Monday, December 26, 2011

My Issues with Eternal Hell

I have a beef with the concept of eternal Hell.

I don't even mean the Dante's Inferno type of Hell. After all, there is very, very little evidence that Hell is going to be full of fire and brimstone; the "lake of fire" is seen as being a place for the devil and demons, not for ill-fated souls, and it might just be metaphorical for something else. But even if it does exist, odds are the humans won't end up there.

My issue is really with the permanence of Hell. I don't even mind the idea of it existing. Now, there are plenty of people who will bring up a lot of scriptures regarding Hell and its existence, but I want to point out a few Biblical passages also. I'm going to paraphrase here; I will likely return and put in chapter and verse numbers later.

"How many times must I forgive my brother? Is seven times enough?" That was one of the apostles, asking Jesus. Jesus replied, "Not just seven, but seventy times seven." As in, we should forgive people and endless number of times, and not hold their crimes against them. This isn't the same as letting them endanger others, but we have mercy upon them and grant them pardon.

"Forgive your enemies; bless those who curse you; do good to those who spitefully use you." That's Jesus again.

Four men lower a paralyzed man down into a house where Jesus is teaching. "Your sins are forgiven," he says to the man, then tells him to stand up and walk. The man does.

Jesus is hanging on the cross, after suffering horrible torture and finally nailed to a couple of wooden planks to die. It's a most undignified death, saved for thieves and traitors and other kinds of scum, and surely the meaning isn't lost on him. He looks down and says, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Notice how, in none of these examples, does Jesus ever put any significance whatsoever on the perpetrators asking for forgiveness.

Forgive your brother, whether or not he asks for it. Forgive your enemies, and they certainly aren't asking. The paralyzed man was probably just confused; we have no record of him saying anything, though his friends had faith -- but we don't know at all if he did. As for the Romans, they didn't care jack squat for this random Jew who the others had decided was clearly terrible enough for the death penalty.

Jesus forgives them. So what's the huge leap between that and forgiving the other poor stubborn people on Earth who just haven't made it to the point of faith yet? If Jesus forgave the Romans, who clearly didn't care what religion He was pushing, what about the people who were raised atheist and simply saw no particular proof to believe otherwise? Jesus was running around throwing miracles like they were candy, and still people didn't believe -- how is modern day life giving anyone a fair shot?

If God tells us to do something, I expect He will do the same thing, only more so. (Worshiping Him notwithstanding, let's all be sane here, I expect God doesn't worship Himself.) If He asks us to forgive someone, I expect He's going to do it all the more. Which basically means...well, everyone. He also tells us to be fair, and just, and He'll do that also. But in the end, whenever that means, whether it's on Earth or in the afterlife, He will forgive all those people He told us to forgive. Because He's God, and He's not a hypocrite.

It seems to be that by the definition of hypocrisy -- of which Jesus accused a huge number of religious officials, so He clearly subscribes to the definition -- God constrains Himself every time He makes a rule for us. He can't violate rules that He set in place, because that would make Him untrustworthy and hypocritical. (A comment on "Thou shalt not kill" -- God is clearly referring to innocents, or people who have not already qualified for the death penalty, because God definitely allows humans to levy the death penalty at least in the Old Testament. We can argue all day about Canaanites and whatnot, but this isn't the point.)

Scripture also says that God chastises those he loves, and he punishes people that he cares for, presumably to let them know the consequences of their actions and correct them. That's what chastising is for -- it's a reprimand, and instruction to do right. Chastising is completely useless if it never ends, because it crosses the line between punishment and cruel vengeance. It's torture for torture's sake; it's straight-up sadistic. It's passive-aggressive ("look what you did, and what you could have done, now sit and wallow in despair forever because you were bad, because you deserve it") and senseless, because once the person has seen the error of their ways, what reason is there for not letting them leave?

In this case, let's think about Hell as a separation from God. No more, no less. It's a calm limbo, where no one is tortured, but where people feel the crucial void between themselves and their creator. They are aware every moment of their "lives" there, that they have fallen short and that they are missing something

You know, this seems a lot like Earth.

Doesn't it seem that way to you? That's what people are trying to make others feel here. However, we have a lot of Earthly pleasures to get in our way, and lots of other people to convince us not to believe, and so on.  By this image, Hell is mostly more of our lives here, only with a focus on the depressing parts, the parts where we feel spiritually unfulfilled and empty. That does suck quite a lot, but in the end, surely someone in Hell is going to figure out that they don't have to do this anymore.

At that point, continuing to rub their nose in their proverbial pee stain is just being mean. If they understand, if the punishment has achieved its purpose of teaching them what they did wrong, if they now decide they want to fix their life...well, why not let them? Jesus never turned anyone away. What's up with this arbitrary deadline of 75-ish years, compared to eternity? At that point, it just seems like God would be saying, "Ha ha, you didn't make it in time, now go shove off." God doesn't do that. He's all-loving and all-merciful, but it seems like people forget the all part of that. It's not "all Christians," it's just all. Everyone. Everything. Every man, beast, plant, stone -- He shaped everything, and God doesn't make junk, and He doesn't throw things away.

A lot of people will start screaming about how human morality sucks, here. Maybe it does, for people who aren't Christian -- maybe at that point, whether the person's morality is right, is a hit or miss kind of question. There are certainly some human impulses that are less than admirable. But in the end, I like to think God gives His followers a sense of right and wrong, and if something is utterly repulsive to us, maybe we should give it a second look and see if we've read it right, or if we're interpreting it right, or what have you.

One of my acquaintances once said that Christianity is scary and depressing, and that it's supposed to be, because we were called to make huge sacrifices and be hurt and tormented for God's sake.

Sacrifice happens. Pain happens. But Christianity is supposed to be the good news, the news that someone has already come by to atone for all our crimes, full stop. That whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life, full stop. Not if they do it in a certain way, with certain ritual. Not if they are perfect.

Not even if they only do it before they die.

For God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.

If Christianity is scary and depressing, we're clearly reading this verse horribly wrong.

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