From The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, 1946.
The scene: Heaven.
A group of ghostly souls from Hell are visiting to have another chance of salvation. A liberal Anglican Bishop is one of the visitors. He meets an old college friend, Dick, a Spirit who now inhabits Heaven.
Dick is speaking first:
"Is it possible you don't know where you've been?"
"Now that you mention it, I don't think we ever do give it a name. What do you call it?"
"We call it Hell."
"There is no need to be profane, my dear boy. I may not be very orthodox, in your sense of that word, but I do feel that these matters ought to be discussed simply, and seriously, and reverently."
"Discuss Hell reverently? I meant what I said. You have been in Hell: though if you don't go back you may call it Purgatory."
"Go on, my dear boy, go on. That is so like you. No doubt you'll tell me why, on your view, I was sent there. I'm not angry."
"But don't you know? You went there because you are an apostate."
"Are you serious, Dick?"
"This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalised for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken."
"Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?"
"There are indeed, Dick. There is hidebound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed-they are not sins."
"I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions."
"Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk."
"What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came-popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?"
"Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?"
"Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?"
"If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is a mere libel. Do you suggest that men like ..."
"I have nothing to do with any generality. Nor with any man but me and you. Oh, as you love your own soul, remember. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn't want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes."
"I'm far from denying that young men may make mistakes. They may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it's not a question of how the opinions are formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed."
"Of course. Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith. Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend: a drunkard reaches a point at which (for the moment) he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm. The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man's mind. If that's what you mean by sincerity they are sincere, and so were ours. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent."
"You'll be justifying the Inquisition in a moment!"
"Why? Because the Middle Ages erred in one direction, does it follow that there is no error in the opposite direction?"
"Well, this is extremely interesting," said the Episcopal Ghost. "It's a point of view. Certainly, it's a point of view. In the meantime . . ."
"There is no meantime," replied the other. "All that is over. We are not playing now. I have been talking of the past (your past and mine) only in order that you may turn from it forever. One wrench and the tooth will be out. You can begin as if nothing had ever gone wrong. White as snow. It's all true, you know. He is in me, for you, with that power. And- I have come a long journey to meet you. You have seen Hell: you are in sight of Heaven. Will you, even now, repent and believe?"
"I'm not sure that I've got the exact point you are trying to make," said the Ghost.
"I am not trying to make any point," said the Spirit. "I am telling you to repent and believe."
"But my dear boy, I believe already. We may not be perfectly agreed, but you have completely misjudged me if you do not realise that my religion is a very real and a very precious thing to me." (...) Oh, must you be going? Well, so must I. Goodbye, my dear boy. It has been a great pleasure. Most stimulating and provocative. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye."
The Bishop returns to Hell.
The Bishop's attitude is very familiar to me since I used to share it.
After all, what could be wrong with 'honest opinions, sincerely expressed'?
In the old days Church of Scotland ministers did not mince matters.
In the course of a sermon one said: Ah hed a dreem, an in that dreem Ah saw a vision o' better folk than you, efter they were deed, in the place where the wurm dieth not and the fire is not quenched, callin' out tae the Lord in their agony, callin' out:
'O Lord, we nivver kent it wud be as bad as this.'
And the Lord, out of His love and tender mercy looked down on their agony and He spoke and answered:
'Weel... ye ken noo.'