On the Salvation Theology of Extremists

The Salvation Theology of Extremist Muslims

This post is not about devout moderate Muslims. I have great respect for Islam as practiced by moderate peaceful Muslims. They love God and neighbor. They seek to do good and to avoid doing evil. At Medjugorje, the Virgin Mary was asked who in that town was holiest (an offensive question). She replied by giving an example of one of the holier persons in that Catholic town: a Muslim woman. Many Muslims devoutly worship the one true God. They are on the path to Heaven. Some Muslims are holier than many Catholics. This post is not about devout moderate peaceful loving Muslims.

This post is about Muslim extremists and their views on salvation. The extremist version of Islam condemns only two groups of people: infidels and apostates. Unfortunately, all non-Muslims are considered infidels (unfaithful; unbelievers), even devout believing and practicing Jews and Christians. And included among the apostates are not only those who have left the Muslim faith, but also devout moderate believing and practicing Muslims. These latter are considered to be apostates, as if they had left the faith entirely, because they disagree with the extremist version of Islam.

Who goes to Heaven? In the view of extremists Muslims, only faithful Muslims (meaning those who adhere to the extremist version of Islam) will have eternal life. Everyone else: moderate Muslims, Jews, Christians, and all other believers, doubters, and unbelievers go to Hell. The view of Muslim extremists is that only those persons are saved who adhere to their own narrow version of one religion only.

The Salvation Theology of Jesus

In the light of the teaching of Jesus (peace be upon him), this excessively narrow view of salvation is untenable. Jesus teaches that all those persons are saved who do not commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is also called final impenitence. Only someone who dies unrepentant from an actual mortal sin (a grave sin committed with full knowledge of its grave immoral and full deliberation) is guilty of final impenitence. All other sins will be forgiven. That is one entirely correct way to consider who is saved.

So any Christian or Catholic who dies unrepentant from actual mortal sin will go to Hell. And any non-Christian who does not commit any actual mortal sin, or who commits such a sin but repents before death, will go to Heaven.

Jesus also teaches that all who love God and neighbor will have eternal life in Heaven. That is another entirely correct way to consider who is saved.

[Luke]
{10:25} And behold, a certain expert in the law rose up, testing him and saying, “Teacher, what must I do to possess eternal life?”
{10:26} But he said to him: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
{10:27} In response, he said: “You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, and from your whole soul, and from all your strength, and from all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
{10:28} And he said to him: “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”

But the love of neighbor is implicitly the love of Christ and of God.

[Matthew]
{25:37} Then the just will answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when have we see you hungry, and fed you; thirsty, and given you drink?
{25:38} And when have we seen you a stranger, and taken you in? Or naked, and covered you?
{25:39} Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit to you?’
{25:40} And in response, the King shall say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, whenever you did this for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did it for me.’

So any Christian or Catholic who dies without the love of God and neighbor, dies without the state of grace and will be sent to Hell. And any non-Christian who dies in the state of loving God and neighbor will go to Heaven. Even an atheist or an agnostic can be saved by choosing to love his neighbor, in full cooperation with grace. For all true love of neighbor is also, at least implicitly, the love of God.

Therefore, non-Christians can be saved, without converting to Christianity, if their refusal to convert is not an actual mortal sin, and if they truly love their neighbor.

The Salvation Theology of Extremist Catholics

In the spectrum of ideas among Catholics, the further you go to the left, the easier it is said to be to be saved. Some liberals think that perhaps Hell is empty and everyone goes to Heaven. Really? So you think Heaven is populated by those unrepentant from grave sin: murderers, adulterers, child molesters, serial killers, rapists, drug dealers, terrorists, brutal dictators, blasphemers, idolaters and the like? Such a view is untenable in the light of Christ’s teachings. Such a view is untenable in the light of mere reason alone.

In the same spectrum, the further you go to the right, the harder it is said to be to be saved. Some ultra-conservative Catholics have decided, in contradiction to recent clear teachings of the Magisterium, that all who know about Christianity but do not convert before death cannot be saved. They supposedly are sent to Hell. Some of these modern-day Pharisees go so far as to claim that prenatals who die in the womb and infants who die without baptism are excluded from Hell. One idea is that they are sent to Hell. Another claim is that they are sent to Limbo.

Who goes to Heaven, in the view of these Catholic far-right extremists? They say that only Christians are saved; some say that only Catholic Christians are saved. Some add the proviso that those who have never heard of Christianity or Catholicism can still be saved, but that does not apply to many persons in the current age. The view of Catholic extremists is that only those persons are saved who adhere to their own narrow version of one religion only.

They treat devout liberal believing and practicing Catholics as apostates, as if they had left the faith entirely, because they disagree with the extremist version of Catholicism on the far right. And what do they think of moderate Catholics? They label them as liberal. They even label as liberal many Catholics who have conservative opinions on many questions of faith and morals. Any view that is not extremely conservative is labeled liberal, and is then condemned based on that label. Conservatism is replacing Catholicism; conservatism is replacing Christ, among many Catholics on the far right.

The salvation theology of Catholics on the far right is essentially the same as the salvation theology of extremists Muslims. For they think that everyone outside of their own little group is committing one grave sin or another, simply by refusing to be like them. These Catholic extremists condemn liberal and moderate Catholics, condemn all non-Catholics, condemn all Jews, condemn all Muslims, and condemn all other persons who are not like them. They even condemn to Hell or to Limbo innocent prenatals who die in the womb and who cannot possibly be baptized with water.

“They are condemn to Limbo because they were never baptized!”
“Well, why don’t you baptize them, then?”
“No one can be baptized in the womb!”
“So our all-powerful God is helpless to save them?”
“It is God’s will!”

To the contrary, Jesus and His Church teach that God wills all persons to be saved, and that only those who commit final impenitence lose their salvation. The Church teaches the universal salvific will of God. So the Magisterium already teaches a doctrine of salvation theology that is incompatible with the view of these ultra-conservative Catholics.

The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.

For this reason the Council [i.e. Second Vatican Council], after affirming the centrality of the Paschal Mystery, went on to declare that “this applies not only to Christians but to all people of good will in whose hearts grace is secretly at work. Since Christ died for everyone, and since the ultimate calling of each of us comes from God and is therefore a universal one, we are obliged to hold that the Holy Spirit offers everyone the possibility of sharing in this Paschal Mystery in a manner known to God.” [Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, n. 10; inner quote from Gaudium et Spes, n. 22]

And I believe that the Magisterium of the Church will soon teach even more clearly on this topic. How will the ultra-conservatives respond? Many will reject the Pope and the body of Bishops, openly calling them heretics, and so they will complete the process of departing from the one true Church, a process that is already well underway among Catholics on the far right. They imagine that by being ever more conservative, they become ever more faithful.

But Jesus did not teach conservatism. He taught truth. And the true answer to a question of faith, morals, or salvation is not always the most conservative answer.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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10 Responses to On the Salvation Theology of Extremists

  1. jbbt9 says:

    Good item, Ron.
    I totally agree.
    Some references to Hell would appear to be mistakenly used for Heaven.

  2. Mike Fink says:

    Nice piece Ron thanks.

  3. John Doe says:

    ”that only those who commit final impenitence lose their salvation”

    I have questions relative to the quoted sentence:

    When does this ‘final impenitence’ occur in someone’s life strictly speaking ? Or, to be more specific, is salvation offered by God to every soul prior to its death (in this case a soul rejects Him) ? Is that what is meant by final impenitence ? When can we say this event, acceptance or rejection of God’s Salvation, occurs ?

    • Ron Conte says:

      When does this ‘final impenitence’ occur in someone’s life strictly speaking ?

      It is not an event that occurs at a particular moment. It happens in two parts. First, the individual commits an actual mortal sin (one or more). Then, for the rest of that person’s life, he or she continually refuses to cooperate with grace to the extent needed to repent and be forgiven. But not until the last moment of life passes without that repentance has the sin of final impenitence been committed.

      Or, to be more specific, is salvation offered by God to every soul prior to its death (in this case a soul rejects Him) ? Is that what is meant by final impenitence ? When can we say this event, acceptance or rejection of God’s Salvation, occurs ?

      No, not at all. There is no special event that occurs near death that determines salvation. Everything Christ and His Church teaches on salvation indicates that all the events of our life are or salvation. We are judged by God based on all the deeds of our life. Up to the last moment of life, we can repent from sin. But grace is continually available for repentance, not only in the last hour before death.

  4. John Doe says:

    So final impenitence is a respone from a soul that rejects God’s last ditch effort to save this soul ? One has to think this sin of final impenitence cannot be committed midway through someone’s life as if God would not try to save this soul, one last time, at the hour of its death, i.e. the separation of the soul from the body.

    ”Even death is illumined and can be experienced as the ultimate call to faith, the ultimate “Go forth from your land” (Gen 12:1), the ultimate “Come!” spoken by the Father, to whom we abandon ourselves in the confidence that he will keep us steadfast even in our final passage. (Lumen Fidei, 56)” .

    • Ron Conte says:

      No, no, no, no, no! There is no special event in the hour of death that determines salvation. And that is not what Lumen Fidei is saying. God ALWAYS offers his grace for repentance, for conversion, for holiness, throughout life. There is no “last ditch effort” or special event or extra special grace or anything else at the hour of death. There is no such idea in Tradition, Scripture, or Magisterium.

      If you reach the hour of death and you have not repented from actual mortal sin, God’s grace is available — but it was ALWAYS available. A person who realizes that death is near might decide to repent, or not. The individual always has free will. God is CONTINUALLY trying to save all souls. So it is not possible that He only decides to offer salvation near death.

      No one alive has committed the sin of final impenitence. The sin implies that the person died without repentance from actual mortal sin. The sin of final impenitence is not committed at a particular moment.

  5. John Doe says:

    Yes, I agree with this. God continually tries to save all souls, even the worst sinners. Then, why is final impenitence not the last moment at which a soul says ”no” to God, after which there is no more going back which is implied in the term ”final” ? Is this not the sin against the Holy Spirit, the one sin that cannot be forgiven ?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Final impenitence is the same as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

      Final impenitence is not a last moment in which the soul says “no” to God because final impenitence begins with an actual mortal sin, and it may well continue with the commission of other actual mortal sins, and it includes the continual failure to repent from those sins, through the last moment of life. But the person does not necessarily explicitly refuse to repent in that last moment. Final impenitence is a process, sometimes extending over many years.

  6. John Doe says:

    Ok, thanks. I value your sound opinion but I do not agree with it.

  7. Max says:

    IHMO God Grace of Salvation is like a water faucet that always turned on for you to drink from. When you die die ,,, meaning not if you are resuscitated, it is turned off. There is no moment but actual death. Makes snse to me what Ron is saying

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