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Monday, March 25, 2013

Hell and Gehenna

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis wrote:

“Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others…It is not a question of God sending us to hell. In each of us there is something gnawing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud.”

I believe that this passage inevitably touches a cord in everyone’s psyche. We all have tasted hell on earth, but few of us have realized that we were creating it with our own hands or with our own thoughts. Sometimes we have also tasted joy, or had an intuition of the divine, but we have overlooked it. Perhaps, even in the afterlife, it will be difficult to acknowledge the reality of a  principle in which we have never believed. But we’ll get there. 

C.S. Lewis, though, is more pessimistic than I am:

“In the long run the answer to those who object the doctrine of Hell is itself a question: ’What  are you asking God to do?…To leave them alone? Alas, I’m afraid that’s what He does.”

However, I must say that I am precisely one of those who object to the concept of hell. How can this doctrine cope, for instance, with someone who became a serial killer because he was abused as a child? This lost soul is entitled to another chance! Reincarnation just makes more sense to me. I have embraced this idea because I believe that Jesus embraced it too when he said that the  prophet Elijah had returned in the person of John the Baptist. Nobody knows what happens after we die, but I think reincarnation is a possibility.
Maybe our essence is not contained in our personal identity. Maybe we have to get past the point where we can only recognize ourselves through our memories. I bet that after having lived many different lives, this would come easily. Imagine if, in the afterlife, we could remember them all. We couldn’t identify with any of those persons that we have been on earth. We would see them all from a  distance. If detachment is our spiritual goal, reincarnation would be a good way to achieve it.     

I think that Jesus’ message is consistent with the religions of the East: Heaven is a state of bliss and can only be achieved by those who live in God-consciousness. A person who doesn’t even try to live up to her faith is far from that state, just like a person who leads a good life but rejects the very existence of that type of consciousness. It won’t be a punishment if these individuals won’t know heaven, rather it will be an impossibility. The former is not truly a believer, whereas the latter won’t be able to get to a place that, for him, makes no sense at all. Satan struggles for the death of God’s creation, and sin is the way to achieve it, for it could lead to the self-destruction of the human race. 

Theology teaches that Christ is our Savior and that he dies for the forgiveness of sins, which is not to be seen as a transaction between us and a cruel God, but as global transformation of the state of affairs between God and his creation gone wrong. Atonement is not only a personal matter, and not only our individual sins are forgiven. In fact, Jesus’ aim was to reinstate People Israel as the people of God. He went to the cross in an act of supreme love and sacrifice, to defeat the dark power of evil.

Modern atheists hate the Christian concept of us being redeemed, of needing salvation. They find it humiliating. I don’t agree, or rather I don’t remember I ever was like them. I don’t see how anybody can actually believe to be flawless: It seems to me like an enormous act of presumption.                                                                                                                                              
Jesus said:
“Seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.”
Where else can we seek for Jesus if not in the gospels? Yet their content has been the object of scholarly controversies for the last two hundred years. There are apparent inconsistencies within the gospels, that much is true. The most striking one concern the very nature of Jesus. Could it be that the same Jesus who preaches forgiveness also threatens the sinner with eternal fire? In my modest opinion, there is no real conflict here. Jesus tells us that the father will forgive us as we forgive our enemies, because he knows the healing power of forgiveness. But he also knows that evil will take care of itself and remorse will torment the evildoer for eternity.
Jesus had, so to speak, a personality with many faces, and I don’t think we can dismiss the apocalyptic aspect of his persona as a creation of the evangelists. As early as 1937 Carl Gustav Jung identified the crucial problem of New Testament scholarship:
“The archetypal character of the life of Christ can be recognized from the numerous connections of the biographical details with world-wide myth motifs. These undeniable connections are the main reason why it is so difficult for researchers into the life of Jesus to construct from the gospels reports and individual life divested from myth. In the gospels themselves the factual reports, legends and myths are woven into a whole.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
The archetype of the God-man is embodied in Christ and is inherent to everyone. When he says:
Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect”, he lures us into the mythical world of God. On Jesus we project our longing for encompassing love, our desire to penetrate the Mystery and to be one with the universe. Christ lives within, he’s the kingdom within us, the God within us. He’s the way, the truth and the life.



Manny said...

Antonella, have you considered the notion of Universal Salvation. It is not really Catholic doctrine, but it has a long history going back to one of the church fathers and other theologians, including the mystic Julian of Norwich. I have a personal belief (resting on hope mostly) that in the span of eternity all souls will be saved. You can read about it here:
and here

This discussion with all the comments is also interesting. That's me (Manny) toward the bottom of the comments:

Antonella said...

Yes, I went to a conference once about it. I like this notion, thanks for the links.