By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on October 27, 2012)
God is a concept, by which we measure our pain.
Whenever I’m about to impart a smart ass observation (which is often), I tend to preface it with the disclaimer: “I’m already going to Hell anyway…” I’ve never contemplated why I feel compelled to say that. Is Hell merely a state of mind, or is it an actual travel destination? And if it is the latter, how do you get there? Spend your life committing unspeakable acts? Turn left at Greenland? Besides, don’t you first have to buy into the idea of “Heaven” to enable a “Hell” to co-exist? I have no religious affiliation to speak of, and I’m fairly convinced that any “afterlife” is, at best, a feast for the worms. However, while watching a new documentary called Hellbound? I found it particularly fascinating to learn that even among the “true believers”, there seems to be as many different interpretations of “Hell” as there are, oh I don’t know…denominations.
With the exception of the odd rabbi or token atheist, director Kevin Miller has assembled a bevy of (mostly) Christians to offer up windy definitions. These are Christians of all stripes, from sober and scholarly (theologians) to frothing and unhinged (members of the Westboro Baptist Church). To tell you the truth, my eyes began to glaze over halfway through, but from what I was able to discern, interviewees seemed fairly evenly divided between three concepts.
There’s your Coke Classic, with Mother Teresa in the penthouse and Hitler in the basement (based on the assumption that evildoers will suffer “eternal torment” after they snuff it). “Annihilationists” believe that it’s their way…or the highway to you-know-where (how that differs from “fundamentalism” is unclear to me). And lastly, there’s “universalism”, which is what it sounds like…all sentient beings end up in God’s good graces, no matter how they act (another way of saying that the penalty for sin has an expiration date?).
Once this trio of theories is established, the film becomes somewhat redundant; and it ultimately raises more questions than it answers. For example, how do Muslims define Hell, I wonder? Buddhists? Hindus? It might have made for a more interesting exercise, had Miller approached one or two of those folks to toss in their two cents worth. Then again, I’m no theologian, so what do I know?
Besides, I’m already going to Hell anyway.