Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why should Christians believe in hell? (Part III of III)

...the final chapter, until I decide to write another.

In the last two posts I discussed the implications of the two main doctrines of hell. I have found that under close scrutiny, they just don't hold up. So what are we left with?

Part III of III - The Doctrine of Universalism

The doctrine of universalism states that, necessarily, everyone is saved. I've been thinking about this, and there are three versions of this which I can see logically working. I'll call these the "instant salvation," "acclimation," and "graduated salvation," models--again, presented from most to least illogical.

The first type has some very interesting implications. There are some who claim that, since no one can logically be damned, then there is no need for a hell, and therefore everybody gets in. But since you'd probably not want to share heaven with, say, and unrepentant serial murderer, there must be some sort of transformation upon entrance. The first model would claim that, upon reaching heaven, the soul finds itself exposed to the full beatific vision, existing in full, unrequited contact with God. This exposure, the shedding of the epistemic distance from God which souls are ordinarily separated, will instantly reform even the craziest and most stalwart evildoer. Basically, when you get in, you'll be so pleased to be there, you can skip hand in hand with your own murderer through the pearly gates. But you've probably already realized the problem with this one (at least from our selfish human perspectives). "What's the point of leading my good life if I'm just going to share the reward with those sickos? I'm going to church six times a week!"

Which brings me to the second model. In this type of hell, there is no deus ex machina type instant have to earn it. In fact, it may take a short stay in hell to convince you that what you were doing on earth...maybe not so good. In this case, the length of the stay in hell and the severity of the punishment would be proportional to the magnitude of your earthly crimes, of course. But like I mentioned in the last post, the stay would only be of a finite amount of time, which would be all but unnoticable when compared to the infinite amount of bliss to which it leads. This is, as pointed out my Phil Professor, is a lot like the Zoroastrian conception of hell (which the Jewish and then Christian conceptions of hell were based upon) in which many people go to hell, but only in order to literally burn the accumulated sin from their bodies before ascending eventually to heaven. Also, since we're in comparison mode (and it'll provide me a good segway into my next paragraph), this tends to be a lot like Dante's Purgatory, the many levelled tower in which those who weren't quite bad enough to get into hell, but not quite good enough to get into heaven were sent to work their way up into the good graces. So even if you're a completely awful person, you can still make it into heaven, provided you don't mind a little work to get there.

Which finally brings me to number three in my list of universalist doctrines, the model which I'm calling "graduated salvation." I'm basically picturing the version of heaven writted about by dante in Paradise. In his version of heaven, there is a graduated system of nine divine spheres, which range from the souls who, though saved, are still slightly deficient, to the final sphere, in which the angels bask in the light emanated from God himself. Although, in a universalist view of this basic, graduated model, we would find that heaven would be divided in a similar way, and those who were closest to God in life would also be closest in death. In this way, there is no need for a hell or purgatory, just a very polite distance between the holy and the people like me. Punishment would instead be replaced by a sort of slighted contentedness, in which those who are farthest from the most intense salvation would feel the ache caused by the physical and epistemic distance from the creator, and would yearn to move to the higher spheres of enlightenment. If movement between spheres is allowed, this may be more like a version of the second model, but with the punishment greatly toned down.

So there you have it. Everything you've wanted to know about hell and more. Of course, I think it's all a load of rubbish, but that'll be reserved for a later post.

Enjoy, have fun, and try not to go to hell.

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