Back of the North Wind

Discussions of theology, philosophy, religion and life inspired by the writings of George MacDonald (and perhaps others such as CS Lewis) posted by "recovering fundamentalists".

My Photo
Location: California, United States

I am a "recovering fundamentalist". The trick is to figure out how not to throw out the Baby with the bathwater. I learn through dialogue, and so invite commentary on my posts to Back of the North Wind.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Eternal Hell (part I)

I took damnation for granted. Raised as a Conservative Baptist, the assumption was not only that those who had never heard the gospel were going to hell, but also the atheists, agnostics, Roman Catholics, all the cults, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Methodists, probably most of the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, and certainly all of the Pentacostals. In fact, most of the other Baptist denominations were headed there too. To tell the truth, it wasn't very likely that even a majority of the Conservative Baptists were going to make it. Perhaps that's why, from about fourth grade through the end of high-school, I kept "praying the prayer", in case the previous 666 prayers hadn't taken.

Something finally clicked, when, during the course of my hobby of debunking Mormon theology (a sordid part of my past, when I would invite Mormon Missionaries as sort of an evangelical trap) I found that in Mormonism with its three kingdoms of the afterlife (the celestial, terrestrial and telestial), hell is reserved for only one class of person: not murderers, rapists, betrayers or any of the other folks in Dante's lowest circles of hell. Mormon hell is reserved for Mormons who reject the faith.

As I thought about how psychologically manipulative this was---"Don't change your mind or you'll go to hell!"---it finally dawned on me that my own church had been doing this same psychological manipulation on me my whole life. It was the beginning of freedom when I read books such as CS Lewis' The Great Divorce and Charles Williams' Descent Into Hell. These books postulate a different picture of hell than the Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" image of my childhood religion. Williams and Lewis seem to portray a hell which is a journey towards the dissolution of personhood. This seemed better to me than a vengeful God casting souls into a lava pit, where the smoke goes up "forever and ever" while the saints rejoice.

But MacDonald has an even much better understanding of what Hell might be, and to what purpose. A picture which I can see as positive. Stumbling on to MacDonald was like finding a light at the end of a long dark passage, or rather, like being given a rope to climb out of a pit.

(to be continued...)