14 November 2019, The Tablet

Why do we love Hell?

Why do we love Hell?

Detail from Giotto’s The Last Judgment, circa 1305, part of the fresco cycle in the Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua


Advancing salvation for all, a theologian and philosopher wonders why traditional believers insist that a loving and just God must condemn some souls to eternal torment

I admit I have a taste for provocation. It is not a malicious one, I hasten to observe, but it may sometimes come close to a kind of rhetorical lex talionis and I have it on Christ’s own authority that “an eye for an eye” is not the Christian ideal. I have always directed my most exuberant aspersions at writers who fired first – not at me, usually, but at persons or institutions or ideas I have thought worth defending.

It would be difficult, for instance, to exaggerate the sheer bumptious truculence of the “New Atheists”, or the verbal violence they so delighted in flinging at those they disdained. Still, perhaps responding in kind is a moral misstep. On the other hand, there is Christ’s own example in the Gospels, and from that one would hardly deduce that the proper Christian oratorical style should be polite periphrasis or evasion. If something is worth denouncing, it is worth denouncing vigorously, candidly, and with perhaps more than a hint of righteous wrath.

Of course, this is probably special pleading on my part. I suspect I have H.L. Mencken rather than Jesus to thank for my own habits in public disputes. (So, mea culpa, sackcloth and ashes, cleanse me O God, and so on and so forth.) That said, I can still find it annoying to be arraigned for rhetorical ferocity when I think myself blameless. I have written many books over the years, and vexed my fair share of hostile critics. My most recent book has received reviews both rapturous and indignant, which is pretty much par for the course with me.

Get Instant Access

Continue Reading

Register for free to read this article in full

Subscribe for unlimited access

From just £30 quarterly

  Complete access to all Tablet website content including all premium content.
  The full weekly edition in print and digital including our 179 years archive.
  PDF version to view on iPad, iPhone or computer.

Already a subscriber? Login

User Comments (3)

Comment by: Alexandre, Manilla
Posted: 15/11/2019 16:16:45
Very dangerous ideas have been floated theses days. I read this in a homiletic book few weeks ago: "And yet, would God have created anyone who did not choose him? We do not know that anyone actually has rejected God. Hell must be a possibility, but is it empty? We have no right to judge the consciences even of the monsters of history, and it is hard to say that anyone has been without some spark of generosity or gentleness or goodness." WANSBROUGH, H., The Sunday Word: A Commentary on the Sunday Readings (London; New York 2012) 279. Hold on tightly to your Catechism, people!
Comment by: Cyprian
Posted: 15/11/2019 16:12:35
Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus the Blind, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Diodore of Tarsus, Isaac of Nineveh are representatives of the minority view among the Fathers of the Church regarding universalism. See John Sachs, “Apocatastasis in Patristic Theology,” Theological Studies 54 (1993): 617–640.
Comment by: John DSouza, Mumbai
Posted: 15/11/2019 16:01:34
I read these lines somewhere recently: "What I find so weird about the idea that everyone will go to heaven is that it developed... in the twentieth century when (arguably) there were so many people committing the most horrible atrocities who anyone with common sense would think should go to hell". C. S. Lewis said: "Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye'll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye'll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe... It's a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world's garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses." — in The Great Divorce