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Retired bishop explains the reason why the Church invented “Hell”

“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.

He continues:

“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.

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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.

What do you think?

Written by Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

7 Comments

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  1. Sin is the distortion of an energy breathed into us — an energy which, if not thus distorted, would have blossomed into one of those holy acts whereof “God did it” and “I did it” are both true descriptions. We poison wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege.
    — C.S. Lewis

  2. Those who have ‘seen through’ (enlightenment?) religion and their organised churches have understood pretty early in life that ‘heaven’/ ‘hell’ are stratagems to control independent behaviour and hold the flock together. Wonder what took the bishop so long to realise that? I suppose it is the Bishop’s reluctance to admit that the idea of god is equally absurd. Something the clergy have all along got their bread and butter from!

  3. I’m inclined to agree with the Bishop in principle. On the other hand, I asked whatever, whomever put this universe together how did he / she /it (computer program, hologram) did it. Perhaps, he, she, it was amused because I’m starting to understand how the universe works from basic principles that can’t be readily recognized due to evolution ( think science, understanding, social etc., here). I would also hate to learn that I’ve been reasonably considerate of others & understanding of others for no “future” benefit. Of course, if no one exists after death it is no worse than the 13.4 billion years since the beginning of the universe that I can’t readily recall. Also, death is no worse that being asleep without dreams since we are consciously dead as our brains is cleaned of toxins.

  4. The whole Heaven/Hell thing is just really bad parenting. You punish kids not so much for what they did, but so they won’t do it again. If we get punished after we cannot correct our behavior, what’s the value? Does god want revenge because we lived up to the imperfect nature HE gave us? And what sort of peccadilloes would justify torture for ETERNITY?

  5. Well maybe as per his imagination? But to consider hell as an invention, I think it would be the most important invention humans have ever made and will ever will be.

    People without sense of direction, considering lack of morality, are the worst. I see no wrong in having something to believe into that controls and sets the standard, maintains order and peace.

    Should it be necessary to point out that it is just like some other fictional stories out there? This man is trying to bend other people’s thinking and make it as crooked as his. He is calling it fiction because he just cant bear it when it is the truth.

    As a Christian, I confidently could say that there’s no harm on the teachings of the Holy Bible. The bible isn’t controlling, it is guiding.

  6. Some of us have been saying this for a long time now. I caught on as a teenager and cannot understand why people who purport to being adults still cling to this nonsense. As far as the afterlife we will probably so back to some kind of energy while our bodies are no longer useful to us. This is a personal belief due to experiences but in no way has it been authenticated as far as I know.

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