“Where do bad folks go when they die? They go to a lake of fire and fry.” – Nirvana
Is this true? From an early age, most of us in the Christian tradition are taught that if we are good little boys and girls, we’ll go to Heaven. In Heaven, everything is beautiful and peaceful, there are no worries, and we will all be happy. If we’re bad, however, we burn in hell and scream in agony forever and ever. As we get a little older, many Christian denominations teach that we ALL deserve to roast in hell forever, because we have all sinned. It is only by God’s mercy, through Jesus, that we are “saved”. If we all deserve to burn in hell forever, than we should be grateful if any fate, other than that, is at all possible. This belief has led to the view that anyone who isn’t a Christian, or more specifically, has not said a certain prayer to be saved (many protestant traditions), or has not received absolution from the priests, ordained by the bishops, who are successors of the apostles of Christ (Catholicism, Anglicanism), than they burn in hell. It still remains in the Catholic and some Anglican liturgies the clause “we justly deserve thy temporal and eternal punishment”.
What most in the western tradition do not realize, however, is that they have blended scripture with literature. That literature is Dante’s “Inferno”, a medieval masterpiece. “Inferno” describes the 9 circles of hell, according to Dante’s great imagination, and the worst hell is reserved for Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ. Why should Christians base their understanding of Hell on a piece of literature written over 1,000 years after the crucifixion? Was Dante a prophet? Was he speaking the word of God? No. He was writing fiction – that is all!
Despite this, Christians went on to believe that an eternity of torture awaits those who are not saved, and have even convinced themselves that they, too, deserve this eternity. Thank Christ that we don’t get what we deserve! However, it is written that the wages of sin is death. Death is simply the end. It is not an eternal, living pit of flames and agony. Christ has conquered death, we say. Christ never conquered the pit of flames, where people live forever in agony, because no such place exists.
However, for fear of hell, many have created hell on earth. As Dante’s literature became accepted as though it were straight from the mouth of Christ, the Catholic Church started changing its policies, especially towards the Jews. The Jews were largely tolerated by the Catholic Church throughout most of the Middle Ages, and most of the persecution you read about was done by angry peasants, unsanctioned by the Church. However, during the Spanish Inquisition, all heretics were subject to torture until they confessed. Why would Christians tie people down to boards, cut them open, or burn them with hot pokers, or any of the other cruel methods we’ve read about? Well, it isn’t as bad as “hell” right? The Catholic Church saw this torture as a lesser sin. It’s better to torture them now, on Earth, if it leads to their salvation, than it is to send them to a much worse eternity. Makes sense right? If you believe this, then yes.
Today, the “Westborough Baptist Church” protests outside of funerals for soldiers, claiming that God hates their tears, that they are burning in Hell, etc. Why would Christians do something so horrible? Can anyone imagine Jesus doing any of these things? Of course not! Jesus offered forgiveness and renewal. If there really is the place of eternal suffering, why didn’t Jesus devote most of his time to warning people about it? That’s far more compassionate than giving sight to the blind, or feeding the hungry. I can’t remember his name, but a gay man was once interviewed on NPR. He had actually visited the “Westborough Baptist Church”. He described them as warm and kind. He said that they are compassionate because they believe that they are saving people from hell. As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The good intention of saving people from an afterlife of hell, has created hell right here.