TEXAS FAITH 40: Is Hell Dead?

Dallas Morning News,

Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

For Christians, this is Holy Week, culminating in the Easter pageant being celebrated over the weekend.

With that as its hook, TIME has once again weighed in with one of its meaty cover stories dealing with religion. In the 1960s, TIME shook up things by posing this question: Is God Dead?

Now, the magazine is featuring a cover story by journalist and author Jon Meacham, who is exploring this question: Is Hell Dead?

Meacham’s essay is spurred by the work of none other than evangelical minister Rob Bell, author of the book "Love Wins." As Meacham notes, the book is a stir because it’s the work of an evangelical, whose tradition is rooted in the saved being guaranteed acceptance into heaven because of their acceptance of Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But Bell, writes Meacham, has been asking whether hell exists. Here’s an excerpt from the article, which you can read in full at the above link:

"When we get to what happens when we die, we don’t have any video footage," says Bell. "So let’s at least be honest that we are speculating, because we are." He is quick to note, though, that his own speculation, while unconventional, is not unprecedented. "At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church," Bell writes, "have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God."

Of course, as Meacham notes, there are many ramifications to the answer. Writes Meacham, who also pioneered the Washington Post’s On Faith blog:

"From a traditionalist perspective, though, to take away hell is to leave the church without its most powerful sanction. If heaven, however defined, is everyone’s ultimate destination in any event, then what’s the incentive to confess Jesus as Lord in this life? If, in other words, Gandhi is in heaven, then why bother with accepting Christ? If you say the Bible doesn’t really say what a lot of people have said it says, then where does that stop? If the verses about hell and judgment aren’t literal, what about the ones on adultery, say, or homosexuality?"

With that as the backdrop, here is this week’s question:

Is Hell Dead?

If you think so, please explain your position. If you don’t believe so, please explain that view.


NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas

It is not just the illogical concept of eternal hell that many religions of this world struggle to validate but also the illogical circumstances of innocents (children) suffering in the presence of an omni-benevolent Lord. For both these topics, intelligence and logic only reveal their heads when another factor is present — rebirth, also known as reincarnation.

In our society we have what is called correctional facilities because compassion dictates that not only should punishment be a source of discouragement towards future sinful acts, but also a form of reformation from our present and past acts. Therefore it is called a correctional facility. If hell were eternal, there would be no opportunity of correction.

In my own meager heart I could forgive an assaulter of my family say after millions of years of suffering. Is my compassion more full and is my justice more just than that of the Lord Krishna Himself? No.

Everyone in this world enjoys or suffers according to their past deeds of previous lives, karma. It is God’s perfect law of protection, Karma, that one cannot suffer anything that is not due to oneself. Thus in this world people are born into unequal circumstances. Not due to an unequal Lord but rather under the perfect arrangement of an all-loving God.

If one has done terrible misdeeds (murder) in this life, then birth on Earth may not be terrible enough to exhaust one’s sinful debts. Therefore, there are other planets in this universe that one can take birth on that have more suffering than the Earth can offer. However, such hells are never eternal, rather one is only forced to live in such circumstances as per their misdeeds. It is not that 80 years of sin equals an eternity of suffering. There is no logic and intelligence behind this.

Because time is not only relative to space and speed but also to pain and pleasure, time in a hellish life is experienced slower. Try holding on to a red hot iron rod and watch the seconds go by and you will see what I mean. So because of this, time in hell may be experienced longer than the actual time that passes on Earth. Those who lack mathematical sophistication cannot understand time periods of 10,000 years or 100,000 years. Therefore, when communicating to such persons it is most practical to use the word eternal.