Can We be Certain that Terrorists go to Hell?

As certain as God is just, terrorists are sent by God to Hell to be punished forever. Suicide bombers (also called homicide bombers) die in the very act of killing innocent persons. Their grave sin is fully deliberate, and they know that they are murdering innocents. So the act is an actual mortal sin. And they cannot repent, since they die in the commission of the act. So they certainly go to Hell.

We must always remind everyone that, in this life, until death, every sinner is capable of a salvific repentance by the merciful grace of God. But it is to be observed that faithful loving persons repent from their sins quickly and easily, whereas those who commit one grave sin after another for many years often do not repent. The longer a person spends unrepentant and committing one actual mortal sin after another, the harder it is to repent. A Saint can repent of a lifetime of occasional venial sin in the last moment of life. A wicked unrepentant sinner, who has committed very many actual mortal sins, cannot repent in an instant.

The easiest path to forgiveness is in the Sacrament of Confession. But a valid Confession requires a diligent examination of conscience, which takes a significant amount of time for someone with many grave sins. If the individual does not have access to Confession, then perfect contrition for all grave sins is necessary to be forgiven. In the ordinary case, the person needs to consider each of his sins, so as to be contrite for those sins. The person who has committed a lifetime of grave unrepentant sins consider each of his grave sins, and choose contrition for those sins, all in one instant, at the last moment of life.

A sinner can repent from actual mortal sin by an act of implicit perfect contrition. By cooperating with the grace of God fully, in an act of selfless love of God and neighbor, the person obtains forgiveness for past grave sins. For love and sin are incompatible. But a small act of kindness, or a small good deed would not suffice. The forgiveness of actual mortal sin is a weighty matter, requiring a substantial change in the human person to return to grace.

First, consider this example of implicit perfect contrition from many grave sins. A man serves his nation as a solider in the military, in combat. But he is a sinful man, with many unrepentant actual mortal sins on his conscience. At some point in battle, an enemy grenade is thrown into the midst of his fellow soldiers. He has a choice to make. If he decides, as an act of love of neighbor in full cooperation with grace, to throw his body on the grenade, to save the lives of his fellow soldiers, his act of selfless love includes implicit perfect contrition, and he is instantly forgiven for all past actual mortal sins. He will have eternal life in Heaven.

Second, consider the example of a terrorist suicide/homicide bomber, who dies in the act of deliberately killing innocent persons. He does not die committing a selfless act of love, but a wicked act of hatred. It is the opposite situation to the first example. The solider in the first example goes to Heaven, but the bomber in the second example goes to Hell. The one man dies choosing love of neighbor with great self-sacrifice. The other man dies choosing hatred of neighbor with the wicked false claim that his act is approved by God.

The ordinary sinner sometimes commits an objectively sinful act with a sincere but mistaken conscience. This error can occur even with sins that are objectively grave (objective mortal sin). The commission of an objective mortal sin with a sincere but mistaken conscience makes the act an actual venial sin, in terms of culpability, and does not deprive the soul of the state of grace, nor condemn the person to Hell.

However, I maintain that some sins are so thoroughly wicked that no human person with the use of reason and free will could possibly be in good conscience while committing such an act. Terrorist attacks against innocent persons (suicide bombers, mass shooters, etc.) are so thoroughly contrary to reason and the most basic respect for morality and human life that a terrorist cannot be free from the guilt of the sin due to a sincere but mistaken conscience.

Terrorists who die in the flame of their offense do not have sufficient time (or really any time) to consider their many grave sins, in order to repent with explicit perfect contrition, and they are not committing an act of love, but of malice and hatred. They cannot repent in the last moment of life and be saved. They have chosen to commit an horrific crime against humanity as the last act of their lives. So while we can say that all human persons are offered salvation, and all sinners can repent of any and all sins prior to death, in some cases it is all too clear that the sinner simply did not choose to accept the offer of salvation, and did not choose a path of repentance. That is the case for brutal dictators, like Hitler, and it is the case for terrorists who die in the commission of their sins, such as in the 9/11/01 attacks and the recent Paris attack (11/13/15).

What would Jesus say? Is He not all-loving and all forgiving? God loves all persons, but if you choose to reject the love of God, by hating your neighbor, His justice will condemn you. God only forgives those who freely choose to repent.

{25:44} Then they will also answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
{25:45} Then he shall respond to them by saying: ‘Amen I say to you, whenever you did not do it to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.’
{25:46} And these shall go into eternal punishment, but the just shall go into eternal life.”

{16:19} A certain man was wealthy, and he was clothed in purple and in fine linen. And he feasted splendidly every day.
{16:20} And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, covered with sores,
{16:21} wanting to be filled with the crumbs which were falling from the wealthy man’s table. But no one gave it to him. And even the dogs came and licked his sores.
{16:22} Then it happened that the beggar died, and he was carried by the Angels into the bosom of Abraham. Now the wealthy man also died, and he was entombed in Hell.

Jesus taught us that even those who commit only grave sins of omission, failing to do good to others in need, will be punished eternally. The rich man went to Hell, not for murder or adultery, but for failing to give Lazarus some food. More generally, our Lord taught that those who fail to help those in need — the hungry, thirsty, alone or ostracized (“stranger”), in need of clothes or shelter (“naked”), sick or in prison — are guilty of an objective mortal sin. How much worse, then, is the sin of the terrorist who tries to kill as many innocent persons as possible, and does not care if he dies in the act? Such a person will be punished much more severely than the rich man who merely ignored the beggar, and will be punished forever.

Islamic extremist terrorists believe themselves to be martyrs, and they think they will receive a reward in Heaven of 72 virgins. But I am certain that they will receive eternal punishment in Hell. They commit extremely wicked deeds, without any opportunity for repentance. Not a good way to die.

Unfortunately, some foolish Catholics have adopted a mitigated form of the heresy apocatastasis [Greek for “restoration”]. Apocatastasis claims that all human persons will eventually be saved. In its mitigated form, which is still heretical, the error is mitigated by adding a degree of uncertainty. They say that Hell might be empty and that perhaps no one is sent to Hell.

To the contrary, Sacred Scripture is clear that many souls are sent to Hell to be punished forever. And the Magisterium teaches that all human persons who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin suffer eternal punishment in Hell. If we hope that Hell is empty, we are essentially hoping that God is unjust and a liar. And that is not a reasonable hope.

One example of the heresy of apocatastasis is the publicly-stated position of Bishop Robert Barron on Hell. He claims that Hell is only a possibility, and that we may hope and pray that all be saved. Bishop Robert Barron on Hell: May we reasonably hope that all will be saved? But adding “perhaps” or “maybe” does not turn heresy into doctrine.

When Usama Bin Laden (UBL) died, some foolish Catholics spoke in the same manner, from the point of view of mitigated apocatastasis, saying about UBL — notorious leader of the terrorist organization responsible for the 9/11 attacks — that perhaps he went to Heaven, not Hell. See my posts refuting this ridiculous claim here:
Catholic commentary on the death of Bin Laden
More Catholic commentary on the death of UBL

Aside from Bishop Robert Barron, Jimmy Akin is one of the more prominent proponents of this idea of salvation for everyone, regardless of their extremely wicked deeds. When UBL died, Akin wrote: “We must hope that Osama bin Laden repented at the last second, or that he had been crazy for years and not responsible for his actions, or that God might provide for his salvation in some other way.” [National Catholic Register]. I’ve already refuted Akin’s position at length. But in summary:
* No one can repent in the last second of life from a lifetime of unrepentant wicked deeds, as in the case of UBL.
* A person with such severe mental illness as to be not guilty by reason of insanity would also not be able to run a worldwide terrorist network, as UBL did.
* God cannot “provide for his salvation in some other way” because God is Truth and Justice and Love. Such a claim of another way of salvation contradicts the infallible teaching of the Church that all who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin are punished forever in Hell.

What have Bishop Barron, Jimmy Akin, and other proponents of Heaven for everyone said about salvation for the Paris attack terrorists? Nothing. People who adhere to the heresy of universal salvation do not like to be reminded of those wicked deeds which prove that Hell exists and it is not empty.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Can We be Certain that Terrorists go to Hell?

  1. 1bertie1 says:

    Dear Ronald
    Thank you for this interesting post. I have a few comments/questions, if I may.
    I am not a theologian by the way… (I think that will be self evident as you read on!)
    It seems to me that all we can say about this matter is that on the balance of probability, these terrorists will be in hell. After all, the Church has never made such pronouncements about specific people, has it? Surely, this is the prudent way to approach this matter.

    If it was as cut and dry as you suggest, then the Church would surely be in its rights to deny a murder-suicide sinner a Requiem Mass. Has it ever done this?

    Here is a theological question: are we certain exactly at what point death occurs? I have read somewhere that Jesus gives each soul several minutes to repent. So, does this happen after medical death but before the soul departs the body? We don’t know exactly how this happens and how particular graces are conferred on the soul at this moment, for example, by the prayers and sufferings offered out of love by others.

    I agree that the more grave and numerous the sins of the dying are, the more difficult it is for the sinner to confront the gravity of their offense against God, to be humble and to accept God’s forgiveness. But surely, this is where grace comes in, for we would all be horrified and feel hopeless when we are on the threshold of eternity when we are faced with our sins – even venial ones. However, I do think that the more grave the sins, the more difficult it is.


    • Ron Conte says:

      We cannot say as an article of faith that terrorists go to Hell. However, we can say, according to human knowledge, that they go to Hell. We know they sinned gravely. We understand that these sins are so grave that no person in his right mind could be acting from a sincere but mistaken conscience. We know they died while committing these sins. And the teaching of the Church on grave sin and repentance is an article of faith.

      Yes, the Church has and will deny a funeral Mass to persons who die committing a grave sin, such as murder suicide, and certainly also terrorism.

      It is an article of faith that one cannot repent after death, and that death is the separation of body and soul. This idea that floats around on the internet, that people can repent in some hypothetical space of time after death is abject heresy. All that the Church teaches on the path of salvation become null and void if the way that you live your life has no effect on salvation, but only some claimed meeting with God just before death. So that hypothetical is not compatible with Catholic teaching.

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