I don't believe anyone needs to be a theologian to discuss issues like heaven, hell and other fascinating religious topics. The fact is that most of us have some sort of "religious" upbringing, or at least, a few ideas about theology that come from all kinds of sources from religion class to pop-culture. In any case, I think we can all agree that religion is one of the most fascinating and controversial subjects to discuss; apart from politics.
But, I do have to admit that I was bit surprised with Bill O'Reilly in the last few days commenting and getting fired up about Time Magazine's cover article in reference to Pastor Rob Bell's new controversial book entitled: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. The fundamental questions O'Reilly debated on his program were: Why we should believe that hell exists and who should be there? O'Reilly then went on to say that the Roman Catholic Church -- which he called "my church" -- does not really teach that people of other faiths and/or denominations, like Gandhi, would be excluded from heaven.
I beg to differ. While it is true that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (promulgated in 1992 by Pope John Paul II) does speak of salvation outside the church, the official Church teaching continues to insist that there is only one true church and anyone who does not believe what it teaches and is not in a state of "sanctifying grace" and dies, is in fact, in danger of going to hell. In the Church's official teaching, this includes people who use any form of contraception, in-vitro fertilization, women who get their tubes tied (even after having several children), men who get vasectomies, people who are re-married and have not received a church annulment, homosexuals who live in monogamous and committed relationships, etc. etc. etc. These -- and so many other things -- are all considered "mortal sins" and dying with mortal sin in your soul means eternal damnation. That is, in fact, still what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. I would ask O'Reilly: Isn't that sending a whole lot of people to hell? You don't have to be Hitler or Stalin to be headed for hell in Bill's religious denomination.
What was perhaps most troubling about Bill O'Reilly's theological reflections is that he basically claimed that without hell the basis of the Judeo-Christian system falls apart. In other words, his fundamental premise was that if you are not afraid of hell, you are going to do whatever you want. So basically, it is "fear" that motivates people to do good and avoid evil. O'Reilly may have learned that in the third grade and it may have worked for him then, but I believe that true and authentic faith should motivate us to love -- never to fear.
As controversial as the "no hell" or "yes hell" topic is, I thought the most entertaining, yet a bit troubling thing, was to watch O'Reilly the theologian give us his reasoning for why hell is so important. The eternal and unconditional mercy and love of God was not mentioned once. And that was theologically very scary!