Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The Father William Most Collection

Americans to Hell?

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

Do most Americans, and most people in many other countries too, go to hell, since they have had a chance to hear of the Church, but yet have not entered?

So we must explore why they have not entered, since they have an opportunity.

There are several reasons, mostly based upon one situation.

The CCC in ยง37 says that in actual conditions, man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the use of reason alone. The CCC then quotes from Humani generis of Pius XII. He says that in itself, the mind is capable, by its natural powers, of finding God, yet there are obstacles. First, the truths about the relations between God and man are beyond the visible order of things. Second, if they are to be effectively known, there is need of "self-surrender and abnegation." The reason for this: The human mind suffers difficulty not only from the impact of the senses and imagination, but also from the disorder of the appetites that stems from original sin.

The net result is this: "... men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false, or at least doubtful."

We notice the language: what they would not like to see as true may not register as true, for they can easily persuade themselves that the things they do not like are not true, or at least are doubtful.

How do they "persuade themselves" that the things they do not like are not true? No one gets up in the morning and decides what lies he will tell himself today. Such a view is nonsense. The work is not a matter of conscious and deliberate rejection of the truth. Rather, their disordered appetites, as a result of original sin, can work beneath the level of consciousness and cause them to fail to see the force of the reasons why the truth is true. The reason is that our feelings exert a pull on our judgment

This situation is made still worse by personal sins, which add to the disorder coming from original sin. It is not that original sin took, as it were, a hunk out of the power of reason. John Paul II assured us (Audience of Oct 8, 1986) that there is "only a relative, not an absolute deterioration... not a loss of their essential capacities even in relation to the knowledge and love of God."

So there is the possibility that men can, without realizing or intending to do it or realizing that they are doing it "easily persuade themselves" that what they would not like to see as true is not true.

We see this in the area of politics. How is it that Pat thinks candidate A is great, but Mike thinks the same candidate is immoral? Pat and Mike may each be honest men, trying to face the facts. Yet things may register differently on them because of this disorder stemming from original sin, aggravated by personal sins.

So most of us have known some persons who grew up in a Lutheran or other Protestant family who yet live a good moral life, but do not consider entering the Church? Objectively they should investigate and then join. In practice, we all tend to think that what we have grown up with, at least if our family seems good to us, is right. To even reach the point of wondering: Should I investigate?-- takes quite a shove to overcome the inertia.

We could hardly judge all these who live rightly to be in bad faith. A good example is Bill Bright, of Campus Crusade for Christ, Orlando, Fla. As reported in the periodical Worldwide Challenge Jan-Feb. 1995 he and his wife Vonette in 1951 made a "contract with the Lord": "From this day, Lord, we surrender and relinquish all our past, present and future rights, and material possessions to You. As an act of the will, by faith, we choose to become Your bondslaves and do whatever You want us to do, to go wherever You want us to go, say whatever You want us to say, no matter what it costs, for the rest of our lives. We will never seek the praise or applause of men or the material wealth of the world." At age 73 he is still working on this Crusade. The same issue reports "He and Vonette do not own a home or car. They pay rent for their Campus Crusade owned condominium and drive donated cars. They have given $50,000 of their pension to help train new believers in Moscow."

It is not easy to judge such people are just in bad faith, that they have seen the reasons for the Catholic Church but yet by their own fault refuse to come in. Really, it is not quite right to ask such a question. For according to Matthew 7. 1,"Judge not," we distinguish two things: 1) the objective rating of what someone is doing; 2) the interior dispositions. -- In this case, the objective rating is partly heroic as per that contract, partly defective as embedded in a protestant creed. But as to the interior - we are told in Mt. 7. 1 not to judge the interior of others, since in general we simply cannot know it. So we should not judge them to be in bad faith. And it surely does not look like that.

In fact, most cradle Catholics adhere to the Church with no rational cause. Commonly during the high school period they come into a time of changeover from the child pattern of believing things just because the adults said so, to the adult pattern, or wanting reasons. The trouble is that most persons do indeed drop the childlike pattern - but they never even look for adult reasons. Those reasons will be apologetics. Most Catholics probably do not even suspect that we can construct a rational proof, without depending on faith at the start, that the Church has been given a commission to teach by someone sent by God, Jesus Christ.

Converts, in contrast, are apt to be stronger in faith, precisely because they have gone through such a process. But the cradle Catholics probably do not suspect such a thing exists.

Sadly, some after that childlike period, give up their faith. Some, without a reasoned basis, join a protestant denomination, under the influence of a prospective marriage partner, or for other insufficient reasons. We even see American women joining the Islamic religion, even though it is so restrictive on women. They think it looks good to them. There is something they like about the way of life. But they have never heard, nor have they expected to hear, a reasoned proof that Mohammed really did have divine revelations, that he proved it, that we know what was revealed to him.

Some join protestant denominations because they have heard there are not so many moral demands, and that they will have infallible salvation if they do. They never ask for, nor are they given, a rational proof of these beliefs. But they go anyway.

Underlying all these things is the simple fact that there can be subconscious influences at work, even subconscious blocks in the way of accepting the Catholic church. For example, a person may perceive that if he does so, his family will turn against him, or the other professors at his university, or his business associates, or that he will have to give up contraception and the possibility of divorce and remarriage.

Do these subconscious blocks make it really objectively all right for the person to fail to do what he should? By no means. But they may keep him from seeing the reasons. He does not consciously reject them. He as Pius XII said, may easily persuade himself that the reasons are not valid, or at least are doubtful.

We are easily influenced by this sort of subconscious motivation. These things are like submarines, and submarines are all the more effective because they are not seen, when they do not surface.

For example, suppose I am living in a large institution , and I hear the announcement that Thursday evening a collector will come to each door to pick up contributions for some good cause. I think it over, and decide: I will give him $50. Now of course that is much more than most people will give. What is my MOTIVE? I would like to think it is 100% charity. But it could easily happen that the motive is only partly conscious. I may, without being aware of it, be influenced by the desire for a big congratulation, or my hand may creep around to pat myself on the back.

So it could easily happen that let us say, 40% of what motivates me is the desire for big congratulations, while the motive of real charity provides 60% of the drive.

Do I then sin by vanity? Not if I am completely unaware of that hidden motive, if the submarine remains completely beneath the surface.

We take another case. It used to easily happen that a boy in the first year of college would be taking a general introductory biology course. Early in the semester he did no more work than what it took to just get by. But then they come to the chapter on sex, and he says to himself: I really should be studying more. So he reads the whole chapter carefully, goes to the library to find more.

What motives drive him? There are three: 1) The real desire for study - the early part of the semester shows that is not very strong; 2) natural curiosity about sex. To indulge curiosity, if there is no great danger of consent to illegitimate pleasure, is not more than a venial sin; 3) bootlegging kicks. The boy is not aware of that fact, yet it is happening to him. He may in some cases come to the point of saying: I wonder if I am just kidding myself? Then he will contract some guilt, which only God can measure. But the submarines may stay well below the surface, and so he contracts no guilt.

No wonder a famous motto on the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece advised: Get to know yourself. For real spiritual progress, growth in self-knowledge is essential. How can we correct faults of which we are not yet aware? So at a retreat, one good project is to try to grow in self-knowledge, to search for submarine motives. The most common of those is some variety of pride or vanity. It easily crawls into even our best actions, without our fully knowing it.

So in a similar way, these submarine blocks may keep a person from realizing that they should investigate their religion. The blocks can make it easy to as Pius XII said, persuade themselves that what they would not like to see as true is not true or is at least doubtful and so need not be checked carefully.

Even the Apostles showed patterns like these. Jesus predicted His death and resurrection at least three times. Yet when it happened, they acted as if they had never heard of such a thing. The reason: they had a set of ideas already installed in their minds, namely, of a Messiah who would be a great conqueror who would throw out the Romans. The idea He would suffer terribly would not fit such a picture. So it never got in at all. In fact, just before His ascension, they asked: Lord, are you going to restore the kingship to Israel now? The Teacher must not have felt good: They flunked their final exam.

Again, one of the last things He told them was: "Go and teach all nations". Yet in Acts 10, when Peter came to the pagan centurion Cornelius, some Jewish Christians on the sidelines were horrified that Peter would speak to a gentile. God had to work a miracle to get that out of it: then the Holy Spirit displayed His power visibly so that Peter said: "If God accepts them, I guess I have to accept them too.

So if someone says: Cannot grace overcome these blocks? Of course, grace can do anything. But in some cases an extraordinary grace is needed, to overcome resistance already present. These blocks are submarine resistance. Now extraordinary graces are extraordinary, God cannot, without self-contradiction, make the extraordinary to be ordinary. So He does not routinely give the miraculous graces.

Similarly we should not say: A man should be ready to give up family and friends and all for Christ. True. But the blocks, the submarines beneath the surface may cause him to, as Pius XII said, easily persuade himself that what he does not like to be true is not true, or is at least doubtful.

St. Paul was well aware of this situation. Beginning in Chapter 8 of 1 Cor he treats the question: May we eat food sacrificed to idols? He replies, in effect: An idol is nothing. Nothing changes nothing. So it is all right to eat- except in cases where there would be scandal.

He gave this case: you are invited to a dinner, and on the table is some meat. Someone at table says: That came from the temple. Would we think Paul would tell them: Say that Paul says it is all right. But no, Paul argues, eloquently and at length, that they should be willing to give up meat rather than lead such a person into eating when he considers it morally wrong.

How could that happen? Some had grown up with a belief that things offered were changed. No use to tell them they have not been changed. They would not explicitly say they are not changed. But they could not digest, as it were, the truth here. So Paul does not say: "Tell them they are silly", or: "Say Paul says it is all right". No, he argues eloquently and at length: Christ died for this soul. Cannot you give up meat on occasion to avoid ruining that soul?

It is also helpful to notice that there are two kinds of evidence that lead one to accept something as true-- compulsive and noncompulsive evidence. Compulsive evidence, such as 2 x 2 = 4, forces the mind. We are not free. But most things depend on noncompulsive evidence. In it there is a large range - at one end of the scale are the things so solid that no one doubts them. At the other end are things in which feeling can play a part, e.g., if someone says Mayor Barry is a good honest politician - we can easily find yes and no answers.

Where is the evidence for faith? It is of course noncompulsive. It lies at a point at which it is objectively valid, yet not such as to force one. God wants faith to be free. He could have arranged to have the resurrection take place with all Jerusalem, including Pharisees, present. But that would leave no freedom. So He purposely sets the evidence at such a pint that it really does justify belief, but does not force it.

How a person reacts depends much on his basic moral stance. For example, if a man has never been drunk before, but tonight goes out and gets very drunk -- next morning he will have guilt feelings, from a clash between his moral beliefs, and his actions. Our nature hates such clashes. In time, something will give: either he will align his actions with his beliefs, or his beliefs will be pulled to match his actions. A confirmed drunk cannot understand that there is anything wrong in getting drunk. And other moral beliefs can be pulled along with it. Even doctrinal truths can be pulled: before John Paul II visited Denver, Dignity, a militant homosexual group that defies the Church, published a statement saying that the Pope is only the titular head of the Church: we are the Church.

Now if a person continues to go out on the evil spiral, his ability to see moral and religious truth goes down and down. On the other hand, if he lives strenuously according to the faith that says the things of this world are worth nothing compared to eternity -- he will grow in light on spiritual things.

It reminds us of the Gospel saying: to him who has more will be given, and he will abound; from him who does not have, that which he seems to have will be taken away.

Again, it is clear that one's dispositions can affect how much he sees. At the time of acting, he may, if he is on the bad spiral, have less responsibility from having less light. Yet he may - it is just possible - have foreseen when starting out on that course that he would run into more and more blindness. If so, he would at that early point contract responsibility for everything he would foresee. But do so many persons act so rationally?

We conclude again: there are such things as subconscious conditions that can keep a person from seeing the reasons for the faith: he does not consciously reject, but as Pius XII said, the result is that he easily persuades himself that the reasons are not valid, or at least, are doubtful.

Such persons can be saved according to repeated declarations of our Magisterium. HOW this can be is the subject of further theological work. For it, please see Wm. Most's file "He Wants Intensely to Make us Happy", or Our Father's Plan, appendix.



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