Two views of Hell

by John Kersey

Let us begin with the Bible – for that is where, as Christians, we must always begin. And I must crave the indulgence for a moment of those who do not share my faith, but who will perhaps acknowledge that it has been directly formative upon the character and culture of our isles, and therefore has a place, however restricted, in our public discourse.

Psalm 14: 1 puts the matter very succinctly: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” This seems by any standard to be a condemnation of atheistic belief, not merely in itself, but in terms of the character which such belief – and it is belief, not “the absence of belief” as Dawkins’ followers sometimes tautologically argue – engenders in its adherents.

Atheists have not been responsible for the creation of civilisation or its constituent parts. Those political movements that are predominantly atheistic – chief among which is communism – have not contributed to the world’s bounty one iota and have resulted in the display of callous inhumanity on a massive scale. That is not to say that an atheist cannot have a moral code, or act in a moral way. The difficulty, above all, is that the said atheist does not share that moral code with other atheists, nor indeed with his or her fellows who are adherents of a faith. When morality atomizes or is replaced by ideology, society breaks down. Even within an anarchist construct such as a Hoppean covenant community, there will be a common moral outlook that unites the community. It may be aligned with a particular faith, or it may be an agreed code that, while constructed outside the framework of faith or syncretically from a variety of faith and/or non-faith beliefs, nevertheless provides a direct analogue to that which would arise within such a framework. If we discard faith, we invent that which substitutes for faith, rather as if we discarded the wheel and then tried to recreate it ab initio.

I grow weary of the arrogance, intolerance and general self-destructive stupidity of those atheists, particularly of the younger generation, who hold that the rectitude, nay, certainty, of their beliefs gives them a right to dismantle the spiritual foundations of our country. To their credit, the representatives of the National Secular Society have generally been supportive of freedom of speech for those who disagree with them. But I reserve a greater degree of ire altogether for those individuals who claim to exercise Christian ministry while ignoring its basic foundations. Of their company the late Anthony Bridge, erstwhile Dean of Guildford in the Church of England, had this description in mind:

“A bureaucratic annexe to the Welfare State with a few pious and neo-Gothic overtones. Hag-ridden by committees and worm-eaten by synodical government, it has dedicated itself to activism, having banished prayer, mystery, silence, beauty and its own rich musical and liturgical heritage to a few remote oases in order to make way for hymns written by third-rate disciples of Noël Coward and sung to the strident noise of guitars played by charismatic curates in jeans.”

One cannot help but reflect that when the devil cannot find a way in from the outside, he will mount his attack from within. And he has been most successful. We are fast approaching a time where to make a public statement about what the Bible teaches is some form of criminal offence. The representatives of the larger churches seem to have done little to protect their members from this; indeed, too often the impression that is given is that where a challenge to the state – or to the liberal agenda which many of them support – is involved, they have simply washed their hands, or indeed sided with the state against their own brethren.

One difficulty is that Christianity is not a “fluffy” religion. Its precepts are tough and uncompromising. Jesus Christ is not merely “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. As He says in Matthew 10:34, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The purpose of the Church – and if it neglects this purpose, it is nothing – is to encourage individuals to find and follow Christ in all His complexity. And while it would to my mind be impossible to read the Bible and come away with the view that its chief message is that mankind is eternally damned, it remains the case that central aspects of the Christian faith will always pose problems for its adherents. They challenge and provoke; we wrestle with faith because it is often at odds with what we might believe (wrongly) to be “natural” or “fair”. Out of that process can come transcendance. As C.S. Lewis says in “Mere Christianity”, 

“…a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble–because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.”

There is a term for those who wish to pick and choose which doctrines of Christianity they wish to follow and those which they do not – “cafeteria Christianity”. All too often, it is reducible to the idea of “be nice to each other”, as if we were all children in a playgroup. All too often, it is distorted to conform with various brands of socialism, be they dressed up as “liberation theology” or in other guises. It is a form of faith in which Christ is made less than God and man greater than man. It is that which Dietrich Bonhoeffer identified as the deadly enemy of the Church – cheap grace.

Robert Gladwin, a young man from Attleborough in Norfolk, articulates his own version of this bowdlerization when he saysIt is my basic understanding that Christianity is inclusive and loving in nature.” Mr Gladwin has objected to his local Baptist church putting up a poster outside the church that suggests that atheists will go to Hell. He has complained to the police, who have recorded the matter as a “hate incident” and required the pastor of the church to take the poster down. We are told that it has been replaced by one featuring meerkats.

Let us examine, for a moment, what the Bible has to say on the matter of atheists and Hell. There is this, for example, from Revelation 21:8-9:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death,

That seems pretty clear, then. Now consider Matthew 12:31:

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

and Matthew 13:49-50:

The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

and, indeed, Matthew 3:12:

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

There is a legitimate theological debate to be had on the nature, permanency and inhabitants of Hell, and indeed upon the effect of all this for the believer in this world. The Pope has recently engaged in this debate. But to suggest that Christian churches in this country should refrain from proclaiming what their faith teaches and muzzle it according to a secular code of imagined “offence” and “hatred” is worse than an obscenity. We are not told if Mr Gladwin has studied theology. He may well be the next John Shelby Spong, though I have my doubts. The fact remains that his actions do harm to our culture. They bring nearer the time when Christians will face a sort of inner death in which their faith will be effectively banished from public life and to confess its tenets will be to invite formal or informal sanction from those in power. We should be clear: this is persecution.

Mr Gladwin and the Baptists are not the only ones who have been talking about Hell recently. Anjem Choudhary has also been advancing the tenets of his particular brand of Islam. He tells us, speaking of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby,

So as an adult non-Muslim, whether he is part of the Army or not part of the Army, if he dies in a state of disbelief then he is going to go to the hellfire. That’s what I believe so I’m not going to feel sorry for non-Muslims.” 

The news report tells us “Choudary insisted he had not ‘said anything incendiary’ and claims he does not fear being arrested.” There is no reason to doubt his words. There is a double standard at work here, and any student of Cultural Marxism will be aware of how it operates.

12 responses to “Two views of Hell

  1. “I grow weary of the arrogance, intolerance and general self-destructive stupidity of those atheists, particularly of the younger generation, who hold that the rectitude, nay, certainty, of their beliefs gives them a right to dismantle the spiritual foundations of our country”

    The thing is our country doesn’t have spiritual foundations. Its bye the bye that people used to believe in God. In fact the greatest advances in personal liberty and political freedom in the country’s history have been at the expense of the power of the Church.

  2. Rome, Greece, Egypt and Persia were all built by people who did not follow the Jewish model of “faith” and all are part of the progress of civilisation. Not atheists, of course, because the idea of a supernatural force is strong in human history, as it originally arose to explain the animated nature of living things and mysteries of the operation of the environment. So,very few “atheists” as such in the past, but very few believers in the infinite and morally objective God either.

    Humans produce shared codes of conduct naturally. When religions develop to an advanced stage, those codes are incorporated into the religion, hence Jews believeing that God wants them to not eat bacon sandwiches. Which is fine, but probably not necessary for the development of civilisation.

  3. Ian B – all the societies you mention had highly evolved and complex religious beliefs accepted by the mainstream of those societies. My comment is directed specifically towards those who have a positive belief defined in a strict sense as atheism: not that they do not know or care whether there is a god (agnosticism or indifferentism) but that they have taken a definitive position that there is no god. Theirs is a comparatively young movement with a patchy history. For the origins of modern Western atheism, we can only look as far back as Spinoza, and from him towards isolated thinkers of the following generations. The real breakthrough for atheism comes in the French Revolution, where it is allied to a general iconoclasm: a revolt against the natural order that embraces the organized destruction of Christianity. And yet, even all the power of the Terror could not maintain the atheistic system for more than a few years. As its philosophical forefather Voltaire put it, if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

    • The entire point of a number of my posts on the LA, in the days when I could still find original stuff to write without repeating myself, was this as follows….

      It was that classical liberal-minimal-statism had a-priori to have been founded upon the precepts of the Gospels and the Mosaic Decalogue. Otherwise, minimal-statist-liberalism could not have existed and been understood as it was.

      I can’t see where the mystery in this is, at all.

      Those sorts of posts were in the days when I routinely wrote this blog’s Christmas and Easter Messages for the fellas.

      But IanB is a good and old friend, and I know he will stand in The Line With Me, with his sword drawn along side my sword and your sword John, at the time When The Enemy Comes For Us.

      • Indeed I will. A society in which people are not able to disagree with me would be a grim and despairing place indeed.

        I am in one sense a “multiculturalist”. I like a society of “diversity”, so long as all the diverse people do not aggress against one another. If we are discussing visions of Hell here, one of mine is to be trapped in a monoculture of atheists like me. Because frankly, we’re generally insufferable.

        I will always stand by you. If you’ll have me.

  4. Ed – “our country doesn’t have spiritual foundations”. Can you seriously maintain that our art, our literature, our music, our law, our politics, our culture and customs, even the way we think of ourselves and relate to others as Britons through the centuries, is entirely independent from the Christian faith? If so, your view of history may well be unique.

  5. Paul Marks

    An interesting post.

    I am a believer – I believe in God and I believe that Jesus is God (that Jesus is alive).

    However, I find it very hard to believe that people who do not share my belief go to Hel – simply because they do not believe.

    I find that very hard to reconcile that with a good God – as I am not a Calvinist (or a follower of Islam) and do not define “good” as simply what God approves of, and “bad” as simply what God does not approve of.

    Good and evil can not just be the WILL of God – or they are meaningless.

    All the above is not something I wish to debate (even I choose not to debate about some things – and basic religion is one of them), but it is a matter for thought and (yes) for prayer.

  6. Paul Marks

    As for the police and their “hate incidents” about statements of theological opinion (and the rest of the Frankfurt School “Critical Theory” stuff).

    Yes that is vile – utterly vile.

  7. For me, the greatest flaw of Calvinism is the absurdity that it is Strong Determinist. This means that God chose who was doomed to go to Hell at the beginning of time, which makes a farce of the whole concept of Christianity as a religion of salvation. If there is no uncertainty in everyone’s fate, there can be no salvation, since those who go to Heaven have not been saved from anything, they were going there anyway.

    To clarify (there has been some debate here about this, heh), I would call myself a Weak Determinist; reality is causal, but outcomes are unknowable. In a Christian paradigm, that would mean that God created a universe which follows laws, but did not preordain outcomes. Which may be why He made it quantum mechanical rather than Newtonian :o)

    • Quantum Physics has Laws also. They’re just not the same as the classical Newtonian “Laws”. But they do however deal with some of the problems and anomalies apparent when Newtonian Machanics is applied in some scenarios.

      The monk Pelagius (who it is believed was British (the English had not yet come into being as Pelagius was slightly earlier) thought that although Man was by observation a “fallen creature”, and therefroe in certain situations tempted to do evil, he could acheive his redemption and thus he path the Heaven by his own exertions.

      Paul Johnson in his grand book “The Offshore Islanders” (A history of the English People) hypothesises that this underlies the thousand-year-conflict in England between the Roman Church and, er, “Christianity” as understood by the “English”.

  8. Brooks Alexander

    No one who takes their Christianity (and its biblical definition) seriously will be startled by this analysis – or, skeptical of it either, for that matter. Many of us have already noticed the pressure being brought to bear on the public expression of Christian doctrines that “Political Correctness” (loosely so-called) finds disagreeable. Nor is it to be doubted that this pressure will continue to increase. In my opinion, our elites have already determined to use the wedge issues of “homosexuality” and “gay rights” (among others) to peel the believing Christians off from “polite society” and turn them into social pariahs. It absolutely is the prelude to “persecution” – and it’s just beginning to gather steam.

    What’s encouraging is to see a broadening recognition of that trend, and of it’s significance. I thank you for your observations.

  9. Hugo Miller

    “…..our elites have already determined to use the wedge issues of “homosexuality” and “gay rights” (among others) to peel the believing Christians off from “polite society” and turn them into social pariahs…..”

    Did Christ actually say anything about homosexuals?