Hell isn’t other people

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.

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  1. Jennie said

    “a self-imposed exclusion from the presence of God”

    In which case, I’m quite enjoying living in Hell, even though I care about the wider world and embrace other people ;)

  2. Me too. I don’t want to be in the presence of God. I think he’s a real jerk. So I guess that means I’m Hell bound. Still, look on the bright side. At least we won’t get chilly.

  3. lunartalks said

    “As a liberal Christian, I struggle with the idea of hell, that is of absolute, permanent, irredeemable damnation.”

    Hard luck. In your creed, He created us with free will, and long after creating us imposed His set of rules for our better conduct and when we exercise that free will this omniscient, omnipotent deity condemns us to eternal torment because we choose not to let Him forgive us.

    Anyway, as a bastard, I am beyond redemption according to your scriptures, even unto the seventh generation (possibly the tenth), along with those who have suffered injuries to their genitals. How does that work?

    As that white bearded wise old man with the answers to life (Charles Darwin) observed, it is a ‘damnable doctrine’.

  4. Oranjepan said

    As a liberal I struggle with other people articulating the state of their religiosity even while I accept it is their wont to proselytize.

    Hell isn’t other people, hell is bad people; pergatory is where you meet the wrong sort for you; heaven is a gay club.

  5. Tom said

    It seems to me people reintrepret the Bible to get the religion they want.

    It seems obvious to me that the Bible says Hell is
    absolute, permanent, irredeemable damnation.
    Or not depending on which verses you read, see link:


    While Liberal Christians are far more preferable to Conservative Christians – I do tend to find it is the Liberal bit, not the Christian bit that is nice about them.

    I struggle with the ideas that people have to let God forgive them – personally, If God existed, I wouldn’t forgive him.

  6. For me hell is real, those who dont believe in God will be go to hell. i read some of the words in bible under revelations it says Sulfur or brimstones. it gives me a creep and i also read and watch on youtube the video of those scientist who dug the gates of hell. these makes me a believer of hell

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