As a liberal Christian, I struggle with the idea of hell, that is of absolute, permanent, irredeemable damnation.
I believe, or at least I want to believe, that God will forgive and accept any and all of us, as long as we let Him. So my vision of hell is not a Bosch landscape of cauldrons and leaping devils, but a self-imposed exclusion from the presence of God.
And letting God forgive us is not about living by a long list of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) but Jesus’ commands to love God and love our neighbour as much as ourselves. In other words it’s about being outward-looking, engaging with others, getting involved.
The opposite, self-exclusion, self-obsession, not getting involved with others because one’s self-esteem is too high or too low, letting prejudice get in the way of relationships, that’s the road to hell. Hell isn’t other people; it’s the fear and loathing of other people.
Which brings me on to the sin thing. I’m not a Catholic, so I’m a bit hazy on the RC theoloy of sin. I thought the only unforgivable sin was despair, because if you despair of forgiveness, you prevent it happening. So I’m not sure where the ‘seven deadly sins’ fit into that.
Then I came across this piece, not by a theologian but by an American activist, on the seven deadly sins. It’s well worth a read, if only for the photos, and makes the point that these sins – lust, gluttony, sloth, greed, anger, envy, and pride – are all about self-obsession rather than being outward looking.
I’m not claiming that people of faith have a monopoly on unselfish behaviour. There are lots of caring non-believers (some of my best friends…..) and there are certainly some selfish people who claim a faith.
But it seems to me that if you reject other people, don’t care about the wider world, or think it revolves around you, then it doesn’t matter whether you believe in hell or not: you’re already there.