On a recent post about grace and Karma, a commenter posed a challenging question:
I \'d like to ask you a question because you strike me as an intelligent man of faith. I was taught that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment, a nice euphemism for a torture chamber. Do you believe that those of us who fail to accept grace will be tortured? If not, why not? Augustine and Calvin seemed to believe it.
Sometimes people ask the damnedest things…
I been sitting on this one for several weeks, because, well, the subject of eternal damnation is not exactly the most delightful topic on which to expound. But, hey, anyone can tackle the easy ones, so what the hell…
The topic of hell has never been a popular subject — for reasons not terribly difficult to discern. Yet belief in hell is both ancient and widespread, comprising an important doctrine in some form or other of most of the world’s great religions, especially Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, each manifested by belief in a personal God. In our secular, postmodern age, however, it has become something of a quaint superstition, widely perceived to be a tool for manipulation of the ignorant and gullible by the religious patriarchy. It has long faded from the lexicon of contemporary culture and conversation, and is rarely even mentioned in religious contexts, much less in secular. The death of hell has been quiet, almost unnoticed, like the slow starvation of some hideous child left in the wilderness to die.
Yet the death of damnation has left a vacuum into which far more diabolical spirits have swarmed. Perhaps the most unsettling of these is our growing sense of helplessness against a pervasiveness of evil which seems ever more prevalent, ever more senseless, ever more violent and hideous. The gunman, some hitherto lonesome loser with a heightened sense of victimization and a laundry list of petty grievances, lays waste to a school in an orgy of carnage — and then, having drunk his fill of slaughtered blood, ends his own life by his own hand, leaving naught but a narcissistic video hungrily devoured by a bloodthirsty media, who wish only to “understand.” Other than his final instant of presumed pain, the killer receives no justice, no retribution for his murderous rage — and more perversely, carves out his place, albeit briefly, in history and notoriety.
While such cases are the extreme, unrequited evils of a lesser sort could be multiplied without end. The child molester, who gets out of jail in 3 years on good behavior; the murderer whose high-priced attorneys sway feeble-minded juries to garner his acquittal; the corporate executive who steals billions from the retirement plan of his underpaid employees, getting off with a wrist slap fingering someone higher in the food chain; the tyrant who tortures and murders millions, escaping to live in opulence, dying in a safe secure asylum provided by others of his ilk. Even at the most personal level, much evil goes unpunished, from the undetected adultery, to the undiscovered lie, to the drunk driver not arrested, to the fraudulent tax return which escapes the scrutiny of the IRS.
There is in human nature something which rebels at such injustice, which cries out for punishment proportionate to the crime. We hunger for some restraint upon such evils unleashed, some effective deterrent, knowing our imperfect legal system often fails to deliver its promised justice. Yet, paradoxically, we justify and rationalize our own evil, not merely hoping for leniency if caught but expecting, even demanding it.
If hell does not exist, men would be wise to invent it. If it does exist, we are fools to deny it.
Yet our technologically advanced, psychologically sophisticated, scientifically saturated society can in all its knowledge find no such restraint upon evil. For we arrogate with confident assurance that there is no God; no transcendent moral absolutes; no spiritual or immaterial reality beyond the tangible and measurable. We hunger for justice but have no standard against by which to calibrate it, save our volatile emotions and ever-changing subjective values. We attempt to constrain evil through law and societal coercion, while having no coherent metaphysics upon which such constraints must be grounded. Our GPS satellites are not fixed, but wander through the sky; our maps are detailed, but bear no relation to the geography through which they purport to guide us.
Continue reading “The Death of Hell”