its insistence that women are all women and therefore all alike — Albright’s comment could have been ripped right out of the first years of the 20th century. Or the 19th century. Or the 18th.

Happily, we have had Mary Wollstonecraft around for the past nearly 225 years to respond to that kind of nonsense. Albright would do better if, like Wollstonecraft, she would “consider women in the grand light of human creatures, who, in common with men, are placed on this earth to unfold their faculties.”

Telling a woman how she should vote because she is a woman is no less insulting than telling her that she shouldn’t vote because she is a woman. Both approaches deny an individual the opportunity to unfold her unique faculties as she sees fit. Both approaches reduce a complex individual to a single characteristic. Politics routinely does this to all sorts of groups — women, people of color, people of faith, gun owners — and it is in every case an insult to the dignity of the individual.

But Albright’s comment does something even worse. Or perhaps, for our purposes, it does something even better. Albright’s comment reveals the truth about politics. And that truth is that Clinton’s run for the White House, like Sanders’s run, or Trump’s, or Bush’s, or Cruz’s, or anyone’s, is not about serving the people.

We are told to vote for Clinton because we have a special duty to help other women. But Albright and Clinton do not mean that we have a special duty to the women standing next to us in line at the grocery store, or to the women who are suffering from poverty, or out of work, or abused by their spouses, or harassed by their bosses. They mean that we have a special duty to one woman: Hillary Clinton. It is our duty, as women, to help her to a spot in the White House, because no woman has done that before. Seeing her up there proves … something. And it will make us all feel … something.

That’s pretty weak tea, Albright.

But it is, at least, weak tea that exposes the fundamental truth about politics. It’s not about helping women. Or men. Or people of color. Or the unemployed. Or whomever we are told it is about helping.

It’s about helping the politician.

And I’ll be damned if I’m going to do that.

Sarah SkwireSarah Skwire

Sarah Skwire is the poetry editor of the Freeman and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

Pope Right: Hell Not Forever, Incompatible with a Loving God! Where Did We Get that Idea?

Pope Francis has sparked another debate with controversial remarks at the Third Vatican Council. He says, the concept of hell where people burn eternally cannot be Christian–it goes against the concept of a loving and compassionate God.

That idea is being challenged by other Bible scholars, not just the pope.

When God told Adam that if he ate of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” that he would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17) He did not mean live forever in torment. This idea is an invention of the devil to paint God as a devil.

God says He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. It’s a biblical concept that God does not destroy and that we destroy ourselves by the choices we make. How important it is to choose wisely.

The word “hell” is found 54 times in the King James Bible. It translated from the Hebrew word “she’ol” meaning the grave 31 times, and from the Greek word “hades,” also meaning the grave 10 times. The Greek word gehenna is the source for 12 uses of hell and the word means a place of burning (only 12 out of 54 places in the Bible).

The Bible teaches that the wicked will be burned up and leave them “neither root nor branch,” Malachi 4:1. God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” Ezekiel 33:11.

That was before churchmen got into the act by promising to pray people out of hell or purgatory (no such word in the Bible) for money. Poor translation of Revelation makes people think the fire is forever when it is the consequences (death) that lasts for ever.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus has been used by many preachers to teach eternal torment.

The idea of a conscious existence between death and the resurrection was held by many in Christ’s day. He knew this and framed His parable to teach truth related to their preconceived opinions–that no man is valued for his possessions–all that we have belongs to us only as lent by the Lord. A misuse of these gifts places us below the poorest and most afflicted man who loves and serves God.

Christ desires us to understand that it is impossible for men to secure the salvation of the soul after death.

“The living know that they shall die, but the dead know not anything,” Ecclesiastes 9:5. The belief in consciousness after death sets us up for deception by evil spirits that can personate departed love ones–like the evil spirit personated Samuel, brought up by the witch of Endor at Saul’s request.

EDITORS NOTE: Dr. Ruhling is a physician whose special interest in retirement is Bible prophecy, especially the wedding parables, and he offers more information at his website: http://TheBridegroomComes.com