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What About Hell?

Q. Hey John, My question to you is: Do you believe in hell? I don't, and I don't believe in purgatory either. I believe that churchmen invented the hell myth to control the masses of people. Man creates his own hell by giving energy to this ungodly illusion. Alex

A. Hey, Alex, I would have to agree with you. God has given us creative abilities like his own, and one of the things we have created with this gift is hell. It's as though we need to balance the light of the spirit realm with the darkness produced by our estrangement from God.

Light is always superior to darkness. Light can destroy the darkness but, as it says in John 1:5, the darkness is not able to put out the light. Test this statement for yourself. You can carry a match into a dark room and partially dispel the darkness. But you cannot do the opposite, you cannot take a quantity of darkness into a lighted room and partially overcome the light. Darkness is not a reality in and of itself. It is what happens to us when we banish the light.

God is Light. He lives in the realm of light, and when we are part of his realm, we are "enlightened." Hell only happens when we depart from the light and create for ourselves an environment in which the light is not allowed to shine. God did not create that environment. He let us create it, and for a very important reason.

I'm amused by the old worldview which children have been taught. Ask where heaven is and they point up. Ask about hell and they laugh and point down. Now, extend this image. If you look at Earth from space, heaven, according to this way of thinking, surrounds the Earth, and hell is at the center of Earth. But that means that hell is also at the center of heaven! This crude image is very instructive. It says that hell is allowed to be part of God's creation because it serves a positive purpose. He allows us to create hell for ourselves, because it is only in the darkness that we can fully come to value the light.

The Holocaust and the shootings at Virginia Tech are examples of this. Those who caused these events to happen were in a hell of their own creation. They had turned their backs on the light and abandoned God. Then, in the empty space where God should have been, they enthroned their own ego and desires. And people like them, who are in hell, can quite literally create a hell on earth for others.

But the response to this is always positive, and it always moves human consciousness and compassion forward. It is the law of negative cause/positive effect. Look at the heroism, love and community which has come out of the Virginia Tech tragedy. Look at how the Holocaust has focused attention on the evils of racism and bigotry. The light always shines out of the darkness, and the darkness will never be able to overcome it.

Augustine wrote that unbaptized infants go to hell, but they suffer only the "mildest condemnation." Now, why should they suffer any condemnation at all because of the failure of their parents to carry out their religious duties? This is a ridiculous and abusive teaching which underlines how religion uses the fear of hell to manipulate people. Thankfully, Pope Benedict recently reversed the traditional Roman Catholic teaching on limbo, saying that there are serious grounds to hope that children who die without being baptized can go to heaven. Well, it's about time! If even the Roman Catholic Church is changing its views on God's punishment, perhaps there is hope for the rest of us.

The answer to Alex's question is: Hell is real. But a loving God created us for life, not for an eternity in his punishing flames. He gave us a choice between light and darkness. But he does not condemn us to the darkness; we do that for ourselves. So let's learn that we can stay in the darkness of hell for as long as we choose, but that God is always ready to receive us back into his eternal light.

Posted 4-27-07

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2007