William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Monday, July 19, 2010

On the Nature of Hell

The question was put, what is the nature of hell, and is hell permanent?

To which I responded:
My own view is that hell almost certainly does not exist in the traditional sense, and that whatever form of it does exist is more of a state of mind and is not permanent. I personally believe that we mortals are virtually incapable of having a perfect understanding and that eternal punishment is repugnant to the concept of a loving and merciful god who never gives up on us. I believe Brigham Young even taught that God's work and glory would never cease until he brings to pass the immortality and eternal life of every one of his children. Since Mormonism tends to define "eternal life" as having the privilege of being in God's presence, and because it makes no sense that God would engage in futile acts (i.e., continuing to try to save souls for which there was no real hope), I take the view that all (or virtually all) will ultimately partake of eternal life and eternal happiness. But for some, it will take much longer because they, for varying reasons, are slower to understand.

There is, of course, a concern on the part of commandment hawks that people will not obey the commandments if they do not fear punishment, and the traditional doctrine of hell as a place of eternal suffering and torment is an attractive option for inspiring obedience out of fear. But I believe there is a much better approach to this issue. First is the concept of eternal progression- the more we learn in this life to live righteously and increase our wisdom, the further along we will be in the hereafter to become like God. Second is the promise that no good work will go unrewarded (according to the Doctrine & Covenants), which means that, no matter how many bad choices we have made in our lives, we will ALWAYS be better off each time we make a good choice, and we need not fear that all of our good works will be wasted just because our level of righteousness is not as high as we wish it were. Third, I take great comfort in knowing that God does not coerce us and holds us accountable only according to our level of understanding. The traditional doctrine of hell is typically used to scare people into believing or obeying religious leaders by raising the stakes and perceived risks if our gamble of disobedience fails. I do not believe God intended us to do good works out of fear of punishment; rather, he intended us to do good works based upon our enlightened sense of right and wrong. This, of course, does not excuse us from sinning against our neighbor by simply claiming ignorance. We have an affirmative duty to educate our conscience through study and honest inquiry so that it may function better.

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