Define Hell And Give Three Examples
Hell is other people, said Sartre. I am not nearly enough misanthrope to agree. I can amuse myself for days at a time working on this and that solitary pastime at home, in my art room, in my office, reading a good book, listening to a favorite piece of music. But not for long. Without companionship I am miserable. Hell is having no one to talk to, no one to walk through life with. But I’ll concede that there are people in this world who embody hell pretty nearly. My maternal grandmother for one.
I’ve always found the concept of Hell…capital ‘H’…disturbing. Not to contemplate the reality of it, because I simply don’t believe in it. It’s disturbing in what it reveals about the human psyche. God didn’t invent Hell. Humans beings did. To put other human beings into. Nothing says more how bottomless the human capacity for evil is, then the idea of Hell.
This is heartbreaking…
In case anyone’s interested, the impetus behind my writing my last post, ”Homosexuality Isn’t Stealing or Lying …”‘ is this simple truth: If my gay friends, whom my life experience tells me can no sooner stop being gay than I can stop being straight, have to go to hell after they die, then I’m going with them. Too many gays and lesbians have been too good to me in this life for me to leave them behind in the next. I won’t do it. That’s really all I was saying.
What I am not saying (and certainly haven’t said) is that the Bible is wrong, or should be changed, or that fundamentalist or “conservative” Christians are wrong or should change. I’m not even saying that it’s true that gays and lesbians are born homosexual in the same way I was born straight. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I don’t care. I leave those kinds of questions to the future and those in the present who, unlike me, like to debate. (And you better believe I have no interest in alienating my fundamentalist and “conservative” Christian friends, for whom I have nothing but love and respect. I wish I had blood relatives who’d ever been as good to me as some of my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ have been.)
Again: I’m saying nothing more than this: If any of my dear gay friends get condemned to hell for no other reason than that they’re gay, then I will choose to go to hell with them. I am sure Christ will let me make that choice. I’m not sure of a lot of things, but I’m positive Christ understands sacrificing oneself for the love of others.
This isn’t just posturing, this man really believes in Hell, Capital ‘H’. Tavdy pointed me to this follow-up post over at John Shore’s blog in the comments to This Post. This man is really struggling between his love for his gay friends and what he honestly believes about God and for once I can look at this and believe it’s real and not some sort of empty posturing and that’s entirely because you can see he really does view gay people as human beings and not a bunch of faceless scarecrows with the word SODOMITE pinned on them. I really feel for him.
What decent person could accept entry into paradise, knowing that so many other good-hearted, decent, loving people are going to burn for eternity simply for loving someone of their own sex, and being loved by them? I think part of my own journey away from the faith, never mind what it had to say about my sexual orientation, was realizing that paradise itself would be a kind of Hell so long as I knew there were people burning alive in Hell for all eternity. What kind of person would feel comfortable in paradise knowing that? And for what? For being a Mormon instead of a Presbyterian? For being a Muslim or a Jew? For being an Atheist? For dismissing the story of Noah? For not praying to the Saints? For not going to church every Sunday? For that you burn for all eternity? What kind of person even conceives of such a thing to begin with? God didn’t invent Hell. Human beings did.
As I wrote back to Tavdy, I count my blessings. I could have easily grown up to be a biblical literalist. Considering the household I grew up in I’m still a bit surprised to this day that I didn’t. I could have ended up loathing myself as a gay teenager, drifting in and out of Ex-Gay programs, and generally hating myself and who knows what else. Destroying my mind with drugs and booze. Trying to kill my heart with brief barren assignations in the toilets because that’s where my twisted up conscience kept insisted my sexual desires belonged. Somehow I didn’t. I think I know why. Partly. I fell in love with the stars at an early age and began devouring books on astronomy and from there to nature and science. Ever since my thinking about God and my relationship to my creator has always been grounded in what I saw in nature and my theology such as it is, goes along the lines of "When the bird and the bird book disagree, believe the bird." I never took the bible literally and have always felt free in conscience and spirit to embrace the wisdom I see in it and discard what makes no sense. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live… Right…whatever…
But I can’t point to any moment in my life where I made a conscious decision to reject the idea that the bible is the Literal word of God. That never happened. All that happened was I had this gut level understanding ever since I can remember walking outside at night and looking up at the stars, that the literal word is up there in the dazzling night sky and there on the ground under my feet and the birds in the trees and the scent of the blossoms and there in the light of the rising sun. So whenever I read the bible I always had this sense that I was reading how people understood God to be, but not necessarily how God was, and whenever I read anything that was ugly or stupid or mean I just reckoned that had nothing do to with God and just glossed over it. God made the bird. Humans write the bird books and humans are not infallible.
Maybe there is a life after death…I have no idea. But the idea of Hell, like the idea of original sin, is cheap and petty and ugly and completely unworthy of that which could create space and time, let alone the birds and the bees out of nothing. Humans have an almost bottomless capacity to hate. If Hell is anything, it is proof of that. But I simply cannot believe that of anything capable of creating a soul. So I don’t believe in hell. I have seen a small portion of the hell humans can make for each other on this good earth however, and that has convinced me that Jesus was absolutely right about this: We have to love one another.