A retired priest says hell was made up by the church to scare people into obedience, newly resurfaced comments reveal.
John Shelby Spong was the Bishop of Newark, New Jersey from 1979 until 2000 and has been referred to as the "nightmare" of the Episcopal Church in the US.
A liberal Christian theologian and religious commentator, the now 89-year-old has unabashedly called for an overhaul of Christian belief away from theism and traditional doctrines.
During a recently recovered interview with NBC in 2006, the former religious leader said he believes in life after death, but that the concept has nothing to do with reward or punishment for deeds done on Earth.
"Religion is always in the control business and that's something people don't really understand, it's a guilt-producing control business," he said at the time.
"If you have heaven as a place where you're rewarded for your goodness and hell as a place where you're punished for your evil, then you sort of have control of the population.
"So they create this fiery place which has quite literally scared the hell out of a lot of people."
When asked for clarification on whether he believes hell was invented by the church, Spong replied: "Yes, I think the church fired its furnace hotter than anybody else."
Spong also dismissed the idea that the only way to avoid hell is to follow the teachings of Jesus.
"Every church claims we are the true church and we have some ultimate authority," he said.
"The idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system, by any human creed, by any human book is beyond imagination for me.
"God is not a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems that human beings have created."
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The priest believes other elements of traditional Christian teaching are essentially about the manipulation of its followers, specifically the concept of being "born again".
"The church doesn't like for people to grow up because you can't control grown-ups," he said.
"That's why we talk about being born again, when you're born again you're still a child.
"People don't need to be born again, they need to grow up. They need to accept their responsibility for themselves and the world."
In the past, Spong has faced backlash from other religious figures for his outspoken comments.
He has been dubbed a "heretic" and even banned from speaking at Australian churches.
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