It used to be in the old days, according to my mother, if you were Catholic you were forever scared of damnation and it seemed like anything could send you to hell. Not so any longer. Vatican II changed a lot of things, and perhaps could be partially responsible for the emphasis on salvation teaching rather than damnation teaching. US Catholic adds evangelicals are seeing this happen too, which is why Rob Bell's book Love Wins got such a strong reaction from the evangelical community:
Though the discussion of hell as a place to be feared has seemingly disappeared in Catholic parishes, schools, and homes, the debate over hell’s existence, and whether anyone actually goes there, has been reignited among evangelical Christians, most of whom continue to affirm that eternal damnation is the fate of any person who does not make an explicit personal commitment to Christ.
In his recent book Love Wins (HarperOne), evangelical pastor Rob Bell recalls how his church sponsored an art show on the subject of peacemaking. One artist included a quote from Mahatma Gandhi in her work. Someone attached a piece of paper to it that read, “Reality check: He’s in hell.”
“Really?” writes Bell. “Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt? And that somebody decided to take the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?”
The headlines over Bell's book also interested some Catholic bloggers; Catholic teaching affirms hell's existence, but doesn't tell us if anyone has ever gone there. And as we read the New Testament, we find the Christ of the New Testament is nothing like the vengeful God of the Old Testament:
“I think the liturgical and biblical movements of the 20th century were tremendously important because they really re-focused people on the person of Christ,” says Jesuit theologian Father Randy Sachs, professor of theology at Boston College.
Sachs argues that the church’s theology from the medieval period onward focused heavily on a philosophical concept of God. “God is perfectly just, perfectly merciful, and so on. So you end up in a situation where God somehow has to ‘obey’ his own justice by sending people to hell. It has led to some horrible deformations of Christianity,” says Sachs.
By contrast, he says, focusing on Jesus Christ as he is portrayed in the scriptures leads to a different understanding of God. “I’m not talking about this or that verse, but the whole picture: Jesus having table fellowship with sinners, his readiness to forgive, his criticism of religious authorities,” Sachs says. “As our faith and our liturgy begin to take seriously the life and deeds of Jesus, we realize that God’s style of justice is not at all like our style of justice.”
Definitely, it seems letting go of the fear and guilt is a good, healthy thing to do. Or, as this writer has heard at least one minister say, "Not believing in hell is the Devil's work–it's what he wants you to believe."