Hell: Into everlasting fire

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For hundreds of years, Hell has been the most fearful place in the human imagination.  It is also the most absurd.

To many in the West, Hell is just a medieval relic. It went out with ducking stools and witchcraft. It should have disappeared with Plato, who said he wanted to delete every reference to future pain from Homer as damaging to moral character; or with Cicero, who said not even old women believed it; or with Seneca, who thought it a fable only for not-yet-shaving boys.

Hell hardly hurts any more. In everyday parlance (“What the hell are you doing?”), it is merely a bark, not a place. As a place, it is anywhere nasty: the London Underground in summer, the worst bits of Lower Manhattan, department stores at sales time, a publisher’s party. Philosophically, Jean-Paul Sartre has encouraged the idea that Hell is other people. Theologically, even the Vatican now defines Hell as a state of exile from the love of God. The devils and pitchforks, the brimstone clouds and wailing souls, have been cleared away, rather as a mad aunt might be shut up in the attic.

But hold on. For many people in the world, Hell still exists; not just as a concept, but as a place on the map. “Hell is Real,” declare the billboards across the American South: as real as the next town. To make it an abstraction is comforting and tidy, but doesn’t work. Religion thrives on fear, as well as hope: without fear, bad behaviour has no sanction and clerical authority wins scant respect. “[People] must have hell-fire flashed before their faces,” wrote General Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, “or they will not move.” And there can be no fear of a place that is not detailed and defined. Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists all still have a Hell, and those who are devout believe in it. So do fundamentalist Christians. For some decades now they have specialised in “Hell Houses” in which terrified American teenagers, herded by “demons”, are shown graphic strobe-lit scenes of brawlers, suicides and drug-takers, as plausibly infernal as any medieval imagining.

Hell looms just as large in the online “Catholic Encyclopedia”. The Vatican may be undecided about it, but the authors are steadfast: only “atheists and Epicureans” do not believe in it. This Hell still fits the description given in the fifth spiritual exercise of St Ignatius Loyola, in which the Jesuit novice, now as in the past, prays “for an intimate sense of the pain that the damned suffer”: to feel the fire, hear the lamentations, smell the brimstone, taste the tears. 


continue to source article at economist.com

28 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t count the number of times Christians have hurled their worst abuse at me and condemned me to eternity in hell.

    Yeah, right, don’t they realise that it’s nonsense? As if any non-believer is going to recoil in horror!

  2. As a pupil in a Catholic school I was taught that Hell was divided into three places.
    Purgatory,Limbo, and Hell proper.
    I think Purgatory and Limbo have been dumped.
    It must have been a sacerdotal connection with one of the recent Popes?
    The Purgatory bollocks was used to extort indulgence funds.
    A plenary Indulgence was awarded to absolve all Purgatory time after sin forgiveness.
    I’m surprised I reached the age of 14 before I dumped this fatuous nonsense.

  3. In reply to #3 by hellosnackbar:

    As a pupil in a Catholic school I was taught that Hell was divided into three places.
    Purgatory,Limbo, and Hell proper.
    I think Purgatory and Limbo have been dumped.
    It must have been a sacerdotal connection with one of the recent Popes?

    VaticanII dropped those realms. My favorite is “The Vestibule” to Hell, where one goes when not even Satan wants them. Judas Iscariot is there and I think Hitler too. It’s supposed to be the worst of all, this absolute void thingy without even the comfort of pain.

  4. The thing about hell is that it is an embarrassment for a lot of Christians. They like to take a literal, inerrant view of the bible, so they have to accept the story of the Rich man and Lazarus. THis is a story that came from Jesus himself, so they cant really go denying it. And it paints a picture of a fiery hell of conscious eternal torment.

    The really fundies lap this up. They love it. eg Ann Coulter “I defy any of my coreligionists to tell me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell.”

    But then you get the touchy feely evangies who want to “engage with contemporary culture” They get all twitchy when this stuff comes up. And of course, they wont mention it unless they have to

    And then if it DOES come up, they’ll put a spin on it – they might even go for the “anihilationism” option

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annihilationism

    The most high profile advocate of this would be John Stott. But he has faced fierce opposition from fundies.

    The fact is, most preachers preach as if hell didnt exist. And considering how awful it is supposed to be, you would think that they had a duty of care to warn people about it. They dont. I suspect most of them simply dont believe in it despite what the bible says.

    Its another of those questions that should be thrown in the face of every preacher. Do you believe in hell? If not why not?

    SG

  5. In reply to #4 by This Is Not A Meme:

    VaticanII dropped those realms. My favorite is “The Vestibule” to Hell, where one goes when not even Satan wants them. Judas Iscariot is there and I think Hitler too. It’s supposed to be the worst of all, this absolute void thingy without even the comfort of pain.

    I also thought Limbo had been dropped but apparently that is not the case. Details are in the wikipedia article on Limbo but the summary seems to be that the Church doesn’t have an official position on what happens to babies who die before baptism but allows a range of opinions to be held by Catholics. Limbo is still one of those.

    Usual angels on a pinhead madness.

    Michael

  6. Hell was a genuine scare-story in the days when most people were illiterate and now it is nothing more than a pathetic joke, the funniest part of which is undoubtedly the zealots who try to scare non-believers that they will burn in hell.

  7. In reply to #3 by hellosnackbar:

    As a pupil in a Catholic school I was taught that Hell was divided into three places.
    Purgatory,Limbo, and Hell proper.
    I think Purgatory and Limbo have been dumped.
    It must have been a sacerdotal connection with one of the recent Popes?
    The Purgatory bollocks was used to extort indulgence funds.
    A plenary Indulgence was awarded to absolve all Purgatory time after sin forgiveness.
    I’m surprised I reached the age of 14 before I dumped this fatuous nonsense.

    To all intents and purposes, the RC Church effectively dropped Limbo quite recently to preserve market share in Africa where infant mortality is very high and parents, terrified of the fate that would befall a child that died before baptism, were leaving the church in droves and taking their business to other religious operations that had spotted the opportunity to grab customers from a rival and started selling a product offering babies that died just after birth a route straight to Heaven. Wrapped up in theological mindrot, it was basically a straightforward commercial decision.

  8. In reply to #8 by mmurray:

    I also thought Limbo had been dropped but apparently that is not the case. Details are in the wikipedia article on Limbo but the summary seems to be that the Church doesn’t have an official position on what happens to babies who die before baptism but allows a range of opinions to be held by Catholics. Limbo is still one of those.

    Usual angels on a pinhead madness.

    Yep, it’s all very problematic for the real feelogians. I remember an article in the Catholic News Service…”Closing the doors of limbo: Theologians say it was hypothesis”. Dated from 2005, … http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0506867.htm

    “Pastorally and catechetically, the matter had been solved” with an affirmation that somehow God in his great love and mercy would ensure unbaptized babies enjoyed eternal life with him in heaven, “but we had to backtrack and do the theology,” Father Kelly said.

    I thought it a bit peculiar given the BBC program I linked to in an OP back in 2011… http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/587134-limbo-babies

    Like you say Michael….angels on a pinhead. The “experts” just make it up as they go along. Just a pity they don’t filter the pretzelmania down to the gullible masses…it would ease a lot of heartache.

  9. The most absurd and hateful part of Christianity. Capable, on its own, of undermining the credibility and internal logic of the rest of the religion (hardly a difficult task in any case).

    I didn’t know the Catholic Church had edited their religion to remove it from the official dogma. Of course “editing” their dogma is almost as damaging to it being “the word of God” as having it in the dogma in the first place. I wonder how long it will be until they have another hypocritical “revelation” (and what it will be) to protect their market share.

  10. Oh Hell, I was told straight in my face that I was going to Hell long before I was an atheist (for the second time) just because my religion wasn’t Christian enough. If you’re not a fundamentalist, your “less than” in their eyes.

    I recall hearing a evangelical TV show in which the preacher complete with southern drawl began to define Hell as a “place on the map.” He began quoting scripture – “as above, so below” etc. He sited this and that passage to define the location according to the Bible. Then he dropped the bomb. “Hell is not a state of mind, but an actual place….deep beneath the surface of the earth… deep, deep in the center of the earth.” That show had me laughing for months whenever I thought about it. Some people believe that men hit Hell drilling at nine miles and heard screams. If you have time google “utube hell in center of earth” or “sounds of Hell.” It’s worth a good laugh.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_JF6acvQ_s

    lots more too.

  11. In reply to #8 by mmurray:

    I also thought Limbo had been dropped but apparently that is not the case. Details are in the wikipedia article on Limbo but the summary seems to be that the Church doesn’t have an official position on what happens to babies who die before baptism but allows a range of opinions to be held by Catholics. Limbo is still one of those.

    Usual angels on a pinhead madness.

    Michael

    My guess is that it would call into question the whole issue of papal infallibility. If previous popes said that Limbo was real and was where unbaptised babies went, then a new one comes along and contradicts that by saying “Nah, we’ve decided that’s too cruel and God wouldn’t do that to an innocent nipper”, it would mean that all those dead popes were wrong and weren’t fallible after all.

    ~

    Which in turn would mean that the current pontiff wasn’t necessarily fallible either. The whole deck of cards could collapse in on itself. It’s a Dread Pirate Roberts scenario: the pope’s supremacy is dependant on that of his predecessors. Better a new mother whose babby dies before it can be baptised spend the rest of her life believing it’s in one of Hell’s anterooms than for the Bishop of Rome to lose any of his power.

  12. In reply to #15 by Katy Cordeth:

    Sorry, I seem to have gotten a bit mixed up about fallible and infallible. I have the same problem with flammable and inflammable. Still, that’s what fire insurance is for.

  13. In reply to #8 by mmurray:

    In reply to #4 by This Is Not A Meme:

    I also thought Limbo had been dropped but apparently that is not the case. Details are in the wikipedia article on Limbo but the summary seems to be that the Church doesn’t have an official position on what happens to babies who die before baptism but allows a range of opinions to be held by Catholics. Limbo is still one of those.

    Usual angels on a pinhead madness.

    Michael

    I’m sure the babies are fine, but what about virtuous pagans?!

  14. Nature does “Hell” far better than any story tellers:-

    For Father Andres-Lorenzo Curbelo, the parish priest of Yaiza, it was like this:
    library.thinkquest.org/C0112681/Eng/Normal/Volcanoes

    On the first of September 1730 between nine and ten in the evening, the earth suddenly opened up near the village of Timanfaya, two leagues [in fact, 8 km] from Yaiza. During the first night an enormous mountain [Los Cuervos] rose up from the bosom of the Earth and it gave out flames from its summit for 19 days. A few days later, a fissure opened up probably at the foot of the newly formed cones, and a lava-flow quickly reached the villages of Timanfaya, Rodeo and part of Mancha Blanca. This first eruption took place east of the Montana del Fuego, halfway between that mountain and Sobaco.
    The lava flowed northwards over the villages, at first as fast as running water, then it slowed down until it was flowing no faster than honey. A large rock arose from the bosom of the Earth on 7 September with a noise like thunder and it diverted the lava flow from the north towards the northwest. In a trice, the great volume of lava destroyed the villages of Maretas and Santa Catalina lying in the valley.

    On 11 September, the eruption began again with renewed violence. The lavas began to flow again, setting Mazo on fire and overwhelmed it before continuing on its way to the sea. There, large quantities of dead fish soon floated to the surface of the sea, or came to die on the shore.

    The lavas kept flowing for six days altogether, forming huge cataracts and making a terrifying din. Then everything calmed down for a while as if the eruption had stopped altogether. But, on 18 [in fact, 10] October, three new openings formed just above Santa Catalina, which was still burning, and gave off great quantities of sand and cinders that spread all around, as well as thick masses of smoke that belched forth from these orifices [Santa Catalina and Pico Partido] and covered the whole island.

    More than once, the people of Yaiza and neighbouring villages were obliged to flee for a while from the ash and cinders and the drops of water that rained down, and the thunder and explosions that the eruptions provoked, as well as the darkness produced by the volumes of ash and smoke that enveloped the island … On 28 October, the livestock all over the nearby area suddenly dropped dead, suffocated by an emission of noxious gases that had condensed and rained down in fine droplets over the whole district. Calm returned on 30 October

    Ash and smoke started to be seen again on 1 November 1730, and they were erupted continually until 10 November, when a new lava-flow appeared, but it only covered those areas that had already been buried by previous flows. On 27 November, another lava-flow [from Pico Partido] rushed down to the coast at an incredible speed, reached the shore on 1 December and formed a small islet that was soon surrounded by masses of dead fish.

    On 16 December the lavas changed direction and reached Chupadero, which was soon transformed into what was no more than an enormous fire. These lavas then ravaged the fertile croplands of the Vega de Uga [1 km east of Yaiza].

    On 7 January 1731, new eruptions [from Pico Partido] completely altered the features formed before. Incandescent flows and thick smoke emerged from two openings in the mountain. The clouds of smoke were often traversed by bright blue or red flashes of lightning, followed by thunder as if it were a storm.

    On 10 January 1731, we saw an immense mountain rise up, which then foundered with a fearsome racket into its own crater the self-same day, covering the island in ash and stones. Burning lava-flows descended Eke streams across the malpais as far as the sea. This eruption ended on 27 January 1731.

    On 3 February, a new cone grew up [Montana Rodeo] and burned the village of Rodeo. The lavas from this cone crossed the whole area and reached the sea. These lavas continued to flow until 28 February. On 7 March, still further cones were formed, and their lavas flowed north towards the sea and completely destroyed the village of Tingafa. New cones with craters [Montanas del Senalo] arose on 20 March and continued to erupt until 31 March. On 6 April, they started up again with even greater violence and ejected a glowing current that extended obliquely across a previously formed lava-field near Yaiza.

    On 13 April, two mountains [of the Montanas del Senalo] collapsed with a terrible noise. On 1 May, the eruption seemed to have ceased, but, on 2 May, a quarter of a league farther away, a new hill arose and a lava-flow threatened Yaiza. This activity ended on 6 May, and, for the rest of the month, this immense eruption seemed to have stopped completely. But, on 4 June, three openings occurred at the same time, accompanied by violent earthquakes and flames that poured forth with a terrifying noise, and once again plunged the inhabitants of the island into great consternation. The orifices soon joined up into a single cone of great height from which exited a lava-flow that rushed down as far as the sea. On 18 June a new cone was built up between those that already masked the ruins of the villages of Mazo, Santa Catalina and Timanfaya. A crater opened up on the flanks of this new cone that started to flash and expel ash. The cone that had formed above the village of Mazo then gave off a white gas the like of which nobody had ever seen before. [The third phase began on the west coast.] … Then, about the end of June 1731, the whole west coast was covered by enormous quantities of dead fish of all kinds, including some that had never been seen before.

    These eruptions took place under the sea. A great mass of smoke and flames, which could be seen from Yaiza, burst out with violent detonations from many places in the sea off the whole west coast. In October and December, further eruptions [of the Montanas Quemadas] renewed the anguish of the people. On Christmas Day 1731 the whole island was affected by the most violent of all the earthquakes felt during the previous two [sic] years of disasters.

    On 28 December a new cone [in the Montanas Quemadas] was formed and a lava-flow was expelled from it southwards towards Jaretas. The village was burned and the Chapel of San Juan Bautista near Yaiza was destroyed.

  15. The Catholic church still teaches the existence of Purgatory.

    The existence of Limbo never was an infallible teaching.

    While Catholic theology holds that the chief punishment of Hell is separation from God, it doesn’t teach that it’s the only punishment. According to them, at the Final Judgement our souls will all be reunited with our bodies and the persons in Hell will then also be physically tormented for all of eternity.

    In order to get God off the hook, it’s also fashionable apologetics these days to claim that God doesn’t condemn anyone to Hell, but that we condemn ourselves by refusing a relationship with his Immenseness and that he simply grants our wish. All very passive-aggressive. This tack falls apart though after our bodies are reunited with out souls. At that point, God must not only eternally sustain the existence of a place of torment, but also the means of producing that torment — fire, brimstone, country music, whatever.

  16. It is very telling that the non-believer thinks the same fate awaits both the believer and the non-believer after death, while the believer thinks s/he will go to heaven and the non-believer to hell.

  17. Mmurray. Interesting that you should quote Rowan Atkinson’s sketch “welcome to hell”. My favourite line is “Atheists, bet you’re feeling a right bunch of charlies now”. I would however rate Irishman Dave Allen as the best of the best with regards to comedy and religion.

  18. In reply to #25 by JeffVader67:

    Mmurray. Interesting that you should quote Rowan Atkinson’s sketch “welcome to hell”. My favourite line is “Atheists, bet you’re feeling a right bunch of charlies now”. I would however rate Irishman Dave Allen as the best of the best with regards to comedy and religion.

    Why interesting ? You have to be willing to laugh at yourself. I agree Dave Allen was best on things Catholic. A very sad loss. Let’s do one for him

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxo81Ok9Urk

    Michael

  19. It’s outrageous what people make you believe just to elicit unpleasant feelings and emotions in you. I noticed that every time I isolate and remove myself from people, these fears subside, and then I realize that it’s nothing but people’s fantasies. There is no one to tell me that there is something wrong with me when I am not around people because there isn’t anything wrong with me. They want to control your behavior, which can be very difficult, and they have to exploit something as radical as the concept of eternal punishment for making one little mistake. It’s very easy to make somebody hate and despise you to such an extent that they would want you to be tortured forever for something minor like calling them a bad name, but it doesn’t mean that they know better what’s out there than I do. When it comes to something like God, it’s exactly where you do not need to teach anything to anyone. It’s something that each and every person can see for themselves. If God needs to be taught, then he cannot possibly exist.

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