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The Reality of Hell


LRT Jr
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Do you believe Christian teaching that Hell is a reality is an essential doctrine that is fundamental to Christian theology — that it is, indeed, a place of eternal suffering and punishment?  Or, could the existence of Hell be a reality that has a purpose other than punitive?

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Personally, I don't believe a supernatural place called Hell exists whatsoever.  Certainly, the kind of Hell somewhat portrayed in the New Testament (a place of eternal suffering and punishment) has nothing in common with the previous +500 years of teaching in Judaism, which although English versions of the bible use the word 'hell', it is actually referring to their belief in Sheol, a place where all the dead go (except for maybe a few exceptions such as Moses and Elijah).  A burning, punishing hell is a Greek development that was adopted by Christianity.

Bart Erhmann, who is an expert on early Christianity, explains it much better than I do, here:

https://www.npr.org/2020/03/31/824479587/heaven-and-hell-are-not-what-jesus-preached-religion-scholar-says

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On 11/5/2020 at 6:20 PM, LRT Jr said:

Do you believe Christian teaching that Hell is a reality is an essential doctrine that is fundamental to Christian theology — that it is, indeed, a place of eternal suffering and punishment?  Or, could the existence of Hell be a reality that has a purpose other than punitive?

A close reading of the Christian bible reveals that hell  itself is eternal, but nothing about eternal suffering and punishment.  That idea comes from Dante and Bosch.

Think of the biblical idea of hell as an eternal incinerator where souls not fit for purpose are denied resurrection and eternal life.

This is not unlike the the Oriental concept of imperfect souls being destroyed and reincarnated on a wheel of karma until they reach a state of perfection.  This general theme has some support in the common biblical metaphor of ‘The refiner’s fire.’

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I'm not sure there's much in the Bible at all about "hell." Several very different cultural traditions are lumped together in that word - Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, even Tartarus. I remember arguing with my mother about it, as a youngster. Brought up in a Baptist family ( Baptism was an adult choice (or rather teenage, in my case), I didn’t feel convinced enough. In fact, the closest I’ve some to any kind of religious initiation was being blessed by a tribal witchdoctor in Sudan (I still have the cow bracelets). There have been other attempts – being prayed over by a group from the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship for instance – that didn’t seem to “take.” Speaking in tongues has always escaped me.

Anyway, I pointed out to her that if I wasn’t baptized into the Elect I was going to hell. Did she really believe that? She replied that she’d go to hell with me. Love beats doctrine, or should do. That was probably the point where I started to think for myself. It's surely an obscene idea. It’s also immoral. No teaching has led to more mental agony, physical suffering, and villainy. If an individual’s original sin condemns him or her to eternal hellfire (presumably continuing till after the universe ends, in a trillion or so years time? or would it just be till the planet burns up, in billions?) then torturing their bodies to save their souls makes sense. It would be wrong not to. Most Christians down the ages have agreed with the logic of this, including all mainstream church leaders and saints up till a few centuries ago when humanist values began to spread through society. The hardline church leaders of today, the conservative evangelicals and Catholic fundamentalists, are the inquisitors and witch-burners of yesterday, forced (often resentfully) into more mellow positions by secular society.

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On 12/13/2020 at 12:20 AM, John Hunt said:

It's surely an obscene idea. It’s also immoral. No teaching has led to more mental agony, physical suffering, and villainy. 

So true, John.  I think it also 'hardens hearts' to a certain degree.  Christians who believe their loved ones, family, and friends who are not 'saved' so either deserve or simply will suffer eternal misery, whilst they experience eternal joy and bliss in Heaven, must have to harden their hearts to some extent to shield themselves from feelings for those they are separated from.  I just cannot fathom how my mother could ever be happy in Heaven knowing that myself and her grandchildren are suffering eternal torture and pain.  I can only imagine that these people need to start hardening their hearts in some way to protect themselves from what would otherwise have to be cognitive dissonance in this life.

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I think, actually (haven't checked the reference), that Thomas Aquinas, one of the major theologians who described God in the way it's commonly understood in the churches today, said that one of the pleasures of heaven was that you could see all the people being tortured in hell, who made the wrong decision.

I don't believe there was anyone at your birth saying, “We’ll only let you live if you believe in God.” Equally, there’s no one when you die saying, “Because you haven’t believed you’ll now be tortured in hell forever.” That’s a religion for playground bullies to preach and the fearful to practice.

In this respect, the teaching on karma makes much more sense to me, almost the definition of morality - that you reap what you sow -  (though I don't believe that either). 

Or perhaps Valhalla - spending eternity eating great food and drinking good wine - I'd opt for that, if it wasn't that I'd have to kill loads of people to get there....but at least that wouldn't be as bad as seeing 99% or so of all the people who have ever lived being condemned to hell....

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Well the  Creator  didn't create hell  , but such a place exists . It was created by life streams those who rebelled against God and his law of  freewill . In their intense  anger at God  they are burning up inside that's  why its perceived as a place of fire .Its also been called the astral plane  or emotional realm which is the lowest level that is right over us .That's why people who taken drugs , suicide have all described a similar place . 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hell is used by so many Christians as a threat. But here is what they hear, even when the Christian can't:

My God loves you, and you have free will, so you can choose to live him back and obey, or disobey and be tortured in the dark basement. So, confess your sins now to escape hell!!

Who would worship a God like that? How is that a choice? And Heaven is portrayed as worshipping a narcissist where for eternity, you will say, "You the man, God! You're the best!" Doesn't sound great at all to me. 

Because I am gay, people who hate gay people often hide behind the bible, and love to throw Leviticus at you, sometimes saying that if we were living by God, we would just execute all the gays - that's God's word, not theirs, they say. Then they will quote homosexuals as not entering heaven, and shrug. 

One Christian demanded me to say what I would answer God when God says, "why do you deserve to entet heaven?" I said, "I would tell him I don't." He implied the good people earn it, and then judges people as good or evil. A young Christian girl loved to quote Psalms 68 and tell me how she would one day bathe in my blood. That is seriously messed up. 

Christ leaves the 99 to find the 1 who is lost, but the 99 seem to want the list sheep to be eaten. I get it. Remember the seen in Indiana Jones where he is fighting a bald muscle man by a plane? When the bad guy get killed by the propeller, you get this "ha! take that!" feeling of revenge, of the bad guy getting the punishment you think he deserves. It's human, just not of God. 

So, so many people treat life as the bus stop, waiting to die and go to heaven so they can say, "told you so!" That's not love, and everyone is a child of God, so it's a huge disservice to God. 

I see hell as a purifying, burning off your ego, your revenge fantasies, your arrogance. There is a reference to a camel passing through the eye of a needle. I was told it's like a doorway when a city's gates are closed, but you must unload the camel, then the camel has to crawl through, and you have to pull him. He resists, and pulls back, and spits. 

I had a dream where i was at the gates of heaven, and a woman who was very selfrighteous and antigay said, "See? I told you so! I would never want to be in a Heaven with gay people." Jesus came up behind me, and she realized she wasn't inside, but outside looking in. She was angry at Jesus, and turned around and stormed off. Jesus said she can't open the gates or enter because her hatred and anger weighed her down. I said, "but the gated aren't locked. Well, she'll come around."

For her, Heaven would be hell, but hell is just a place where she can hold on to that anger, that hatred, that superiority, but it is void of God. 
 

Christ said the Kingdom of God is within you, in your heart. It is the love inside you. I live my life, not with the hope of heaven, not with the fear of hell, but trying to live a life of love, Christ's love, for other people. It's about how I live my life. I live by example, rather than demand people obey me, or focus on the sins of others. And in my opinion, if you don't love your neighbor as yourself, you don't love God, nor do you know him. 

What a sad life to live, one that sees their relationship with God simply as escaping hell, the focus on sin and fear of losing salvation, and a God that would throw you into hell with a "meh, I can make more", then feeling it is now your job to save everyone else. 

 

 

 

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Let's see how best I can illustrate this...

Time is just a perceived dimension, so I don't bother with any construct that involves any before or after life. I don't think it's relevant. 

What I do notice is that humans have for millenia perceived a concept of light and dark, good and evil, whatever you want to call it. 

It's affected me on a gut level the duality of humankind, the capacity for loving compassion and cruel detachment. 

My understanding of heaven and hell, as best as I can possibly articulate them are connectedness and division. We experience more grace the more connected we are and we experience more hell the more divided and disconnected. 

What this means beyond our corporeal existence, who knows, and it's not my place to say, but I really can't imagine that time as a construct exists beyond our extremely limited human perception. 

So no, I have no concept of a post-life hell that naughty people end up in for eternity because they didn't suck up to Jesus. That seems like a profoundly human interpretation of things, to which I give little credence. 

 

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For what it's worth, several years ago I did a series on my understanding of hell from a progressive-Christian perspective. I have it on my blog in audio format. Here are the links to the blog articles. 

https://evolvingchristianfaith.net/2014/06/what-the-hell-do-we-do-with-hell-part-1/

https://evolvingchristianfaith.net/2014/06/what-the-hell-do-we-do-with-hell-part-2/

https://evolvingchristianfaith.net/2014/06/what-the-hell-do-we-do-with-hell-part-3/

https://evolvingchristianfaith.net/2014/07/what-the-hell-do-we-do-with-hell-part-4/

(Note: If it is not appropriate to post links to my blog, especially since the audio has a plug for my book in it, please remove this post and let me know.)

Edited by irreverance
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I can't help thinking hell is for adults who as children never got the hang of the bogeyman.

Of course, more modern or perhaps even more ancient interpretations of hell would point to hell as being in the state of mind where we see the world as a duality of good and evil.

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  • 9 months later...
12 hours ago, theMadJW said:

Well it settled real quick by going to Genesis!

Did God tell Adam if he rebelled he would be tortured forever?

Nothing like referring to a book for all your answers. Just make sure you choose the right book and come up with the correct interpretation.

😊

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12 hours ago, theMadJW said:

Well it settled real quick by going to Genesis!

Did God tell Adam if he rebelled he would be tortured forever?

Nothing like referring to a book for all your answers. Just make sure you choose the right book and come up with the correct interpretation.

😊

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17 hours ago, theMadJW said:

Well, it charts the very BEGINNING of man's dilemma, and the CREATION of man- it's a fitting place to start!

MadJW - does this mean you don't accept the science of evolution, or are you interpreting man's "creation" as something 'supernatural', e.g. God just zapped fully-made man into existence?  I read Genesis more as myth and storytelling, from a people who couldn't possibly know better but who were trying to understand the world and their experience in it.

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7 hours ago, PaulS said:

MadJW - does this mean you don't accept the science of evolution, or are you interpreting man's "creation" as something 'supernatural', e.g. God just zapped fully-made man into existence?  I read Genesis more as myth and storytelling, from a people who couldn't possibly know better but who were trying to understand the world and their experience in it.

Evolution, as far a one thing changing into a different lifeform) is still a THEORY- they can't begin to tell how life STARTED, scientist have been trying to do it for a century or so- but they started calling it "Biogenesis"! 

Jehovah did ZAP the first man into creation, anymore that He did the entire universe!

 

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10 hours ago, theMadJW said:

Evolution, as far a one thing changing into a different lifeform) is still a THEORY- they can't begin to tell how life STARTED, scientist have been trying to do it for a century or so- but they started calling it "Biogenesis"! 

Jehovah did ZAP the first man into creation, anymore that He did the entire universe!

 

Whilst in context evolution is both a fact and theory, it is an incontrovertible fact that humans have evolved during the history of life on Earth. And biologists have identified and investigated mechanisms that can explain the major patterns of change.  So in this regard it is not 'just' a theory.  That we haven't yet ascertained all of the precise details as to how life started doesn't discount what we have ascertained about evolution.

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On 12/1/2021 at 6:48 PM, PaulS said:

Whilst in context evolution is both a fact and theory, it is an incontrovertible fact that humans have evolved during the history of life on Earth. And biologists have identified and investigated mechanisms that can explain the major patterns of change.  So in this regard it is not 'just' a theory.  That we haven't yet ascertained all of the precise details as to how life started doesn't discount what we have ascertained about evolution.

You put your faith in Science, I put my faith elsewhere!

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58 minutes ago, theMadJW said:

You put your faith in Science, I put my faith elsewhere!

Of course that is your prerogative, but I don't see it as so flippant.

Faith or belief gives much comfort to many, but that doesn't necessarily make it accurate.  Whereas science is not 'faith' at all, but rather it is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.  Scientific practices such as observation and experiment; the development of falsifiable hypotheses; the relentless questioning of established views—have proven uniquely powerful in revealing the surprising, underlying structure of the world we live in, including subatomic particles, the role of germs in the spread of disease, and the neural basis of mental life.  And of course, evolution.

As I said before, it is an incontrovertible fact that humans have evolved during the history of life on Earth.  The only people that refuse to acknowledge this are religious people who, I would argue, are putting faith before evidence.  They are following religious dogma, not evidence based on facts.  I used to do this when I was a practicing fundamental Christian - it was comforting 'knowing' that my beliefs were right.  Acknowledging the science of evolution can be the most threatening thing to a Christian's faith - if there was no original sin, no Adam & Eve story, then what do we make of Jesus & atonement!  They are good questions and perhaps a good place for Progressive Christianity to start.   

The people who wrote things that made it to today's bible, were just trying to understand the earth.  Creation stories made sense because they didn't have the science available to them to better understand things.  That's why they used to think the earth was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth, that rain came down through shutters in the sky, that God made man out of mud.  Science and modernity has helped us better understand the origins of our, and other, species.  To ignore this is choosing to put belief before evidence, but I know how hard it is to 'choose' to question one's faith.  

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11 hours ago, PaulS said:

Faith or belief gives much comfort to many, but that doesn't necessarily make it accurate.  Whereas science is not 'faith' at all, but ...

Rather puts an end to your argument.

You put your FAITH in science- which is funded by corporations, and has a LOT of theory masquerading as 'Fact'.

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13 hours ago, theMadJW said:

Rather puts an end to your argument.

You put your FAITH in science- which is funded by corporations, and has a LOT of theory masquerading as 'Fact'.

Which corporations are you referring to that fund 'science'? Are you suggesting that any funding of science is part of a giant conspiracy or something when it comes to misleading people?  I know Christian and Churches who fund science and research - are you grouping them in there too?  What 'theories' can you demonstrate are 'masquerading' as fact?

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1 hour ago, theMadJW said:

Hell is the topic.

Any questions on that?

Not really any questions.  I pretty much answered the original poster's question - would you like to put forward your idea's in response to their initial post perhaps? 

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