The Logic of Eternal Torment in Hell

Hell has always been an interesting concept. Not until recently did I ever really consider its existence. My reflection has resulted in an interesting conclusion. Hell or not, I don’t think I could ever completely let go of the idea. The existence of hell has been drilled into my head for so long that I can’t help but fear disbelief in hell will be enough to get sent there. What if, through all my soul-searching, the answer I find is the wrong one? 

Growing up, hell was a very big a very real concept. I don’t know what I said, but I once convinced my brother he was going to hell for lying to my parents. He was all of six years old; it’s not like his lie was that serious. Still, I remember my mom had a particularly hard night comforting her six-year-old son who was in tears, terrified he was going to hell.

Having reach a certain level of adulthood, my views on hell have changed. I’m divided on the idea that our souls go to hell forever after we die, should we be bad enough. That seems to go against the idea of a merciful God. I’m not saying there is no kind of punishment or penance type thing after death, but certainly eternal torment is too much for even the worst of us.

I’m also not convinced eternal torment would work well. I mean, there are only so many ways to hurt someone. Eventually, wouldn’t you become numb to it all, a shell of yourself. Or is that the ultimate torment, the closest we can come to not existing, to be numb through the soul?

There has to be balance in the world, though. If there is a merciful God, the ultimate being of kindness and good will, there must be an opposite (right?). I don’t doubt that hell exist in a general sense. Perhaps there is a spiritual place where all kinds of demons exist. Maybe they wander the world, trying to convince us to think and do terrible things. Still, the possibility of that reality does not convince me that hell is a place creation goes after death.

This photo, “Hell's Eternal Punishment” is copyright (c) 2014 vaticanus and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The image was cropped to create the featured image.
This photo, “Hell’s Eternal Punishment” is copyright (c) 2014 vaticanus and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The image was cropped to create the featured image.

My favorite series of all time is called Succubus Blue. It deals with a reluctant Succubus, her reasons for selling her soul to hell and the complications that result. One of the running themes in the series is that a person is only tainted with sin when they believe they have done wrong, and then choose to do that wrong. To  use a simple example, say you think it is a horrible sin to hold a crayon. Your friend thinks holding a crayon is perfecting fine. When they pick up a crayon, their soul is as pure as ever. However, in order for you to pick up the crayon, you must say to yourself, “this action is wrong, but I will do it anyway.” Even though you have done the same action, your soul has sin in it. It’s not what you did, but that you chose to do wrong. This means, two people could live the exact same lives, but one go to heaven and one go to hell. Interesting right?

I can get behind that idea of hell, but the idea of eternal torment still seem unlikely. Perhaps it’s more like what my Jewish friend once described to me. She said there was no hell. Instead, the afterlife was like circles inside of circles. In the very center is God. Those who live good lives go one to live in the circle nearest God, with great comforts and happiness. The worse you live your life, the further out from the center you live. The worst will live in the farthest circle, far away from the warmth of God.

This idea is another that seems plausible. It makes sense and exist outside the idea there are set rules to follow. I think the reality is probably a combination of the ideas from Succubus Blues and my friend. I can’t get behind the idea that the same action is wrong for every person. We are all different and unique, with different traits, different cultures and different missions in life. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

I often use homosexuality as an example of this. Being straight, perhaps it is wrong, even sinful, for me to engage in homosexual activities. I have to deny the way I was born, the way Divinity made me, in order to engage in such activity. However, someone who is homosexual would be the opposite. For them, laying with the opposite sex would be wrong because that action would deny the way divinity made them.

Of course, that scenario has it’s flaws. Would a merciful deity really punish a person for acting against the sexuality they were born with given the kind of persecution certain sexualities face?

The real answer must be that what keeps us headed to heaven or out of hell is more complicated than we can grasp. In the end, it will always be better for us to be true to ourselves and to strive to be the best we can be. One thing I do believe is that that kind of effort is worth more to any deity that may exist than blindly following rules.

Do you believe in hell? What do you think it is like? What actions send souls to hell? Do you think the fear of hell can prevent people from asking questions? Does the existence of hell promote blindly following religion or does it motivate people to seek answers elsewhere? 

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34 thoughts on “The Logic of Eternal Torment in Hell”

  1. I do believe in a sort of hell. Something like Dante’s Inferno, I suppose. Although I disagree with some of the reasons he would list for being sent there.
    I also have considered hell being something experienced here on earth, while ‘alive’. I simply cannot agree with an idea of eternal hell. Temporary, yes. Like the Buddhist notion of having to clear your negative karma before being reborn in a different form.
    Death is not always required. Again the whole karma notion. (I’m not a huge believer in karma, though I do loosely follow the concept of cause and effect, sometimes beyond things we can perceive.)
    I’ve had quite a few days that I’ve stopped for a visit in heaven before finding my bed in hell.

    1. My view also borrows ideas from Buddhism and karma. I don’t see it in the exact way a Buddhist might, but it makes sense. If you are a positive person, you are more likely to do positive things, which is more likely to reap positive benefits. A negative person would do the opposite. Sounds like karma to me.

      I have considered the idea that perhaps spirits or ghosts are actually people living in a ‘hell.’ Perhaps hell is remaining on earth, unable to find peace until you make peace with your sins or something like that.

  2. Here is another perception of hell. We live on it. every day is the tormenting struggle and we need to live it the best way we can to escape it and go to heaven. That is if one does belief it exists. And just as plausible and making more sense of a Loving Deity if there is such.

    Now to belief one must exist simply because the other does is in my scientific and philosophical mind a bit weird and unnatural.
    The science part says that two opposites cancel each other out. It does not proof neither exist just that they lost meaning and reason here in the middle of it all.
    Certainly one must be in the middle to see nothing happening or changing but where is that.
    If opposites are inevitable what would the world look like if evil cancels out good. Would that be a reason why we exist, to screw up that balance? If there is any balance to achieve, it would mean we are just toys to two opposites. Since we surely are not living in a balanced world are we?

    All that makes it intriguing to think over once in a while. What would a world be without good or evil? A numb hell as you mentioned. All of a sudden it doesn’t sound so bad. If this is hell, fuck I want to stay and screw heaven. If heaven is only about good, does that not cause the same numbness.
    So maybe in the end they just don’t exist and are creations of the mind to create some kind of balance worldwide.

    Just some thoughts from a Crow

    1. Are we living in a balanced world? Watching the news we are certainly lead to believe there is a lot of evil going on, but there is also a lot of good. There are very good things happening all over the world as well. I guess I do believe in a balance. If there was not light and darkness, how would we know the difference. If there was only good, how would we know that good is actually good without something to compare it to? To say there is always a balance isn’t a scientific answer, you are right, but you could say it’s my philosophical one.

      Your comment reminded me of a manga I read called Angel Sanctuary. In that, the ‘good’ of heaven was rigidly dictated. Hell wasn’t the greatest, but it was a place where you could be who you are without shame. Reading the book, you almost start to like the hell the describe more than heaven.

      1. The scientific is that opposites cancel each other out. To a point neither is sensed. So why do we see evil?
        As when there is light there is darkness, but have we seen both? Separated from one another. Since most the time it is a light and darkness merged. And I cannot tell you if it is balanced?
        What if all we do is think the world is in balance.That is the philosophical side of us. Maybe it is our way to explain things we do not understand. Or be able o label something, call it by name.

        In the end we do not know whether they do exist or not. And for that reason we should so enjoy this life without the need of killing or hurting others. To belief in balance is saying evil never leaves this world, saying there will always be war. Not a pretty future
        We can dream right?

  3. When I saw “Hell” in Robin William’s “What Dreams May Come” it was eerie. Born and raised Catholic I too have had certain things imbedded in my psyche.

  4. Oops. Didn’t get the final thought out. What I was trying to wrap up with is, I think in theory it was used (concept of Hell) to have us walk the straight and narrow. I can’t imagine what I personally would have turned out like without some kind of eternal accountability. 🙂

    1. Maybe, but then you could just pay the church in the past and commit all the sins you wanted no problem. Sometimes I wonder if things meant to strike fear, such as hell, are little more than ways to control a population, to stop them from asking questions and especially to stop them from asking questions of authority.

  5. I believe in the traditional Christian view of hell, but I don’t use that as a means of hateful evangelism, as so many do.
    I enjoyed your thought process in this post.
    My belief is based on the idea of what’s in the Bible, the balance of good and evil, reward and suffering, and the fact that it all comes down to a choice in the end, and not a system of weights and balances.

    1. That makes sense and, may I say, I very much appreciate that you don’t use that belief for hateful evangelism. We all walk our own path and none of us are perfect. As a smart man, who some believe to be more than a man, once said, “let he without sin cast the first stone.”

  6. “Do you believe in hell? What do you think it is like? What actions send souls to hell? Do you think the fear of hell can prevent people from asking questions? Does the existence of hell promote blindly following religion or does it motivate people to seek answers elsewhere?”

    I don’t believe in hell anymore. I grew up hearing about it and asked Jesus into my heart multiple times out of fear of burning forever. I most certainly was afraid to ask questions because I thought I would go to hell for it.

    In the end, it was the idea of aborted babies going to hell that caused me to see a weak spot in Christianity. They have no answers about who goes to hell for what reason or any proof that it exists.

    And without the threat of hell, Christianity loses all its power to control people. Who would love a god that had a desire to burn someone forever without end? What purpose could it serve?

    I was motivated to seek answers elsewhere.

    1. Babies in hell might depend on your brand of Christianity. For example, Catholics believe that the unbaptized (babies and otherwise) go to Limbo. Although, if you look in your history books, this change in theology was initiated to help convert Africans to Catholicism.

      As someone who has not abandoned belief in a deity, I don’t think the absence of eternal torment erases the value of spirituality. It just erases the power to control. If you ask me, any God who choose to give creation free will would not suddenly turn around and demand to control them. That doesn’t seem very merciful to me.

      1. What bothers me is that when I criticize the teachings of one sect of Christianity, people assume I hate them all. I am usually fine with those that don’t use the bible as their source of truth.

  7. The idea of an eternal torture for offending some creator of the universe is ludicrous. To tell a child or a trusting person that there is such a place for people who don’t do as they’re told is abuse.

    I’ve taught my oldest son and will tell my youngest to treat most faith beliefs with, if not respect, at least quiet inattention, go along to get along and all that. At least until they’re old enough to make informed decisions on such matters. But Hell is different. Hell is a straightforward threat. My son knows that it’s ridiculous and he has my full permission to laugh at anyone who tries to convince him it’s “real.”

    1. I do find it odd that some religions focus on it so much. I still like the idea of belonging to a religious community, but I’d prefer to find one that focuses on love and acceptance. I don’t want to return to a place that tells me I am worthless and evil, undeserving of any love I receive.

  8. As you know, I do not believe in hell. If I believe in hell, I believe it’s here and now on earth…in places where there is evil. I absolutely believe the fear of hell can prevent people from asking questions. Many believe it is sinful to question God…and questioning hell is essentially questioning God. I think the existence of hell promotes both, depending on the person. For me it used to cause me to blindly follow Christianity (at least in my youth). Hell isn’t what motivated me to leave Christianity though. I stopped believing in hell (as in eternal torment) while still a Christian. I’d recommend the documentary I was telling you about called, “Hellbound?” even though I have yet to finish it. But it has perspectives you’d be interested in hearing.

    1. I still might look into that documentary. I have thought of hell being a kind of existence on earth. Perhaps the truth of heaven and hell has little to do with life and death. Maybe it’s our state of mind.

  9. I am a Christian and I believe that hell is real. I also believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life giver. I suggest you watch Ravi Zacahrias, he is a well-known Christian philosopher. Or you may want to read C.S Lewis’ thoughts on the matter, especially his work entitled, “The Screwtape Letters”. Kierkegaard and Augustine are also very enlightening on this subject 🙂

  10. As a born again Christian, I do believe in hell. However, I’m not sold on eternal torment and I’ll be doing some research on it. I’ll definitely post when I’m satisfied with my findings.

  11. “In the end, it will always be better for us to be true to ourselves and to strive to be the best we can be. One thing I do believe is that that kind of effort is worth more to any deity that may exist than blindly following rules.”— Yes! I agree. And I had a thought while reading this… “If there is a merciful God, the ultimate being of kindness and good will, there must be an opposite (right?)” maybe that opposite is us human beings.That is how there is balance! Just a thought.

    1. I never thought of humans balancing out the evil in the world. In a way, I want to reject that and believe there is more good in humanity than evil, but there certainly is a lot of evil too.

  12. This is a short version of what I have come to know Hell will be like – (sorry for the length)Hell

    It is a real place. God Almighty placed the eternal punishment of Satan’s (The name of God’s Adversary) spiritual residence and where all the fallen angels that were under his command when he lead a rebellion against God to try and overthrow Him and usurp the Throne. Hell is occupied now only by set group of angels for unknown reasons why they were and not all is subject to debate. At the end of the Great White throne judgment Satan, the fallen angels and all unrepentant sinners are cast into it. Hell is not Satan’s realm where he gets to torture souls, no it is the place of eternal judgment.
    When it was thought to be the center of the Earth it was the place of all torment
    Where is Hell? It is located at the farthest compartment from the Throne of God; in what is called at times the great pit, the outer darkness, Tartarus, and Sheol or the grave. It is on the end of an immeasurable distance called a ‘great gulf fixed’ from the New Heavens and the New Earth. How far is that literally “eternally far” and it is sealed so that none can escape it.
    Although Hell was originally designed for only Satan and his angels when man chose the way of Satan instead of God – Hell became enlarged to hold them. Now what is Hell exactly? All created spiritual agents you and i and all the angels were made to worship, love and serve God with all our being to have fellowship one with another and to enjoy all the increasing measure of this love from God. When we rebel against God and refuse to accept His offer of Salvation in Christ alone we choose to be cast into Hell. So Hell is a place where we have no fellowship, we may know people there but we will not be able to communicate with any of them. We lose all capacity to generate good, love hope and so all these desires are turned into a ferocious fire which burns in our spirit. All we want to do is to have fellowship with God and the saints and since we can’t do that our spirit is set on unfulfilled desires, unfulfilled wants hungers of the spirit, hungers of need and eventually every spirit gets to the point where all they can do is wail and gnash their teeth in the agony of their spirits and knowing that this forever is permanent
    So Hell is a place where torment and Hell fire is unleashed and the reality of its agony can only be realized by one who is cast into it of which there is no escape. Hell is a place where you don’t want your worst enemy to go; because it is a place any if they knew the ramifications of the horribleness is unfathomable, and eternal.

    1. That seems similar to what my Jewish friend explained to me. It’s not so much that you’re being skinned alive forever or something, but that the worse you are, the farther from Divinity you are.

    1. Hell is certainly interesting from a mythological standpoint. I am aware that the Bible does not teach Hell. The way the Bible describes angels is also dramatically different from how we actually imagine them. It’s fascinating to see how these ideas change through the years.

      1. Yes angelology I believe originated primarily from Persia/Babylonian influence (the Book of Enoch is example A of that influence during the intertestamental period). Palestine was never really known for astrology (the magi who supposedly came to see Jesus in Luke were Persian astrologers). And since angelology is rooted in astrology it is highly unlikely that those ideas originated in Judaism.

        1. Doesn’t surprise me. There are a lot of simularities between the Jewish and Christian religious stories and those of even older religions.

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