Is Ignorance A Get Out Of Hell Free Card?

I once heard that ignorance was doing something wrong but not knowing it was wrong and stupidity was knowing something was wrong and doing it anyway. In the secular legal system both actus reus and mens reus have to be present in order to be guilty. In other word you have to do the guilty act and know it is wrong. Is it the same with God? The reason I ask is recently I have been hearing people who truly believe that there is nothing wrong with pre and or extra marital sex, abortion and homosexual activities. When they are judged and they say I did not know that was wrong, will the Lord say “that is OK, enter My kingdom” or will He say " you should have known, the down elevator is to the left". Has God made all humans with a internal moral compass that points to that which is right?

If ignorance is an excuse, it seems unfair (yes, I know things aren’t fair) that I work hard to try to live up to God’s standards and that someone who doesn’t even acknowledge those standards pleads ignorance and gets a pass.

Sorry if I have not stated my position clearly. Don’t beat me up too bad.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest. CCC

Now I am really confused! Is there no more absolute right and wrong? Is God’s law no longer black and white but now shades of gray?

It is not clear how you get the above questions from the presented selection from the Catechism.
Ones culpability is not the same thing as the objective morality of a given act.
Can you explain?

You need to change your mindset about sin and about God. He is not trying to ruin our fun. The moral teaching God gives us is out of Love and for our good. I know it’s hard to do sometimes in practice. The following is from ‘The devout Life’ by Frances de Sales, I thought you might find it helpful. :slight_smile:

All the children of Israel went forth from the land of Egypt, but not all went forth heartily, and so, when wandering in the desert, some of them sighed after the leeks and onions,–the fleshpots of Egypt. Even so there are penitents who forsake sin, yet without forsaking their sinful affections; that is to say, they intend to sin no more, but it goes sorely against them to abstain from the pleasures of sin;–they formally renounce and forsake sinful acts, but they turn back many a fond lingering look to what they have left, like Lot’s wife as she fled from Sodom. They are like a sick man who abstains from eating melon when the doctor says it would kill him, but who all the while longs for it, talks about it, bargains when he may have it, would at least like just to sniff the perfume, and thinks those who are free to eat of it very fortunate. And so these weak cowardly penitents abstain awhile from sin, but reluctantly;-- they would fain be able to sin without incurring damnation;–they talk with a lingering taste of their sinful deeds, and envy those who are yet indulging in the like. Thus a man who has meditated some revenge gives it up in confession, but soon after he is to be found talking about the quarrel, averring that but for the fear of God he would do this or that; complaining that it is hard to keep the Divine rule of forgiveness; would to God it were lawful to avenge one’s self! Who can fail to see that even if this poor man is not actually committing sin, he is altogether bound with the affections thereof, and although he may have come out of Egypt, he yet hungers after it, and longs for the leeks and onions he was wont to feed upon there! It is the same with the woman who, though she has given up her life of sin, yet takes delight in being sought after and admired. Alas! of a truth, all such are in great peril.

…We should pity those in ignorance and pray with Jesus - forgive them Lord for they know not what they do. “It’s not fair” sounds like the elder brother of the prodigal son.

Nope, there is definitely absolutely right and wrong. But sin is more than doing something that is against the rules - it is purposefully putting ourselves above God.

But it cannot be said that we are purposefully putting ourselves above God if we don’t know that we’re doing so.

Now in this sense, we must realize that God is Goodness and Truth, and all that, so a person who does not believe in God can still sin mortally by putting their own desires above what they know to be good and true. And further, if we carelessly disregard right and wrong altogether and just do what we want, then we may very well be guilty of not teaching ourselves morality.

But the only way to end up in hell is as the result of purposefully and knowingly placing yourself above God, above what is good. If a person really and truly did not realize that the things you mentioned are wrong, and if they really and truly did put in a reasonable amount of effort in forming their consciences, then you are correct that they may not be condemned. (I suspect a lot of people in our age will at the very least be spending some time in purgatory over not bothering to think about right and wrong beyond what “feels” right.)

But none of that makes the actions themselves any less bad. They are still absolutely terrible. But again, to go to Hell, you have to reject God. And this is something that we actually do, not just an accident or something done out of ignorance.

Maybe this example will shed some light on my thoughts.

Let us look at premarital sex. Being a “good” Catholic man I know that premarital sex is a sin in God’s eyes. Right? My friend Joe having been raised in a more “liberal” home where sex was considered “natural” and feel as long as he doesn’t “hurt” anyone he can have sex any time, with anyone, anyway, anywhere and there is nothing wrong with doing that. Lets say I get caught up in the “HEAT” of the moment and give in to my desires. During the act I die of a heart attack. Likewise, Joe also dies of a heart attack while doing the act with a gal he just picked up at the local singles bar.

We both stand before God. God looks at me and says, “You knew what you were doing was wrong and you did it anyway. You go to hell!” God looks at Joe and says, “You should have known what you were doing was wrong but because you didn’t know any better I am sending you to purgatory.” At which Joe says, “Purgatory? What’s that?”

Anyway, so what I am not understanding?

Grace.

I get the scenario you’re trying to set up, but it’s a fallacy because it over looks the graces God gives you to help you make better decisions and discern and follow his will. Joe doesn’t access these same graces. It also over looks Joe’s intention in the action. While you’re choice was made because of caving in to a sinful urge, Joe’s choice may very well have been made with the intent of doing good and seeking truth. His conclusion would have been mistaken, but God may be pleased with the fact that he is searching.

Yes there is absolute (objective) right and wrong!

Certainly.

The question though is --is a person invincibly ignorant? Did they have the needed knowledge of its sinfulness (which can come via natural reason) did they give deliberate consent?

Such involves their “subjective” guilt.

If I am driving down a road at 60 mph and later find out that the speed limit had changed to 15mph for the last mile – but that some troubled youth stole the 15mph sign – am I to be held guilty of such high speeding? I innocently did not have a clue that such had happened…

Now if I know that the sign was taken away by some kid and it was supposed to be 15mph then God will know this even if I lie to the cop who pulls me over…

*Also note that we are not “saved by being good” --that is we do not enter a state of grace by simply doing good and avoiding serious evil – we are saved by Jesus Christ. I am to hear and repent and believe the Gospel and receive Baptism etc…

Now is it possible for God to work outside of the explicit faith etc? Possible for Jesus to even save me though I have never heard his name? Yes such is possible. God can work in ways we do not see…

But* we *are to propose the Gospel --Propose Jesus Christ and true life in him to others so that they can come to know this true life in Faith and Baptism (and the rest of the joy of Christian life and Sacraments --especially the Holy Eucharist!)

And then one is to remain among the “the living” in Christ …and if one should fall into a mortal sin --turn to the Good Shepherd in contrition and confession…

On the one hand we know that various things can lessen guilt…and we cannot judge the person…(we give benefit of the doubt – God will judge) …

On the other hand we know that much can be known via natural reason.

Read each line:

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c1a8.htm#IV

Yes there is absolute (objective) right and wrong!

Certainly.

The question though is --is a person invincibly ignorant? Did they have the needed knowledge of its sinfulness (which can come via natural reason) did they give deliberate consent?

Such involves their “subjective” guilt.

If I am driving down a road at 60 mph and later find out that the speed limit had changed to 15mph for the last mile – but that some troubled youth stole the 15mph sign – am I to be held guilty of such high speeding? I innocently did not have a clue that such had happened…

Now if I know that the sign was taken away by some kid and it was supposed to be 15mph then God will know this even if I lie to the cop who pulls me over…

*Also note that we are not “saved by being good” --that is we do not enter a state of grace by simply doing good and avoiding serious evil – we are saved by Jesus Christ. I am to hear and repent and believe the Gospel and receive Baptism etc…

Now is it possible for God to work outside of the explicit faith etc? Possible for Jesus to even save me though I have never heard his name? Yes such is possible. God can work in ways we do not see…

But* we *are to propose the Gospel --Propose Jesus Christ and true life in him to others so that they can come to know this true life in Faith and Baptism (and the rest of the joy of Christian life and Sacraments --especially the Holy Eucharist!)

And then one is to remain among the “the living” in Christ …and if one should fall into a mortal sin --turn to the Good Shepherd in contrition and confession…

First, within the information given, you or he could change destinations.

Second, you’re missing the fact that you really and truly know that it’s a bad thing. In the worst case fitting this description, Joe is doing what Joe thinks is ok. You, on the other hand, would be sitting there saying “I know for certain that this is a terrible thing, that it goes against God’s design for the universe, and I don’t care. My desires are more important.” Joe would not be saying this.

That statement is the problem. That statement is how we send ourselves to hell. That the statement is often tied up with evil actions makes it worse, but it primarily the statement that is bad.

To me, it sounds as though you’re asking why other people can get away with evil and you (we) can’t, or at least can’t as easily. But this is to be too focused on the bad rather than on the state of grace we’re trying to maintain.

Look at it like this: Assuming that you and Joe are both really and truly trying to follow good, then you have the information to make your acceptance of God. The person in the worse situation is Joe who, because of his ignorance and despite really wanting to do good, will be doing bad. And that is bad. If Joe really and truly was seeking to do good, then he would do his best to drop all these things immediately if he were to learn that they were bad. And if he wouldn’t (try to) drop them under such circumstances, then he’s not really and truly seeking the good.

Essentially being able to “get away with” evil is not good. It is not something to envy, for what it really means is “will continually accidentally commit evil without even recognizing that we are doing so.” And that is certainly bad.

You should perhaps review the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Workmen in the Vineyard.

Take a look at this from the last pope:

CONSCIENCE AND TRUTH
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

In the course of a dispute, a senior colleague, who was keenly aware of the plight to being Christian in our times, expressed the opinion that one should actually be grateful to God that He allows there to be so many unbelievers in good conscience. For if their eyes were opened and they became believers, they would not be capable, in this world of ours, of bearing the burden of faith with all its moral obligations. But as it is, since they can go another way in good conscience, they can reach salvation. What shocked me about this assertion was not in the first place the idea of an erroneous conscience given by God Himself in order to save men by means of such artfulness—the idea, so to speak, of a blindness sent by God for the salvation of those in question. What disturbed me was the notion that it harbored, that faith is a burden which can hardly be borne and which no doubt was intended only for stronger natures—faith almost as a kind of punishment, in any case, an imposition not easily coped with. According to this view, faith would not make salvation easier but harder. Being happy would mean not being burdened with having to believe or having to submit to the moral yoke of the faith of the Catholic church. The erroneous conscience, which makes life easier and marks a more human course, would then be a real grace, the normal way to salvation. Untruth, keeping truth at bay, would be better for man than truth. It would not be the truth that would set him free, but rather he would have to be freed from the truth. Man would be more at home in the dark than in the light. Faith would not be the good gift of the good God but instead an affliction. If this were the state of affairs, how could faith give rise to joy? Who would have the courage to pass faith on to others?

The Prodigal Son realize the errors of his ways and humbly came back to his Father. Workman in the vineyard got paid for work although some did not do as much work as others. But they all did some work.

We are required to make an effort to have a rightly ordered conscience; that is, one that aligns with God’s law. To not make that effort is in itself a sin.

In the end, God knows what information he gave us, and how we responded to (or ignored) it. There will be no unfairness in his judgement. That includes his judgement of those who may have been responsible in some way for our ignorance and/or ill-formed consciences (e.g. the “elites” who have greatly fueled the current collapse of morality).

*Also note that we are not “saved by being good” --that is we do not enter a state of grace by simply doing good and avoiding serious evil – we are saved by Jesus Christ. I am to hear and repent and believe the Gospel and receive Baptism etc…

Now is it possible for God to work outside of the explicit faith etc? Possible for Jesus to even save me though I have never heard his name? Yes such is possible. God can work in ways we do not see…

But* we *are to propose the Gospel --Propose Jesus Christ and true life in him to others so that they can come to know this true life in Faith and Baptism (and the rest of the joy of Christian life and Sacraments --especially the Holy Eucharist!)

And then one is to remain among the “the living” in Christ …and if one should fall into a mortal sin --turn to the Good Shepherd in contrition and confession…

We don’t get to Heaven by being stupid and ignorant if that’s what you mean. If anything, we get to Heaven in spite of it.

If someone consistently makes choices for themselves against God, (whether or not they realize it) they won’t go to Heaven, which is to be in the presence of God. Consciously or not, they have put themselves as the greatest good in their life. When they die, that won’t all of a sudden change. A person who lives a life like your friend Joe, who couldn’t care less about God it appears from your story, will not suddenly be like, “ok I want to die to myself and let God be the greatest good now” Human nature doesn’t work like that. It would be repugnant to him. After living a life devoted to satisfying his own lusts, no way would he want God suddenly to interfere with that selfishness. That’s why people go to hell, they have chosen self, and that’s what they get. Its literally what they want. And the more we sin, the more we consistently are choosing ourselves. God doesn’t send us to hell, we send ourselves.

The road is narrow that leads to heaven. Jesus told us himself, he wouldn’t say that unless it was true. Notice, nowhere does the catechism or the Church teach that as long as you are ignorant, you automatically go to Heaven. Nope. That’s a huge misunderstanding a lot of people have, but it’s simply not true. We also must cooperate with God’s grace and try to love him to the best of our abilities. All of that is extremely hard to do, nearly impossible, without the truth and without the sacraments!! It is in fact impossible without God.

The teaching on ignorance is simply to hold out a shred of mercy, only God can judge the heart, and it’s POSSIBLE that maybe they weren’t choosing themselves. Maybe they were in fact following Christ as they knew him??
It’s also POSSIBLE that a blind man stumbling down the road aimlessly will make it to where he wants. Possible, but not likely, since there’s so many wild animals trying to eat him and so many potholes trying to trip him up. Without food for the journey, or a guide to protect him and lead him, it’s very unlikely. He’ll probably slip into a mud hole and get stuck and decide he’s pretty happy there and quit trying. (Also, a person who buries his head in the mud because its easier will absolutely NOT make it to his destination. That’s culpable ignorance, which the Church says is not excusable at all)

But there is still a slim chance for someone not blind on purpose. And that’s all the Church’s teaching on invincible ignorance is meant to show us. That God can work outside the box. Not a free pass in the least, because they have to work extra hard and have no guide to show them the way. If they get to heaven at all, it’s because of God’s grace, and the fact they tried their best to cooperate with him.

Not because they were too busy focusing on themselves to look for God.

Also don’t forget, sin has real consequences in this life. Sin literally is contradicting what we are made for. Anyone whos lived a life of sin can tell you, they felt empty at the end of the day. Because sin is empty!! Sin hurts us. And ignorance doesnt change that fact!

To envy someone for ignorance is like envying a blind man stuck in the mud, sinking slowly deeper and deeper, thinking he is in a hot tub. It’s pitiful actually. Because eventually the mud will cause an infection, once all that bacteria seeps in to his bloodstream, since we are not made to wallow like pigs. It might not be his fault, but if we loved him we would try and pull him out and show him the real thing! Christ came to pull us out of that mud pit, and only through him can we be freed from it.:thumbsup:

Thank you, Robyn p.

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