Bishop Barron Talks Nonsense About Hell

Bishop Barron Talks Nonsense About Hell

Posted by Oakes Spalding on 9/6/16

It doesn’t look empty to me

This is a follow-up to Friday’s more general post on Bishop Robert Barron’s apologetics [see ]. Here I want to specifically evaluate one aspect of Barron’s views on Hell.

Before beginning, I want to head off one possible misunderstanding. In the following, I talk about the chances or “odds” that an individual person or a group of people may be saved. In doing so, I don’t mean to imply that those chances may ever be known in any particular case, nor even that they are chances in the conventional sense – that eternal salvation is metaphysically equivalent to, say, a coin flip. What I do want to do, among other things, is to point out the logical consequences of language. You can’t claim both X and Not X. If A implies B and B implies C, then you can’t claim both A and Not C. And so on.

Or to anticipate, if you claim there’s a “realistic hope” of X happening, that means something. For example, among other things, it doesn’t mean “there’s virtually no chance” of X happening or “there’s only a minuscule possibility” of X happening, etc.

In a number of well-known videos and articles, “Catholic apologist” Bishop Barron argues that while

Catholic doctrine (claims) that Hell exists . . . the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell.

Barron, cites the views of Hans Urs von Balthasar:

Balthasar argued that . . . we may reasonably hope that all people will be saved . . . we may entertain the lively and realistic hope that all people will eventually be drawn into the divine love.

And then writes:

My own conviction is that Balthasar has this more or less right.

But Barron adamantly claims that the Balthasar/Barron view is not universalism – the view that everyone will be saved, or the view that we know in the case of each person that he will be saved. Instead:

When the Church says that Hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility.

All of this is of course utter obscurantist nonsense.

Let’s put Hell aside for a moment and ask a series of abstract questions having to do with odds.

When you flip a coin, is it realistic to hope that it might come up heads?


When you flip a different coin, is it realistic to hope that it might come up heads?


Is it realistic to hope that both coins will come up heads?

Probably. It depends what is meant by “realistic.”

Okay, what about flipping 106 billion coins and getting heads on all of them?

The answer to the last question is No. At some point between 1 to 1 odds and 105,999,999,999 to 1 odds our hope becomes unrealistic.

The previous answers assume that there’s a 50% chance on any flip of getting heads. But what if we’re using a “trick” coin that, say gives a 99% chance of heads? In that case, we might have a realistic hope of getting all heads if we flipped 10, 20, 50, 100 or even 200 coins.

But we would still have no realistic hope for that 106 billion. The odds of getting 106 billion heads even with a coin that came up heads 99% of the time are over a billion to one.

Indeed, even if we define “realistic” conservatively as having, say, at least a 1% chance (which might be “realistic” but is still pretty small), then to have a realistic hope of getting heads on all 106 billion flips, the chance of getting heads for one coin would have to be on the order of 99.9999999%, give or take a few nines. That’s not certainty, of course, but it’s as close to certainty as virtually anything ever gets.

If I (being the ingenious and clever sinner that I am) use a magnet on a slot machine, giving me a 99.9999999% chance that I will come up a winner, in common-sense language, I would be perfectly within my rights to say that I know or I’m certain that I will win.

I would.

On one estimate, there have been approximately 106 billion human beings born on earth since 6,000 BC.

To say that we have a realistic hope that all of those were or will be saved, then (see above) there would have to be at least a 99.99999999% chance for each one of us, considered individually, to be saved.

It follows that there would be only a .00000001% chance (if that) for each one of us to go to Hell. To claim that that amounts to a “real possibility” is an abuse of common-sense language.

The main point is that the “realistic hope” of universal salvation contradicts the “real possibility” of individual damnation. You just can’t assert both things at the same time. Or, rather, if you do, you’re talking nonsense.

A subsidiary point is that Barron’s “realistic hope” makes him for all extents and purposes a universalist. Or if he is not technically a universalist – for each person, there’s a whopping .000000001% chance that he will not be saved – then he’s a watered-down universalist. His giant frothing mug of universalism contains one atom of water.

Lastly, of course, those incredibly low “odds” for damnation are in complete contradiction to the words of Jesus, the opinions of the Church Fathers and the traditional formulations of the doctrine of hell by the Church.

I hope I’ll be saved. I hope you’ll be saved. I hope that that drunken, abusive guy who had a fatal heart-attack while in bed with his mistress will be saved. If I am a true Catholic and a magnanimous fellow, then I hope (or should hope) that Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot will be saved. Perhaps in some sense it is “realistic” to hope for Napoleon, etc. After all, God will forgive anyone if they sincerely repent.

But it isn’t realistic to hope for all of them to be saved in sum. If Christianity is true, then they won’t be. Not all of them.

Maybe Barron should have taken a statistics course.

Why does all of this matter? Well, obviously, logic matters and the truth matters, whatever one’s purpose.

But beyond that, I think what we might call Barron’s trickery is obvious. And I do mean trickery. It is incomprehensible to me that a man of at least middling intelligence, such as Barron, cannot see what he is doing. Obviously, Barron thinks scaring people with Hell is medieval or low-class or fundamentalist or whatever. Respected contemporary theologians or apologists just don’t do it. And you know how much he wants to be respected.

Or to be more charitable, perhaps he thinks scaring people with Hell just won’t work to convert them or get them to stay. (As I argued a few days ago, there’s no evidence for that, whatsoever. Indeed, the opposite is much more likely.)

But he can’t explicitly ditch Hell since it’s such an obvious Church teaching. Hence, the bait and switch.

Traditional Catholicism is often criticized for putting inordinate importance on being Catholic. But of course, for the Church, being Catholic has always been a means to an end. The end (or at least one of the primary ends) is the salvation of one’s soul. Or as the Church used to put it for the first 98% of its existence before people like Barron came along, the salvation of as many souls as possible.

The irony is that it’s the anti-traditionalist Barron who really seems to have the fetish for being Catholic, without really telling us what it’s for. By strongly implying that everyone will be saved, he’s jettisoned the practical importance of saving people, and thus eliminated at a stroke what the Church historically affirmed as its most important mission.

And he calls himself an evangelist?

*Post heading picture: The damned being cast in to Hell by Frans Francken II, Oil on oak – 1605-10

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3 comments on “Bishop Barron Talks Nonsense About Hell

  1. Our Blessed Lord said that the path was wide that leads to Hell and the path is narrow that leads to Heaven. His words were so shocking to His disciples that they asked: “Who then can be saved?” Scripture and the writing of countless saints make it clear that many will end up in Hell. This is not an opinion, it is not some traditionalist nastiness, it is the reality of God having given human beings genuine free choice to choose or reject Him. Without this genuine free choice there could be no real love, we would all be simply automatons. With this free choice, free will, we can choose truth and love, we can choose God, or we can choose lies and hate, we can choose Satan.

    Baron is talking rubbish; and it is extremely dangerous rubbish. If we all end up in Heaven, totally contrary to the teachings of Scripture and the Church, then this makes a complete mockery of goodness and truth. It also totally contradicts the Church’s 2000 year teaching about mortal sin and the necessity of true confession and repentance.

    As to whether Scripture ever says any specific person is in Hell, I have to say, contrary to what others tell me, the words of Our Blessed Lord about Judas can only be understood to mean he is eternally damned.

    Shocking as this may sound, it also gives me some comfort to know that the evil people of this world, especially those who have caused suffering to others, will end up not escaping justice, they will end up in Hell unless they truly repent before they die.

    My concern is that I will get to Heaven, and this is something, unlike Barron, that I do NOT take for granted. Well did St Paul say “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. I keep this in mind, while remebering that our God is a God of great mercy and love, but He is not a God to be assumed upon.

  2. Yes.

    It is rewarding to a small-time blogger when most of the responses to a post nail the issue better than the post. :) I say that sincerely.

    A friend sent me a link to this critique of Barron from Fr. Scanlon:

    “From this perspective the most disquieting feature of Balthasar’s ‘hope’ for universal salvation is that it smuggles into the heart of the Catholic a serious doubt about the truth of the Catholic faith under the guise of one of the most beautiful and natural aspects of love, namely, compassion. . . .

    . . . A hope is absurd unless there is the possibility that it will be realized in the future. But, if Balthasar’s ‘hope’ would come to fruition and everyone would in fact be saved, what would then be said about the fact that this situation contradicts statements in sacred Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church? If these sources clearly teach that Judas or someone else is in Hell (or will be in Hell), then to hope that everyone will be saved is to hope either that these sources of revelation are in error or that the natural law with its principle of noncontradiction is in error. A hope like this really seems to be a doubt that the natural law and ‘unchangeable truth’ exist and can be known by the Church. It seems to be a doubt about one’s faith and the sources of revelation. And if Jesus Christ Himself taught that Judas or anyone else is in Hell (or will be in Hell), then to ‘hope’ for universal salvation is to hope that Jesus made erroneous statements. The most disconcerting feature of Balthasar’s hope for universal salvation is that its logic appears to require an assumption of Christ’s ignorance and fallibility.”

    The entire piece can be read here:

    • Good info, Oakes. All of this heretical speculation, as well as machinations of Pope Francis postulating a mercy beyond what God Himself has promised, is far from merciful because it will cause folks to lose their souls. It is a simple matter to show that most souls forfeit their salvation, and one need go no further than the brilliant treatise from St. Leonard. Hence, to speculate otherwise is to go outside the bounds set by Scripture and Tradition, hence, outside the Faith.

      Who do you see who even wants to be saved? There, it is enough to know the truth. It is this obvious point that drives the missionaries to hunt the Earth for the one soul waiting for Heavenly grace. Yes, there are some souls longing for salvation, but don’t imagine that they are those who drive past a Catholic Church every day and yet die outside.

      The scholars see this, too,especially in themselves. Then, as a means of soothing their own consciences, they decide that God must surely let their lovely learned souls into Heaven, and likewise all those whom the scholars would regard as worthy. They fool themselves, and then take a multitude with them into Hell.

      And, not satisfied that their bounds of imagination are yet sufficiently merciful, they postulate that the rest of men, whom they imagine incapable of understanding their brilliant modern intellects because of distance or density, postulate salvation in an “invincible” ignorance. As they have presumed to increase God’s mercy, they then diminish His omnipotence and omniscience by accusing Him of creating souls even He cannot instruct.

      There is no salvation outside the Church. There is salvation for any and all who would enter the Church. But who is honestly trying to save his soul?

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