Talking To Christians About Hell: It’s Not As Easy As You’d Think

Anyone who thinks filmmaking is glamorous should try making a documentary sometime. Better yet, try promoting one.

For a high profile film like The Hobbit, promotion means having Peter Jackson premiere an exclusive clip to hundreds of adoring fans at Comic-Con and then flying back home to New Zealand in his private jet. For a low budget documentary like Hellbound?, it looks more like some poor schmuck (usually me) standing outside a big, black tent at a dusty, blazing hot Christian music festival handing out swag and asking—begging—people to come inside and watch our trailer.

I shouldn’t complain. As we’ve travelled to various festivals across the country, I have met literally thousands of potential viewers—something I doubt Peter Jackson ever gets to do. It’s been a fascinating, educational journey, and I’ve made plenty of new friends. But at times it’s also been frustrating. You’d think talking to Christians about hell would be a slam-dunk. But my experience has shown me it’s anything but.

Here’s a typical exchange that occurs when an unwary soul passes by our booth:

Me: “Hi there. Have you seen the trailer for our new movie?”

Unwary soul: “No, what’s it about?”

Me: “It’s a feature-length documentary that looks at the debate Christians are having about hell.”

Unwary soul (a little warier now): “Debate? What debate?”

Inside I want to scream: Haven’t you heard of Rob Bell? Don’t you know he put hell on the cover of TIME magazine last year? Have you not read Love Wins, one of the several books or some of the thousands of blog posts and news articles written about it?

Nope.

Instead of screaming, I convey the same information in calm, measured tones, hoping for that glint of recognition in their eyes. But it rarely comes. Instead I get something like, “Well, I don’t know what there is to debate. The Bible is clear. There’s a hell, and you don’t want to end up there.”

At this point I typically clench my teeth like Tom Cruise doing a close-up. Then I say something like, “If the Bible is so clear, why do so many Christians disagree on how we should interpret it?”

Confused look, often followed by, “I don’t know. I just go with the plain reading of the text.”

“Oh really?” I respond. Deep breath. “Let’s assume you believe in the ‘traditional’ view of hell as a place of eternal torment for the wicked. How do people get there—is it a fate we choose or does God choose it for us? If God chooses, how do you reconcile that with his goodness? If we choose, what ultimately qualifies us for hell—wrong beliefs or wrong behavior? If it’s wrong beliefs, what’s the cut-off point? How wrong do our beliefs have to be before we are beyond redemption? And if it’s wrong behavior, at what point have we committed the ‘unpardonable sin’? Finally, if we are so unfortunate as to end up in hell, will the torments we experience be active or passive? That is, does God actively torture us or will our torment be the result of God withdrawing his goodness?”

By now the poor soul is wondering if he or she has unwittingly died and is now in hell.

So as to remove any doubt, I crank up the heat and say, “No matter how you answer these questions, you’re making a judgment call. So even if you want to stick with the ‘traditional view’—which isn’t as traditional as you might think, by the way—you’re not going with the ‘plain reading’ of the text at all. You’re interpreting it—prioritizing some texts over others, taking some things literally, others figuratively and so on.”

If you listen carefully at this point, you can hear weeping and gnashing of teeth. But that never stops me.

“Furthermore, if you’re as avid a Bible reader as you seem to be, surely you realize the Bible contains three sets of texts: those that seem to teach eternal torment, those that appear to teach annihilation and those that suggest all people will ultimately be reconciled to God. So even if you prioritize one set of texts, you still have to interpret the other two in a way that neither negates them nor explains them away. Of course, you’ll also need to explain why someone who disagrees with you would go to hell for rejecting what appears to be an entirely subjective decision.”

Now they realize they’re not only in hell, they’re face-to-face with the devil!

I may be exaggerating things a tiny bit, but experience has shown me that too many Christians have a strong emotional investment in a doctrine of hell they’re unable to articulate, much less defend against rival interpretations. Worse, they’re not even aware such interpretations exist. And then they treat their subjective, ill-informed beliefs about hell as the litmus test for orthodoxy.

For example, another common question I get after someone watches our teaser trailer is, “Interesting. How does it end?”

This also makes me want to scream. Does anyone ask Peter Jackson how The Hobbit ends? Of course not! Why watch the film if you already know the ending?

To be a bit more charitable, I realize what people really want to know is, “What’s your position on hell?” Of course, I’m far too cagey to give a direct answer. Instead, I say, “We’re taking a critical look at multiple views on hell in order to provoke informed discussion. I’m not interested in telling viewers what to think. My goal is to help them learn how to think about hell and other contentious theological issues.”

That usually satisfies, but I still get my share of suspicious looks, because deep down what they really want to know is, “Are you one of ‘us’ or one of ‘them’?”

At such moments I wish I could abscond in my own private jet. But Peter Jackson I am not—at least not yet.

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include “Hellbound?,” “Drop Gun,” “No Saints for Sinners,” “spOILed,” “Sex+Money,” “With God On Our Side,” “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” and “After…” In addition to his work in film, Miller has written, co-written and edited over 40 books. He lives in Abbotsford, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.

About Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include "The Chicken Manure Incident," "Hellbound?," "Drop Gun," "No Saints for Sinners," "spOILed," "Sex+Money," "With God On Our Side," "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" and "After..." In addition to his work in film, Miller has written, co-written and edited over 45 books. He lives in Kimberley, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.

  • http://penn.betatesters.com Penn Hackney

    Wow. Thanks.

  • Frank Schaeffer

    Kevin is a hero of mine for making a very important movie with such wit and knowledge. (I’d say that even if I wasn’t in it!) Please read this and support “Hellbound?” in every way you can.

  • john doe

    “Inside I want to scream” and “At this point I typically clench my teeth” You seem like a very annoying, inpatient person. Any person could walk up to you and tell you about things you don’t know. I bet they would do it without being a arrogant person too.

    • Kevin Miller

      I think you may have missed the tongue in cheek element of this piece…

      • http://www.written-not-with-ink.blogspot.com Barb Riley

        Well I loved the tongue-in-cheek element. It made me smile this morning. Your paragraph of questions following the “deep breath” is lifted straight out of my head. I can’t wait to see your documentary!

  • RebeccaCordina

    Very interesting, I will watch the documentary hellbound and maybe some of the other works as well, Kevin has made some interesting points in the article above, when I get into a conversation with someone I ask them, how much study have you done on the topic?? most people say none. see most poeple have no idea what the Catholic Church actually teaches, they think that they know but they have been given the wrong information. they learn from unqualified people, TV shows and movies. I do not claim to know it all but I have done some studies at a Catholic Bible College which is very very Catholic. I agree that it is hard to hold a meaningful conversation about hell to a Christian, one factor is being not properly educated and another factor is invalid arguments, a logical process must be followed otherwise it does not make any sense and how can you argue with anything that is illogical.
    If someone asked me about hell I would say that it does exist, evil came into the world when humans were given a choice, either to choose God (who is love and goodness) or to choose to reject God, if you reject good you get evil, God cannot have anything to do with anything evil, God has no power over evil, evil is the natural concequence of rejecting God, God does not send us to hell we send ourselves to hell, if you do not want to go to hell then you will not go to hell simple. people blame God because they do not understand, the world is not perfect if it was, perfect, there will be no evil and we would not have any choice at all. There will be no absence of God, God would be in everything all the time, you could not hide from God because God is in every situation all the time for all people, it would be all good all the time, almost like robots unable to do anything bad, the perfect paradise.
    bad things happen because God was not there, God cannot be in every situation for all people, that is why we are given guidelines and rules, in order to make the right choice and to turn away from evil and turn toward God.
    humans cause the suffering of other humans, bad things happen to good people because a human made the choice to go through with that action, they chose o ignore God, for example a serial killer saying, I will kill you, I enjoy killing, I have a choice and I choose to kill you, it does not matter you are a good person I will kill you.
    the world is not perfect and very unjust, there are shades of grey, not always black and white. sorry to talk so much but it is a subject I am very interested in. Heaven and hell.

    • Kevin Miller

      Thank you for the length youthful response. A book I’d recommend you read on this subject is “The Inescapable Love of God” by Thomas Talbott. He raises some interesting questions about the free will version of hell that you have just articulated.

    • Sagrav

      A question popped into my mind when you mentioned the serial killer’s choice of ‘good’ over ‘evil’: What if the serial killer is a sociopath? A sociopath is completely incapable of empathizing with other human beings or animals. They don’t feel that twinge of guilt or remorse when their selfish actions cause harm. They cannot imagine why the rest of us deem an action or thought to be ‘bad’. As a result, I don’t see how such individuals can be deemed ‘evil’ and thus worthy of hell. They are like robots that were never programmed to understand the consequences of their actions in a ‘human’ way.

      If God exists, and if He/She/It judges us by our actions, then how would such a being judge a sociopathic killer? Is there a point to torturing a machine-like human for behaving unethically? If God saves human beings from hell based solely on their beliefs, then could that same sociopathic killer escape torment by hedging his bets and proclaiming his faith in Jesus and confessing his sins at the end of his life? Why would God even allow human beings to be born or develop whatever brain abnormality that causes sociopathy?

      • http://patheos.com Dcn. Richard

        Human beings, all human beings are intrinsically good, as God can only create good. That being said He, the Almighty, gave us an irrevocable gift in human free will. That free will allows us to choose, choose between right and wrong, good and evil, God and no God. You see unlike darkness being the lack of light, evil is not the absence of God but rather the choosing or turning away from God. God is present in all things even Hell. The sickness of being a sociopath may be evil but the person within that evil is still good. It is only through the judgement of Christ, at our death, that we are sentenced to damnation but it is also only through conscious choice to turn away from God that we alone give Christ that judgement, that brings us to eternal punishment.

  • Read the book

    Um.. no one has to ask peter jackson how the hobbit ends because it’s a book thats been out for quite some time. They know the ending and still want to go see it. Bad example to compare your documentary to.

    • Kevin Miller

      Actually, I’m very curious to see how “The Hobbit” ends, b/c if it’s anything like Jackson’s LOTR, it won’t be anything like the book.

      • wkdkween

        Sorry, but LOTR was very much like the books. Left some parts out and added some, but overall, very much like the books.

  • http://www.florforhillary.blogspot.com Eddie Bryan

    In a book called the Urantia Book claiming to be an epochal revelation it is said there is no hell. It says there is, though, a prison planet. It is very involved with understanding the universe and earth’s place in it.
    The book is knocked, as everything with such grand claims as being a phony, written by the cereal maker Kellogg. If he wrote he sure was some damned creative writer and prolific as well. It is over 2,000 pages long.

  • Pastor LN

    This just could be our 2013 Lenten study. I pastor an ecumenical congregation that is truly diverse and honestly acknowledges their various understandings of concepts such as this. Got a study guide in the works? A release date?

    • http://www.susanstover.us Susan Stover

      Take a look at my straightforward, de-complicating book, CLEAR FAITH: CLEARING AWAY STUMBLING BLOCKS FOR A FAITH THAT MAKES SENSE. My website, with further info about the book, is http://www.susanstover.us. The contents propose some controversial–yet compelling–positions on leading Christian topics like atonement theories such as God SENDING Jesus to die a horrible, painful death IN ORDER TO take away SIN that separates us from God. What kind of God do you believe in?? Just right for a Lenten study!

  • Pat Pope

    You could get the same reaction on any number of topics, really. It’s symptomatic of an unthinking Church.

  • Steve

    So, Kevin,
    are you all done making the movie?
    If not, why not explore the idea of–
    Hell was made for a race of beings that didn’t want anything to do with God? I.e., Matthew 25:41?
    Jesus, in that, tells us– hell was prepared for the devil and his angels.

    Thus, it appears that hell was not created with humans in mind, at all, on any level.
    Another thought that comes to mind is– that the devil wanted really badly to be God– Isaiah 14, and Ezekiel 28. So, instead of sharing heaven (there’s only One God, and the devil, being a created being, was not it), God made a place where the devil could have what he wanted: none of God.

    The thing that’s long been a curiosity to me is that why people who really want nothing to do with God here on earth for a few dozen years, would then want to spend an eternity in heaven, doing things God’s way. As the bible says that Heaven is God’s Home, and Jesus himself said that he came to do the Father’s will (& not his own will), it seems to me that the only people who will go to heaven will be those who do what God wants them to do, His way. So, if you don’t want to do it God’s way now, why would you be so ready and willing to do that way for an eternity? This is why Jesus said– if anyone wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself, pick up his cross daily, and follow me.
    I look forward to the release of the documentary. When’s it coming out?

  • Joe

    “You must accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour (whatever that means) or you will be tortured forever and ever and ever”. And no, there will not be a 30 second break for water every 100 years.
    Wow, that is a religion I can really get behind, and a God I can really love.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    Kevin,

    As a theological nerd who works with college students I can sympathize with your frustrations at the average church-goer’s disengagement with the various theological squabbles and disputes that consume the blogosphere and keep the publishing houses in business. This is a world I happily, (most likely too happily), inhabit myself. At the same time, most conservative, church-going people that raised your ire with their ignorance are just that: church-going people. They’re just people trying to love Jesus, work their job, raise their kids, and get to the next week. They simply don’t think about Origen or Gregory’s views on hell, or whether Thomas Talbott consistently straw-mans his opponents, or whether Justin Taylor was too quick to judge Rob Bell, or whether Rob Bell was aggressively dismissive of anything that smacked of the traditional view, etc. That’s just far from their lived reality. I’m not defending it. I think good doctrine and false teaching matters. http://derekzrishmawy.com/2012/08/21/why-jesus-hates-heresy-and-so-should-you/
    I spend a lot of my time trying to think through these various positions, realities, doctrines and teach them in a way that they impact and connect to the life of my students without simply watering them down.
    Still, this is something those of us with knowledge and understanding of the issues need to patiently and gently deal with, communicating with care and pastoral tact. The thing that I keep seeing in theology types, (like myself), is a total lack of charity in dealing with the type of ignorance we find inexcusable. Silly, squishy, culturally-derived theologies about a God who is obviously like what we initially imagine him to be are a pet peeve of mine. Clearly, average, conservative Christians who just try and “read the Bible” without realizing all the controversial hermeneutical moves they’re making fall under that category for you.

    I don’t know where I’m going with this except to say that try to be gentle with these Christians. Some of them are good for a little theological challenging. Some of them need a softer touch, though because to dive (or be thrown) into all of this stuff without a pastoral sensibility would unseat their faith in truly damaging ways. Some of them are just “little ones” in the faith, and so they can easily be led astray.

  • http://www.hellboundthemovie.com Kevin Miller

    I hear you, Derek. And I can say I had many, many wonderful discussions throughout our summer tour–particularly with people who disagreed with my views on this topic. Made way more friends than enemies. I’m sorry if the tone of this article came across as a bit harsh. It was written at the end of a long journey. That’s not how I come across in person (at least I don’t think I do!). It was meant as more of a tongue-in-cheek vent.

    As someone who works on a number of documentaries, I get to dive deep into topics about which most people only have a “headline” understanding. Prior to working on these films, I am usually in exactly the same position. So I don’t go around expecting people to know what I know, because few people have the luxury of spending 18-24 months researching and writing about a given subject. What bothers me is how few people are open to asking questions about what they believe, why they believe it and the effect their beliefs have on the world at large. Many people find these questions extremely threatening. As Randal Rauser points out in his new book “You’re Not As Crazy as I Think,” it’s as if some people choose God (or at least their version of God) over truth. Whether the subject is hell, fossil fuels or evolution, I encourage people to put all of their cards on the table. The universe is what it is no matter what we believe about it. So I think we should hold all of our beliefs with an open hand, ready to abandon them if required in the light of new information. To me, this constant process of learning and growing is what makes life worth living!

    • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

      Sure, I totally get and sympathize with all of that. I’m actually interested in that book you mentioned because it seems to match up with a lot of the research that Christian Smith has done on this. Well, blessings with your movie. I’m planning on watching it.

    • Joe

      Kevin and Derek, I know Thomas Talbott personally. It used to be polite to not damage somebody’s reputation unless they are present – at least in this web forum – to defend themselves. I’m sure he would take issue with your “straw man” accusation. Would you like to refer us to your blog where you elaborate on these straw arguments?

      Kevin, could you tell us why you interviewed Tom for 5 hours, give or take, and used none of that footage in the movie?

      • http://www.hellboundthemovie.com Kevin Miller

        Joe: We did lengthy interviews with a number of other people (including some well-known people) who also didn’t make it into the movie. That’s the nature of documentaries–you cast a wide net at first, but as you hone in on the core story of your film, certain elements fall away. It’s regrettable that Thomas’ interview didn’t make the cut, but we will certainly feature outtakes from his interview on the DVD.

        • Joe

          Kevin,
          I suppose my question was too general. I understand how movie making works. What I was wondering is if you could articulate what the core focus of the film is, in regards to why professor Talbott’s interview wasn’t usable in that context. Perhaps you wanted the film to be directed at the man on the street, and Tom, being a philosopher, was too intellectual?

    • Jay

      “few people have the luxury of spending 18-24 months researching and writing about a given subject.”

      Surely anyone who really suspected that Hell might be real and wanted to avoid it would spend that much time and much more making sure they understood the topic. It’s incredible to me that there are people who assert that they’ve found salvation from eternal torment — yet haven’t even read the original texts that are the source of their doctrine. These people clearly do not believe that their eternal fates hang on their understanding of Hell.

  • Cherri

    I wonder if you looked at Francis Chan’s book “Erasing Hell” when you did this documentary or did you base it mostly on the debate that Bell created when he wrote “Love Wins?” If not, and you have not finished your documentary…sorry, but I didn’t read every post here to know if it is completed or not…perhaps you might take a look at the book to get another perspective…one that won’t make you “clench your teeth.” LOL (And by the way, I DID get the tongue in cheek comment.

  • http://www.hellboundthemovie.com Kevin Miller

    Yes, I read Francis’s book. I also talked to him about being in the film, but we couldn’t make the logistics work. I have to say that while I thought the tone of “Erasing Hell” was the most pleasant of all the books written in response to “Love Wins” (and I’ve read all but one of them), it failed to engage with the most compelling points raised by Bell and others who are suggesting a hopeful form of universalism. In short, I felt the book lacked depth–not that Rob Bell’s book was a lengthy, scholarly tome. It wasn’t meant to be. But Chan and Sprinkle’s book appeared to be offering some sort of critical analysis, and in my mind, it failed to deliver. A much better, more rounded take on the topic is “Universal Salvation? The Current Debate.” It features a number of authors from all across the spectrum. They examine the issue theologically, biblically, philosophically, and historically. It’s one of the best discussions I’ve ever read on any topic.

    • http://www.susanstover.us Susan Stover

      In my own theological thought, I push myself back to ask questions behind questions; for instance, when asking if salvation is “universal,” I push back to “What IS ‘salvation’?” What does it imply we are being “saved” FROM? Why does a person need to be “saved”? Are there other things from which to BE SAVED than death after death? Might Jesus have been talking about being rescued from poverty, or political and economic oppression, or class structure? Might Jesus have been talking about “hell” as the torment on earth experienced by those on the fringes of society; or the pain we human beings inflict upon one another, on earth?
      Many of the theological questions we debate have one or more “assumptions” behind them which bear exploring. This practice opens up broader thinking and great conversation among people who have admittedly been puzzled by the big issues in Christianity.

      • Joe

        Great post Susan. If we are not born on the road to hell, then what do we have to be saved from?
        Brian McLaren points out the word saved has about seven different meanings, and only one of them might have anything to do with the afterlife. All the others are what you suggest – saved from a plight in the here and now.

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  • Mark Farmer

    Looking forward to it, Kevin!

  • Mark Farmer

    BTW, I should add that fifteen years ago, I would have been among those strongly supporting the traditional doctrine of hell. It is possible for a person to become open to a more complete presentation of the data and come to experience a paradigm shift. Anything that helps us overcome our denial of facts which don’t fit our mental model is salutory, though distasteful at first. May many drink deeply of your medecine, and find that the sourness turns to sweetness!

  • Doug Piero Carey

    I look forward to viewing this movie. Meanwhile, @PastorLN or those who are looking for more material on Hell, I highly recommend a book titled The Zen Teachings of Jesus by Kenneth Leong. In particular the Hell chapter was great.

    Best of luck with this movie. I will certainly buy the DVD if I don’t manage to view it in a theater (or church) this fall.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress Glenn Peoples

    Aw C’mon Kevin, so what DO you think?

  • Jay

    It’s astonishing how little thought people put into their doctrines of Hell. If Hell is what its advocates purport it to be, avoiding an eternity there would be every adherent’s top priority. The study and practices required to keep out of Hell would consume every moment of their time, every bit of their concentration. The stakes would be literally infinitely high. However much you might wish to get into Heaven, you’d be much more motivated to stay out of a torturous Hell.

    Instead, most simply listen to one interpretation handed down to them by someone who may be a cynical swindler, a pious fraud, a scholar, or a truly inspired teacher. Since they don’t actually have an inormed opinion as to which (they haven’t personally replicated the combined study of centuries of theologians and scholars) they can’t have any idea whether their path to avoid Hell is the correct one. Generally, it’s simply their parents’ Hell, an accidental legacy of time and place. They’re betting everything that someone else got it exactly right.

    The fact that Christians don’t spend every moment agonizing about winding up in Hell shows that they either posit a remarkably universalist God — or don’t consider Hell a real threat.

    I’m looking forward to your film. Here’s hoping that it makes people think about the implications of Hell.

  • http://www.gopagan.com GOPagan

    So, do you anywhere address the fact that “Hell” isn’t actually *in* your Bible? The word comes from the Old Norse “Hel”, which isn’t a place of punishment, but more a neutral afterlife similar to that of the Greeks.

  • http://www.churchcentral.com Doug Lawrence

    Beautifully and heavy/lightheartedly put! Thanks for this!

  • James Morgan

    Assume there is Hell. If God has all knowledge of the past, present and future, it must have known when it created us that many of us would disobey it and go to Hell. That is incompatible with God’s supposed mercy.

    All religions say that God is supernatural. By definition, anything supernatural is unknowable. Therefore, God is unknowable. So how do we know that it is all loving, merciful, knowing, present, powerful and so forth, and how can we know what it wants of us? That is a man made assumption that only Christians have. Judaism and Islam recognize that the supernatural God is unknowable and do not ascribe human attributes to it.

  • Steve

    Kevin:

    I understand your frustration and am looking forward to seeing the film. I was almost fired a couple of years back from a Christian university you’ll know well in a town not far from Abbotsford because I refused to sign a statement to the effect that I affirmed belief in “the everlasting conscious punishment of the wicked”. I was eventually required to write an essay supporting my position and did so appealing to many of the points you make here. I kept my position at the university until I retired. Knowing, however, that the statement I would not sign is a “major requirement of the Board of Governors of the University” in question still makes me shudder. Some of my colleagues at the university applauded my taking the stand I did. Most of them say they just “hold their nose” and sign. What a pathetic state to be in.

    • http://www.hellboundthemovie.com Kevin Miller

      Hi Steve: Thanks for the note. Hopefully “Hellbound?” can re-open the discussion at that university, seeing as we’ll be opening just across the freeway on Oct. 12.

  • rstark

    I have always found D.P. Walker’s “Decline of Hell” thesis to be iffy at best. Granted, Jane Lead and some other important early modern religious leaders rejected the doctrine of hell and advanced a provocative form of universalism, but such arguments were far outside of the mainstream at the time, and remained so, at least until Darwin… perhaps. I suppose that Darwin’s theory of evolution changed the conversation about hell in some interesting ways. What else had the same impact? I’m not talking about secular culture but rather about Christians who embrace new theories and thus change their understandings of earlier doctrines (e.g., hell).

  • http://tiny.cc/bostonreaders ounbbl

    Speaking of Bell, if I may ring:

    In his book (a quick way to become a millionaire, I found, like Purposes-driven of Warren Wreck), Rob Bell tells about how wonderful his god is, gratefully “effeminate”, who can not and do not want to be angry to anyone.

    Even as our benevolent Sun (worshiped by ancient religions) gives off to energize all the life forms of the earth (cf. Matthew 5:45 Merciful God “causes His sun rises on evil and good people alike …”), it does scorch many to death – (wait for global warming coming).

    (p.s. ‘effeminate’ here is nothing to do with style of some men.)

  • http:theguestinformant.wordpress.com/ david stokes

    this is hell … right here now … this world … everything else is illusion … one day when we die we’ll get out of here … maybe there’ll be other variations of hell … or perhaps heaven … who can really say? There’s a God … but he, it, she isn’t the only spiritual force down here … God is a long ways off … we’ll only really know the truth when we get to the other side …

  • jerry lynch

    I try to imagine preaching on a street corner, “It’s all good, bro and sis, no one’s going to hell.” The Feel-Good churches where everything is happy, happy, joy, joy–which I attended off and on for awhile–were not very good at getting their hands dirty (having to rub elbows with the “least of these”). Not that a belief in hell or annihilation necessarily proves any better at producing a spirit of action regarding helping the needy. Which brings me to my point: what does any belief about the afterlife profit a soul? (I feel the same about the belief in Reincarnation.)

    Perhaps you have heard this theory: each decision for one option over another splits off into a parallel dimension, leaving behind the same self following the other option. All these multiple dimensions produce a person that has experienced his or her unique soul to the fullest, and in that final assessment embraces All Good or God. Another is Jung’s idea of God getting to know himself, each soul something of a sub-personality of God. What would a belief in either of these theories produce?

    The motivation behind any of these beliefs seems to take away what is essential for the here and now: a genuine love of neighbor and enemy alike. To be wholly present in the moment, the Eternal Now, requires the absence of expectations. I think it was Ireaneus who said, “The glory of God is a human being fully developed.” Any expectations about the afterlife, I feel, inhibit this maturity.

    Yet I can see where working through those questions of an afterlife may be crucial for some or many to be free from the bondage of self. To finally realize, “If there is a hell, so what. If it is annihilation, so what. If all are redeemed, so what.” How we believe is the key, at least as important as what we believe. Nonjudgmental awareness, to “be still.” This is not an objective mind, an effort at weighing or assessing pros and cons from an (impossible) neutral distance, but of open wonder and heart, allowing whatever to come forth. It is to live an inspired life, not a motivated one. Ah, but how do we get to such a place? This is the work, I believe, we should be about.

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    I didn’t realize you blogged over here – I’ve linked to your film’s site and a blog post you wrote from my own blog not too long ago. In fact, learning about “Hellbound” inspired me to do a series of blog posts outing myself as a Christian Universalist and explaining the basic information which lead me to believe in Universal Reconciliation. The first post w/links to each entry is here:
    http://theupsidedownworld.com/2012/08/13/hell-week-back-to-the-beginning/

    I was a bit surprised at the positive reception I got. The posts themselves stayed fairly quiet, but I got more than a few private emails from people expressing gratitude to me for sharing the information. In the past when I’ve tried talking about it no one was open to the idea. But I do think God’s on the move these days and many people’s hearts have been made ready for the really “good news”!

  • Pingback: Episode 11: Hellbound? with Kevin Miller | Rethinking Hell

  • http://sonofcarey.wordpress.com Seth Meyers

    Hell should terrify. That’s the obvious meaning behind the different used by Scriptural authors.

    It is difficult to market a movie when the consumers can tell pretty quickly that at the very least, will tone down the most obvious statements from the ultimate authority on the subject.

    Why do people disagree about it? Because no one naturally wants to fell the way God feels about realities that will cause them to leave their sin.

    Journalists–like preachers–can easily mock another side, so the real question should not be: What are all the views today on a given subject, but what does God say about it?


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