Playing with fire

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Hell makes a comeback

This news item got remarkably little coverage in the U.S.: Pope Benedict XVI has reinstated hell as a real place where the heat is always on. This seems to contradict his predecessor, John Paul II, who said that hell is not a place but the state of those who separate themselves from God. Now, with Pope Benedict weighing in, it's time to stock up again on the flame-retardant eternity-wear if you think you might exit the world a sinner.

The Pope said people need to be reminded that by failing to "admit blame and promise to sin no more," they risk "eternal damnation -- the inferno," The Times (London) said last week. Hell is a place, not just a religious symbol, he said, even if it isn't talked about much anymore.

I know I'm playing with fire here, dealing with religious belief, but whether hell is real or not strikes me as news you can use. Vatican officials later seemed to tone down the Pope's remarks, saying he had wanted to reinforce the belief that hell is to be understood "symbolically rather than physically." Clear?

Hell: Don't go there

From The Times (London) online forum:

Richard, Stockholm, Sweden: "We are constantly warned about cancer, AIDS, wars, global warming, etc, so why take offense when we are warned about Hell?"

Tom, Butte, Mont.: "What does Simon Cowell think? Is Hell eternal karaoke?"

John, Malaga, Spain: "Like Rowan Atkinson said in his sketch about arriving in Hell, 'OK, hands up all those who don't believe God exists' and after a slight pause . . . 'My, my, bet you feel foolish now.'"

Sophia, Manchester: "'Extra! Extra! Pope revealed to be a Catholic!' Is it really news that the Church believes in hell?"

Neil, Brighton: "Eternity is quite a long time. I hope there's a bar."


From the AP

Dan, London:

"I cannot believe the amount of people posting in support of the pope, who truly believe in these archaic, controlling, quashing beliefs. Interestingly, they are mostly from America."

Wayne, England: "If a doctor warns that you should get some exercise, stop smoking and drink less beer, because all these can kill you, is the doctor to be condemned for using fear to help you?"

Pete, Manchester: "Afterlife insurance salesmen, that's all organized religion boils down to. It's the ultimate scam, as no one ever returns to dispute the 'policy' they've been sold."

Dan, England: "Why do we endlessly strive for some kind of meaning in death? Eternal life is not something in the clouds; it is in the hearts, minds and memories of those we leave behind."

Telling it like it is

William Langley, the Sunday Telegraph (London): "Was there a touch of devilry in Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that hell is for real? Behind his remarks was a growing sense of irritation among Church traditionalists that hell has fallen out of fashion, and that the afterlife, having been cleaned up and de-fanged, is now being sold as a kind of dream holiday-in-perpetuity, with heaven as the ritzy new resort, and hell the eyesore slum that was knocked down to accommodate it."

Unsolicited advice for the pope

Emer O'Kelly, The Irish Times: "Pope Benedict seems like a very nice man. He probably doesn't yearn for the good old days of his previous job with the Inquisition, when his predecessors in office had the useful tools of red hot pincers, the rack, and in serious cases, the burning alive of sinners, to enforce the Church's teaching. He probably thinks he's being fairly mild by reminding his flock that Roman Catholicism is not a 'feel good' religion. It ain't easy, having the extraordinary gift of being baptized a Roman Catholic. The Pope knows that, and he's trying to spell it out. It's the rules or it's hellfire for all eternity. I think he's admirable, because I detest hypocrisy. But I also think he should put his own house, that is the Roman Catholic Church, in order, before he starts preaching to others about ethics."

Hell to pay

David Robson, The Express (London): "I hear plenty of talk about recycling, stealth taxes and the weather, but when did I last hear someone talking about Hell? Hell, I can't remember. Even Christians seem to think it is impolite to mention it. Most people in modern society live not in a God-centred universe, but a self-centred one. We long ago forgot about the threat of eternal punishment and clearly believe Hell does not exist, or else do not care. Which, for Pope Benedict XVI, must be Hell."

Dear Diary

Pope Benedict XVI's diary as imagined by Joseph Brean, Canada's nationalpost.com:

MONDAY

I honestly don't know what the big deal is. All I said was that hell is real. People are surprised the Pope thinks this? Two years ago, when I said we are in a "dictatorship of relativism," I thought that would get them talking, but nobody seemed to care. Now I give a sermon straight out of Damnation 101, and suddenly I'm the Roman Pat Robertson? I don't get it.

TUESDAY

This is worse than I thought. Now my image consultant says my sermons are too literal. He thinks I should use a metaphor for hell. What? You thought the Pope does not have an image consultant?

Hell is us

Robert McNeil, The Scotsman: "How irritating to be told that hell exists. Just when I'd made other plans. My own view: this is hell. No, not this column, madam. Well, not just this column. I mean life on Earth. Any conceivable torture is happening to some poor sod right now, somewhere on the globe. Folk are starved, bashed on the noggin, prodded and harassed. Some are listening to Beyonce. Nobody's happy. Everybody's moaning. This is it. This is hell. What on Earth could be worse?"

More sinners heard from

Rob, London: "Burning in the flames every day does indeed sound grim, but it's surprising what you can get used to."

Paul, New Zealand: "Does all this burning put Co2 in the atmosphere?"

Jim, Woodbury, Minn.: "I am pleased to see so many who think they have proven some other plan of eternity. Your mocking words will haunt you for an eternity."

John, Dublin: "I recall, as a boy at a Catholic Irish school, choosing prays to recite that would give me the most days of dispensation in Purgatory, which is the same as Hell but only a remand center."

Laurence Budd, Fort Collins, Colo.: "If the Pope is right, I take great consolation knowing that one day my mother-in-law will be there, instead of here, making our lives feel like there."


Contact us at pleo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112.


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