Archive for July, 2012

Hell on the net – controversy and crime: 22 July

July 22, 2012

Premier Christian Community, the on-line forum run by the same people as Premier Radio and ‘Christianity’ magazine, have pulled the plug on a discussion about hell which I had just joined.

‘How do you picture hell?’ was the topic, started by ‘Willow’, who calls herself elsewhere ‘an old heathen.’ Separation from God and eternal torment were both presented, eternal torment vehemently. Non-Christians were sceptical / aghast at the barbarism of eternal torment. These non-believers were warned by Christians of the dangers facing them, warnings which they did not take as ‘loving.’ Annihilation was not mentioned. Hades and Gehenna were not mentioned.

I wrote a short summary of the teaching of The Lie of Hell. The first comment was simply ‘Wishful thinking.’ I like it that the writer thinks the truth is too good to be true. God’s ways are indeed higher than ours. A trenchant response defending eternal torment also came. I was looking forward to responding back to both but, suddenly, the page is unavailable. I don’t think it was my posting which was deemed out or order, but what was?

Plenty of people find the traditional hell abhorrent. I can’t have a Facebook page called The Lie of Hell because there’s one already. It’s a vehement atheist page, raging mostly at Christianity as well as other faiths. Some of the people probably have some good reasons to be angry about the worst kind of Christianity. There’s probably also a deal of exaggeration against a fairly soft target. I wrote as a Christian agreeing that hell is a lie. No response.

‘Belief in hell means less crime, say academics’ reports the Church Times.. Azim F. Shariff and Mijke Rhemtulla write that countries where there is a stronger belief in hell have lower crime rates. Countries where there is a stronger belief in heaven for everyone have higher crime rates. Sharif and Rhemtulla took account of differences in economic prosperity, inequality, and other variables, concluding

These findings not only help to explain the differential relations that supernatural punishment and benevolence have to moral behavior-a topic of considerable recent interest in the social sciences-but also raise important questions about the potential impact of religious beliefs on global crime. Though little research in economic and social policy concentrates on religion, economists have observed that hell beliefs may positively impact the economic growth of developing nations [25]. It is quite possible that the present findings, which tie belief in hell to lower levels of anti-social behavior, may serve as one of the key explanatory mechanisms underlying this economic trend. Indeed, simply given the strength of the results compared to standard economic indicators such as GDP and the Gini coefficient, social scientists and policy makers might more deeply consider the cultural impact of religious beliefs in future work.’

Human beings need an ‘or else’, especially an ultimate ‘or else.’ It can’t be our only motivation, but nor can we do without it. We would like to think that we are only motivated by the good we are able and likely to do, but we all know that at times we need something stronger to stop us taking the easy way.

Last year, after the English riots, I wrote a provocative sentence or two in our Parish Magazine wondering if part of the problem was so little belief in hell. One church member was aghast at my suggestion that we should go back to terrifying people into being good. Eternal torment is indeed a lie and a smear on the character of the God and Father of Jesus. Instead of abandoning all idea of an ultimate ‘or else’ we need to go back to Jesus’ warnings of Hades and Gehenna.

On the Premier forum I also asked ‘Willow’ what her idea was of the ultimate fate of the wicked. ‘What happens to the Hitlers and Stalins of this world?’ It’s a question not only for Christians. Do ‘heathens’ have an answer or do they ignore it, preferring to attack the traditional Christian answer?

A retired Church Minister has commented that The Lie of Hell is readable, very Biblical and likely to be of interest to people in the Caribbean, where he was born. Anyone agree?

Roger Harper