"Hell is the Invention of the Church"

by leavingwt 62 Replies latest jw friends

  • Heaven

    Finally got a chance to watch this. I hope Spong doesn't decide to become a JW.

    Ok, just kidding. He'll see into their BS right away as well. I'm sure a lot of religious higher ups aren't too thrilled with this guy.

    He's certainly on my wavelength. I have thought for a long time now that the Bible was too lowly to be from God or any so-called Higher Loving Power. Much of what is in the Bible does not align with love. It's all about control and manipulation. To me, these are man-made ideas and inventions, just as religion is. Blech!


  • leavingwt

    Sharon L. Baker, Associate Professor of Theology and Religion, Messiah College

    The Problem with Hell

    When I was 26, I found out I was going to hell. Young, impressionable, and without a strong faith, I listened intently as the pastor of a church I was visiting described in graphic detail the tortuous, unquenchable flames that would burn human bodies forever and ever. He spoke of worms eating away at decaying flesh, total darkness without the presence of God, and worst of all, no release from those horrors for all eternity. I certainly didn't want to be one of those unfortunate many to feel the flames licking at my feet soon after leaving life in this world. So I took out the proper fire insurance and asked Jesus to save me from my sins and, therefore, from eternal torment in hell. Whew! That was 25 years ago, and hell is still a hot topic.

    Hell haunts me deep down inside, where I fear to tread and fail to admit uncertainty lest ripples of doubt disturb my secure little world of faith, lest someone find out and think me less Christian and more heretic. I have no intention of doing away with hell. I can't -- certain verses in the Bible won't allow me to do that. So I am very concerned about remaining faithful to the Christian scriptures; but I'm even more concerned about remaining faithful to the God of love, who loves the worst of the worst, the world's enemies, including, even, the Hitlers, the Idi Amins, and the Osama bin Ladens of the world. Our traditional views of hell as a place of eternal punishment where unbelievers dwell in undying flames contradict the image of God as merciful, forgiving, and compassionate. Our traditional focus on hell as an evangelistic tool does not genuinely communicate the very heart of the gospel. If we receive Jesus as Savior merely because we want to avoid hell, we miss the entire point.

    I am also very disturbed by the behavior of those who claim kinship with God through Jesus, who for centuries have instigated and participated in horrendous violence in the name of God. To stem the tide of religious violence in the world, we must offer an alternative image of God that more closely resembles the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth. If we do not hear the call of the kingdom, if we forget the meaning of Jesus' life and death, then we will continue to live as if Jesus never died. We will continue to solve the problem of violence violently, including our buying into the violence of hell.

    So I've written a book that rethinks the issues surrounding traditional notions of hell as a place of eternal punishment in favor of a view more consistent with that of a loving God. What follows are my reasons for wanting to raze hell:

    1. Hell doesn't avenge evil or reveal God's power. It does the exact opposite! By holding on to the doctrine of eternal hell, we in essence hold to the belief that in the end God's will to save all people goes unfulfilled, which puts God's power and goodness in doubt.
    2. Hell heralds eternal hopelessness. Suffering in hell for all eternity means that souls burning there forever will exist without any hope of redemption. This leads us to the belief that God withdraws unconditional love once a person's body dies. In other words, God's love for us is tied to the physical body and the temporal realm, and grace disappears for unbelievers after the physical life is gone.
    3. Hell keeps evil in eternal existence. The Bible tells us that, in the end, God will abolish evil. Yet, somewhere in the universal expanse of God's perfect peaceful kingdom, evil still survives in those who inhabit hell -- evil "lives" on eternally.
    4. Hell creates a clash between justice and love. We unintentionally conjure up a cruel father who demands that unrepentant sinners spend eternity in the flames of hell, finding endless torture an agreeable way to achieve justice -- which is a far cry from the God who loves with an everlasting love. We develop a picture of a God who promotes eternal punishment as positive, as part and parcel of divine love and justice. We try to relieve these tensions by appealing to God's love and mercy on the one hand, and to God's justice and wrath on the other. Such a view of God's love, mercy, justice, and wrath leads to the conclusion that to love is to punish eternally and, therefore, to punish eternally is just.
    5. Hell assigns eternal violence to God: Traditional theories of hell not only keep evil in eternal existence; they also keep the cycle of violence in motion for all eternity as unfortunate souls suffer the ferocity of eternal torture because God requires it.
    6. Hell executes eternal punishment for temporal sin: Does sin committed during one short, temporary life span deserve an eternity of punishment? Even in our own society, we strive to make the punishment fit the crime.

    I wonder how many other pastors pounding pulpits across the world have their parishioners running scared out of their wits and into the kingdom of God, taking out fire insurance as a precaution against the threat of hell. "Who cares?" you might say. "As long as they purchase their policy in time, who cares why they buy?" God might. God may desire to save us from the flames in order to spend eternity in loving communion, not by scaring us to death but by luring us with divine compassion, urging us gently with a caring hand, forgiving, reconciling, and calling us to do the same.


  • Leolaia
    The concept of a burning hell predated the church by ages, and was developed somewhat in the Talmud.

    Dogpatch....It's definitely in Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic, such as 1 Enoch and in non-apocalyptic works like 4 Maccabees.

  • Dogpatch

    Excellent Leolaia!

    I also meant to include the hells of other religions contemporary to the times.

    It's so barbaric that people don't stop for a moment and see the sheer injustice of such beliefs.

    That's why all the religions modify their god's character in time, he gets too embarassing when you realize your morals are much higher.

    Even the school of Hillel recognized that! :-))


  • Leolaia
    It's so barbaric that people don't stop for a moment and see the sheer injustice of such beliefs.

    The irony is that the impetus in early Judaism for these beliefs was a desire for divine justice. The theodicean problem was that during the Maccabean crisis, many Jews were murdered for nothing else than remaining faithful to the Torah and to God. This was viewed as the greatest injustice against God's people. Why did God let this happen and what will he do about it? That is the problem that the Hebrew apocalypse of Daniel sets out to solve. The belief of the resurrection makes its first (genuine) appearance in this book, and this reflects the desire for some sort of post-mortem vindication of the martyred. And with the faithful rewarded with eternal life, there had to be some corresponding punishment for the persecutors. It thus gave reassurance to the wronged that they will eventually receive justice. But the idea of eternal punishment was equally useful as a mechanism for ensuring conformity within religious communities, as well as marking difference between them (i.e. if you don't behave the way you are supposed to, you will experience eternal punishment, while those other people who do their own thing are already condemned). We can see this process at work in the gospel of Matthew, which uses apocalyptic ideas to advance a polemic against the Other (namely, non-Christian Torah-observant Jews and Torah-violating Christians). David Sim's book Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew discusses this in detail. But the notion also was powerful for those experiencing persecution and torture, as it gave them the strength to resist temporary torture lest they compromise their principles and procure eternal torture:

    "If you have any means of torture, apply it to my body, for my soul you cannot touch even if you would...Let us with all our hearts consecrate ourselves to God, who gave us our lives, and let us use our bodies as a bulwark for the Law. Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us, for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God. Therefore let us put on the full armor of self-control, which is divine reason. For if we so die, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will welcome us, and all the fathers will praise us" (4 Maccabees 10:4, 13:13-17)

    "And turning their thoughts to the grace of Christ they despised the tortures of this world, purchasing at the cost of one hour an exemption from eternal punishment. And the fire of their inhuman torturers felt cold to them, for they set before their eyes the escape from that eternal fire which is never extinguished, while with the eyes of their heart they gazed upon the good things which are reserved for those who endure patiently, things which neither ear has heard nor eye has seen" (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3).

    "The proconsul said to him again: 'I will have you consumed by fire, since you despise the wild beasts, unless you change your mind.' But Polycarp said: 'You threaten with a fire that burns only briefly and after just a little while is extinguished, for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why the delay? Come, do what you wish" (Martyrdom of Polycarp 11:2).

  • Dogpatch

    Outstanding segue from late Judaism to early Christianity on hell, Leoleia! Hell is always morphing to meet the immediate needs of the people.

    Hell has a continuity; wherever there are men needing more power than they really have it has been a convenient tool. Hell is harshly described when necessary; toned down and "spiritualized" when it denigrates your dignity to believe in it.


  • agonus

    Regardless of who "invented" Hell, it's a great irony that the Watchtower convinced many of us that it DOES indeed exist... on earth.

  • PSacramento

    Hell on Earth indeed:

  • agonus

    Psac... that picture is what the WT has been promising for eons... but most Witnesses will never see it.

    I'm talking about the inside of a Kingdom Hall, especially the back room at a judicial committee.

  • agonus

    Ha! I just now noticed the caption is "Unseen Paradise"! Talk about irony.

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