What does it mean that so many Americans are searching for online information on “Hell”? Apparently this is one of the most common web searches in the US, especially in the places that are “hardest” to live in. Zerohedge.com recently had a long article about the most common searches, and Hell ranked right up there (or right down there, depending).
As per Wikipedia: “In many mythological, folklore and religious traditions, hell is a place of eternal torment in an afterlife, often after resurrection. It is viewed by most Abrahamic traditions as a place of punishment.”
It seems that many Christians are divided as to whether Hell is a real place or some kind of symbol. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Hell exists, if not below the Earth’s crust then as an extra-dimensional realm in which the damned are tormented, just as in Dante’s Inferno, and perhaps where they are so packed in, and so burning with heat, so scorched and hairless, that there is no rest, and where these souls cannot see into our world – except to see people who might see them, who might jailbreak them. Right out of the movies, right?
I recently spent time talking about Hell with a post-modern Christian philosopher, over Chinese beer, crackers and spicy peanuts, overlooking a pond stuffed with fat orange carp. He is a true scholar (and a gentleman actually) who made the interesting argument that Hell exists, but that people are not condemned to an eternity in the flames, just long enough to represent fit punishment for their sins. After that period, their souls would be “annihilated.”
Otherwise, he claimed, God would be acting in an “illogical” fashion, as an eternity in hell is no match for any amount of sins committed in this world, let alone for the minor theological infractions and victimless sexual proclivities that are supposed to send people to Hell.
His solution also addressed the problem of “omni-benevolence,” for clearly, any deity leaving human souls in a furnace for an eternity would not, in fact, be benevolent but rather malicious: a true psychopath.
Furthermore, how odd it would be, would it not, that humans have evolved standards of justice (let the punishment fit the crime; no cruel punishment) that are higher and more enlightened than those of the deity doing the “judging.” This philosopher’s solution gets around those interesting arguments.
Another observation, regarding Hell, is that most Abrahamic traditions posit “free will” among humans, and that people are making autonomous “choices” for the good and the bad. Choices that will send them on an elevator ride up or down, depending.
And here comes the contradiction… Even in the Abrahamic religions, there is perpetual intervention and interference in the affairs of this world (divine and satanic, not only physical intervention but also mental and dream-state intrusions, telepathic stalking, etc.., all the angels and demons stuff). I’m not making this up; it’s all right in the mainstream religious tradition.
Arguably, every intervention diminishes free will, diminishing also the rationale for judging humanity. And is not human behavior so contextualized, so socially constructed, as to also diminish individual free will? Then on what basis are we to be judged? As isolated units? When we are not?
Moreover, and this is more important of an argument: there are even strains of early Christianity – and this is certainly found within Buddhism – where there is just one human soul, one consciousness, or one mind at the higher, more charged dimensions; but the illusion of individuality would then materialize in this world (as the argument runs, take it or leave it), in our low-rent district, run by the slumlords who carted in “Hell” (hacking into cosmic natural law) about 12,000 years ago, as part of their travelling circus.
The distinction above (made by the philosopher) points to a difference between “ultimism,” which posits a non-personal cosmic force, or even a unified consciousness; and “theism” or “deism” which posits a personal god, with the deity in the Abrahamic religions representing the highest force (even though perhaps mid-level commanders of just this quadrant, from which the bulk of humanity has not been emancipated).
So, this philosopher and I, around and around we went, occasionally flipping crackers into the pond. He was more informed and eloquent than I was, while I was more surprising (to him) than people he normally debated, so at least there was that.