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To hell with Hell?
Ignatius Insight ^ | April 26, 2011 | Carl Olson

Posted on 04/26/2011 3:41:53 PM PDT by NYer

James Kirk Wall, author of Agnosticism: The Battle Against Shameless Ignorance, seems to think he has come up with a clever line of agnostic apologetics to pursue in getting rid of Hell:

Pastor Rob Bell is arguing that there may be no Hell. Would Christianity still be able to sell without Hell, or would membership plummet?

Heaven and Hell make up the greatest marketing campaign ever created by man. If you buy what we’re selling, you will live forever in happiness. If you don’t, fire and brimstone for all eternity!

Uh, yeah, that's a perfect to way to put it—if you're into flippant, theologically-challenged, and historically-illiterate snarkiness. Which I'm sure is appealing to many people. Personally, I've never had a problem with belief in Hell; my issue, as a Fundamentalist, was with purgatory. But once I read what the Catholic Church actually teaches about purgatory, as opposed to the all of the Jack Chick-type silliness I was fed growing up, it made sense. (In fact, the fact that so many Catholics dismiss purgatory as superfluous or silly shows just how rotten catechesis has been generally since the 1960s.)

My experience is that people (some of them avowed atheists) who are dismissive of Hell have both a faulty understanding of what it is and isn't, but also a warped understanding of who God is and is not (or what orthodox Christianity says about God). This is understandable to a certain degree, as some Christians do indeed portray God as something of angry old man who can't wait to shoot sinners out of his celestial cannon into the fires of damnation. But if there only heaven, or no afterlife at all, it does beg the question: can we really speak meaningfully about good and evil, as well as justice? The short answer is, "No" (as I touched on a bit in this post yesterday). Ross Douthat, in his April 24th column, "A Case for Hell", writes:

Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.

In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.

The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.

As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism. It’s a way of asserting that “things have meaning” — that earthly life is more than just a series of unimportant events, and that “the use of one man’s free will, at one moment, can mean life or death ... salvation or damnation.”

Hell make perfect sense if we have a sense of perfection desired, a hope for justice fulfilled, and a recognition of free will granted. To quote, once again, from Benedict XVI's Spe Salvi:

To protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope (cf. Eph 2:12). Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so. The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love. (par. 44)

Returning to Wall's question, I think that much of the evidence is in: those churches and Christian groups that deny the existence of Hell—that is, the real possibility of being able to freely reject God to live with that choice for eternity—don't have much long-standing appeal. Mainline Protestant denominations that have abandoned belief in Hell (along with other basic doctrines) are dying or dead. Why? There is the matter of Jesus and the New Testament writers making plenty of references to Hell; there is also the nagging suspicion (confirmed, upon thought and investigation) that promising heaven without the need to freely choose love, life, and goodness is a cop-out, a con job, and a contradition. It fails to make sense of sin and it fails to provide real hope:

From the earliest times, the prospect of the Judgement has influenced Christians in their daily living as a criterion by which to order their present life, as a summons to their conscience, and at the same time as hope in God's justice. Faith in Christ has never looked merely backwards or merely upwards, but always also forwards to the hour of justice that the Lord repeatedly proclaimed. ...

In the modern era, the idea of the Last Judgement has faded into the background: Christian faith has been individualized and primarily oriented towards the salvation of the believer's own soul, while reflection on world history is largely dominated by the idea of progress. The fundamental content of awaiting a final Judgement, however, has not disappeared: it has simply taken on a totally different form. The atheism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is—in its origins and aims—a type of moralism: a protest against the injustices of the world and of world history. A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering, and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God. A God with responsibility for such a world would not be a just God, much less a good God. It is for the sake of morality that this God has to be contested. Since there is no God to create justice, it seems man himself is now called to establish justice. If in the face of this world's suffering, protest against God is understandable, the claim that humanity can and must do what no God actually does or is able to do is both presumptuous and intrinsically false. It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice; rather, it is grounded in the intrinsic falsity of the claim. A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope. (Spe Salvi, 41, 42)

Related Links:

Hell and the Bible | Piers Paul Read | An excerpt from "Hell" in Hell and Other Destinations
The Brighter Side of Hell | James V. Schall, S.J.
Socrates Meets Sartre: In Hell? | Peter Kreeft
Are God's Ways Fair? | Ralph Martin

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; Religion & Culture; Skeptics/Seekers
KEYWORDS: heaven; hell; purgatory
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To: NYer

Book marked for later reading.

21 posted on 04/26/2011 4:04:05 PM PDT by Inyo-Mono (My greatest fear is that when I'm gone my wife will sell my guns for what I told her I paid for them)
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To: stylin_geek

Because He chooses to.

22 posted on 04/26/2011 4:05:09 PM PDT by brytlea (A tick stole my tagline....)
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To: Salvation
If there is no Hell;, then there can be no Heaven. Something to think about

sure there can...God is free to reward/punish us as He sees fit....while I have more trouble with Hell, I absolutely believe in Heaven...

23 posted on 04/26/2011 4:05:48 PM PDT by terycarl
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To: stylin_geek; Salvation
I don’t believe in Hell. Those who deny Christ are “cut off” and cast “into the darkness.”


Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17 - John the Baptist said the Lord will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. This unquenchable fire is the state of eternal separation from God, which the Church has called "hell" for 2,000 years. Some Protestant communities no longer acknowledge the reality of hell.

Matt. 25:41 - Jesus says, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

Matt. 25:46 - Jesus says, "they will go away into eternal punishment" which is in reference to this eternal fire.

Mark 9:47-48 - Jesus refers to hell as where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. It lasts forever.

2 Thess. 1:6-9 - the angels will come with flaming fire and the disobedient will suffer punishment of eternal destruction. It is important to note that "destruction" does not mean "annihilation," as some Protestant denominations teach. It means eternal exclusion from the presence of God.

Jude 6-7 - the rebelling angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Rev. 14:11 - the worshipers of the beast suffer and the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever.

Rev. 20:10 - they're tormented in the lake of fire and brimstone day and night forever and ever.

Isaiah 33:14 - "Who of us can dwell in the everlasting fire?" This is a reference to hell which is forever.

Isaiah 66:24 - their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be quenched. We cannot fathom the pain of this eternal separation from God.

Jer. 15:14 - in my anger a fire is kindled which shall burn forever. Hell is the proper compliment to the eternal bliss of heaven.

Judith 16:17 - in the day of judgment the Lord will take vengeance on the wicked and they shall weep in pain forever. Hell is a place that sinners have prepared for themselves by rejecting God, who desires all people to be saved in His Son Jesus Christ. God sends no one to hell.

Hell is a very real place.

24 posted on 04/26/2011 4:06:20 PM PDT by NYer ("Be kind to every person you meet. For every person is fighting a great battle." St. Ephraim)
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To: stylin_geek

Describe what you mean by eternal death.

25 posted on 04/26/2011 4:07:40 PM PDT by brytlea (A tick stole my tagline....)
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To: stylin_geek
What you should be saying is “you don't believe in The Hell of popular literature”. That I would agree with. Satan will not be a ruler of that domain, strutting around with a pitchfork poking people.

How I look at it is, we know there will be different levels of awards in Heaven, so why not different levels of punishment in Hell, with Satan and his Demons receiving the worst possible punishment that can be dealt out, the Lake of Fire, along with the worst of the worst of Humans. With others, you may be right, it may be just separation from God. Just my opinion. I hope I won't the opportunity to know for sure.

26 posted on 04/26/2011 4:13:10 PM PDT by NavyCanDo
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To: NYer

The Bible continually warns us of Hell. There are over 162 references in the New Testament alone which warns of hell. And over 70 of these references were uttered by the Lord Jesus Christ!

27 posted on 04/26/2011 4:18:05 PM PDT by NavyCanDo
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To: NYer

>Pastor Rob Bell is arguing that there may be no Hell.<

Is the Pastor wishing or betting his soul that there is no hell? You’d better make up your mind pastor.

28 posted on 04/26/2011 4:24:50 PM PDT by 353FMG (The M1911 is mightier than the sword.)
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To: bopdowah

“Hell is a place where God is not..”

Ummm, like New Jersey?!

29 posted on 04/26/2011 4:38:45 PM PDT by momtothree
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To: NYer
"What if there is no Hell"

What if there is?

30 posted on 04/26/2011 4:49:25 PM PDT by HarleyD
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To: Mike Darancette
If heaven is being in the presence of God then then a hell is not necessary.

If there is a just God then there is a hell,whether its eternal torture or not is debatable

31 posted on 04/26/2011 4:52:23 PM PDT by Charlespg
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To: HarleyD

**What if there is?**

Very good question.

While we are alive we live in the era of the Mercy of God.

At the moment of our death we move into the Justice of God.

32 posted on 04/26/2011 5:24:03 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Charlespg

Maybe you need to go back and read these Scriptural references.

33 posted on 04/26/2011 5:25:50 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: NavyCanDo

Thank you for a reasoned argument.

I cannot think of anything worse than beholding the Glory of God, being judged and then cast out into the darkness of eternal death.

Cut completely off from Him, never to know His wisdom and Glory.

It will be especially hard for those who knew Him through Scripture, yet rejected Him.

That is my definition of Hell.

Pitchforks, demons and eternal life of torment? You would still know of Him and where there’s life, there’s hope.

34 posted on 04/26/2011 5:43:17 PM PDT by stylin_geek (Never underestimate the power of government to distort markets)
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To: NYer
I believe in hell as a place of eternal punishment.
And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night. Rev. 14:11
The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.Rev. 20:10

I agree, God is love and if it were up to Him nobody would go to hell.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Pet. 3:9

And hell was not created as a place for punishment for men.
Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Matt 25:41

HOWEVER, God gave us free will and any man who chooses hell over heaven will get his wish! Salvation is free for all.
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Ro. 10:9

As for my Catholic breathren, I do not consider the book of Maccabees to be Scripture. Can you give me another reference for the value of praying for the dead? I think that death is the final moment, the point of no-return, if you are not saved then it is too late for you.
And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment Heb. 9:27

35 posted on 04/26/2011 5:43:22 PM PDT by Former Fetus
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To: brytlea

There is physical death, the promise of resurrection and judgment.

Eternal death means you’ve been judged and found wanting. At which point the spiritual body is cast off, killed, ended.

See also my post at #34.


36 posted on 04/26/2011 5:47:23 PM PDT by stylin_geek (Never underestimate the power of government to distort markets)
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To: NYer

“It is important to note that “destruction” does not mean “annihilation,” as some Protestant denominations teach”

Actually, it does:

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

Matthew 10:28

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Revelation 2:11

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Revelation 21:8

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

What’s being described is the second death. The torment you described is for the devil and his henchmen.

37 posted on 04/26/2011 6:26:49 PM PDT by ScottfromNJ
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To: stylin_geek

Hell is having knowledge of God and being separated from Him.

38 posted on 04/26/2011 6:35:03 PM PDT by tiki
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To: Charlespg
If there is a just God then there is a hell,whether its eternal torture or not is debatable

Being denied access to God through eternal death is just punishment.

39 posted on 04/26/2011 6:43:52 PM PDT by Mike Darancette (The heresy of heresies was common sense - Orwell)
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To: stylin_geek

I think that might seem unpleasant, if you had much time to contemplate it, but after the fact it seems pretty cushy. Have you ever been completely knocked out for surgery? Was that unpleasant? It’s nothingness. I don’t see that as much of a punishment. I would certainly opt for that over what I envision Hell as being. Of course, being a Christian anything short of being with God and Jesus are not my preference, but if I were a non believer, why would I care if I simply died and was eternally not aware? That just doesn’t seem in any way awful. As I said, for one moment I might be unhappy when I realized there had been another option but then, I would be over it, eternally.

40 posted on 04/26/2011 7:35:36 PM PDT by brytlea (A tick stole my tagline....)
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