What is Hell?

Written by Andy

To control the people, a nation-state has a set of laws. These laws are based on the Laws of Moses and, in the style of Moses, they are all negative as in: “Don’t do this, Don’t do that.”

If you do this, we chop off your fingers and lock you up to be beaten up by other bad people.

If you do that, we lock you up to be beaten up by other bad people.

Religions such as Christianity manage to get their followers to behave by telling them to be good. Jesus effectively told us to ‘be good to others’. He replaces the libraries full of rules with one simple rule: “Be good to others.” Mothers teach their young, particularly their young boys, the expected behaviour in society, effectively using Jesus as a role model. Some mothers actually state it bluntly: “Like Jesus”. Others in a more indirect manner. The result is that we can operate our society without a mountain of laws.

I often give the example of a parking spot. If you are entering a parking spot and a car pushes in to take the spot, you get annoyed. You perhaps curse the driver. But there is no rule to say the driver cannot do this. But under the rules of Jesus, the driver should not ‘grab your parking place’. The same goes for queues. We get irate if someone ‘jumps the queue’. But there is no nation-state law against doing this.

If you flick through the speeches of Moses which you will find in Deuteronomy, You find sentences like this: “If they do this, hang them from a tree.” If they do that: “Bury them up to their neck and throw rocks at them until they are dead.”

To reinforce the ‘be good’, our ancestors invented the concepts of heaven and hell. Even Plato’s ‘Myth of Er’, contained in the Republic, influenced subsequent religious thought. This includes our very idea of heaven and hell. The Bible, old or new, doesn’t seem never originally stated that there is a place of eternal damnation, commonly referred to as Hell.

The Church version of Christianity, which some call churchianity, has for centuries been encouraging Christians to believe that heaven is the abode of the righteous after death where they experience everlasting joy and happiness, and that hell is the eternal abiding place of the wicked who are subject to never-ending torment in its unquenchable fires. Clearly nobody can witness heaven or hell and give us a first hand account of the two. So we must accept that they are concepts. For many, they will be very real concepts, and have a profound effect on the person. Even the the atheists are prone to shout: “Go to hell!” Whether you wish to conceptualise heaven and hell at real places or conceptual places, is somewhat irrlelevant but is is a strong way of getting a populaous to ‘tow the line’ in a manner that saves work for the hangman and the jailer.

For the concept to work, we must firstly accept another theory, that all people are born with what is called an ‘immortal soul’. We can describe ourselves as a ‘never dying entity’. The concept runs along this line: “The body is said to be mortal and corruptible, turning to dust and ashes after death, whereas the soul is immortal and incorruptible and lives on in endless bliss or misery.” The phrase ‘immortal soul’ or ‘never dying soul’ or any similar expression are absent from the Bible, although the concept of ‘soul’ exists:

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).

Ecclesiastes talks of being created from dust and returning to dust:

All go to one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again”

(Ecclesiastes 3:19,20).

Irrespective of whether the old or new bible, Jesus, Moses, or the old and new Church talks of heaven and hell, they hold their place as a convenient way of getting people to behave without a hangman’s noose or a prison cell.

There are over two billion Christians in the world. The vast majority of these believe in heaven and hell. Even as rejection of Christianity is encourages, Americans continue to anticipate the good place and the bad place. 72% believe in a literal heaven, 58% in a literal hell.

There is the assumption that it was a concept taught by Jesus. But that is not true. The bibles do not directly state that departed souls go to paradise or everlasting pain. Although, we could have one almighty argument that it is implied.

Hell is often associated with ‘The Devil’. But they are not entirely related. The concept of the Devil comes from the concept of God being all powerful. If god is supposed to be benevolent, why do we get storms, problems, and tempests? Most religions and cultures teach of an evil being who wreaks havoc and fights against the forces of good. Thus good is attributed to God and bad is attributed to the Devil. It then follows that heaven is God’s place and hell is the Devil’s place. The people of almost any religion and those who do not follow a religion tend to consider the Devil to be associated with fear, punishment, and immorality.

Irrespective of the bible, Christian art often depicted the devil. The goat, ram and pig are consistently associated with the devil as in this sixteenth century picture:

Horns of a goat and a ram, goat’s fur and ears, nose and canines of a pig;
A 16th-century painting by Jacob de Backer in the National Museum of Poland, Warsaw.

Here is Baphomet:

The Baphomet, adopted symbol of some Left-Hand Path systems, including Theistic Satanism.

Illustration of the Devil on folio 290 recto of the Codex Gigas, dating to the early thirteenth century.

Hell is also a strong feature in much Christian art. Working two ways, the artist is portraying what the Church is portraying in its teaching and the Church portrays hell as depicted in the pictures.

Jan Van Eyck, The Last Judgment, ca. 1440–1441. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Here is a painting from 1307:

Giotto, The Last Judgment (ca. 1307)

In the next painting, the early Renaissance painter Fra Angelico gives his vision of hell in this circa 1431 painting “The Last Judgment”. With spikes, demons herd the damned into hell. Their souls are tormented, threatened by serpents, burned by fire, whilst tortured with molten gold, and being torn apart. Satan is at the base of the painting, chewing on the damned while sitting in a cauldron filled with body parts stirred by demons.

The Last Judgment by Angelico Fra.

It is believed that the above painting was commissioned by the Florentine church of Santa Maria deli Angeli. Opposing of the souls of the righteous and sinners was decided by the artist in an unusual manner – the rectangle in the distance is a cemetery with open graves, from which the dead rise, called to their Last Judgment. He who sits on this court sits on a throne, surrounded by angels, the Virgin and John the Baptist. On the right hand of Christ are the souls of the righteous, on the left – the souls of sinners.

It is fascinating that amongst the sinners are rulers and priests. At the bottom of the central arch, two angels are trumpeting the coming of the day of judgment.

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