‘All right, then, I’ll go to Hell’

Rachel Held Evans points us to “95 Tweets Against Hell” from Two Friars and a Fool:

Here are all of our 95 tweets, categorized by the kind of argument they are making – ethical, theological and biblical, in that order. What it boils down to is that there is no ethical justification for Hell whatsoever, no good theological reason to posit a doctrine of Hell, and there are literally hundreds of Biblical passages that do not support an eternal Hell of conscious torment. … We did not even scratch the surface of the ethical, theological and interpretive work done to contend against the doctrine of eternal Hell.

Two Friars and a Fool’s Aric Clark also brings us “Why Believing in Hell Makes You a Demon,” which argues along the same lines as the earlier post here, “The paradox of pitchforks, a devilish problem,” in which I noted that:

Only a demon — a monstrous, soulless, malevolent and wholly unholy creature — could devote itself to eternal torture, unrestrained by mercy, unhampered by revulsion or repugnance.

And thus we come to the paradox of pitchforks. Any creature capable of eternally wounding another creature with a pitchfork lacks the authority to wield that pitchfork, rightfully belonging at the other end of it. The pointy, business end of it.

Aric Clark writes:

Ultimately if you believe in Hell you are betraying the truth about yourself — that if the gavel was in your hands you would condemn certain people to eternal torture. We have a name for the beings that would engage in the torture of souls — demons.

Elsewhere in Hell news, Kurt Willems happily decides it’s not too late to weigh in on the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, and he’s seven posts into a series on “Hell Yes. Hell No! Or Who the Hell Cares?

And, via the wonderful tumblr AZspot, I find this reflection from Jeremy Myers, “The Church Should Go to Hell” and his follow-up post on “Our Deal With the Devil.”

(The post title, again, comes from one of the greatest passages that the great Mark Twain ever wrote.)

  • caryjamesbond

    See, the problem I had with “Love Wins” is that it was the same appeal-to-emotion arguments that RTC’s use, except in this other cause.  I expected something more like “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality”- a deep exegesis into the Greek and Hebrew with a heavy focus on placing the verses in cultural and biblical context. 

    Instead it was: “You wouldn’t send someone to hell, would you?  Well, God isn’t that mean either!”  

    Which is- yeah.  If there is a god, there is no guarantee that he’s NICE. Or understandable.  Or has anything even remotely resembling our system of morality (certainly, his Revealed Holy Word shows that he doesn’t, in a lot of cases.)

    I mean, it was a nice book, and made some nice points….but it wasn’t based in evidence. It was based in what Rob Bell thought would be a nice way to run the universe. 

    And….ultimately, its like arguing the Bible isn’t pro-slavery. Sure, you can argue and twist, and this and that- but ultimately, there is a “Fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and “where the worm never dies” and Jesus flat out saying “Hey, mean rich people go to this place where they burn and beg for water and it is COMPLETELY SEVERED FROM GOD.” 

  • http://atthewelcometable.blogspot.com/ Lori

    “The Evangelical Universalist” by George MacDonald and “The Inescapable Love of God” by Thomas Talbott are both good for laying out a biblical case for universalism.

    I think the irony of those books, for me, was that they seem intended to make evangelicals more universalist, but ended up making this universalist a little more evangelical.  Or, at least, made evangelicalism seem much more palatable, once I realized it could be squared with universalism.  

    Anyway, they’re worth checking out if you’re interested in the biblical arguments.

  • http://atthewelcometable.blogspot.com/ Lori

    I have to admit, when I read about Charles Colson’s death, I kind of got why people want to believe in eternal conscious torment.  I want him to suffer for the evil he’s done.  The idea of him basking in the infinite love of God for all eternity makes me kind of mad.  I get how Jonah felt when God told him he was sparing Ninevah.  I mean, in theory, I’m all about God’s unconditional love and the reconciling of all things, but in practice…Charles Colson?  God can send somebody to hell and throw away the key just this once, right?  Maybe eternal conscious torment would be too much, and unjust, but how about some *almost* eternal conscious torment?

    Anyway, point is, I get it.  People will say they wish they didn’t have to believe in hell, but they’ve got no choice, since the Bible says it.  That’s not true.  They believe in hell because sometimes doing so feels a whole lot better than the alternative.  They say that universalism is a comforting fantasy, but I don’t know.  ETC may not be comforting, per se, but it can feel awfully, awfully satisfying, especially if you feel the alternative is a person who has done great evil getting away with it all through this life and then being immediately ushered into the God’s loving, welcoming presence.

  • Cory Panshin

    Fred — I apologize for being off-topic, but can you do anything to change the dark-grey-on-light-grey appearance of your blockquotes?  It’s really hard on the eyes, and makes me want to skip over the quotes — which is obviously not a good thing.

  • flat

    I think I let the judging over to God, I only try to do the right thing.
    And that alone is difficult enough.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    I mean, it was a nice book, and made some nice points….but it wasn’t based in evidence. It was based in what Rob Bell thought would be a nice way to run the universe.

    Evidence will only ever take you so far. You observe the evidence, and try to form a hypothesis explaining it to understand the things not covered by evidence.

      If there is a god, there is no guarantee that he’s NICE.

    It doesn’t need to be nice, but if we’re supposed to worship it for its greatness, it really needs to be just. Otherwise it’s not so much ‘worship’ as it is ‘extortion’.

     Or understandable.

    Well, if god isn’t understandable, then any attempt at a connection with it is pretty futile, and isn’t religion all about connections with the divine?

    If God isn’t understandable, it invites speculation as to what purpose “his holy word” serves, if not as a guide to knowing and/or understanding.

     Or has anything even remotely resembling our system of morality

    God as an absentee landlord has an even greater need to be perceived as “just”.
    If God is only going to communicate with humanity once, to a very small number of people, in unverifiable ways, thousands of years ago, then it’s not enough that it communicates a set of ‘truths’ and codified laws, because the world will change. If God is going to go centuries or millenia without revealing anything new to humanity, that what he has revealed must be understandible and relatable to our own sense of justice and morality.

  • Worthless Beast

    To play devil’s advocate… or to rain on the rwar parade, or something…  From having been on the other side of things and knowing people there and, in all honesty, feeling the spectre of old fear every once in a while…

    I posit that there are two different kinds of people who believe in Hell: Those who want to and those who think they have to.

    The former people, the “Rah-rah! Burn, baby burn!”  types who are prone to victim-blame after natural disasters and so forth, who hope there’s a window in Heaven showing Hell by which they can sit and eat popcorn while their “enemies” roast… Yeah, call them “demons.”  Those people suck.

    The others, people who’ve been taught “this is what the scripture says,” yadda, yadda, told that “people conciously choose it,” and other dogmas and opinions of authority that have been going on for lifetimes, people who are held by the fear, but if they felt they had a choice in it, wouldn’t “support” Hell… not so much “demons.”  When I believed in Hell, and most of the people I know who did – didn’t *want* to. The fact that they didn’t *want* anyone to go there (“send themselves there” ) spurred evangelism. 

    All I’m saying is before anyone here is tempted to just black and white everyone who isn’t on the “Love Wins” train yet – there’s a difference between a dictator and those held in his sway by fear.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    Reading the 95 tweets, I’m not sure that annihilationism comes out any better than eternal torment, really.  Surely many of the ethical objections to eternal torment would apply equally to annihilationism?  Annihilationism is, after all, the doctrine that in all of eternity, there has only ever been one true murderer- Jesus.

  • http://www.tillhecomes.org Jeremy Myers

    Thanks for mentioning my posts. I had not read these 95 Tweets before. Very interesting. 

  • Worthless Beast

    The one thing I see a benefit to with annihilationism is that… there are loads of non-religious people who don’t have a problem with it.  They think it pretty much happens to any higher conciousness, anyway.  I think the Jehova’s Witnesses are annhilationsts (they believe that eternal life happens to God’s chosen people via ressurection at the end of time, so I think they’re also monists)  – I could be mistaken. Just, if they come bother you when you’re playing Ocarina of Time don’t get angry at the thought “these people think I’m going to Hell – because they don’t, but they’re trying to save you.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    So you’re on board with God-as-Cthulhu? If God isn’t nice or understandable or doesn’t share our system of morality, there’s basically no reason to worship him — not even fear, as we would have no basis to believe that our worship would placate him. 

    The appeal to emotion works in this case, because to god is said to be benevolent, and if a human being can be more benevolent than god (like Rob Bell in most people’s eyes) that kind of gives away the game. 

    I’m an atheist anyway, but Rob Bell sounds like he’d make an okay god. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

     But the reason many non religious people have no problem with annihilationism is because they don’t see a point in raging against the inevitable.  Far better to accept it with grace, and make the best of things.  If it were suddenly discovered that the inevitable was not, in fact, the inevitable, I expect that for many, their opinions would change.

    Imagine a student showing up at school with brownies for his classmates, but only the white ones.  And his reasoning is “You black kids didn’t expect free brownies yesterday, and you were ok with that.  So you’re not being harmed when I don’t give you any free brownies today.”  Then he and all the white kids go have brownies together.  Surely we could morally critique that?

  • caryjamesbond

    Talking about the 95 tweets, it runs into another thing I’ve never understood: why the translation of “Gehenna” and “Tartarus” as “hell” is supposed to indicate that there isn’t a hell.”#95Tweets #B3: The Bible never mentions Hell in the original languages. We (mis)translate Sheol, Hades, Tartarus and Gehenna as “Hell” ”

    #95Tweets #B6: Gehenna, or Ge-Hinnom, translated “Hell”, was the smoldering garbage-dump outside Jerusalem “Gehenna is a place, outside the City of God, where garbage is continually burned. I mean, that seems to me to be an EXCELLENT description of  the doctrine of hell.  It is also, in the Biblical belief, where the Israelite apostates would go to perform human sacrifice.  I mean, maybe I’m missing something theologically, but if I wanted to convey the concept of hell to a Hebrew speaking audience that didn’t have a concept of the afterlife, let alone a specific word for the idea of a place where the wicked burn forever and ever….”Gehenna” is an excellent word to use. Tartarus is also a place where wicked beings were forever imprisoned and tormented- it’s where Sisyphus and Tantalus, to name the two most famous examples, were sent. Again- the word “Hell” is from the Norse “Hel,” and didn’t exist at that time.  So if I wanted to convey to a Greek-speaking audience that “You’ll be sent to a place of eternal torment,” Tartarus would be the word to use.  

  • lowtechcyclist

    Suppose you’re contemplating having kids, and you do the following
    thought experiment:  assume you’ll have three kids, but the likelihood
    is that two of them would  live sufficently wrong lives by your
    standards that you’d feel obligated by some ideal of justice to make
    their lives a hell of abuse.

    Would you have kids, if you felt those assumptions were true?  Neither would I.

    Similarly, if as the Scriptures say, God is love, that would be a funny kind of love for him to create a universe where most people he created were doomed to eternal torment.  If he can’t balance the competing needs of love and justice better than that, his best, most loving choice would have been to not create us to begin with. 

    But he did create us, or so we Christians believe.  Are we more moral, more loving, more caring than God?  I don’t believe that.  So I have to believe that he can indeed balance love and justice in a way where love wins while satisfying the need for justice.

    In our theology, Jesus’ sacrificial death satisfies God’s need for justice.  The catch in the evangelical belief system is that one must accept the gift of that sacrifice, and do so in this life.

    There’s something awfully arbitrary and capricious about that.  I, for all my faults, will go to Heaven because someone’s words about God struck me in the right way on a long-ago day?  If I’d heard the ‘Gospel’ from Jerry Falwell, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been so accepting of the Gospel.  But our evangelical friends say that that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

    I also can’t accept, can’t believe in, a God who is that capricious with our eternal destiny.  Again, I’m sure God can work out a better resolution.  I believe in the sort of God who’s worth believing in.

  • flat

    I believe in the sort of God who’s worth believing in.
    Looks like we believe in the same thing.

  • AnonymousSam

    I had a rant recently on this subject. I think I can distill it down to the TLDR version for the sake of brevity:

    Can you think of any possible circumstances in which an indefinite period of time in a forsaken place, subjected to all manners of psychological and physical phenomena, would be incapable of causing a person to realize where they went wrong and sincerely repent for their mistakes?

    I can’t. I must assume that if there is a God, then his means of punishment are capable of making even the most hardened, twisted, APD-stricken criminal realize the error of their ways. Immediately upon that point, I can see no reason why Hell should exist as a place of inescapable torture.

    If it did continue to exist purely to continue punishing a person for that which they have already concluded was wrongdoing and have sought forgiveness, then God cannot be just.

  • WingedBeast

    As an atheist, I have to ask, are you really having a discussion on what you believe about God here, or about what you want God to be?

    By the way, Chris Doggett, you got the concept of evidence… exactly wrong.  You observe something, hypothosize, then gather evidence in the effort of either supporting or falsifying that hypothesis.  Evidence, in terms of what you actually know as opposed to are just guessing about, takes you as far as you can go.

  • Tricksterson

    Yes, the Witnesses don’t believe in Hell, just that nonbelievers go “poof” into oblivion, which to me would be heaven.

  • Tricksterson

    I’d rather pray to Joe Pesci.  Sorry I’m in a Carlin mood today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Edo-Owaki/1268185670 Edo Owaki

    They say that universalism is a comforting fantasy, but I don’t know.
     ETC may not be comforting, per se, but it can feel awfully, awfully
    satisfying…

    More than that, much more than that. For me at least, “Universalism” feels just as bad theologically as “Hell.”

    Divinity isn’t necessarily omni-anything, but it’s venerable. That’s why everybody (not just Christians) worships it. From a more specifically Christian standpoint, God isn’t Totally Alien; humans are the imago Dei, namers and co-creators of creation, saved by God made human in the form of Jesus, who equates himself with the least of us and declares no higher law than the love of God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves.

    Do we rage at Chuck Colson because of his tone? Because he disobeyed Emily Post? Because he was a Republican? More than that; much more than that. If you want an image of Charles Colson’s soul, picture a boot stamping the imago Dei – his whole life, even to the very end. The world he leaves behind is desecrated and profaned by his actions, his aiding and abetting, his settings in motion.

    “Hell” unmakes any idea of love or justice. “Universalism” (without some serious qualifications) feels like it devalues holiness. (Derek Flood has some thoughts that feel related.)

    Maybe eternal conscious torment would be too much, and
    unjust, but how about some *almost* eternal conscious
    torment?

    “Purgation,” maybe? *g*

    Seriously, though, I could get behind that. (The gates of Hell were torn down for everybody, not just those who were saved.) I’m just not sure how to make a case for it.

  • caryjamesbond


    So you’re on board with God-as-Cthulhu? If God isn’t nice or understandable or doesn’t share our system of morality, there’s basically no reason to worship him — not even fear, as we would have no basis to believe that our worship would placate him.

    Not only am I on board with it- I can’t conceive of a God who WASN’T like that.   (Unless its like some sort of Human+powers sort of thing, which is really a superhero, and not much of a deity.) 

    Any sort of being that was larger than say, a solar system, not only would not interact with us, but COULD not interact with us. That’s a scale that makes the ant-human difference look like nothing.  

    But he did create us, or so we Christians believe.  Are we more moral, more loving, more caring than God?  I don’t believe that.  So I have to believe that he can indeed balance love and justice in a way where love wins while satisfying the need for justice.

    But that’s not what the book says. I mean, you can say “The book is wrong” but that isn’t really a can of worms you want to open.   For better or for worse you’ve got this book that you believe is the holy world of god, sent down from on high. And that book- indeed, some of the words in red- flat out say “There’s some sort of bad place where non-christians go permanently.” 

    Mark 9: 47-48.
    “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 
    where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” 

    That’s not purgation, or separation, or negation.  That is torment- torment so bad that it is better to TEAR OUT YOUR EYES than deal with it.  The word translated as hell there is “Gehenna”- which, again. Seems like a nice metaphor for hell to me. 

    And…really, while we’re dealing logically- why would a being who is very very powerful be very very good?  I mean, power and goodness don’t correlate anywhere else in the world. Usually quite the opposite. I mean, its a free country, believe what you want, but- the word of God says in plenty of places that there is something nasty where some people go, on a long term basis.  Either that place exists, and God isn’t as nice as you’d like to think, or the Word of God isn’t the Word of God, in which case…..whats the point?

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    you got the concept of evidence… exactly wrong

    Please don’t read my remarks out of context. The context here is:
     
    Rob Bell: “Hell is not a part of Christan Theology!”
    caryjamesbond: “That argument isn’t based in evidence!”
    Me: “Arguments about theology can’t be based in evidence!”
    (!)

    You observe something, hypothosize, then gather evidence in the effort of either supporting or falsifying that hypothesis.

    By “observe something”… what exactly do you think that ‘something’ is? What do you imagine the starting point to be, if not observed evidence? Hypothesis do not spring from one’s brow, fully formed. It’s a cycle: observe evidence, form hypothesis, seek to falsify hypothesis with additional evidence, and then either form new hypothesis with additional evidence, or continue seeking falsification. That cycle works really well for objective, material subjects with falsifiable claims.

    But on questions of theology, metaphysics, and other flavors of philosophy (you know, like “is Hell real?”) we can’t gather additional evidence. The only evidence we have is a fixed set of data in the form of religious texts. There are no testable claims, no means of falsifying the hypothesis, and no way to gather new evidence. Which means all we can do is extrapolate.

    TL;DR version: you can’t criticize theology for “not having enough evidence”, because it’s not an evidence-based field.

  • http://atthewelcometable.blogspot.com/ Lori

    I think the line between what you believe about God and what you want God to be isn’t as clear as you probably think most Christians think it is.  Of course what we want God to be is going to inform what we believe about God.  There’s no escaping that.  

  • WingedBeast

    If Theology is not an evidence-based field, then what, exactly, do you base conclusions on?

  • Otrame

    Concerning “I’ll go to Hell.”  Rex Stout has one of the characters in one of his books claim that this was the greatest sentence in American literature.  He points out that Twain has Huck,  completely uneducated, physically abused, and more or less abandoned by most grown ups; this character who is in some ways “in a state of nature”, able to understand true morality, able to work out what is right and stand up to the consequences.  Unlike Abraham, he looks God in the eye and tells him “No.”  To Twain, to Stout, and to me, Huck is a great hero.

  • LoneWolf343

    I would be bothered if they weren’t engaging in gross strawmen arguments. I’ve yet to get a response about my objection to the anti-hell arguments, as to whether Hell is not a punishment, merely a destination.

  • hapax

     

    Well, if god isn’t understandable, then any attempt at a connection with it is pretty futile, and isn’t religion all about connections with the divine?

    The “futility” you refer to depends entirely upon “understandability” being an absolutely binary quality — either we can utterly and completely grok the Divine, or it is so utterly alien and incomprehensible to us that we can’t even understand our lack of understanding.

    I prefer to think of the understandability and accessibility of God(s) as being something more on a spectrum.  Some things we can get, most things we are inevitability going to get wrong, and holy texts (ALL holy texts) and tradition and reason and personal experience are all ways that we try to get things .a little bit MORE right.

    I can’t imagine anything more tragic and terrifying and less worthy of worship than a God that is fully and completely intelligible to ME, personally.

  • hapax

     

    In our theology, Jesus’ sacrificial death satisfies God’s need for justice.

    I’m not sure who the “our” refers to here, but I’d note that this is only one of many, many, Christian understandings of the Atonement, and by no means the most popular, except in US conservative Protestant circles.

  • Tricksterson

    Then why pay any attention to it?

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    That’s a perfectly reasonable belief (I mean, look at my avatar), but makes the entire concept of worship pointless. 

    If the closest thing to god is Dr. Manhattan (at the end of Watchmen) or Azathoth, it’s basically just an incomprehensible force of nature, no more worth veneration than any random distant star. Which is fine with me, really. 

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     It’s not impossible to approach the natural and incomprehensible with an attitude of veneration. Nor is it necessarily a bad thing to do.

    Whether that counts as “worship,” I don’t know. I’m also not sure it matters much. I suspect that the sorts of people to whom it appeals get about as much out of the practice as do practitioners of more traditional worship.

    But then, I’m not one of those who believes that the primary function of worship is to influence the outside world.

  • JoyfulA

     Thank you for bringing back that story to me.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    For better or for worse you’ve got this book that you believe is the holy world of god, sent down from on high.

    …Or some of us are Christians who don’t believe that.

    Either that place exists, and God isn’t as nice as you’d like to think,
    or the Word of God isn’t the Word of God, in which case…..whats the
    point?

    The Word of God is Jesus. Not the Bible.

  • Tonio

    Evans is right that the concept of hell is morally indefensible. I could at least understand if the theology claimed that the sentence of hell was reserved for, say, the worst mass murderers. But to impose such a sentence simply for holding the “wrong” beliefs – that’s merely an attempt at mind control. Any Christian who claims that such a hell exists should at least disprove the claim by some Muslims that Christians will be sentenced to hell.

    Dumb question – if the concept of hell has no basis in scripture or theology, where did it come from and what basis are the Christian believers in it using? I won’t ask why they believe it, because they’re almost certainly using it as a proxy for tribalism.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Dante’s Inferno, mostly. Possibly also Milton’s Paradise Lost, but I haven’t read that so I’m not sure.

  • Tonio

    The idea of the incomprehensible as suggested here seems to me to be, well, incomprehensible. The only way I can make sense of it is to assume that some people are perceiving something that they find themselves unable to understand, or that they’re taking about some aspect of life that’s overwhelmingly obvious to everyone but me.

    Of course what we want God to be is going to inform what we believe about God.  There’s no escaping that. 

    How so? I would think that if one or more gods exist, than some or all beliefs about them could be mistaken, and that finding out what properties gods would have would mean letting go of any emotional expectations for such beings.

  • Tonio

    Ah. Sort of how popular images of the devil originated as Dark Ages propaganda by missionaries trying to, uh, demonize the rival pagan religions.

  • MaybeKay

    What is it with Presbyterians and beer?  

  • malpollyon

    Divinity isn’t necessarily omni-anything, but it’s venerable. That’s why everybody (not just Christians) worships it.

    Not everybody.

  • dutchs

    The only people who actually believe God is an old man with a white beard, and the devil has horns and carries a pitchfork, are cartoonists and religious skeptics.

    Imagine your whole life has revolved around manipulating others. Then you end up some place where you have no power over anyone else, but you refuse to change or admit you were wrong. And the angrier you get the more impotent you feel because you can’t take it out on anybody. Now that would be hell, and nobody sent you there. You did it to yourself.

    As C.S. Lewis said, in the end there are two kinds of people: those who say to God “thy will be done,” and those to whom God says “THY will be done.”


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