Saturday, September 14, 2019

Turning Brexit into a crime

By Brendan O'Neill
13 September 2019

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John Bercow
This week, the Remainer elite’s war on democracy reached fever pitch. There is now a distinct whiff of autocracy in their campaign to overthrow Brexit. Their aim seems to be to criminalise Brexit, to make it an actual offence to walk away from the European Union.
Remoaner politicians constantly complain about the rhetoric of Brexiteers. But this week their own rhetoric became genuinely alarming. They now speak openly about imprisoning those who try to bring about a clean-break Brexit (‘No Deal’). They compare politicians who refuse to extend Britain’s membership of the EU to common criminals.
So John Bercow, the puffed-up Speaker who abused his position in parliament to try to subvert the people’s will, says Boris Johnson will be no better than a ‘bank robber’ if he refuses to delay Brexit and take No Deal off the table.
Because the Benn Bill voted through by MPs last week outlaws No Deal and demands an extension to our membership of the EU, anyone who defies it is just a no-good criminal, Bercow says.
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Jolyon Maughan
Meanwhile, anti-democratic lawyers are taking legal action in Scotland to ‘compel Boris Johnson to seek an extension to Article 50’. One of these lawyers – Jolyon Maugham – has said of Boris: ‘he’ll either see the extension or he’ll go to prison.’ That is, keep us in the EU or you will go to jail.
These people have lost it. It is a striking insight into their tyrannical mindsets that they can so casually speak of criminalising and jailing anyone who wants a clean-break Brexit and wants it now.
They are using the law to make it a crime to pursue the thing that millions of people voted for: leaving the EU. This genuinely feels like a coup, where a tiny but powerful elite uses its power and its connections to make it a crime for politicians to be faithful to the people’s will. They are tearing apart the democratic fabric of this nation.

Adventures In Christian Grift

September 12, 2019

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Jerry Falwell Jr. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

If not, you should. It’s about how Falwell Jr. runs the Christian college as a family fief, a de facto dictatorship, and a vehicle to enrich the family’s coffers, even at the expense of the university’s mission and reputation. The piece once again forces the question: where on earth is the university’s board of trustees? They remind me of a colorful phrase of my late father, who was once a farmer:  “useless as teats on a boar.”
Well, apparently some of them are speaking to Ambrosino. From the piece:
But these new revelations speak to rising discontent with Falwell’s stewardship. The people interviewed for this article include members of Liberty’s board of trustees, senior university officials, and rank-and-file staff members who work closely with Falwell. They are reluctant to speak out—there’s no organized, open dissent to Falwell on campus—but they said they see it as necessary to save Liberty University and the values it once stood for. They said they believe in the Christian tradition and in the conservative politics at the heart of Liberty’s mission.
Most of the long story is about business shenanigans that appear to violate, or come close to violating, the university’s tax-exempt status, and certainly are at odds with the school’s Christian mission. But the juiciest stuff has to do with Jerry Jr.’s life as a player. Ambrosino got his hands on 2014 shots of Jerry Jr., his wife Becki, their son Trey and Trey’s wife partying at a Miami nightclub. Ambrosino writes:
According to several people with direct knowledge of the situation, Falwell—the president of a conservative Christian college that frowns upon co-ed dancing (Liberty students can receive demerits if seen doing it) and prohibits alcohol use (for which students can be expelled)—was angry that photos of him clubbing made it up online. To remedy the situation, multiple Liberty staffers said Falwell went to John Gauger, whom they characterized as his “IT guy,” and asked him to downgrade the photos’ prominence on Google searches. Gauger did not respond to requests for comment.
Jerry Jr. denied to Ambrosino that the photos were real, and claimed that his image had been photoshopped. The photographer who snapped them was so incensed by the claim that he released more of them the next day. 
And there’s this:
In May 2019, Reuters reported that Cohen helped Falwell contain the fallout from some racy “personal” photos.Later that month, Falwell took to Todd Starnes’ radio talk show to rebut the claims.
“This report is not accurate,” Falwell said. “There are no compromising or embarrassing photos of me.”
Members of Falwell’s inner circle took note of the phrasing.
“If you read how Jerry is framing his response, you can see he is being very selective,” one of Falwell’s confidants said. Racy photos do exist, but at least some of the photos are of his wife, Becki, as the Miami Herald confirmed in June.
Longtime Liberty officials close to Falwell told me the university president has shown or texted his male confidants—including at least one employee who worked for him at Liberty—photos of his wife in provocative and sexual poses.
At Liberty, Falwell is “very, very vocal” about his “sex life,” in the words of one Liberty official—a characterization multiple current and former university officials and employees interviewed for this story support. In a car ride about a decade ago with a senior university official who has since left Liberty, “all he wanted to talk about was how he would nail his wife, how she couldn’t handle [his penis size], and stuff of that sort,” this former official recalled. Falwell did not respond to questions about this incident.
More than simply talking with employees about his wife in a sexual manner, on at least one occasion, Falwell shared a photo of his wife wearing what appeared to be a French maid costume, according to a longtime Liberty employee with firsthand knowledge of the image and the fallout that followed.
Ewgh. If you think Politico is just making this stuff up, let me assure you that charges like this don’t make it into print unless they’ve been lawyered to death. That doesn’t mean that they’re true, but it does mean that Ambrosino and his editors almost certainly had to prove to the publication’s lawyers that these allegations could withstand a court challenge. If you’ve ever had to deal as a writer with your newspaper or magazine’s lawyers — I have — you know that they are a very conservative (not necessarily in the political sense) bunch who try to rein their clients in to reduce their potential legal exposure. Again, the fact that Politico published these allegations do not make them true, but it does show that the magazine is so confident in their factual accuracy that they are prepared to face down a very wealthy plaintiff in a libel suit, if it comes to that. That’s not nothing.
Read the whole thing. The final paragraphs are harsh. You should know, if you don’t already, that unlike his father, Jerry Jr. is not a preacher. But he is the head of an Evangelical Christian university. So, here:
One source pointed to a tweet Jerry Falwell Jr. sent out in June 2019 criticizing David Platt, an evangelical Virginia pastor who apologized for welcoming Trump to his church. “I only want to lead us with God’s Word in a way that transcends political party and position, heals the hurts of racial division and injustice, and honors every man and woman made in the image of God,” Platt said. “Sorry to be crude,” wrote Falwell in a since-deleted tweet, “but pastors like [David Platt] need to grow a pair.”
After Falwell came under criticism for his tweet about Platt, he responded to critics with a two-part Twitter thread, which, in the words of one current high-ranking Liberty official, “a lot of people found troubling.”
“I have never been a minister,” Falwell tweeted. “UVA-trained lawyer and commercial real estate developer for 20 yrs. Univ president for last 12 years-student body tripled to 100000+/endowment from 0 to $2 billion and $1.6B new construction in those 12 years. The faculty, students and campus pastor @davidnasser of @LibertyU are the ones who keep LU strong spiritually as the best Christian univ in the world. While I am proud to be a conservative Christian, my job is to keep LU successful academically, financially and in athletics.”
To those who worked for Liberty under the late Rev. Falwell, the sentiment appeared to signal a serious departure from his father’s legacy. “Bragging about business success and washing his hands of any responsibility for spiritual life at the university—that was frankly a pretty Trumpian line of commentary,” said one former university official with longstanding ties to both Liberty and the Falwell family.
Jerry Jr. says he has asked the FBI to investigate whether employees who leaked his e-mails to journalists broke the law. He’s not denying their content, so I guess that’s all he has left — that, and claiming that he’s being targeted from within because he’s a defender of Donald Trump.
Jerry Jr. says he has asked the FBI to investigate whether employees who leaked his e-mails to journalists broke the law. He’s not denying their content, so I guess that’s all he has left — that, and claiming that he’s being targeted from within because he’s a defender of Donald Trump.
As he complains of being targeted by critics, Reuters has found that Falwell himself was disparaging Liberty students, staff and parents for years in emails to Liberty administrators.
The several dozen emails reviewed by Reuters span nearly a decade-long period starting in 2008. In the emails, Falwell insults some Liberty students, calling them “social misfits.” In others, he blasts faculty members and senior Liberty staff:
-Ronald Sones, then the dean of the engineering school, was “a bag of hot air” who “couldn’t spell the word ‘profit,’” Falwell wrote in 2011. Sones is no longer the dean and could not be reached for comment.
-Richard Hinkley, the campus police chief, was “a half-wit and easy to manipulate” and shouldn’t be allowed to speak publicly. Hinkley could not be reached for comment.
-Of Kevin Keys, then Liberty’s associate athletics director, Falwell wrote in 2012: “Only get Kevin involved in something if you want it not to work.” Contacted by Reuters, Keys said: “I don’t know anything about that and I would prefer not to comment.”
The selection of emails provides a glimpse of the management style Falwell employs to run the nonprofit Christian university, which reports $2.8 billion in assets. Several of the emails take a derogatory tone toward Liberty parents, students, and other university officials.
In one 2012 email, Falwell dismisses Liberty parents who begged the school not to move their kids from on-campus dorms to off-campus housing in the middle of their freshman year when Liberty sought to raze some dorms to build new ones.
In response to one mother’s letter expressing concern for how the move could affect her daughter, emails show, a top Liberty administrator sent a reassuring letter. Falwell struck a less sympathetic tone. “Tell them, if they keep complaining, we’ll tear them down over Thanksgiving break!” Falwell wrote to Liberty officials.
Who wants their kid to attend a Christian (!) college under the stewardship of a creep like that? How can you be president of a Christian university, but then claim that you have nothing to do with its spiritual quality? Falwell Jr. may not be a pastor, but he is unquestionably a Christian leader. Seems to me that the board of directors ought to be doing more to defend the university than speaking without attribution to reporters, and leaking e-mails.
Meanwhile, in other Religious Leaders Behaving Badly, the Washington Post has a new piece up about the lush life of former Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling, W. Va. It begins like this:
It was billed as a holy journey, a pilgrimage with West Virginia Bishop Michael J. Bransfield to “pray, sing and worship” at the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. Catholics from remote areas of one of the nation’s poorest states paid up to $190 for seats on overnight buses and hotel rooms.
Unknown to the worshipers, Bransfield traveled another way. He hired a private jet and, after a 33-minute flight, took a limousine from the airport. The church picked up his $6,769 travel bill.
That trip in September 2017 was emblematic of the secret history of Bransfield’s lavish travel. He spent millions of dollars from his diocese on trips in the United States and abroad, records show, while many of his parishioners struggled to find work, feed their families and educate their children.
 Pope Francis has said bishops should live modestly. During his 13 years as the leader of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Bransfield took nearly 150 trips on private jets and some 200 limousine rides, a Washington Post investigation found. He stayed at exclusive hotels in Washington, Rome, Paris, London and the Caribbean.
Last year, Bransfield stayed a week in the penthouse of a legendary Palm Beach, Fla., hotel, at a cost of $9,336. He hired a chauffeur to drive him around Washington for a day at a cost of $1,383. And he spent $12,386 for a jet to fly him from the Jersey Shore to a meeting with the pope’s ambassador in the nation’s capital.
You have to read the whole thing. This Bransfield is extravagantly corrupt — and the diocese’s own investigation (the source of the Post‘s report) documents it with receipts. His reputation from his lengthy tenure at the Basilica in DC was that of a player, and not just in matters of luxury. Matthew B. O’Brien’s powerful, detailed First Things piece back in April, detailing the corruption at the Papal Foundation involving then-cardinal Ted McCarrick, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and Bishop Bransfield, explains how sexual corruption is tied up with financial corruption in the Catholic hierarchy. Along these very same lines, one prominent Catholic layperson who worked at a very high level within the Church (though not with Bransfield) told me earlier this year that they had never imagined that there was such a close connection between sexual and financial corruption until they took a job working closely with the hierarchy.
It’s about the sex and the money. It was like that with Bishop Bransfield, it seems, and in a different way, it might be about that with Jerry Falwell Jr. Though no one has alleged that he has committed adultery, the weird photo thing with his wife (supposedly photos of her in a position unbefitting the wife of a conservative Christian university president), and this allegation that Jerry Jr. brags in the workplace about his sexual prowess, indicates profound moral and spiritual disorder.
How can the churches, and church institutions, minister to the world when they cannot clean up their own messes, and hold their own leaders accountable? It’s a more than fair question. It’s also a necessary one.
The Rev. Ryszard Biernat is by the side of Bishop Richard Malone as Malone celebrates Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in 2017. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

UPDATE: A Catholic reader sends me updates I missed about the unfolding gay sex scandal engulfing the Diocese of Buffalo and its bishop, Richard Malone. Here the successor of the apostles in Buffalo meets the press to discuss the disclosure of a love letter between Father Ryszard, his assistant, and a seminarian with whom Father Ryszard was intimate:
In the midst of an ongoing crisis surrounding Bishop Richard Malone’s governance of the Diocese of Buffalo, newly revealed correspondence suggests a romantic relationship between the bishop’s priest secretary and a former diocesan seminarian who resigned last month.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Malone called the content of the letter “a bit concerning” and the entire situation “a very complex, convoluted matter.”
Yeah — it involves a gay love triangle with two priests and a seminarian. You can read the entire 2016 love letter here. 
It’s the morning of Friday, Aug. 2, and Bishop Richard J. Malone hasn’t slept for two nights.
“We are in a true crisis situation,” Malone said. “True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop. It could force me to resign if in fact they make a story…”
Malone is at his sprawling residence on Buffalo’s East Side for a one-on-one meeting with his trusted secretary, Rev. Ryszard Biernat, and the embattled bishop is concerned about a brewing story regarding Christ the King Seminary, allegations of love letters and claims of sexual harassment by a diocesan priest.
“I think we’re gonna blow this story up into something like an atom bomb if we start talking about that. You know?” Malone said to Biernat. “Cause then it sounds like, it sounds like a soap opera. It sounds like a love triangle. And you know what the media can do with that.”
Biernat goes on to say that he made the secret recording and released it because the bishop sees these messes, but never acts on them, or acts too late. It turns out that the third member of the alleged love triangle was a Father Nowak, at the seminary, who tried to blackmail Biernat’s apparent lover, seminarian Bojanowski, into having a sexual relationship with him. The blackmail allegedly included going through Bojanowski’s private things, finding the love letter, and photographing it.
Get this: even though Malone knew back in January what Nowak was up to, and is on tape worrying that a guy he believed used information gathered in the confessional for sexual blackmail might be dangerous to leave in parish ministry … he left him in parish ministry.
The big thing that Bishop Malone is worried about, according to the August 2 recording, is whether or not he will be allowed to keep his own job.
So: three clerical queens are engaged in a knife fight, and the do-nothing bishop is worried that the people will find out what’s really going on, and push him out.
Why would anybody want to be priest of that diocese? Why would anybody want their sons to be a priest of that diocese? Why do people still believe that the Catholic Church scandals are only incidentally about gay men having sex behind the veil of holy orders?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Eternal Debate over the Nature of Hell

By Nicholas Frankovich
September 12, 2019

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Does hell exist? It depends on what you mean by “hell.” David Bentley Hart answers the question in the affirmative but gives the term a definition different from that assumed by “apologists for the ‘infernalist’ orthodoxies,” as he calls his adversaries in the perennial debate over the nature of hell.

What is hell? Who goes there? Do they ever leave? Hart embraces universalism, also known as universal salvation, universal reconciliation, and apokatastasis (Greek for “restoration,” as of all creation in the age to come) — the doctrine, sometimes regarded as merely heterodox, other times as outright heretical, “that all shall be saved,” to quote the title of his lively new book on this burning topic.
Saved from what? From death and damnation. Not spared from their clutches, but delivered from them ultimately.
First, death: Each of us can expect to die and, like Christ, “descend into hell,” in the words of an antiquated but not entirely abandoned translation of the Apostles’ Creed. (In an older sense now all but forgotten, “hell” was a reasonable English equivalent of the original Greek — ta katōtata, the parts below, where the dead dwell. To modern ears, of course, to say that Christ went to hell sounds like blasphemy. It causes confusion and illustrates the outsized role that translation decisions have played in the reception — or, as Hart argues throughout, in the corruption — of doctrine down the centuries.) We can also expect, like Christ, to rise from the dead, although our uncertainty about the precise nature of our glorified, spiritual bodies will persist until we receive them at the general resurrection. Only then will we see the promised new reality face to face.
As for damnation, Hart imagines that most of us, even while on earth, spend too much time in hell, that our subjection to hell’s torments is not confined to kingdom come, that we walk through hell’s gates and then lock ourselves in, and that we are helpless to leave until they’re opened for us from the outside. “I do in fact believe in hell,” he explains,
though only in the sense of a profound and imprisoning misery that we impose upon ourselves by rejecting the love that alone can set us free. I believe, in fact, that I have on occasion experienced that hell from within its walls; . . . I suspect that most of us, at least past a certain age, have done so. . . . Practically all of us go through life as prisoners of our own egos, which are no more than the shadows cast by our souls, but which are nonetheless quite impossible for us to defeat without assistance and without grace.
That’s a solid meditation at the intersection of psychology and spirituality. The darkness described by Hart is, as he says, familiar to many. He calls it “hell,” but it doesn’t sound much like the lake of fire in the Book of Revelation, does it? If you’re looking for that, or for a live cam on the lake of ice in the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno, this is not the book for you. It will leave you cold, unless your rage provoked by the author’s ridicule of your beliefs about the Last Things leaves no room in your heart for such milder emotions as disappointment. Make no mistake: David Bentley Hart is an able rhetorician and polemicist.

What a sharp tongue he has:

There are, I admit — unfortunately, I have met some of them — those Christians who are earnestly attached to the idea of an eternal hell not just because they feel they must be, but also because it is what they want to believe. For some of them, in fact, it is practically the best part of the story. It gives them a sense of belonging to a very special club, and they positively relish the prospect of a whole eternity in which to enjoy the impotent envy of all those writhing, resentful souls that have been permanently consigned to an inferior neighborhood outside the gates. That is the sort of prestige that cannot be bought where the common people shop.

Speaking of prestige: By now, in his mid fifties, the itinerant academic and indefatigable essayist (his full curriculum vitae could probably be its own book) has established himself as one of the best theologians writing in English today and as hands down the best writer among contemporary Anglophone theologians. Behold his literary pyrotechnics. I sometimes wonder whether they distract readers from the hard work of sitting down with him and thinking problems through. I suppose that after a point he gets bored with trying to untangle intractable philosophical knots. He’s capable of mischief. If he ends up doodling in the margins, limning the pages with generous applications of sarcasm and color, to relieve the tedium of, say, a necessary excursus on voluntarist theology, do you blame him?

The book has no endnotes. In a section dedicated to “acknowledgments and bibliographic notes,” Hart cites a few major sources, all of them in English. He’s erudite, and it may be that his final product is a symphony composed of the best, and the worst, but in any case the loudest and boldest that has been thought and said about hell, from Jesus himself to Saint Augustine (one of Hart’s bêtes noires) all the way to Thomas Talbott and a whole roster of present-day thinkers on all sides of the universalism controversy, but it’s hard to say. Hart shows his work, so to speak, only in patches. A convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, he’s wont to quote and reference various of the Greek Fathers with enthusiasm. He loves Origen and Gregory of Nyssa especially. When it comes to modern scholars, though, he names names sparingly. Chalk it up to tact, if you like, in recognition of how much of his work is an exercise in intellectual derision and evisceration. The book is published by a university press and is scholarly, but is it scholarship? One thing it’s not is intellectual history.

Call it an essay. It’s an attempt, from several angles, not to deny hell’s existence but to refute a common assumption about the duration of anyone’s residence there. The duration is finite, Hart maintains, and he pours out a cornucopia of arguments to make his case. He has arguments from reason (philosophy), arguments from faith (scripture and patristics), and arguments that can be understood only as members of both categories at once — any gesture toward philosophical reasoning tends to enjoy a benefit of the doubt from conservative Christians if the author is a Church Father in whom some of the authority of sacred tradition has come to be invested.
The most common “infernalist” accounts lean on the notion that eternal damnation is a corollary of human free will, which entails risk. We can choose evil over good. When we do, we must suffer the consequences of our moral error as surely as we must suffer those of playing with fire in a dry forest or of swimming too far from shore during a storm. The moral law is as blind and unforgiving as any law of nature.
Hart rehearses the counterargument that no one is culpable for breaking the moral law if he errs in ignorance or under deception. To someone who chooses evil over good, the evil appears as good or, on the whole, at least better than the alternative. Otherwise he wouldn’t choose the evil. God warned us about the fruit in the garden, but the serpent had a way with words, and we fell under their spell. Our judgment was clouded. We’re mere creatures, after all, limited in our intelligence and willpower. A punishment of infinite duration would be incommensurate with our finite nature and therefore unacceptable to God not only because he’s all-merciful but also because he’s all-just.

Nice chess move. But so what? God may knock the pieces off the board. He’s been known to do that. His ways are not ours. In Genesis, he commands Abraham to kill Isaac, setting a precedent that instills in the mindful believer a respectful wariness, an attitude of fear and trembling before the inscrutable Almighty.

Moreover, God desists from preventing outrages that nature inflicts on human persons and that human persons inflict on one another. To the dulcet theory that the fall of creation is ultimately fortunate because the response it elicits from God is his salvation plan, which, when fully realized, leaves the cosmos more blessed than it would have been had we never lapsed — to that, we might respond, with Hart: No, God is infinitely resourceful. He could have arranged it so that we would enjoy the deepest, richest happiness without having to suffer the slings and arrows of misfortune first.
Why he didn’t is a mystery. It’s at the heart of the theodicy problem, which is the heart of the matter for the universalist. Hart has no patience for the idea that God might be a capricious judge when deciding our eternal destiny, but God is capricious in other matters all the time, at least from our human perspective. An infant notices his mother’s absence but doesn’t know that it’s only momentary. To him it’s the end of the world. He cries out with all his strength, exercising his lungs and vocal cords almost to the breaking point. We smile at him. We call him “dear.” If you bristle at the suggestion that God rightly does the same to us when we wail over our adult afflictions, over massacres or mass shootings or enormities than which none, we feel, could ever be more heinous, fine. Go ahead and bristle.
No philosophical argument for universalism is unanswerable, as far as I can tell. Hart is at his most cogent and engaging when he leaves philosophy for philology and sifts the Greek of the New Testament and Church Fathers. He may be right that “eternal” is not the obvious best translation of every instance of aiōnios, whose primary meaning is something like “age-long.” Hades, the underworld in Greek mythology, and Gehenna, a valley in Jerusalem, are often conflated under the rubric “hell” in translations of the New Testament but perhaps shouldn’t be. The New Testament provides a wealth of vivid images and strong statements, possibly hyperbolic in many cases, that Christians piece together in different configurations to illustrate competing eschatological visions, some of them more layered than others. What has become the default version, in which hell will endure forever as an abscess of unredeemed evil in a cosmos otherwise perfected and glorified, may be flatter than a close reading of the Greek can support.

Granted, belief in the tragedy of eternal damnation is fertile soil. It nourishes much heartfelt Christian devotion. Without it, no Inferno. No Doctor Faustus, either. Those are not sound reasons for rejecting universalism, but they’re strong reasons. A better reason would be that we’re less likely to avoid grave sin if we think that the hell we will go to for punishment will not be forever, although a reading of the Purgatorio might disabuse us of any complacency. Remember that Catholics who appreciate the severity of what is, in effect, hell with a temporal limit offer fervent prayers for the reduction of purgatorial suffering, their own and that of loved ones and even of strangers.
The best reason for rejecting universalism would be that it’s untrue. Is it, though? “We are, as it were, doomed to happiness,” according to Hart. If we are, so be it. Neither his opinion nor yours changes the fact. Consequently, no book on the controversy can be worth fearing or loathing. Here’s one worth reading.
This article appears as “Hell, Yes. Forever? Maybe Not.” in the September 30, 2019, print edition of National Review.

Will everybody reach heaven? Are fights over hell about to grab some more headlines?

August 15, 2019

Chances are churches frequented by your readers and listeners rarely if ever offer sermons about hell and damnation these days. And yet this rather unpleasant topic is eternally (so to speak) fascinating, and may be about to grab some headlines. That’s due to Eastern Orthodox lay theologian David Bentley Hart's acerbic Sep. 24 release from Yale University Press “That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, & Universal Salvation.”

Sample sentences: “No one, logically speaking, could merit eternal punishment.”
Also this: “If Christianity is in any way true, Christians dare not doubt the salvation of all,”
Yes, Hart is a Hitler-in-heaven sort of guy (see page 38), and your sources will have interesting responses. Lest Hart seem a rank heretic, the Very Rev. John Behr of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary blurbs that this book presents “the promise that, in the end, all will indeed be saved, and exposing the inadequacy — above all moral — of claims to the contrary.”
Heretofore Hart was better known for ridiculing non-belief, as in “Atheist Delusions.” The prolific author has held a succession of university appointments, most recently as a University of Notre Dame fellow. Catholic theologian Paul Griffiths (in the news when he resigned over Duke University’s “diversity” policy) proclaims Hart “the most eminent” theologian in the English-speaking world.
Terms Hart applies to centuries of traditional orthodox and Orthodox doctrines on hell and damnation include “absurd,” “ludicrous,” “nonsensical,” “incoherent,” “horrid,” “degrading,” “loathsome,” “diseased,” “perverse,” “cruel,” “wicked” and “morally repugnant.” He is mainly offended by the idea that punishment is everlasting, on grounds that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Hart is open to some sort of cleansing to make sorry souls fit for heaven, but doesn’t spell out any version of Western Catholicism’s Purgatory.

“All” is a far cry from the sentimental optimism about humanity preached by officially Universalist churches. Hart argues that the Christian God is not truly God if those he brands “infernalists” are correct. The familiar challenge is how everlasting torment of any person meshes with belief that God is loving.
What about human will and repenatance? Hart adds the less common claim that defiant rejection of God throughout all eternity cannot be “logically possible for any rational being."
The heart of Hart is the contention that the few New Testament verses usually cited on this could refer to “limited term” punishment, while 23 other passages raise hopes that all will be saved. He relies on Bible interpretations by ancient Eastern theologians, especially the 4th Century’s Origen and St. Gregory of Nyassa. He castigates that era’s great Catholic voice, St. Augustine, for “the single most tragically consequential case of linguistic incompetence in Christian history,” based upon the “defective” Latin translation of the Bible. (Speaking of scripture, Yale also published Hart’s recent, idiosyncratic translation of the New Testament, also well worth a sidebar on scholars’ reactions.)
Publicity contact for Hart: Robert Pranzatelli: 203–432-0972 and
Meanwhile – religion writers note – there’s a related dustup in the news right now linked to the Christian claims of exclusivity per Jesus’ teaching that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Last week’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in America assembly approved a significant inter-religions relations policy (.pdf here) after handily defeating a bid to remove a soft section that says e.g. the status of believers in other religions “is beyond our knowledge, and even our calling” so “we do not need answers.”
(The ELCA’s own news release slid past this issue, covered by, a reminder that reporters always need to consult varied sources.)
Even conservative Christians are not cut-and-dried on this. The Catholic Church’s Catechism teaches the “baptism of desire,” so a person ignorant of Christian teaching who “seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it can be saved,” through means known only to God.
Or consider noted speaker and author Josh McDowell, whose evangelical credentials are unassailable. In “A Ready Defense,” he says the God of Scripture does not wish any to perish (2 Peter 3:9) and will be a righteous judge (Acts 17:31), so it’s reasonable that “no one will be condemned for not ever hearing of Jesus Christ,” although (as in Catholicism) we don’t know the particulars.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Tolkien and Lewis: Masters of Myth and Tellers of Truth
September 9, 2019

“I have left behind illusion,” I said to myself. “Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions – with the aid of my five senses.”

I have since learned that there is no such world, but then, as the car turned out of sight of the house, I thought it took no finding, but lay all about me at the end of the avenue.

Charles Ryder’s thoughts upon leaving Brideshead for what he thought would be the last time, and his own later judgment on those thoughts, convey a great deal about the nature and supernature of the reality to which we are all subject. Like the young and naïve Charles Ryder, materialists insist that the supernatural is merely an illusion; only when we have “left behind illusion” are we able to see all that there is to see, the world of three dimensions – with the aid of our five senses. The problem, as Charles Ryder would come to realise, is that such a world is itself an illusion. There is no such world. The real world, as Hopkins reminds us, “is charged with the grandeur of God.” There is simply no escaping His powerful omnipresence. “For God’s sake,” exclaims Charles Ryder to the Jesuitical Bridey, “why bring God into everything?” Ryder’s question strikes the dauntlessly (theo)logical Bridey as “extremely funny.” Whether Ryder knows it or not, God is in everything and “into everything.” He is inescapable. Unavoidable.

It is the inescapable and unavoidable presence of God that makes myth such a powerful conveyer of reality. If the essential ingredients of reality, of life, are not physical but metaphysical, it follows that true stories must reflect these metaphysical realities. If goodness, truth, beauty and love are at the heart of all that is truly real, and if these things transcend the three dimensions and the five senses, it follows that stories must convey this essential transcendence in order to be real and true. Any story that fails to convey this mystical transcendence and remains solely within a world of three dimensions and five senses will not only be lacking in reality, it will be dead. Lifeless.

And so it is that J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis are tellers of truth and masters of myth. The Ainulindalë in The Silmarillion is a hymn of praise to the Great Music of God’s Creation, as is Aslan’s singing of Narnia into Being in The Magician’s Nephew. In their powerful and poetic evocation of the beauty and harmony at the heart of the cosmos, Tolkien and Lewis are singing in creative harmony with Dante’s vision of Paradise and Lorenzo’s reverence for the Music of the Spheres in The Merchant of Venice:

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