Or perhaps I should ask, “What is going on with hell?”
In a macabre way, Hell has always been popular. But it seems that recently more and more people are hell-bent on talking and writing about that lovely piece of real estate “down under.”
For example, Ross Douthat at the New York Times, afraid that “belief in hell lags well behind and the fear of damnation seems to have evaporated” makes “A Case for Hell.”
He cites and disagrees with Pastor Rob Bell’s “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” a best seller at Amazon.com during Easter—a book where, as the subtitle implies, we learn that all of us who have ever lived will be able to find a place in heaven.
On its April 25 cover, TIME inscribed “WHAT IF THERE’S NO HELL?” in large letters—HELL of course in red— and Jon Meacham devotes five pages to that question, to the controversial “rogue” pastor, Rob Bell, and to Bell’s thoughts on the subject of eternal damnation.
There have been many other reactions to Bell’s book, as there will be to Meacham’s and Douthat’s articles.
Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor wrote that Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, had ignited a firestorm of controversy with his book even weeks before it arrived in bookstores.
Marrapodi quotes a blog post on the popular Christian website The Gospel Coalition which blasts Bell and his book for “teaching false doctrine.” The post was “quickly tweeted by several prominent pastors…connected to the Gospel Coalition, a coalition of theologically conservative evangelical churches, and a full-blown theological controversy was on. By Monday, Taylor’s response post had racked up a quarter million hits.”
ABC News’ “Who Will Go to Hell?” has an excellent discussion, and a video interview with Rob Bell.
Facebook, Twitter and other social networks and media are buzzing with comments and discussions on the issue of Hell.
But I guess this is nothing new. When one Googles “Is there a hell?” (without quotes), one gets “66,100,000 results within 0.11 seconds,” proving that hell has always been “popular.”
But, is it true, as Douthat claims, that belief in hell has been losing favor and that the fear of eternal damnation is no longer so all-consuming? (No pun intended).
Douthat references a 2008 article appropriately titled “What lies beneath,” where the author, Michael Paulson, quotes a June 2008 Pew survey that “confirms” a “long developing trend in popular cosmology: Belief in heaven is outstripping belief in hell.”
According to the The Pew survey, “significant for the breadth and depth made possible by its unusually large 35,000-person sample”:
…74 percent of Americans say they think there is a heaven, “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded,” while just 59 percent think there is a hell, “where people who have led bad lives, and die without being sorry, are eternally punished.”
For my own two cents worth, I’ll fall back on the discussions about God, religion and, yes, hell that my sister and I have during our infrequent but precious get-togethers.
Having parted ways, theologically speaking, since our strict Catholic upbringing, we certainly have different views on these issues.
My sister—always the rebellious and inquisitive one—categorically rejects the existence of hell: “We already have a hell on earth,” and “Why would an all-loving, all-caring God condemn those he purports to love to an everlasting hell?”
I, of a more cover-all-bases nature, generally withhold judgment on the existence of God and especially of hell—just in case there is a God with a good memory who assigns disbelievers to such an inferno.
What are your thoughts? Does hell exist? If so, who goes there and what kind of a place is it?
________CODA from dr.e/ ed. Photo above “train to hell” by eagle feather photography ©2011, all rights reserved. See more here
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.