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.
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?