How Could Hell Be Any Worse?

From a distance, it really looks like Cleveland

Lately, I have found myself more and more interested in the Christian idea of hell. Maybe it’s the awful chill of winter.  Maybe I’ve been listening to a bit too much black metal.  I’m not quite clear what has put me on this mental course, but I have spent a good amount of time thinking about what it would actually be like to be in hell.  I don’t even really believe that hell exists.  I am not completely against the idea, but I accept that I have no way of possibly proving its existence or non-existence to myself, so I just figure I’ll find out after I die.  That is not the part that really interests me.  What I want to know is what, assuming that hell is real, would torment a human for eternity.

In the Book of Matthew, we are warned to “be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  To be honest, I find this quote a bit odd.  This implies that we take our body with us to hell.  If this is true, one must wonder what that thing in the casket back there on earth is.  Is that a wax replica of us at the funeral while the real body goes to hell?  Is your body snatched out of the coffin and sent to hell the minute you enter the ground?  (But then, what happens if they dig you up?) Does God duplicate our body and send that one to hell while the real one is on earth?  Is the body I am currently in an illusion and my real body somewhere in the ethers waiting for judgment?  In that case, can I blame the illusion body for the sins committed on earth?  After all, the earth body did the things I am getting sent to hell for.  As the eloquent, renowned philosopher Silkk The Shocker once said, “It ain’t my fault!!!”

If it is just your soul in hell, that opens up another can of worms.  I can specifically tell you that the conditions of hell would be awful on my body, but I can’t predict what extreme heat would do to my soul.  No part of the Bible mentions the soul having nerves, so why should we expect that it would feel pain in the way the body does?  If it is physical, it is capable of feeling physical pain, but I have not often heard the soul described as a physical thing.  It is usually thought to be a spiritual entity independent of the flesh.  Most descriptions of the soul are of the ghost in the machine variety, where the soul is a non-physical being that steers our body around then hops out when the body is no longer sentient.

In order to move forward with this line of questioning, I’ll pick the most likely scenario, which is that the soul just recreates your body once you get to hell.  There is no reference to this happening in the Bible, but this explanation gets my body in hell, which for the purposes of this argument, is where I want it.  Then, we run into another problem.  Revelation says that you shall be tormented “forever and ever”.  If hell is supposed to be eternal, how can the body and soul be destroyed?  I mean, once you are destroyed isn’t that it for you?  If the torment of hell is supposed to be eternal, how can it be that you are destroyed?  Revelation refers to hell as “a second death”, but what happens after the second time you die.  Do you continue to go to new hell after new hell?  Do you die and wake up again?

Let’s assume that my body and soul are now in hell which is described in the book of Revelation as being “the lake of fire and brimstone”.  I think that would be really terrible…for a while.  The thought of an extended amount of time in extreme heat is an awful thought.  20, 30 years would be gruesomely terrible.  100, 200 years would be worse.  But, after some point, wouldn’t I just get used to it?  I mean, the thought of eternal fire is terrible, but eternity is a long time.  My immediate reaction would be a period of unbridled misery.  But, after a while, wouldn’t I forget what normal earth temperature felt like and become hardened to the torrid warmth? After a period of time, wouldn’t I get used to the pain?  I don’t think this would happen right away, but we are talking about eternity here! Even if time is different between hell and earth, there has to be some point where a person accepts their surroundings, no matter how miserable.

To understand this phenomenon, imagine a thought experiment where from the age of 15 to the age of 100 a person named Bob was awakened by a right hook to the face thrown by Mike Tyson.  Day after day, Bob is waylaid by a vicious shot the skull from the former champ.  The first 10 or 20 years of this would be awful, but after some period of time wouldn’t Bob simply adjust and accept the beating as the way things are supposed to be.  Bob would be able to brace himself and would build up a tolerance to this sort of abuse.  Any brief survey of history would lead one to believe that humans have the miraculous ability to adjust to nearly any set of awful circumstances.

Another problem with hell as it’s currently constituted is that going to hell actually removes one of the most dreadful aspects of being alive…. death.  In hell, one doesn’t really seem to have a rational reason to fear death.  The terror that humans feel from never knowing for certain what the afterlife is has been removed.  Dying in hell would be a relief to many who are stuck there.  Endless, painless silence would seem to be a good deal better than eternal torture.

There are some basic structural problems with the idea of hell that I cannot quite reconcile.  I’d like to believe that whole thing is just an idea created by humans to scare people into doing good, but maybe that is not true.  However, if it is real, you have to question its effectiveness. I really have to wonder if it is the most efficient possible use of a sinner’s afterlife.

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  1. #1 by Jim Wheeler on January 7, 2011 - 6:34 PM

    Keith,

    Once you begin to apply rationality to things like the concept of hell you are on the slippery slope down to doubting the bible’s authority on just about anything. I would say you are near the bottom of the slope and approaching the inn.

    As William Manchester made crystal clear in “A World Lit Only By Fire”, his brilliant little treatise on the middle ages, virtually the whole of Europe bought into the concept of hell and it was used vigorously and effectively by the Roman Catholic church to become rich and to control the people, even (and perhaps especially) Royalty.

    I have mused much as you have in your post here and the most prominent thought I have had about it is the following:

    If God created man in his own image, and gave him free will to obey or disobey His commandments, doesn’t that mean that God himself can have arbitrary opinions and actions. And doesn’t that raise questions about God’s motivation in creating us in the first place? Perhaps then we we are merely some kind of interesting experiment, kind of like a boy with an “ant farm”? And wouldn’t sending some of his creations to burn in hell be a lot like kicking your dog because he acts like a “bad” dog?

    Then of course there’s the question of Jesus who, in some liturgies descended into hell for a couple of days while on His way back to heaven. That’s supposed to show us evidence of both the reality of hell and give us hope of avoiding it. But, alas, the only evidence that survived the event is second-hand or third-hand testimony that was finally written down about a century after the fact and which was subsequently edited by several committee’s.

    See what I mean by a slippery slope? But it did provide grist to many authors for a lot of interesting literature, including one Dante Alighieri, and also inspiration to numerous artists. Hieronymus Bosch comes to mind.

    Jim

    • #2 by Keith Spillett on January 7, 2011 - 8:21 PM

      Fantastic reply! The idea of hell seems to be significantly worse than any human sin could ever be. I could not conceive of a crime that could warrant an eternity of punishment. The thought of punishing a being for a thousand years feels horrible, imagine the idea of punishing someone for an eternity. It is hard for me to allow for a God that could accept that level of torment. If God has any sense of scale and magnitude, how can hell be a serious option? What crime could that punishment fit.

      I thought a lot about Dante when writing this. I have always found his conception of hell to be stirring and beautiful (although I can’t say I would want to visit). That whole metaphor about “tears of ice” still gets me every time I think of it.

      This slippery slope seems to be the path I continue realize I am on. The descent into utter spiritual confusion and doubt is an exceedingly fun way to spend one’s time. Even skeptics the likes of Hume knew that trying to see the world through the lens of complete doubt all the time was a bad idea, but it certainly feels like the correct path right now. I keep bumping up against the idea that the more I try to find an explanation, the more the world seems absurd. And yet, I have come to find that absurdity to be incredibly comforting.

      By the way, “I would say you are near the bottom of the slope and approaching the inn” was an excellent line. That line made me laugh out loud.

      Also, that Manchester book “The Glory and the Dream” that you recommended to me was outstanding (although I did skip a few sections, 1200 pages is a lot to carry let alone read). The quality of Manchester’s prose was beyond eloquent.

      -Keith

  2. #3 by nondualmind on January 7, 2011 - 8:29 PM

    I agree with Jim that the idea of hell was created by organized religions to wield power and control over their followers’ lives.

    Quoting the bible is also tricky – which bible are you referencing? How do you know that one is the right one? Ever walk down the bible aisle in a bookstore? There seem to be many versions of the truth out there.

    Here’s my take on all this:
    The physical state ends with death. However, the mental/emotional state, survives, which helps create the hell or heaven that will be experienced. You will get pretty much what your beliefs dictate. But, of course, I believe in reincarnation, so the idea of languishing for eternity in either a self-created or religion created hell is not something I worry about.

    One more thing – reincarnation also negates the need for ‘hell’ or ‘judgment’ or even ‘heaven’ since karma and rebirth takes care of whatever ‘transgressions’ and ‘good deeds’ we commit.

    You should take a look at “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.” It gives wonderful insights and perspectives on life’s inevitable end.

    • #4 by Keith Spillett on January 7, 2011 - 9:02 PM

      I used the good old King James version for the quotes. I know there are several problems with that version as there are with most versions of the Bible. There is nothing approaching an original copy in circulation. However, I felt like it was fair to use that version because many believers accept that as being quite accurate. Plus, my knowledge of Greek isn’t so good.

      Reincarnation seems to be a good solution to the whole thing. I’ll take it. I would certainly prefer it over eternal torment or the complete end of me endless dirtnap theories. Sign me up!

      • #5 by Jim Wheeler on January 8, 2011 - 10:40 AM

        Nondual and Keith,

        Reincarnation is an appealing idea because it seems to answer the mind’s rebellion to the idea of nothingness. The mirror image of self-awareness is mourning, a state observed in elephants who, tests show, also have self awareness.

        But reincarnation is a conundrum. The notion is unsupported by the evidence because the human population, no, make that the animal population, on earth has always varied.

        Is there a warehouse of souls somewhere? The faith-based might postulate such located on other planets I suppose. Too big a leap for me though.

  3. #6 by Matthew Wayne on January 7, 2011 - 10:20 PM

    Hell ain’t a bad place…hell is from here to eternity.

    Great article Keith.

    • #7 by Keith Spillett on January 7, 2011 - 11:15 PM

      Ha! Bloody right!

      Thanks, Mr. Dickinson. By the way, I loved your work in Samson. Were you in any bands after that?

      • #8 by Matthew Wayne on January 8, 2011 - 12:33 AM

        I once did a guest spot on this album with Janick Gers where I sang about Zululus.

  4. #9 by nondualmind on January 8, 2011 - 11:12 AM

    Jim,

    The way I see it is that the physical form of life, whether animal or even plant life, is only the vehicle, so it really doesn’t matter about the variety of life-forms. The ‘being of awareness’ or ‘consciousness’ is what survives and then is reborn in the continuing evolution of consciousness until there is no longer a need for rebirth.

    Not sure if I addressed what you meant here….but I hope so…

    • #10 by Jim Wheeler on January 10, 2011 - 2:01 PM

      Actually, nondual, I’m not sure you understand what I mean by “self-awareness”.

      The simplest evidence I know of that a creature understands its own uniqueness and identity is its ability to recognize itself in its reflection, whether in water or glass. This is a property shared with us not only by not only elephants, the great apes, and some think porpoises.

      Here is a simple to test if you have a dog: try to interest him in his reflection in a mirror. His brain can’t handle it.

      Here is a link I recommend on the subject (see section 3.) :

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-awareness

  5. #11 by Eve Aspell on January 9, 2011 - 9:07 PM

    Thank you for the article, I even learned something from it. Very quality content on this website. Always looking forward to new article.

    • #12 by Keith Spillett on January 10, 2011 - 4:34 AM

      Thanks, Eve! I appreciate you taking the time to read it and reply!

  6. #13 by anime on January 12, 2011 - 1:37 PM

    An fascinating discussion is price comment. I feel that it’s best to write extra on this matter, it might not be a taboo subject but usually persons are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

    • #14 by Keith Spillett on January 17, 2011 - 4:10 PM

      Taboo subjects seem to be more interesting. L’Chaim!

  7. #15 by Mari Jarnagin on January 17, 2011 - 3:52 PM

    I’d come to give blessing with you here. Which is not something I usually do! I love reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

    • #16 by Keith Spillett on January 17, 2011 - 4:08 PM

      Thanks Mari! I appreciate you taking the time to read it and comment.

  8. #17 by Phil on June 2, 2012 - 2:13 PM

    Hell is not punishment o poor blind humans! Hell is the default destination for all sinners/humans.How will a sinful being enter into heaven? How will dirt exist in a pure sterile environment?

    If you haven’t been cleaned you can not enter into heaven.It is not GOD sending you there because you didn’t play by his rules..some kind of spiritual punishment for not joining a certain religion. That is the lie of the demons that have this earth under their spell…that heaven is for good people and Hell is for bad people.

    We are all bad people! …the question is which of us have been forgiven and washed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. If you aren’t born of GODs holy spirit and cleaned of your sins you can not enter heaven.

    John 3:3
    “Unless a man is born again he CAN NOT see the kingdom of GOD.”

  9. #19 by Rennie on December 22, 2013 - 4:39 PM

    Second the bible the only sin that really will send people to hell is the sin of not loving God above everything. It would lead people to other sins consequently. Therefore who live in sin, even those who declare to believe in God, in fact don’t. The bible says that those who don’t believe in God are already judged.

    • #20 by Keith Spillett on December 22, 2013 - 6:37 PM

      So, that whole last minute conversion I had planned….probably a no go?

  10. #21 by Mirkin Firkin on December 29, 2013 - 6:42 PM

    I doubt your replacement in the grave is made of wax, as wax does degrade if not stored properly – think of cheap cherry filled chocolates that get this weird white crap on the top if you store them too long. The body in the grave is probably some form of inanimate homunculus made to appear to be you, in case they have to dig you up. Also, wax wouldn’t really work well with the body snatching industry.

    I also agree with you that the body, at least, is unlikely to be destroyed in Hell – at least the modern North American corpse that’s been buried – it’s pumped full of all kinds of preservatives, just like Twinkies, and look how long they last!

  11. #22 by Steve on October 13, 2017 - 11:08 AM

    I would just like to comment on the fact that as a person who has had a constant migraine for the last 8 years of my life now, you don’t get used to the pain, honestly it seems to get worse your entire existence focuses around the one constant.

    On the other stuff I am just a guy so I don’t know anything about hell or heaven except that I wouldn’t want to to go to one of them.

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