A retired priest believes hell was invented by the church to control people.
US priest Bishop John Shelby Spong, who has called for a rethinking of Christian beliefs away from traditional doctrines, has said he believes in life after death, but that the concept has nothing to do with reward and punishment.
‘Religion is always in the control business and that’s something people don’t really understand, it’s a guilt-producing control business,’ he said.
Spong made the comments during an interview with NBC in 2006, in which he said he doesn’t think hell exists.
‘If you have heaven as a place where you’re rewarded for your goodness and hell as a place where you’re punished for your evil, then you sort of have control of the population,’ he said.
‘So they create this fiery place which has quite literally scared the hell out of a lot of people,’ he continued.
When asked by his interviewer for clarification on whether he believes hell is actually an invention of the church, Spong said: ‘Yes, I think the church fired its furnace hotter than anybody else.’
Spong believes other parts of traditional Christian teaching is about manipulating control too, specifically the idea of being ‘born again’.
‘The church doesn’t like for people to grow up because you can’t control grown-ups. That’s why we talk about being born again, when you’re born again ur still a child,’ he said.
‘People don’t need to be born again they need to grow up. They need to accept their responsibility for themselves and the world,’ he said.
Spong also dismissed the Christian theology that the only way to guarantee to avoid hell is by following the teachings of Jesus.
‘Every church claims we are the true church and we have some ultimate authority,’ he said, commenting on the various churches and different groups within the Christian faith.
‘The idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system, by any human creed, by any human book is beyond imagination for me,’ he said.
‘God is not a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems that human beings have created,’ Spong continued, adding that he doesn’t believe his faith defines God, rather it only points him towards God.
Spong has faced backlash in the past for his comments, especially from other religious figures. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary condemned Spong as a heretic, stating that he ‘has denied virtually every major conceivable doctrine’.
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