Hell on the net – controversy and crime: 22 July

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



10 Responses to “Hell on the net – controversy and crime: 22 July”

  1. Chris Date Says:

    Hi, Roger. You might remember me, I told you we at http://www.rethinkinghell.com were starting a podcast and that I’d love to interview you. Well we kicked the podcast off the other day with an interview with Edward Fudge, and I’ll be in contact with you soon. Would love it if you’d check out the articles and podcast we’ve made available, and let us know what you think!

  2. rogerharper Says:

    Hi Chris,
    Good to hear from you. I have already started listening to your interview with Edward Fudge. It’ll be great to talk with you as you know more about the current state of thinking ‘out there’ about hell.
    with love in Jesus,

  3. Anna Says:

    What do you say to Matthew 18 v 8 and Matthew 25 v 41 and 46. (everlasting fire, everlasting punishment)? Also Rev. 14 v 11

    • rogerharper Says:

      Thanks for asking Anna. These matters are important. The fire is eternal in that there is no escape from it. It burns for ever. The punishment is everlasting – there is no way out of it, ever. The wicked who go into this fire are like chaff – Mattthew 3:12 – or stubble – Malachi 4:1. Chaff or stubble burn very briefly and then they cease to exist. There are hardly any ashes left. Their place knows them no more. They are destroyed, ‘burnt up’ – Malachi. They suffer the full wages of sin – death, the second death, the complete absense of any life, for ever. This is a death from which there is no resurrection. This is the eternal punishment.

      The wicked are sent into the eternal fire of Gehenna after the Final Judgement. Rev 14:11 describes a time before the Final Judgement – read the rest of the chapter to see that the throne of judgement comes later. Before the Final Judgement the wicked are in Hades, the horrible remand prison for those awaiting judgement. After judgement the wicked are excluded from the presence of Jesus, excluded from the life-giver, from life. In Rev 14:11 these wicked suffer ‘in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.’ They are in Hades, and Jesus uses His keys of Hades – Rev. 1:18 – to come close to them.

      This is a different way of looking at the fate of the wicked from what has been taught by many. Please keep looking in Scripture to see if these things are true.

      And you can find more detail in ‘The Lie of Hell’ – http://www.laddermedia.co.uk

      With love in Jesus,

      • Anna Says:

        Hello Roger

        So lets recap, you believe the wicket (and unsaved?) spend first of all some time in Hades and Jesus then judges them and throws (some of them?) in Gehenna (the unquenchable fire which is not unquenchable but ceases to exist), which is not an everlasting punishment but an annihilation? Do you also believe in purgetory where the saved are still in some sort of Hades? I am rather amazed – if I understand you correctly, that so much scripture which talks of Gehenna and eternal punishment is (according to you) not really what I believe it says. One of us will be rather surprised. Please read Rev 19 v 20 and 20 v 10.


      • rogerharper Says:

        Hi Anna,
        Thanks for replying. Yes you have basically understood correctly. Except that the fire does continue to exist, while humans thrown into it do not continue to exist, any more than chaff continues to exist in a furnace. The devil, the beast and the false prophet are not human (most people would call them fallen angels.) As non-humans they can and do exist in the fire. Humans cannot and do not. No human can ultimately have life without Jesus. Those who do not have Jesus do not have life.1 John 5:12

        Purgatory is a twisted, medieval, version of Hades. One of main purposes of Purgatory is to justify and gain revenue for the Church, through teaching that the prayers of the Church lessen people’s time in Purgatory. This is salvation through the works of the Church, not through faith in Jesus, who has the keys of Hades. Rev. 1:18

        Look again at the verses with the word Gehenna: Matthew 5:22, 5:29,30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 23:33, Mark 9:43-48, Luke 12:5, James 3:5,6. Nowhere else is the word Gehenna used. (If your New Testament says ‘hell’ anywhere else it translates Hades, except 2 Peter 2:4 ‘Tartarus.’) Do these convey an understanding of human destruction or human torment?

        There are plenty of other verses about the ultimate fate of the unrepentant wicked, eg: 2 Thess. 1:7-9, Hebrews 10:26,27, 2 Peter 2:1-3, 13, Isaiah 5:24, 47:14, Proverbs 13:13, Joel 1:15, and many more. And, as Chris writes, there are the great examples of the fate of the wicked – the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Pharaoh’s army drowned in the sea.

        Jesus is surprisingly good. His ways are higher than ours, kinder than ours, Isaiah 55:9 and following…

        With love in Him,


      • Chris Date Says:

        Hi Anna,

        “Unquenchable” does *not* mean “never dies out.” It means, incapable of being quenched; unable to be extinguished. If you look at how the idea is used with fire throughout the Old Testament, it consistently means a fire that irresistibly burns down to nothing. When Jesus uses the phrase, He also uses a Greek word meaning “burn down completely” when He says what the unquenchable fire will do to the wicked. This notion that some people have, that “unquenchable” means “forever burning,” is a complete misunderstanding of the word in both English and the original language.

        Revelation 20:10 is far better support for annihilationism than for the traditional view of hell, for several reasons. First, although the imagery does depict the eternal torment of things thrown into it, death and Hades are shown thrown into it, too, neither of which are real conscience entities capable of experiencing torment. Commentators agree that it communicates the annihilation of death and Hades. Second, the imagery communicates the same things as the imagery in Daniel 2 and Daniel 7, and taken at face value, each of these images is contradictory. In one, a statue is obliterated; in another, a beast is slain and its body thrown into a river of fire and destroyed; in the third, a beast is eternally tormented in it. But the angel interprets the imagery for Daniel in chapter 7, telling him that the fate of the beast in the fire communicates the annihilation of the dominion of the kingdom represented by the beast. We can, therefore, let Scripture interpret the beast/eternal torment in fire imagery for us: annihilation. Thirdly, both John and God interpret the imagery for us, saying that the symbolism of the lake of fire “is the second death.”

        I do think many will be surprised in the end, but I think it will be those who believe in the traditional view of hell. Frankly I can’t believe I ever thought the Bible teaches it!

  4. Chris Date Says:

    Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 18:8, recorded also in Matthew 5:30 and Mark 9:43, calls final punishment Gehenna, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, “valley of [the sons of] Hinnom,” which was once a place where idol worshippers burned up children as sacrifices to their gods. But Jeremiah 7:32 says Gehenna would become “the valley of Slaughter…The dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth; and no one will frighten them away.” Isaiah 30 speaks of God’s fiery vengeance upon Gehenna, likening it to a funeral pyre, which is a pile of wood for burning up corpses. Isaiah 66:24 depicts the corpses of the wicked being irresistibly consumed by fire and maggots.

    The other place “eternal fire” is used is in Jude 7, where Jude writes that Sodom and Gomorrah “are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” Jude explicitly states that the cities suffered the punishment of eternal fire, as many theologians admit. Hence the parallel in 2 Peter 2 specifically refers to their having been reduced to ashes.

    So Jude uses “eternal fire” to refer to the fire which destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, killing their inhabitants. When Jesus uses it He has in mind the valley of Hinnom, a place of slaughter where fire and scavengers consume corpses. What, then, is the eternal fire Jesus warns of in Matthew 25:41? Being killed, destroyed and rendered lifeless.

    This punishment is eternal because it lasts forever. Their punishment is their death, which will never be reversed. The risen wicked will be killed in both body and soul (Matt. 10:28), and they will never live again.

  5. Chris Date Says:

    That is to say, “eternal fire” does not refer to the duration of their suffering in fire, but rather the fire which utterly destroys them, permanently.

  6. Rethinking Hell in London: 10 November | Rogerharper's Blog Says:

    […] Because it might improve society. Sociologists have shown a link between a general belief in an ‘or else’ after death and both lower crime rates and economic growth. See https://rogerharper.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/hell-on-the-net-controversy-and-crime-july-22/ […]

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