“I don’t think hell exists,” said The Right Reverend John Shelby Spong. “I happen to believe in life after death, but I don’t think it’s got anything to do with reward and punishment.”
Spong is a retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church, and from 1979 to 2000 was the Bishop of Newark in New Jersey, USA.
He shared his view that hell was invented by the Church in order to control people and his comments have since gone viral, reaching tens of millions of people worldwide (see video below).
Religion invents ideas and concepts just like any creative human enterprise. Some of these ideas have helped many people find meaning and fulfilment from their lives. Yet many of the concepts invented by religion have aimed to get people to conform to a system of behaviors that guarantee an intangible reward in the afterlife.
As Spong says:
“Religion is always in the control business and and that’s something people don’t really understand. It’s in the guilt-producing control business and if you have heaven as a place where you’re rewarded for your goodness and hell is a place where you’re punished for your evil then you have control of the population.”
The effect of threatening to punish people for bad behaviors is to stifle their natural curiosity.
“So they create this fiery place which has scared the hell out of a lot of people throughout Christian history, and it’s part of control tactic.”
Spong is suggesting that Hell is a myth and requires people to fear the existence of Hell in order to help the Church continue to survive.
Many people turn to religious and spiritual teachings for guidance in a chaotic world, but the impact of religion, according to Spong, results in people being less responsible for their actions.
As Spong says:
“The Church doesn’t like for people who grow up because you can’t control grownups. That’s why we talk about being born again. When you’re born again, you’re still a child. The people don’t need to be born again, they need to grow up, accept responsibility for themselves in the world.”
It’s impossible to verify where human “souls” or “spirits” go to after death, yet religions create myths about places like Heaven and Hell. Why do they do this?
The answer is simple, according to Spong. Maintaining these myths keeps people in a fearful state where they turn to the Church as their savior.
Yet Spong raises a pertinent question:
“Every Church I know claims that we are the true Church, they have some ultimate authority. We have the infallible Pope, we have the inerrant Bible. The idea that the truth of god can be bound in any human system, any human creed, by any human book is almost beyond imagination for me.”
Spong ends the interview with a powerful call for his viewers to see religion in a different way:
“God is not a Christian! God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist. Those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God.”
What do you think of the Bishop’s comments? Let us know in the comments.