Pagan practice finds its support in pagan doctrine. Many people today feel that doctrine is an obstacle to that which is really important, that is, worship and a personal relationship with God. But doctrine is simply a statement of what we believe about God, and it is from our belief that our worship and relationship springs. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23). No matter how much “spirit” there may be, unless there is “truth” the worship will not be that which “the Father is seeking.”

One of the chief doctrines of all pagan religions is the belief in the immortal soul. The Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians and Egyptians all believed that the soul has an eternal destination. Greek philosophers, such as Plato, made this teaching intellectually palatable, and it was through them that it came into the church (See 20: What is a Soul?). Since the Bible clearly teaches that not all will be saved, the doctrine of the immortal soul requires an eternal destination for the unsaved—everlasting hell.[1] Although many churches today attempt to moderate hell into a place of “eternal separation from God” or to postulate a “second chance” so that all will eventually be saved, the Catholic Church has staunchly held onto the concept of hell as a place of fiery eternal punishment. A few statements from the Catholic Encyclopedia summarize their doctrine:

“The Holy Bible is quite explicit in teaching the eternity of the pains of hell… No cogent reason has been advanced for accepting a metaphorical interpretation…The torments of the damned shall last forever and ever…The objection is made that there is no proportion between the brief moment of sin and an eternal punishment. But why not? Sin is an offense against the infinite authority of God, and the sinner is in some way aware of this, though but imperfectly. Accordingly there is in sin an approximation to infinite malice, which deserves an eternal punishment…Justice demands that whoever departs from the right way in his search for happiness shall not find his happiness, but lose it. The eternity of the pains of hell responds to this demand for justice. And, besides, the fear of hell does really deter many from sin; and thus, in as far as it is threatened by God, eternal punishment also serves for the reform of morals. But if God threatens man with the pains of hell, He must also carry out His threat.”

“The utter void of the soul made for the enjoyment of infinite truth and infinite goodness causes the reprobate immeasurable anguish. Their consciousness that God, on Whom they entirely depend, is their enemy forever is overwhelming…Scripture and tradition speak again and again of the fire of hell, and there is no sufficient reason for taking the term as a mere metaphor…The nature of hell-fire is different from that of our ordinary fire; for instance, it continues to burn without the need of a continually renewed supply of fuel….It is meet that whoever seeks forbidden pleasure should find pain in return.[2]

This terrible misrepresentation of God’s character of love is based on the false doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Although it has “deterred many from sin,” in the modern age it has turned many more into agnostics or atheists. Although scripture clearly teaches that there will be a hell, it will accomplish its purpose of eradicating sin (and the souls and bodies of sinners who cling to sin—Matthew 10:28). Chapter 20 deals with this subject and examines the related scriptures in detail.

A closely related doctrine, which is also found in essentially all pagan religions, is the consciousness of the soul after death (as contrasted with the Biblical teaching of death as an unconscious nothingness awaiting the resurrection— See 6:9,10 Souls Under the Altar and 20: The Soul Sleeps). This has led to a number of evils, including the worship of the saints.[3] After all, if they are still aware and concerned about what is happening on earth, why should we not seek their prayers, which, because of their holy lives, are much more effective than ours? [4] And yet the multitude of saints, with personal favorites as well as saints who have jurisdiction over particular professions or circumstances (such as St. Christopher, the saint of travelers) are simply the continuation of the worship of a pantheon of pagan gods.

The doctrine of consciousness in death has also been a major motivation for prayers for the dead. The thought of precious loved ones suffering in the fires of purgatory[5] when payment for a special mass could hasten their entrance into heavenly bliss, has led to systematic and extortionate “devouring [of] widows’ houses” which was so strongly condemned by Jesus.[6]

Does it really matter if people believe unbiblical doctrines such as the immortal soul and the conscious state of the dead? The real problem with these doctrines is not so much that they are not a true picture of reality but rather that they give a false and ugly picture of God. And this has always been Satan’s goal: to make God so unattractive that no one would want anything to do with Him, but would turn instead to false gods that he can manipulate.

Continue to next section: THE PRIESTHOOD

[1] “The existence of hell can be demonstrated even by the light of mere reason. In His sanctity and justice as well as in His wisdom, God must avenge the violation of the moral order in such wise as to preserve, at least in general, some proportion between the gravity of sin and the severity of punishment. But it is evident from experience that God does not always do this on earth; therefore He will inflict punishment after death. Moreover, if all men were fully convinced that the sinner need fear no kind of punishment after death, moral and social order would be seriously menaced…If men knew that their sins would not be followed by sufferings, the mere threat of annihilation at the moment of death, and still less the prospect of a somewhat lower degree of beatitude, would not suffice to deter them from sin…It is not intrinsically impossible for God to annihilate the sinner after some definite amount of punishment; but this would be less in conformity with the nature of man's immortal soul.” Joseph Hontheim, "Hell" The Catholic Encyclopedia, (accessed Sept. 18, 2014).

[2] Ibid

[3] Catholics vigorously deny that they worship the saints, preferring words such as “venerate” and “entreat.” However, when they bow down and kiss the images of saints, perform liturgies and have festivals in their honor and make prayers to them, what more would be included which would constitute worship?

[4] According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Masses ‘in honor of the saints’ are certainly no base ‘deception’, but are morally allowable, as the Council of Trent specifically declares (loc. cit. can. v); ‘If any one saith, that it is an imposture to celebrate masses in honor of the saints and for obtaining their intercession with God, as the Church intends, let him be anathema." Joseph Pohle, "Sacrifice of the Mass," section "The Causality of the Mass," The Catholic Encyclopedia, (accessed Sept. 18, 2014)

[5] The Catholic Encyclopedia article on hell referenced above refers to a subcategory of hell, “purgatory, where the just, who die in venial [minor] sin or who still owe a debt of temporal punishment for sin, are cleansed by suffering before their admission to heaven.” According to Catholic theology, baptism fully atones for original sin and sins committed up to the time of baptism. But sins committed afterward must be atoned for by a combination of Christ’s merit and the sinners good works (penance). If these good works have not been adequate they will be supplemented by suffering in purgatory.

[6] Matthew 23:14