It makes my blood race with excitement. This is jalapeño faith—green hot, mouth and eye watering religion. Literally hot stuff. These are the sort of outrageous religious experiences you want to bring up in that circle of educated and urbane religious folks just to see their politely horrified reaction. Don’t you think that a real creed ought to feature juicy bits like this? In fact, it could almost be the test of a substantial faith that it has ecstatic visions and horrifying encounters with the supernatural. I don’t say that proves a religion true, but it renders it real, and any creed which weeds out such stuff due to good taste or fashionable incredulity is not a religion at all, but a set of table manners.
These visions of hell and devils don’t make for happy bedtime reading—especially if your bed happens to be a deathbed. Despite my delight with such visions I realize that such things don’t constitute proof for the existence of hell. On the other hand, if hell is a “real place” in some sense, how else would we be able to experience it except through visions, dreams and almost dying?
We are inclined to dismiss near death experiences and mystical visions as “bad dreams.” But what do we know about dreams? Doesn’t psychology suggest that our dreams provide an interface with the daemonic realm? We say such a realm is not real, and argue that the physical world is the only “real” one, and yet modern physics deals with strange parallel dimensions of reality all the time. The world of sub-atomic particles is both “real” and “unreal” depending on your point of view. Is there any reason why what we call the spiritual dimension might not also be real according to its own terms of reference? What if the human mind is the final frontier, and dreams, visions and near death experiences are precisely the way we gain access to this other realm?
We are treading in the twilight zone here, but let us suppose that mystical visions, dreams and near death experiences are a kind of travel to a foreign land. Maybe instead of giving us visions of their own fantasies, the magicians, visionaries and nearly dead really are giving us a glimpse of another dimension of reality. If they are, then it matches up with a universal strain in human consciousness, for practically every religion and culture perpetuates similar stories of human visitors who return from the underworld with horrific tales of justice for the wicked. The person who denies hell is therefore the outsider, the renegade and the strange one—not the soul who affirms it.
Those who disbelieve in hell will say that the case is not proven. This argument is like one of those tether ball games—knock the ball away from you and it swings around to hit you on the head. So if reports of hell exists don’t prove it exists, neither do fervent denials prove that it doesn’t. The question remains open, and if it remains open, then I know which way I would wager. Suddenly believing in heaven and hell is not wishful thinking at all. It is prudent—as prudent as a second parachute or a life insurance policy.
The Christian position on hell is quite plain— to the point of being impolite. The Christian preacher delivers a simple two-word sermon on the subject: “Fear hell.” I realize this may be too crude for those of delicate religious sensibilities. Some will complain that such sermons get people into heaven only by scaring them out of hell. There are certainly more noble reasons for desiring heaven, but none more effective. I admit that I am human. I am scared of monsters, demons and death, pitchforks and pain, and if there is such a place as heaven and hell I, for one, would rather be scared into heaven than soothed into hell. Is my vision of heaven and hell too literal? Once again, I would rather learn second-hand one day that my vision of hell was too literal than find out for myself it wasn’t literal enough.