An Atheist notes that hell has been in the news lately.by Don Lacey on Aug. 26, 2012, under Atheism, Christianity, Freethought, Fundamentalism, God & Bible, History, Mormonism, Question of the Day!, Religion, That's Life!, Willful Ignorance
Hell seems to get a lot of space and recognition in the media of late from a high school girls being refused graduation because she used the word in her valedictorian speech instead of the scripted “heck,” to colorful descriptions of Tucson’s weather.
Hell, not Hades, is a relatively new construct in human belief. The two imaginary places actually are not interchangeable. Hell, hellfire and the like with demonic possession, exorcism, and the casting out of demons by fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands is seemingly re-surging in Christian religions.
I do not include Hades as an equal to hell, because as a place it is an ancient concept, from pre-Christian Egyptian, Greek, and Roman religions. Hades was most simply a place where the spirits of the dead went and did not return. Little was known about living conditions in the Hades construct, other than the Egyptian belief that you could take it with you, especially if you were a pharaoh and had it buried with you. Greeks and Romans would include coins in burial sites (usually on the corpse’s eyes) to pay Charon, the boatman who took you over the river Styx to Hades. Little is known of those who did not pay the fare but some were rumored to have returned as ghosts.
Hell has been clearly described by Dante as a place of cold, fire, suffering, pain, anguish, torture, and unpleasantness beyond description. He curiously walks his living characters through degrees and circles of hell which, unlike our modern prison system, segregated the sinners so those who have committed the same sins were all kept in one place.
Since modern prisons put pedophile priests, rapists, addicts, embezzling accountants, and errant politicians together in the same cellblocks, it would be wrong to call our modern prisons “hell.” Dante carefully segregated the sinners locations by the severity of the sin committed.
Of course, Dante’s hell faced no budget constraints like our modern prison system. It is also interesting to note that Dante included clergy, including Popes, in his hell.
The opposite of hell is supposed to be heaven, with very little in between. If you are Catholic there is a mini-hell called purgatory where minor sins can be burned or frozen away until you graduate to heaven among God’s chosen. Only grave sin (mortal sins) that have not been forgiven by a priest, those who have not accepted Christ, or have been excommunicated by the Catholic Church can go to hell. The church used to have a special place (Limbo) for unbaptized infants or those who died at birth but the place was discontinued in the last few years, and I have heard nothing that reassigns the souls of the unbaptized to other than hell.
Some Protestant theology indicates you completely avoid hell if you accept Jesus Christ (usually their brand of Christ) into your heart and profess it openly, if not loudly. Others believe that not only must you accept Christ, but must repent of your sins with actions that run from confession and restitution, to public verbal self flagellation. Yet others believe all are saved by grace, not action. It seems that to get to hell you have to avoid a Chinese menu of options and really work at it or completely ignore it as a place you might go.
Mormons do not believe in a literal Dantesque hell, but they do believe in Perdition, a complete removal from God’s presence and or grace. Outer darkness is another name. The good news is that this is reserved only for those who deny the Mormon Faith and the powers of its priesthood (all male members are now eligible if worthy) after having a sure knowledge of its pure truth. This is the same decision Lucifer and the fallen made when denying and refusing to accept the plan of Jesus Christ before the earth was formed.
The LDS church also divides “heaven” into three glorious kingdoms, the highest being in the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ to learn and progress on your own path to your own godhood (if you are male.)
Since it is only the highest degree of glory that can progress, the other two kingdoms are glorious and wonder filled as are considered a kind of hell to Mormons, because the residents of the lower kingdoms have knowledge they could have been so much better in life. They retain the knowledge and sorrow of not making the cut for the top kingdom. They may also be servants of the kingdom above them. A mental hell, if you will.
Some Hindu and Buddhists state that they believe hell is here on earth or at very least is a test of adversity and our attitudes to adversity in accepting our Karma in this life, so as to affect our karma in the next life. Being reborn in a lowly station might be considered a hellacious karma and not being reborn but attaining a state of “nothingness” in Nirvana is considered a heavenly goal. Where being reborn into another faith which uses the paradigm of heaven and hell for life after death fits into these schemes leaves me scratching my head in wonder.
Islam translates as submission and has a hell filled with people who refused to submit and be slaves to doctrine and dogma. They are consigned to the flames of Jahannam. Here, according to Wikipedia they will be in the company of:
…disbelievers, hypocrites, polytheists, the People of the Book who reject the truth arrogant rejectors of truth, sinners and criminals, tyrants, the unjust, transgressors, concealers of God’s revelations, persecutors of believers, people who commit suicide and murderers …the arrogant, the proud and the haughty.”
I am surprised that the Koran and Hadith in their far reaching condemnations did not include the American politician, the Corporate Wealthy, a few bankers and all those who bend religious belief to their own benefit or political purpose.
And the Atheists? Since we believe there is no heaven, there is no hell. Most Atheists I know feel too much human potential, thought, and humane action has been wasted on this imaginary construct we call hell. To a primitive, uneducated and unused mind the concept of hell remains an almost useless tool as a construct of control though fear.
To the educated, thoughtful, and humanely disposed, it is a construct where we often wish intolerant, deliberately ignorant and blindly believing people would take up residency. But since hell is an imaginary construct this latter wish is in vain and a time waster.