Front Row Seats in Hell, Can You Picture This?

One belief change of mine that allowed me to pursue my doubts about Christianity was the rejection of an eternal punishment in hell. This doctrine is completely barbaric. It is the biggest stick ever invented by man to keep believers from questioning their faith. Christian philosopher Dr. Glenn Peoples rejects this doctrine too in favor of annihilation, and says why in a recent post. Reject it like he does and you'll be freer to think about your faith.
The greatest show in eternity is going to be one hell of an act, theologians have told us throughout history. Tertullian was the first to say so:
What there excites my admiration? what my derision? Which sight gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation?—as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ. What world’s wise men besides, the very philosophers, in fact, who taught their followers that God had no concern in aught that is sublunary, and were wont to assure them that either they had no souls, or that they would never return to the bodies which at death they had left, now covered with shame before the poor deluded ones, as one fire consumes them! Poets also, trembling not before the judgment-seat of Rhadamanthus or Minos, but of the unexpected Christ! I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; of viewing the play-actors, much more “dissolute” in the dissolving flame; of looking upon the charioteer, all glowing in his chariot of fire; of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows; unless even then I shall not care to attend to such ministers of sin, in my eager wish rather to fix a gaze insatiable on those whose fury vented itself against the Lord. “This,” I shall say, “this is that carpenter’s or hireling’s son, that Sabbath-breaker, that Samaritan and devil-possessed! This is He whom you purchased from Judas! This is He whom you struck with reed and fist, whom you contemptuously spat upon, to whom you gave gall and vinegar to drink! This is He whom His disciples secretly stole away, that it might be said He had risen again, or the gardener abstracted, that his lettuces might come to no harm from the crowds of visitants!” What quæstor or priest in his munificence will bestow on you the favour of seeing and exulting in such things as these? And yet even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturings of imagination.
Read through it a few times. Soak it in. According to Tertullian, his admiration, his derision, his joy at the sight, and his exultation, will be roused by the visible sight of those who did not believe in Jesus, groaning, living in consuming flames, tossing in flaming billows. He looked forward to hearing those who took part in plays, although with much louder voices as they scream because of their torture in hell. He longed to fix his gaze on those who were actors as they suffer in agony before his eyes. Surely, he marvels, no human priest or quæstor (a Roman official governing financial affairs) can provide you with any favour as great as watching and enjoying all this! But God will. It’s a pity that we can’t see it now, but, Tertullian encourages us, as we look around even now at those who are still alive and reject Christ, we can imagine all this happening to them. By faith, thank God, we can picture it right now.

Thomas Aquinas shares this belief:
In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned … So that they may be urged the more to praise God … The saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens … to the damned. [Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, “Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned,” First Article]
Like Tertullian before him, Aquinas was no less clear that watching the suffering of the lost will bring us great happiness.

Protestants can’t wipe their hands here. Isaac Watts put his famous hymn writing skills to work thus: “What bliss will fill the ransomed souls, when they in glory dwell, to see the sinner as he rolls, in quenchless flames of hell.” Jonathan Edwards agreed: “The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. . .Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss.” – [“The Eternity of Hell Torments” (Sermon), April 1739] Just in case there was any doubt about watching your own children being tortured in fire forever might not fill you with pleasure and joy, Jonathan Edwards assures you: It will.

But modern believers in eternal torment wouldn’t endorse this, would they? Would they actually endorse a theology of hell in which we sit and watch millions of people, including our lost children and friends, actually being tortured in fire – and would they agree that we will gain happiness and pleasure from the sight? In fact they so just that. In the book Two Views of Hell, Robert Peterson defends his view of hell by, among other things, pointing out that some of the most famous theologians in church history have held it. On that list are Tertullian, Thomas Aquinas and Jonathan Edwards. Far from complaining about their view, he names them and aligns himself with their views.

Feel free to abandon the traditional, mainstream historical Christian view if you like – or hold it, heck, don’t let me tell you what to think or anything. But let’s all be honest about whether or not we really hold it the traditional Christian view, OK?

Regards,
Your friendly neighbourhood annihilationist

Link.

19 comments:

busterggi said...

Sublimated vengence, not the glories of heaven, is the real carrot for believers.

Double A said...

Its not a carrot for me, not at all. I'd rather burn with someone than take joy in their burning.
This seems an example of very frustrated Christians. Also sinful thoughts, methinks.
But even the greatest of Christians are but sinners.

Lynn said...

busterggi,

I think you're right. Getting revenge is a very strong motivation in humans.

Dan said...

So what about all the billions of non-human alien races that almost certainly populate the rest of the Universe? Do they all get to go burn in hell too, or do they each get their own magical invisible man to offer them redemption for his own mistakes? Where is the magical torture monster going to find room to put all of these people?

Mark Plus said...

I don't understand the shocking nature of Tertullian's famous passage. Christians apparently fear above all else that if human life ends permanently at death, it lacks meaning. So God, according to christian assumptions, has done the damned a favor by showing that their earthly lives had meaning after all. Annihilationism has never gotten traction as an orthdox doctrine for that reason; moreover, it sounds way too much like the materialist view of death.

Jer said...

I don't understand the shocking nature of Tertullian's famous passage. Christians apparently fear above all else that if human life ends permanently at death, it lacks meaning.

Seriously that's what you get out of Tertullian's passage?

What I get out of that passage is a deep abiding need for revenge against non-Christians that did not come while they were alive, and so must come when they're dead. And not just come, but be presented as spectacle so that Tertullian can watch them as they're tortured and taunt them for being unbelievers.

It's not that life has no meaning if there is no afterlife - that can be resolved by the existence of heaven for believer and annihilation for non-believers. It's that there's a need for the believer like Tertullian to see his personal vision of vengeance enacted against those who opposed him. That's the ugly part of it. The need for revenge - and the need for those who were wrong to see that you were right and they were wrong.

Mark Plus said...

Jef writes:

It's not that life has no meaning if there is no afterlife - that can be resolved by the existence of heaven for believer and annihilation for non-believers.

Then why didn't that become the dominant orthodox doctrine? Universalism, where everyone goes to heaven regardless, doesn't give people the incentive to become christians and transmit the gospel down through the centuries; Annihilationism apparently doesn't scratch the meaning-of-life itch adequately. So Eternal Punishment of the unredeemed arose as a stable compromise: Everyone's life has meaning, in the sense that they don't pass out of existence forever; but the threat of hell gives christians a reason to practice the faith diligently and keep the church in business.

We also have an unclaimed box where the saved face annihilation and the unsaved receive eternal punishment; but as far as I know, nobody has argued for that doctrine.

Anthony said...

That's your justification??!! Eternal Hell is necessary to give life meaning??

If that's the ONLY thing in your view that give my life meaning, then I don't want my life to have any meaning, whatsoever!!

I was speaking with a Christian that I know very well last night, and I brought up to him the horror that awaits this world, if at its end, billions of people wil be sent to an everlasting hell, and he kept pleading with me, that while that may be true, I can still turn to god. But he, and most Christians don't get it. If I have to accept that the vast majority of the world is going to suffer forever, than there is nothing that you, nor even god, can give me that will bring me any solace, and this is why my waning days of being a believer in this putrid, repugnant doctrine were filled with unimaginable angst and terror.

This is the worst possible thing imaginable that could happen to anyone, and the one realm of existence where you'd expect this to exists would be that realm of exist governed by an omnibenevolent God, but we are told the exact opposite. As John said once before, eternal Hell and omnibenevolent God are the definition of a contradiction. If that's not a contradiction, nothing is a contradiction, and if those two things exist simultaneously, then 2+2=5 and a square circle is a logically coherent idea. But I digress..

If God could find no other way to get people to turn to him than by threatening them with an eternal hell, than he is certainly a limited god indeed, since any one of us fallible schlubs could threaten someone in kind, and probably get them to worship us. But if your God is so damn desirable, than threats and violence should have no place in his tools of getting you to turn to him. He should have to do nothing more than reveal himself. But, the creators of this faith obviously knew that wouldn't do, so fear-mongering was the next logical step.

That this doctrine still has so much support is almost mind boggling....

Anthony said...

**and the one realm of existence where you wouldn't expect this to exist would be that realm of existence governed by an omnibenevolent God**

Sorry

Questeruk said...

The main plotters of the failed 20th July 1944 Hitler assassination attempt were ordered by Hitler to be hung by piano wire, to slowly strangle to death, with the procedure filmed in detail so that Hitler could delight in watching and re-watching the executions.

I always felt sick contempt for this, typical of Hitler’s perverted mind.

The doctrine of torture for an eternity for actions that would have occurred over a few short years of life - for many people mainly out of ignorance to what a supreme god required of them - always sounded completely cruel and barbaric, and completely running at variance to common justice, let alone considerations of mercy.

To go further, and rejoice in the sufferings of this great majority of mankind who are supposed to be in this position makes the sick actions of Hitler seem very mild by comparison.

Fortunately the Bible does not endorse this belief, showing rather that God desires the death of no one, and is prepared to extend mercy to all.

Mark Plus said...

That's your justification??!! Eternal Hell is necessary to give life meaning??

I never said I believed that. I look at christianity as a skeptical outsider, and I just present that as a conjecture to explain why the hell belief has stubbornly survived at the core of christian orthodoxy, while other views of the afterlife have remained on the fringe. The rationality of the belief has nothing to do with the competitive edge it apparently gave orthodox christianity over warm and fuzzy christian heresies which didn't threaten people with eternal punishment.

Anthony said...

I apologize Mark. I certainly misunderstood you, but I agree, there are certainly cultural reasons for its survival. Clergy knew its power from a very early stage, and they effectively put it to use for centuries.

A great black eye on the history of our species.

beowulf2k8 said...

2 Corinthians 5:10 "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."

Logically, wouldn't that mean proportional punishment that fits the crime and not just a standard eternity in hell for everything?

Glenn said...

Thanks for the link, John. :) Just for the record: "Dr. Glenn Peoples rejects this doctrine too in favor of annihilation, and says why in a recent post"

Actually, this isn't why I reject the traditional view. In a three part podcast series I explain why I reject it. Basically, I don't think the Bible teaches it, and I think it does teach annihilationism.

Mark Plus said...

Anthony writes:

Clergy knew its power from a very early stage, and they effectively put it to use for centuries.

Daniel Dennett has argued against the "evil priest" explanation of religious doctrines, even if it does apply to Scientology. Nobody "invented" these ancient religions; they arose through complicated processes analogous to natural selection. We have hell-based christianity today as a kind of historical accident because it beat out the competition through an organic process, not because some "evil priest" designed it that way.

Or in other words, the psychological effectiveness, and therefore "reproductive" success, of hell-based christianity created the priests, not the other way around.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

I think that a focus on 'hell' as being a future destination is an avoidance mechanism that keeps us blindly cooperating with constructing 'hell on earth' in the here and now.

gleaner63 said...

beowulf2k8

"Logically, wouldn't that mean proportional punishment that fits the crime and not just a standard eternity in hell for everything..."

Respectfully, I am curious about how you can decide, in your mind, when the punishment fits the crime?
For example, for someone who had tortured, raped and killed a 4 year-old child, you don't think hell would be appropriate for that person? What exactly *would* be the best punishment for a person who had committed such a crime?

Little Green Penguin said...

In reply to Beowulf2K8:

How about this, you sadistic son of a bitch? How about being made to feel exactly what the child went through in a kind of VR simulation, twice, then paraded around in front of the elect and having them all know what you did, and then being annihilated in front of a jeering crowd of them in a huge burst of flame after you've suffered a proportionate penalty?

Do you have any idea what an eternity of that kind of suffering really means? Can you comprehend it? I don't think you can. You either never really examined it, or your heart is completely hardened and for that alone YOU deserve the same Hell you would inflict on others.

Disgusting!

sigfpe said...

@Dan,

> So what about all the billions of non-human alien races that almost certainly populate the rest of the Universe? Do they all get to go burn in hell too...?

I suggest reading Surface Detail by Iain Banks. It's on this very subject!