Sunday, October 10, 2010

Questioning Eternal Hell

My spiritual life went through three basic phases. They were a seeker, a Christian, and then a Buddhist. There were some subphases involved in each of these. I started out within Evangelical Christianity and transitioned to contemplative Christianity, almost joining the Pecos Benedictine Monastary at one point. During my contemplative time, I was devoting myself to contemplative prayer. I was using the writings of Underhill, Brother Lawrence, and the unknown author of THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING. I would eventually transition into Zen meditation and Buddhist meditation, mainly because its wordlessness spoke deeply to me. It felt like a deeper truth was found in silence, without any partisan mental interpretation. It is like the communication two between a man and woman in love, expressing how they feel passionately and nonverbally, through touch and tenderness. Words eventually do get in the way and even the most lofty words seem more hollow than the tender caresses of someone who is communicating loving affection.

The exercise that was contained in THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING was to write a beautiful devotional poem prayer towards the Divine, and then condense in stage by stage into less and less words, until you had only one word. The word could simply be "God" or "Truth" or "Life" or anything that symbolized the highest living reality that there was. It would be preferable that the word be only one syllable. You then repeated the single word, over and over, making each repetition as if done for the first time. Each repetition was meant to call forth the mood and feeling of the larger prayer, just as the syllable "Ah" is meant to contain the entire Heart Sutra in Buddhism. From the vantage point of THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING each repetition is to pierce the Cloud of Unknowing that is between a person and the Divine, until the barrier is lifted and oneness is felt.

I found that by such focused repetition that I went into deep concentration and experienced many intermediate spaces. Many of them moved way beyond the world and were relatively free from sorrow. They were not Nirvana, but were abodes where sorrow did not exist but still could be shaken and allow us to fall back into sorrow. I pressed on further, as the book instructed, and continued to focus, calling forth as much love and devotion as I could. After a few months of this kind of prayer, I entered a space that was flooded with Divine Love. It felt very warm and luminous. The feeling of love present in this space was hard to describe, or rather hard to do justice in words. All the words of the devotion poem seemed hollow in the light of what was experienced. The feeling of devotion in the poem prayer was as different from what was experienced as a romance novel is to an actual deep passionate romance or as different as a menu is to the actual meal. In that space, I feel with clarity that this Divine Love only wished for our good, our happiness, and nothing more. It could not even wish for us to be pricked by a pin and could not, by any stretch of imagination, wish for the ultimate cruelty of eternal damnation. In this experience of Divine Love, I jettisoned clearly and completely any belief that eternal damnation could be true. It was seen as clearly and completely false. In fact, it looked like the exact opposite of unconditional Divine Love. What could be more of an opposite of a love that automatically and completely forgives everyone for everything that they have ever done? The dogma of eternal hell is that some god tortures you every day forever and ever with no hope of ever escaping this judgment, no chance to repent and be free, no chance to atonement for the torture with any kind of remedial task, and no chance to even have the pain even lessen some, and that each moment is as painful as being burned alive without the relief of even being able to die and ceasing to exist. Even further, the teaching is that every day you know that the judgment of god is just and that you deserve this horrible and cruel eternal fate. As such it is even worse than Prometheus, who knew he did good, and, even though tormented for aeons, he saw his eventual vindication and release from sorrow with his ability to see into the future.

It has been over 30 years since that initial experience of Universal Unconditional Divine Love and the original clarity of that experience is still with me and still evolving me. What I see now that Christianity is a little insane because it tries to hold a contradiction between "God is Love" and "God throws people into Hell forever, tormenting them every day." It is a confusion between love and violence that inspires the abusive treatment of children in the name of punishing them and disciplining them for their own good or torturing Native Americans until they accept Jesus Christ as personal lord and savior and then burning them to death before they can change their mind (thereby saving them from eternal damnation, strangely logical deduction about what to do with nonbelievers given the initial insane belief, any torture to convert someone is justified and better than leaving them as nonbelievers in the hands of an angry, primitive, unforgiving, violent, and righteous god, the insane logical deduction being further proof of how much of a contradiction there is between unconditional divine love and highly conditional eternal damnation).

I further do not believe that the dogma of eternal hell was part of the original teaching of Jesus, do not believe that the dogma of eternal hell is even really very biblical, and I further do not believe that the idea is conducive to human sanity. I later came to understand that the idea is even demonic and that Christianity has a demon infecting its thinking and will always have a demon infecting its thinking until it releases all allegiance to this idea. The dogma of eternal damnation reduces Christianity down to an evil brainwashing cult more extreme than any other evil cult in the history of religion. It is behind every war lead in the name of Christ, even justifying Christians killing Christians. It is the reason why Christianity as a whole had the bloodiest track record of any religion in known history. It has justified the torture of countless pagan and even heretical Christians relative whatever the prevailing dogmas were. Every other rotten dogma that Christians have ever believed has been fueled and supported by this one dogma.

For instance, Christians have been intolerant of all "nonbelievers" whether they believe in god, many gods, or no gods. They are all lumped together and given the same judgment. Why? Because Christians believe that god did the same thing and threw all nonbelievers into eternal hell forever and further that THEY DESERVED IT. If they believe that nonbelievers SHOULD BE TORTURED FOREVER rejecting Jesus Christ as personal lord and savior, then it justifies treating all nonbelievers very badly, mocking and poking fun at their beliefs, attributing the worse motives to their behaviors (they have to be so bad in truth that they deserve to be tortured forever every single day but having their burned alive without the respite of death). Think about what this means since human judges may give only three consecutive life sentences to a serial sociopathic psychopathic killer or just kill them as punishment for what they have done. They do not torture these killers and even then not forever and ever. There is a sense of just proportion to human justice, that the punishment must fit the crime. But infinite torture for a finite amount of crimes can NEVER be proportionate. Further, the argument that it is "god's mysterious will" does not work, because there is NO CHANGE IN OUTCOME from the torture. It might be strangely justified if it lead to a person having a change of heart, like a person who is more loving to everyone after seeing the cruelties of war. But the people tortured in hell never have a chance to ever change their heart and leave to a better place. A mysterious will operating at a higher wisdom than ours only makes sense if it leads to something good, but eternal hell does not lead to anything good at all. It is not like a criminal who is sentenced, pays his or her dues, has remorse for what he or she did, and learns to be a good citizen. In other words, the dogma of eternal damnation leaves no chance of ever explaining how Divine Love could do this to anyone.

What makes an evil religious cult is a strong distinction between the "in group" and the "out group", with a hostility towards the outgroup (all those who do not belong to the group). In the psychological and sociological studies of extreme cults (many of them believing in eternal damnation for nonbelievers and many of them justifying intense treatment of nonbelievers through this dogma, both as a motivator to convert them so that they can avoid the cruel fate and as a fear tactic to scare them into joining), the strong distinction and the hostility towards the out group is key in their formation. The dogma of eternal damnation, by its very definition, is the most extreme distinction you can make between in group (believer) and out group (nonbeliever) with one going to eternal blissful heaven while the other goes into eternal endless torment. It also has the god behind the dogma modelling extreme hatred of the outgroup (torturing them forever for rejecting his son). The punishment of eternal damnation is given in "righteous wrath".

From a hypnotherapy view, the power of ideas, when believed, leads to emotional states. There is no good state that can come from believing this idea. It makes the in group (believers) intolerant. The very idea is the most intolerant idea possible. Nonbelievers are not tolerated at all. They are not merely left alone. They are not even merely wiped out and killed. They are tortured forever because of how bad they are. Because of this, any ideological inter-religious dialogue cannot truly be based on "mutual respect". You cannot really respect someone if you feel that they are so bad that they should be tortured forever, while you are destined by the mere fact of believing the right teaching to go to eternal blissful heaven.

If we consider Christianity barbaric for having justified slavery, treated women as inferiors to men, and stoning homosexuals for merely having an alternative sexual orientation, then all of these criticisms pale in comparison to torturing people forever merely because they disbelieve.

I am mentioning all this because the constant bombardment of the dogma of eternal hell, from it the preachers who preached it, all the churches that have believed it and still believe it, from all the forums that have discussed it, and from all the books that presuppose it, has desensitized people to how cruel, evil, and barbaric the idea really is. The dogma of eternal damnation, more than any idea, is the exact opposite of Unconditional Universal Divine Love (which I feel is at the very heart of everything that Jesus taught).

I would go further to ask why Christians have not been bothered by this dogma. Why has this contradiction not been fully seen? Why has this contradiction not been jettisoned completely from a religion that supposed to believe in love, forgiveness, nonjudgment, and grace? How different is this dogma to Jesus teaching people to turn the other cheek, bless those who curse them, pray for those who persecute them, resist not evil, forgive people again and again, and love your enemies. Jesus uses the metaphor of the rain which pours on everyone equally and the sun which shines on everyone equally. Then he wants us to be merciful as his god is merciful. In other words, we are meant to forgive underconditionally because that is what god aka love does. There is no need for atonement for sins. Imagine that someone wrong me and comes to ask me for forgiveness and I say, "Wait, before I accept your forgiveness, I must vent all the wrath that you deserve on to my cat, have it squirm in pain, die nailed to a board, and then resurrected from the grave." You then see me severely torture the cat with what I feel you deserve. You would wonder how sane I was. The funny thing is that even what Jesus gets from god in the atonement story is less than what a single nonbeliever gets in hell. No matter how horrible was the wrath that the scape goat of god got, he could at least die and become free from the pain. The poor nonbeliever gets to be tormented with extreme agony forever with each day really being more than he or she could bear. It is curious that fire is used as a symbol for the extreme torture, because the sheer pain of being burned alive is so painful that many burn victims die because the pain is too much for them (but at least they can die).

I could come from a few other sides about the dogma of eternal hell, but my hope that it is not necessary, that calling this false and vicious idea for what it really is will be enough. But just to summarize the main points:

1. that the idea is a logical and psychological contradition to Unconditional Love
2. that it confuses love and violence and therefore justifies all kinds of cruelty that plays out in history and which has not stopped.
3. that it defines a radical difference between the saved in group and the not saved out group, the latter which is believed to be deserving of eternal punishment, and therefore promotes intolerance and hatred of the out group, and even has justified torturing them, killing them, and making them slaves.
4. that it has inspired a lot of cruel events that can look very demonic in modern times, with events so cruel that you might barf your dinner and have bad dreams if you heard them described in detail.
5. that if this teaching is a foundational tenet of some versions of Christianity and that if it is, for instance, one of the five fundamentals of Christian fundamentalism, then it may be considered sufficient proof that those versions of Christianity are false or at least in need of severe revision (unless they want to solve the contradiction by jettisoning belief in Unconditional Divine Love which I think would even be a worse mistake).
6. that it is a demon inspired dogma or a demonic meme (a mental virus which infects the mind and harms it, causing it to go insane and even become more intolerant and hateful), and that as long as a Christian tradition, or any tradition at all, believes the meme it will continue to have a demon lurking in it and causing all kinds of problems and suffering for people (some Christians who do believe it are less affected by simply not taking the belief seriously or not really believing it).
7. that it does not allow the cultic Christians who believe it to engage in mutually respectful dialogue with other religions and possibly learn from them (or at least forms a barrier of intolerance of heretics that is hard to overcome).
8. that it makes the cultic Christians fear based, guilt based, punitive, dogmatic, and intolerant.

In answer to one of the questions raised earlier about why this contradiction between Unconditional Divine Love and Eternal Damnation has not been clearly seen and felt so that mature and sane Christians jettison it (like C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald and many universalists eventually did), it is because the meme had already taken root and build buffers around itself. It is for the same reason that many Whites in the South could be very loving to other Whites and not feel the need to love the Black slaves enough to set them free, treat them as equals, care for them, and not beat them. A kind of cognitive disodence happens to protect the meme. The study of memetic buffers is an interesting one in its own right. But the first step in releasing the idea is to "call a spade, a spade" to name the ugly meme for what it really is so that it can be released. It does indirectly link to the immortalist theme, because feeling that Divine Love pervades the universe is behind physical immortality, that heaven can replace hell here on Earth. The belief that "death is necessary and inevitable, that there is nothing you can do to stop it, and that you are a fool for trying" is another meme (and another theme for another day). Releasing these kinds of memetic infections does increase our health, happiness, and longevity.


  1. Very good writing!

    I share these thoughts.

    I have come to express my idea that Jesus did not come to die "for our sins." I believe that he came to show us non-violence. He went to a an unjust death gracefully and then rose to demonstrate that death is not an end. I believe his incarnation was to be instructional to us.

    I also do not believe that a "Loving God" requires a blood sacrifice for transgressions. It defies logic. And certainly Jesus's choices in his life showed Forgiveness to be the Way, rather than condemnation.

    Peace be with you!!!

    I learn from you!

  2. Kathryn, thank you for your thoughts. I agree. To me, Jesus through resurrection proved that love is stronger than death, that Divine Grace can heal everything. Blessings.

  3. Footnote1: Another aspect of Eternal Damnation is that it believes in the worse kind of punishment. It is a punishment that does not care to even reform or redeem the punished one. Since there is no future where the punished can be a better person or be a normal citizen of a normal society, there is no reform element at all from the punishment. It is punishment for the sake of punishment with no sense of proportion of punishment to the crime, since the ratio is finite-crime/infinity. The punishment, too, is worse than the worse demonic punishment/torture by its very definition. If you think of the worse torture ever seen on a horror movie, at its very worse that torture is merely one day in hell, then you have to multiply that demonic torture by infinity to get what "god" is doing to approximately 90 percent of all humanity and every fallen angel. If a person has had a migraine headache that felt like it was going to last forever, then that is a sample of "hell", so is what the inquisition did, so is what it would be like to be trapped in a small box and buried underground and suffocating, feeling claustrophobic, only you never get down and never die to get out, or a terrible itch that you can never scratch, or a teacher scratching the blackboard and never stopping. It seems that the Catholic Church, during the Inquisition, did want people to feel what was like in their bodies and then often kill people to go there right afterwards. Protestants would sometimes torture Native Americans until they confessed JC as savior and then kill them anyway (so that they could not change their mind and be "lost").


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