Wednesday, May 23, 2007


After considered thought, research and contemplation, it appears difficult to find much biblical textual support for the doctrine of Hell. Others have written eloquently on this topic, both from a Christian perspective and from a Jewish perspective.

To me, the evidence seems quite strong that the concept of Hell and dualism in general, was brought back by certain Jewish sects during the Babylonian captivity and subsequently infected Christianity, while fading from the Jewish tradition. Ultimately buttressed by the writings of Dante and the Book of Revelation, (certainly the most bizarre and suspect text of the New Testament) the doctrine of hell continues unabated torturing millions of people in Christian nations with the concept of a God so steadfast (headstrong?) as to perpetually torture his own creation after granting them a mere handful of years to accept his gift of eternal life. Religions may not be based upon logic, but certainly few people perceive much fairness in these purported methods of the Most High, even leaving aside the troubling doctrine of Calvinistic predestination.

But wait, the fundamentalist Christian apologist says. God puts no one in Hell. People put themselves in Hell by exercising their free will and rejecting God's gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. While God is love, they say, he cannot not abide sin, and therefore is constrained to throw the billions into constant torture in the fires of Hell. Now, apart from the conundrum that the very creator of Lucifer and sin, is somehow unable to co-exist in the same plane with the sinful, let's look at the fallacious notion that God is just in placing people in Hell since any individual has true free will to opt for the gift of salvation or not.

While, perhaps, today with modern media, most people do indeed have a chance to hear some version of the Gospel, the notion that therefore God is just in casting away non-believers simply does not hold up.

Each person has a variety of experiences in life and we each have a different amount of time in this world. Some of us only live a few years; some forty; some live a hundred years. Some of us may be mentally incapacitated in some way--can a person with Alzheimer's be saved?--that prevents us from accepting the purported gift of eternal salvation.

People who live in "Christian" nations will have far more opportunities to hear the salvation message and will have access to the great evangelical persuaders such as Billy Graham and Billy Sunday, while people living in Asia or Muslim countries may have far fewer encounters with the gospel. Tribes hidden in Amazonia may still conceivably have none.

All of these facts certainly point to the notion that true free will is something that only exists on a sliding scale. But ultimately, all of these apologies still fail, because God refused to give any of us (as far as we can remember) the choice to opt either for existence or not.

Not a single one of us asked to be created.

There was no Rawlsian veil of ignorance where we could before birth decide whether or not we would choose to be born.

Such would embody a truly free choice: weighing a decision between existing and running the probable chance (some Christians claim virtually everyone will end up damned) of ending up in Hell, or saying:

"No thanks, Yahweh, this non-existence thing is working pretty well for me and while the heat down in Miami is one thing, I don't think I would fair too well down in Hell. It's just too risky. The returns just don't justify taking the plunge, and even though I don't exist yet, I am pretty sure that I would be good at risk-reward evaluations."

I must, if somewhat grudgingly, given their own scriptural problems, tip my hat to the Church of Latter Day Saints, for correctly understanding this fundamental problem regarding pre-existence and having a doctrine to deal with it, which I had been unaware of, before writing this piece. When I speak of fundamentalist Christianity, I do not include sects with radically different viewpoints regarding the essence of Christ and salvation, but point towards what are generally now non-mainline Protestant churches, whose beliefs preserve the fundamental viewpoints of the reformation and the thought of Calvin and Luther.

Essentially, fundamentalist Christianity teaches the story of a fumbling creator who inadvertently creates sin, either through Lucifer or Eve, and who then periodically decides to destroy his creations in the Old Testament, as depicted in the stories of Noah and to a lesser extent, Sodom and Gomorrah. After leading the Children of Israel from Egypt, Moses has to talk Jehovah out of destroying his chosen people. Finally, in the Book of Job, God actually uses Lucifer as his agent to torture Job and his family. Apparently, at this time, God could abide sin in his presence. Perhaps this is why Hell is not mentioned at all in the Old Testament.

But suddenly, in the New Testament, this formerly angry and edgy creator, all of a sudden becomes a model of platonic perfection. Somehow, though,while he is now painted mostly as a peace and love kind of god, who leaves the destruction and killing to Christ and the Angels in the Book of Revelation, he also apparently can no longer tolerate sin in his presence and decides in his second testament to cast the overwhelming number of his creation into the eternal torture of hellfire.

While I welcome any reconstruction of the doctrine of the justness of hellfire, It seems clear, to me, at least, that the fundamentalist notion of a permanent Hell as something fundamentally just, simply fails. Linguistic, historical and textual evidence all point towards the irrelevancy and antediluvian nature of the fundamentalist Christian doctrine of eternal damnation. Trying to paint the doctrine as somehow epitomizing fairness is no more persuasive than any of the other dilapidated defenses of one of the most pernicious doctrines to ever pass for religious thought.

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