Controversy erupted this week with reports that Pope Francis denied the existence of hell (link is external). Quoted by an Italian journalist who is both a friend and frequent interviewer of the pontiff, Francis reportedly said that sinners who die without eternal salvation “are not punished” but that instead of their souls simply disappear. “There is no hell,” he unambiguously declared.
Pinker attributes today’s softening of harsh theology to the influence of Enlightenment humanism. With the rise of reason and science as major forces in the world, unimaginable progress has ensued—and not just technological progress, but moral as well. Enlightenment values have made the angry God of the Old Testament, and many other biblical concepts, seem more akin to mythology than revealed truth.
To humanists, the idea of eternal hellfire has long been considered mythological. After all, most people historically have followed any particular religion for one main reason—they were born into it—and with that in mind, it is incomprehensible that a just God would condemn entire populations to eternal damnation merely for being born into the wrong family with the wrong religion. Indeed, as the late comic George Carlin (link is external) famously pointed out, to suggest that a loving God could possibly sentence his own children to hellfire is not only inconsistent but comical.