Wright, America, Portugal and Hell

I’ve never read NT Wright. And I should. But I’ve seen a couple of videos. And I noticed Wright’s common complaint about America’s fixation about hell. Well, I’m portuguese but I think that being afraid of hell is actually a natural consequence of believing in hell. And probably contrary to what Wright thinks, talking a lot about hell is taking the subject seriously to the degree that we mix the two things: we and hell. If we never talk about hell that’s probably because we think about ourselves as totally apart from that reality. There’s even a risk of never talking about hell because we can’t picture the idea of the existence of hell or, at least, we can’t picture the idea of we belonging to the existence of hell.
I give you an example. In an european country like Portugal I’d say that the majority does not believe in the existence of anything remotely similar to hell. In a way, NT Wright can never say about Portugal what he says about the States. And we could get to the conclusion that sometimes not thinking about hell pays off as looking like a country without unhealthy spiritual fixations. But the thing works backwards, I think. Portuguese people don’t think about hell because they find the idea of an afterlife condemnation as ridiculous (with possible and expectable exceptions like Adolf Hitler). And I’d say that never talking about hell, at least from this portuguese perspective, grows from the feeling that we don’t have anything to do with it. My point, then, is: americans are humbler than the portuguese because when they talk about hell they actually believe they could end up there, the very thing portuguese would never accept.
I think this helps explaining why europeans in general, and portuguese in particular, are these days so uncomfortable with the christian faith (and I’m not talking about nominal catholicism or protestantism). Why do we need it when we think that we are undamnable? Maybe one of the reasons that explains Wright’s discomfort with the fact that american christians exaggerate talking about hell is british silence and not necessarily biblical wisdom (as he admits, Jesus talks quite a lot about the thing too). If that’s so, Wright is being more a brit than a theologian when he complains.


Tiago Cavaco