June 5, 2008
June 7-8, 2008, weekend

June 6, 2008


Do you know what I mean by "civil religion"? It's the phrase used to describe the widely accepted spiritual beliefs and assumptions that politicians, especially, tap into when they say things like "God bless America" and "May Providence guide our land." At any rate, on her blog, Andrea Useem, a journalist from Virginia, has posted this thoughtful entry about Sen. Barack Obama's skill at drawing on civil religion and how that might benefit him in the fall election. Maybe, but I think Sen. John McCain understands how to pull water from this well, too. So we'll see.

* * *


Do thoughts of spending an eternity in hell motivate you to believe a particular religious creed or to act in a way that you think will help you avoid that?


And what does your religious tradition teach about hell?

The June 3 issue of the Christian Century, generally considered a mainstream or liberal Christian voice, contains a collection of essays from various theological thinkers about hell. In some ways, it's a little surprising to see such a publication devote so much space and energy to a subject that, frankly, doesn't get a lot of attention these days in Mainline churches.

Perhaps even more intriguing is the almost unanimous insistence among the writers that the doctrine of hell has -- and must have -- an important place in Christian theology and that people who want to throw it out give away far too much.

The piece seems not to be available online, but I want to give you a few highlights and invite you to think about -- and tell us -- how important to you and your faith is the idea of hell.

* ". . .it is simply impossible to take seriously orthodox Christian doctrine and not have a lively, indeed passionate, interest in the issues of heaven and hell. . . . We have been shamed by Freud, Marx and Feuerbach into thinking that concern with afterlife is a childish fantasy that is not worthy of the attention of mature, responsible persons. And in buying into this shame, we have trivialized both the gospel and our own lifes." -- Jerry Walls, Asbury Theological Seminary.

* "Hell is a nonnegotiable item of Christian vocabulary. . . . To abandon this sort of talk, as some Christians recommend, is a strange and sad form of self-hatred. . ." --Paul Griffiths, Duke Divinity School.

* "Condemnation to hell is comparable to an exile from where the departed has no longer the resort to return, has not even recollection of what was home.. . .Yet, in a paradoxical way, for the Christian there is a hope against all hope. As it is confessed in the Apostles' Creed: God in Christ descended into hell. That nothing is out of God's reach, even the depths of hell, is what affords hope, the promise of life." -- Vitor Westhelle, Lutheran School of Theology of Chicago.

* "Christ has robbed death of its sting and deprived the devil of many a tasty meal, but hell persists, we are told, because freedom of the will requires it and justice demands it. . . . Abolish hell, and see how salvation dims down. . . . Abolish hell, and a host of smaller obsessions will fill the gap." -- Carol Zaleski, Smith College.

* ". . .eradicating references to hell is shortsighted and has troubling consequences for the shape of our witness to the gospel. To be sure, there is much about Christian teaching on hell that is subject to critical scrutiny. But in its most basic form, it serves as a warning concerning the judgment of God against evil, injustice and callousness in the face of human need and brokenness." -- John R. Franke, Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, Pa.

* "Hellfire and brimstone preachers can't digest their own message. Those who really want to save souls or spread divine love -- even those who use belief in hell as the orthodoxy test -- are the ones who teach us to love God for God's own sake." -- Martin E. Marty, Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago.

* "This is my only hope: to be moved by God into that Christ-formed participation that risks such pain, such confession, such rage that it risks coming so close to the devil that laughter may be impossible." -- Amy Laura Hall, Duke University.

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.(My column tomorrow will do a little deconstructing on the nation's formational religious story.) 


Just Thinking

There are three main words related to Hell: Gehenna, Hades, Sheol. Part of our understanding of 'Hell' has come through blurring these words into one word 'Hell.'

Sheol is the Old Testament Hebrew word that means grave, or the holding place of the dead. The equivalent New Testament Greek word for Sheol is Hades. Hades is not Hell, but a holding place before judgment. Gehenna is an entirely different word translated as Hell, one that refers to garbage dumps outside of Israeli cities where trash and unclean bodies were dumped and burned; the garbage kept the fires alive and fires consumed the garbage. Gehenna (translated as Hell) is said to have eternal fires, which seems to be nothing more than a way of saying that the destruction will be complete. So, people are held before judgment in Sheol/Hades, and those who are condemned are thrown on the garbage heap where there is suffering and then complete, utter, total destruction. These two alternatives are found throughout, but especially in the well-known John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Two choices: (a) perish or (b) live eternally with God. The word 'perish', translated from the Greek 'apollymi' originally meant to completely decompose and be destroyed, the same as our English word perish.

When all of these words ended up translated as one 'Hell', people came to think of a holding place where people were burned forever. Everything I read suggests to me that Hell is a place of tormented, total, complete annihilation. Those who won't be with God forever are put away from God, where life cannot be sustained and they suffer and perish, as trash in intense, eternal fire.

Joe Barone

Without question, Obama's speaking ability is an asset in his run for the presidency, but what he says helps too. Useems' article uses Obama's bring-us-together quotes. He talks about seeing Americans as a group as compassionate and caring people who want problems solved.

That may somehow be civil religion speech, but it may also reflect a yearning of many people. Speaking for myself, I'm tired of Swiftboating, Willie Horton and the 527 "call so-and-so and tell them what you think about . . ." Both Democrats and Republicans do it, and I think there needs to be another way.

I see civil religion more in terms of "America is the New Israel" who can save the world type stuff. I personally see more of that in George W. Bush than I do in Barack Obama.

Joe Barone

What is hell? Hell is a human construction which tries to reinforce some people's vision of a vengeful and vindictive God. Just my opinion.

Joe Barone

JT--What a wonderful post about hell. Thank you.


I really enjoyed the article, and really appreciated the very thought provoking responses from a great many of different perspectives.


Can God not be just without being "vengeful and vindictive"?

I'm not sure about that "annihilation" part, Just Thinking. The suffering can't be eternal if one is annihilated.

Dolores Lear

What is Hell. The Perfect Humans 'in the beginning' began Reproducing Heterosexual Fallen Humans. The Mis-bred Humans, in the Past, did not Know about High Tech Colonization and Reproduction, and about Universes with Galaxies, with Solar Systems of sun, moon and stars.

The Knowledge of Black Holes/Hell in Space, made by Dying Universes, was lost. Humans in the past 100 years, re-found High Tech Science Knowledge. Religion, History and Myth, need to be translated to show this Knowledge was on Earth 'in the beginning'.

The Fallen Descriptions of Hell, written as Scripture and Myth, can be translated today, as the High Tech Science Black Holes in Space. Black Holes are where a Universe Collapses and is intense energy. In Time they explode into a new Universe.

Earth was Colonized by Humans that Knew this Knowledge. After the Perfect Humans, not made by Heterosexual Birth, began reproducing Second Generations by Body Birth, those High Tech was lost, and it was passed down with supernatural and descriptive language.

Today, Humans have had a High Tech Science Explosion, and our Divided Society needs a High Tech Translation, of The Christian Bible and Myth, about Supernatural Humans.

Eternal Physical Life is for Living, Pure-bred High Tech Science Male and Female Clones, like our Ancestors that started the Adam and Eve Colony. So far we have Jesus, Alive, and maybe some others in the Old Testament, that went up into Space/Heaven Alive, in Physical Bodies with the Lord.

We 6000 years of History, Religion and Myth, to prove the Heaven of Perfect Humans, that 'fell' to Physical Death, and Hell (Black Hole) for All Humans who Die. Their Decayed Body Elements do return to their Solar System/Universe.

Heaven or Hell is up to the Human Species, not GOD or God.

Just Thinking

Annihilation is an eternal punishment. No undoing that punishment. It's for ever and ever. There could be nothing more eternal that "gone-ness." It's the opposite of eternal life. It means to perish. Perish and eternal life are opposites: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

There can be no existence, no life, nothing apart from the presence of God. How could there be? Evil certainly will not be sustained by God. Imagine the suffering and disintegration as God removes His hand and presence from those who will be completely separated from God, the Creator and the Sustainor of life. The image is one of fire that is so powerful as to completely decompose and to finally banish from existence.

Some talk about night and day as though they are forever, too, but they are not. Night is absence of light, and the light will overcome the darkness completely and utterly. Night will be no more. When God's light permeates everything and ever place, there will be no more evil. Evil is darkness, which is the absence of light. "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there." Evil vanishes when night is no more. It coincides with the end of suffering, when God dries our tears.


I think the idea of an "eternal fire", "eternal punishment", "unquenchable fire" all make the point that hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment. Further, what would be the point of eternal fire if there would come a point where it would not be tormenting anyone?

"If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name." (Rev. 14:9b-11)

Dolores Lear

God's Daily Promises, June 5, 08. "Fill yourself with the Word".
"How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your Word and following its rules. Psalm 119:9 NLT."

How can a young or old person stay pure? What does Pure mean? What does being Innocent and Pure like a child mean? Living Without doing the Reproductive Sex Act as an Adult?

Some Physical Action by Pure Asexual Humans 'in the beginning', not made by Body Birth, made Impure Sexually Active Humans, Killing and Death. It was Heterosexual Body Birth.

With our High Tech Science Knowledge, of High Tech Science Reproduction, and Flying up in the air and out into Space, is the Knowledge of the Lord, and the Only Way for Fallen Humans to Escape Hell, the High Tech Science Black Hole in Space.

What does Gods Rule 'Thou Shalt Not To Kill' mean? Do not Kill, Except? Do Unto Others As They Do To You? Or, Follow My Rules for Eternal Physical Life After Birth? Is there such a thing, as Eternal Physical Life After Birth? Or Only Eternal Life After Death?

With our High Tech Science Knowledge many Religious Mysteries of God our High Tech Ancestor Humans, and Eternal Perfect Physical Life After Birth, can be Solved Today.

Eternal Physical Human Life is for Pure-bred Humans on Planets and in Spaceships, like the Lord God, Angels, in some religions. Gods and Goddesses in Myth were also super'natural' Humans.

Eternal Life is for Living Humans, not Dead Humans. We do Know Elements we are made of are Eternal, and when we Die our Elements do return to Elements.

Just Thinking

Remember, PreacherDJ, that the first death is not final. It is not eternal. But the second death IS final. That punishment is eternal, final, once and for all, irreversible.

The fires are about destruction, PreacherDJ, evidence by the use of the word Gehenna for Hell, a place where garbage is destroyed by burning it. The fires of Gehenna were about reducing the trash dumped there to ash, including the bodies of the unclean that were dumped there. But the bodies weren't always completely destroyed. God assures us that the fires of His Gehenna are unquenchable--they will get the job done. Total, complete, destruction and removal of evil. That is reason for describing the unquenchable fires: they get the job done of totally eliminating the trash.

As for "no rest day or night," remember that day and night are not eternal, PreacherDJ. God makes that clear. So don't confuse a place where there is night and day with eternity; there is no "night and day" in the Kingdom of God. There is no lamp because God is the light, and it permeates everything. God also made it clear that suffering and evil would cease. It's a complete package that goes together: evil is destroyed completely, there is no night, and suffering ends.


Just Thinking, you are putting too much weight on "day or night" and not on "forever and ever".

You are also interpreting "destroy" in a way that does not reflect the meaning of the Greek word used. About the word "apollumi", Vines Expository Dictionary says, "The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being."

Just Thinking

PreacherDJ, your definition of the Greek word 'apollymi' cannot simply mean only what you say. Your definition is far too narrow to explain the many other uses of the word in the New Testament.

There are more examples of apollymi=annihilate,destroy,kill found in all the Gospels. Destroy is the definition of the word. Destruction may occur in various ways, but destroy is the word, and it can be of any degree. These examples contradict your quote, "The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being." :

Matthew 2:13
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy (apollymi) him.

Matthew 8:24-25
And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to [him], and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish (apollymi).

Matthew 12:14
Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy (apolllymi) him.

Matthew 22:7
But when the king heard [thereof], he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed (apollymi) those murderers, and burned up their city.

Matthew 26:52
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish (apollymi) with the sword.

Matthew 27:20
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy (apollymi) Jesus.

You can find these examples and more in the other Gospels, too. These are not just situations of altering 'well-being.'

Dolores Lear

There is no day and night in a Black Hole.

There is always Light in a Spaceship, that God our Ancestors rode in.
Revelation 21:5. There will be no more night, and they will not need any light from lamps or the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them.

Our Astronauts, in the iss also do not have a day and a night as they travel around the planet, like we do on Earth. There is no day and night for Space travel, for our High Tech Ancestors.

High Tech Science can explain all the supernatural mystery of the Gods and Angel, that walked and talked with Humans in their Image.


Well, it's not my definition. But some other examples of non-anihilation (along with the ones you gave, since none of those presented an example of something completely ceasing to exist) would include the wine skins spoken of in Luke 5:37 which were ruined (apollumi), but they were not annihilated; the sheep in Luke 15:4 which was wondering and lost (apollumi), but not annihilated; the prodigal son in Luke 15:24 who was said to have been lost (apollumi), but he was not annihilated.

Suffering in torment forever and ever. Separation from God starting the very moment they enter hell and going on forever and ever. That's Hell. And I pray that those on the broad road there will find the only way of escape.

Dolores Lear

No day and night, and the Light of the Lord God.

Revelation 21:25. "There will be no more night, and they will not need any light from lamps or the sun because the Lord God will shine on them."

This is about spaceships with their own lighting system. There is no day or night time intervals on Spaceships with the Lord God our Ancestors.

There is no day or night time intervals on our our international space station, and for our astronauts, as they go around the planet day and night happens many times.

The Bible needs a High Tech Science translation to Understand all about Space and the Space Lifestyle of Humans.

Equality in All Things, and Equal Birth High Tech Process for All, is the Way for Eternal Physical Life After Birth.

Body Birth makes Hate, Greed and Death for All Life on Earth, and the Earth's Eco System.

a theist

Wow! Where to start?

First, it amazes me that people want to believe in a mean, vengeful, spiteful God. PDJ, tell us about your father. We ascribe to God what we see in our own fathers.

Or maybe you have a great anger against someone who has sinned against you, and you enjoy believing that they will be in pain forever.

Or maybe it makes you feel good that you are so much better than those who are going to 'Hell' because you are going to avoid it.

But would you follow God without the threat of Hell?

However JT, it seems the bible does indicate that PDJ is on the right track.

So how to resolve the dilemma?

Why would God want or need to punish with eternal pain and torment? What’s in it for God?

As Arsenio used to say “Hmmmmmmm…”


Well, a theist, I have to go back to my original question, which was Can God not be just without being "vengeful and vindictive"?

I don't believe in a mean, spiteful God (although vengance is His). And I think I indicated earlier that I don't want to see anyone continue down the path that leads to Hell. And I hope I'm not prideful about a salvation that I did absolutely nothing to merit.

Those who do not see the necessity of Hell do not understand just what sin means to God. Frankly, I don't think any of us has a very good idea of what sin means to God, but those without a doctrine of Hell really just do not get it at all.

And were it not for Hell, what would we need salvation from? For what was the Sacrifice made?

Just Thinking


Salvation is from DEATH, not from eternal suffering. The wages of sin is DEATH! The day that you eat of the fruit you shall surely DIE!

The destruction of the soul is compared to the destruction of the body, too. It is not that your body is put into a state of eternal non-well-being. Your physical body is killed. The same kind of destruction applies to the soul, too:

Matthew 10:28
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Please notice the word kill in "kill the body" and in "kill the soul" are the same. Interpreting 'perish' (apollymi) meaning "body and soul die" in John 3:16 would certainly be consistent with Matthew 10:28. Interpreting perish as eternal torment is a big stretch for anyone: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Perish (Greek apollymi): The Bible is not saying that Herod wanted to affect the well-being of the baby Jesus in Matthew 2:13; Herod wanted to annihilate him. That is the obvious and clear meaning being conveyed by 'apollymi' in:

Matthew 2:13
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy (apollymi) him.


Just Thinking,

"The day that you eat of the fruit you shall surely DIE!"

But on the day that Adam and Eve ate the fruit, were they killed? No, they began to live a life without God.


By the way, a theist, I think you do make a good point that our relationship with our father has an effect on how we see the Heavenly Father. I can tell you that it certainly has for me, although not in the way you suggest.


I was just thinking, Just Thinking, that death as you describe it would be a relief or salvation from torment. If the torture of Hell only lasted, say, a million years, there would be hope!

There is a strange thought - hope in Hell.

Just Thinking


From the very beginning, death has been the penalty of sin, of disobedience to God. Starting in the Garden of Eden, God said to Eve, "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die."

Interestingly enough, the first recorded lie in the Bible was the contradiction of this by the serpent to Eve, "You will not surely die."

Some have tried to make it sound as though this is only body death, where the body fails. But it is not, PreacherDJ. In Ezekiel 18, God says, "The soul who sins is the one who will die." Just as the body is killed, so can the soul be killed, "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." The soul is killed, too.

Death is clear to most people: absence of all life. Body and soul cease; no more consciousness or awareness. Destroyed. That is the penalty of sin. Trying to recast "death" as "eternal life in torment" is twisted. You are still alive in such a scenario. So then life must then mean a special kind of existence where there is no torment, which means we're all dead. Excessive mental gymnastics are the first clue that it's all a lie. It sounds like the original lie to me, saying that the one who sins doesn't actually die, but lives forever in torment.

Oh, I forgot: Citing a single verse about the fate of Satan, the Beast and the false Prophet doesn't say much about humans. The whole picture is never established in one verse anyway.


I have been buried under work lately, Bill, but want to tell you what great blog postings these were. Thank you. Also appreciate the link to "Religionwriter.com".


On the subject of hell......There's a really fine doc on the abortion debate titled, "Lake of Fire". That metaphor for hell was used by the people who have killed clinic doctors and workers in a misguided attempt to send them to their "rightful" place in the "lake".

An afterlife of hell and vengeance, whether God's or humans', seems to be inextricably intertwined.

Hell is only important to me as a state of mind that we can sentence ourselves to here on earth. It as an afterlife is completely represented by any legacy of evil that we leave behind.

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