I’ve always thought that if a person dies in Mortal Sin, even a non Christian, they will be damed to Hell. Aren’t we all held up to the same standards? Recently I’ve learned the Catechism says that for a sin to be Mortal, that person has to know that it’s a mortal sin. Now all these people who “try to live a good life” but don’t sin Mortally (because of ignorance of their actions) will go to Heaven. Nowadays in our modern society, most people claim to just “live a good life.” Does that mean that all these “Catholicly” ignorant people will be heaven? Am I understanding the catechism correctly? Perhaps it’s better for their souls that they never be told about sin?
That’s a common misunderstanding, I actually was confused about this myself for a while. You are right that if someone dies in mortal sin they go to hell, because they’ve rejected God. It seems like if people never knew then they couldnt be held responsible. So it seems like preaching the Gospel would make things worse; here they were blissfully ignorant and going to heaven, but now you told them about Jesus so now they have no excuse. If that’s the case, why does the Church spend so much effort at evangelizing? Seems redundant.
Here’s the key:
First, the Church doesn’t teach that people who are ignorant are automatically going to heaven, just that there is a POSSIBILITY of salvation. Plus, it’s not just ignorance, but invincible ignorance, which means your not responsible for your ignorance.
But in order to get to heaven you still have to cooperate with the grace and light God has given you, and you have to be trying to live a good life, and seeking God. All of that is harder to do without the truth and without the sacraments.
One analogy I like for the Church is the image of a ship, Catholics are those in the ship, other non-catholic Christians are holding onto the ship but on its outside. And non Christians are kinda floating on a life ring. It’s not impossible for them to make it to the same place those in the ship are heading. But it’s a lot harder, there’s more of a chance they’ll get off course, or they’ll be thrown off by the waves and storm. By the same token, those in the ship could become careless and lax and fall out. But still, it’s just common sense to be in the boat, it’s safer and more secure. Therefore, we who are in the boat should be throwing a rope and trying to bring as many people as we can into the ship. It may have a lot of smelly sailors on board, but at least we know it won’t sink.
Also, with sin, just because someone might not be culpable of mortal sin, it’s still harmful to them. Sin is never a small deal. God doesn’t forbid this stuff for no reason, it’s because it’s fundamentally contrary to what were made for and hurts us and everyone around us.
Another analogy what if you saw someone driving a Mercedes Benz into a wall, and the engines overheating, the tires are going bald, and they’re going nowhere and destroying their car. But they legitimately have no clue that they’re misusing the gift of driving. They’re blissfully ignorant. Would you just stand there and go “well they don’t know any better or different, better just to leave them be”? No. You’d show how they’re meant to use a car, teach them, help fix the car, and then they can actually start going somewhere.
Anyways, I hope that helped clear things up a little!
Robyn’s reply is excellent and I can add nothing to it.
However - I take a somewhat different approach that might be of help to you.
As I was coming back to faith I sought to reduce things to their simplest form.
I found this in Mt 22:36-40 where Jesus reduces all of the (Mosaic) Law to just two commandments stemming from just one principle…Love…Agape, in the Greek. An unselfish brotherly love. Summarized best in the “Golden Rule” of Love your neighbor as yourself - and by so doing, loving God (even if you do not “know” Him).
All sin stems from this failure to Agape. Look at the 10 commandments. Read Matthew Chapters 5,6,7 and see how Jesus expands on these commands - taking “Thou shalt not Kill” to “Thou shalt not get angry”…and “Thou shalt not commit adultery” to “thou shalt not look lustfully at a woman”…Read the Catechism sections on these commands. It does a good job of explaining how these inclusions…
Now Love…and treating others as you expect to be treated…is certainly not something unique to Christianity and Judaism. It’s a fairly universal concept. The reason is that “Love” is the spark of divinity that all of man carries in himself. After all we are made in the image of God and St John tells us that "God is Love (1 John 4:7-8). This is the “Law” written on the heart (as it were)…And regardless of where or how we were raised…it will be this law - the Law of Love - that we will be held to at judgement.
The one who commits mortal sin - is the one who rejects Love of neighbor as himself. This is just as true for Christians as for non-Christians. For in rejecting love of neighbor, one also rejects Love of God. For God is Love.
Now the Catechism does say that one who has never heard the Gospel will be held to a somewhat different standard…Not because the Law of Love is any different, but because there can be various factors that might effect culpability. In this things can get quite complex and so we try not to define everything…instead we leave it up to God to do the judging and trust in His mercy and justice.
I hope that this helps you some…
My best explanation would be the same as Robyn’s.
Just remember, nobody gets to Heaven by “being good,” since the bar is perfection, which none of reach (I exclude Our Lady from this discussion, of course).
It’s about accepting the grace of God offered through the Church. It’s much easier for Catholics to reach Heaven than non-Catholics, with all the undeserved help we receive.
Also, we have a duty to admonish the sinner (depending on our relationship with them, obviously we would not be expected to admonish total strangers). So, to a certain degree, one motivation behind Catholics evangelizing is that we are expected to. To live in the knowledge of Christ but not be ready to share it is living a lie.
When I say to the wicked: O wicked man, thou shalt surely die: if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked man from his way: that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at thy hand. (Ezek 33:8)
Thank You everyone!