If the Catholic church is right, you are going to Hell. Probably.
I’m sorry, but that’s just facts. So many of the things you do every day are sins, to the point that there’s just no way you’re escaping damnation. Don’t feel bad— I’m not going to heaven either. I’ve committed so many mortal sins I can’t even remember them all. The only consolation is that everyone I know will be joining me in the lake of fire.
As I understand it, the Catholic church (or God, if you’re Catholic) has provided an “out” in the form of confession to a priest and acts of penance. These remove your sins and clean your spirit, but even so, you have to get the timing right to die in a state of grace. And given how many sins you and I commit on the regular, and how quickly they pile up, it seems unlikely any of us will end up in the Good Place. Sorry.
So, if we’re going there, we might as well know why. These are the sins most likely to earn you a dip in the lake of fire.
The three kinds of sin
Before you can determine for sure whether you’re going to hell for the bad things you’ve done, let’s drill down on what we mean by “sin.” Sins are, broadly, offenses against God. There are three main types of sin within the Catholic framework.
- Original sins: Original sin is the sin that Adam committed, and a recognition of our essentially sinful nature. You can only get rid of OS by being baptized, so it’s generally not something Catholics have to worry about after they’re about a week old.
- Venial sins: Venial sins are relatively minor spiritual infractions—not the best things to do, but not send-you-to-hell bad either. If you die and you’ve committed venial sins, you’ll still go to heaven (probably). You don’t even need to confess them.
- Mortal sins: Mortal sins are the biggies: grave actions committed in full knowledge of their gravity, and with the complete consent of the sinner. You will go to Hell if you’ve committed mortal sins without repenting.
The new sins
Back in 2008, the Church was like “Yo, new sins dropping,” and made it clear to everyone that the following are sins:
- polluting the environment
- engaging in “manipulative” genetic science
- social injustices that cause poverty
- the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few
I can get behind all of these things being sins! But because the Catholic Church has something for everyone (or nothing for everyone, depending on your point of view) they also wanted to remind us that these other things are still sins:
- taking or dealing in drugs (does legal weed count?)
Oh. Maybe I’m less Catholic than I thought.
The Church’s 2008 line of sins joins old-favorites like:
- extramarital sex
- taking the Lord’s name in vain
- taking advantage of the poor
- defrauding the workingman of his wages
I could keep listing sins all day, but you get the idea—just about anything could be a sin depending on why and how you do it.
Still, I like the Catholic church’s no-nonsense approach. Too many people think being religious means God hates the same things they hate and agrees with them about everything else. But Catholicism makes this worldview impossible. No matter who you are, or what you think, what you’re doing is shameful.
In its nearly 2,000 years of existence, the Catholic church has never released a comprehensive list of sins or explained which are mortal and which are venial, because the same action can be either, or not a sin at all, depending on extenuating circumstances. For instance, if you’re addicted to drugs, you’re probably not committing a mortal sin by shooting up, because you’re not giving your full consent. But if you just like getting high and burning bibles on Friday night, you’re probably committing many mortal sins.
“But I’m not a Catholic! What do I care?”
Obviously other religions have different ideas about sin and heaven and hell, and I sure don’t know whether Catholic teachings are the definitive, last word on what will or won’t send you to Hell. But the Catholic church has been around a long time, and its hierarchical structure provides a single voice of authority (the Pope) to explain things. Plus, its long history of documenting what acts are insults to God provides probably the closest thing we’ll get to a practical answer to the question.
Personally, I’m not interested in religious debate, just staying out of Hell, so I’m going with the Catholic approach as a way to hedge my bet. Maybe knowing for sure which sins I committed will provide me with some small comfort while I’m being slowly flayed by a demon.
No one said getting into heaven would be easy
If it’s real, Catholic Heaven is a great deal. You’ll get to spend eternity staring at the face of God in unimaginable, never-ending bliss, and all you had to do to earn the privilege was follow some simple rules for a few decades on Earth. Easy. But in practice, we are weak and flawed creatures, and our salvation must be earned through discipline and constant communion with the Big Guy. It’s not exactly fun, but it does strike me as fair. (Except to people who have never heard of Catholicism, but that’s a whole other bucket of worms.)
Another way of looking at the Catholic concept of sin is that existence is a test we are meant to fail, and that only the mercy of God’s forgiving nature can save us (provided you confess and perform penances at the exact right time). Catholic teachings are clear that literally everyone is a sinner, even little babies. It’s weird, but comforting, because we’re all in the same sinking ship and anyone having a “holier than thou” attitude, or pride in their goodness, is committing a sin too! (Take that, televangelists!) I’m not sure how a loving God fits with the concept of a soul spending eternity in torment for taking the His name in vain, but I know one thing about God: He hates the same things I hate. Shit. Another sin.
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