Yes, we need Hell. Without it how can we reconcile ourselves to the overwhelming evil we read about every day?
In the documentary, Hellbound?, this was offered as one reason the concept of Hell remains in our psyche. In other words, it’s God’s answer to that question even though, if “He” created everything, he also created the evil that people perpetrate on each other.
I know, some will counter with free will. He gave us free will. That means we are solely responsible for the evil we do. And the debate goes on.
What doesn’t get much consideration in this documentary is the issue of epistemology. In other words, the entire discussion is grounded in an epistemological model built on religious foundations: the Judeo Christian scriptures.
And of course, if you have not bought in to that narrative you are at risk. Because according to it you can only achieve salvation through Jesus Christ. So people like Gandhi are in Hell. Not to mention the 6 million Jews that went “directly from Hitler’s fires to the fires of Hell.”
Well there’s good news too. And it comes from the same place most religious good news comes from – interpretations.
There are three choices offered in these differing interpretations. Eternal Torment, the fiery lake. Annihilation, poof your gone. Or Universal Salvation, everyone’s going to Heaven eventually. And of course depending on which perspective you view from, the others are heretical. No new news here.
But I did think some honesty worked well to explain why the ministers of the eternal damnation school cling so tightly to their interpretations: They fancy themselves to be gatekeepers. Because without Hell they don’t have a job? Or maybe they can’t use the fear necessary to keep their congregants in line. Hell, even an agnostic like me can understand that reasoning. (Pun intended)
How can I be so light hearted about something as serious as Hell, you ask? It’s easy. Religion is a human invention that contains lots of human wisdom and has very little to say about objective truth.
As an instrumentalist, I’m able to appreciate it for its utility and ignore the debate about truth. If it works for people that’s fine with me as long as I’m not required to believe in their dogmas. Dogmas created by other human beings, many of which, in times of blind ignorance.
In effect, religion and whichever interpretation of Hell you believe are parts of a narrative, a story if you prefer. And all stories are human. And all human stories are limited to our speculations about what we can observe. There is far more in this universe that we cannot observe than what is available to our limited human sensory systems.
So in our arrogance we’ve created stories that put us in the center of it all even though we live on an unremarkable planet in the rural neighborhood of an ordinary galaxy: One of 100 billion galaxies, each with 100 billion stars like our sun.
Well despite our arrogance, I do believe in a Hell. For the conscious, caring person it’s the burning pain that we feel when we recognize the harm we’ve caused others.
For religious literalists, it’s the burning pain of resisting all reason when they realize their narrative has irreconcilable inconsistencies.
The only legitimate religious question worth answering is how do we live fully in the tension of the mysteries that surround us. While religion attempts to answer it, it very often creates more heat than light.
Robert De Filippis