Hell and the Destruction of Souls

What is hell? Is it a bad place? What happens there? Where does the notion come from? In this short post, I will try to answer some of these questions.

I’m not an expert on cultural beliefs, so I don’t know how widespread the notion of an “underworld” for the dead actually is. I’m somewhat familiar with the Greek myth of Hades and the Christian notion of hell. I’m also becoming more familiar with the Jewish notions of an underworld which so heavily influenced the Christian notion. That is, I understand the difference between Sheol and Gehenna. Sheol being the realm of the dead—basically, where the souls of the dead were stored prior to Christ; to my knowledge, it was never described as a place of immense suffering. Then, there’s Gehenna which is more in line with our current notions of hell. This is the bad place of burning fire.

I’ve read a couple Catholic books where hell was touched upon briefly. Most recently was a book entitled Interview with an Exorcist. It was an interesting book that talked about demons and whatnot, and naturally, a discussion of hell came in in several spots. According to the priest, an official exorcist of the Catholic Church, hell was defined as “separation from God.” He didn’t go into many specifics, saying only that it was the destiny of all the devils, demons, and those who are damned for serious sins. He didn’t describe it as painful only as that separation thing. The gist I got from that, was that it wasn’t so much physical pain as it was spiritual misery. One has separated from God and is left to merely stew on your own anger and hatred of the Divine Being. And the sentence, he noted, was Eternal. Once you go to hell, you don’t ever leave.

I have issues with that.

I believe hell is the process … okay, let’s start over and make a distinction. I believe Hell (note the capital “H”) is the process by which a soul is utterly destroyed and annihilated. Wiped from existence, completely and utterly. The end of which is what the atheist believes death to be: Oblivion. Annihilation. However you say it, you are no more. Why do I say this? I can quote Jesus. Not chapter and verse (and I’m too lazy to read all four gospels to look it up), but I remember the words. “Don’t fear Satan. Fear God, who has the power to destroy both body and soul in hell.” From that description, it sounds like hell is the end. Absolute and final. And I agree with that.

Because I’ve been to hell. Literally.

It was during my “antichrist experience” or whatever you want to call it. I won’t go into the details of how it happened except to say in a fit of blind, arrogant rage I tried to annihilate my own soul. And something heard me. And took me up on the offer. I felt a burning fire in my chest and brain that just felt like I was about to be wiped out of existence entirely. No Matt Ryan anymore. Nothing at all. Just a memory.

This notion of hell coincides much better with the Jesus quote above than the notion that hell is simply separation from God.

My notion of hell, though, doesn’t stop there. Although it was the most agonizing experience in my life, I don’t think God inflicted it upon me. Because it was the most agonizing experience in my life. Terrifying, too. I’m not going to delineate my complete theory on the matter (I’ve done that elsewhere in this blog and in my memoir/book Delusions of Grandeur), but I will say this much: I’ve come to believe that hell is a creation of Satan’s. It is a poor copy (but a very convincing one to us mortals) of what Hell would be if God created it. Hell, however, does not exist. Note that in the quote from Jesus above, he says that God has the power to destroy both body and soul in hell. He never says God would actually use that power. Having been to hell, I find it incomprehensible that a benevolent Deity would create such a place. So, I’m blaming the malevolent wanna-be deity. There are other details to it than that, but that’s the general gist.

Then again, I may just be seriously delusional. Maybe. 🙂

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Learning in Time and the Relativism of Knowledge

When I was in college, I had a friend who was a devout moral relativist. I was not. And we would always argue about it. To me, simple logic proved him wrong. To him, I was guilty of being ethnocentric, even though, at the time, I wasn’t committed to a Christian or a Western doctrine—although I did have a fondness for Plato. We finally came to a resolution when I was visiting him some time after college. We were having a discussion and he said something like, “I don’t care what you say, but a bricklayer knows about bricklaying, a carpenter knows about carpentry, etc….” And I said, “But that’s relativism of knowledge, not relativism of truth.” He said, “Oh. I didn’t realize that.” I’m counting that as a victory, even though it took me about five years to win it (and yes, I’m counting it as a victory—he was right about existential learning, but I was right about truth).

I don’t want to get too far in the philosophical weeds here, but the critical distinction is between knowledge and truth. They are not the same thing. Truth is that which makes knowledge, knowledge. Without truth, knowledge cannot exist. Truth connects the information of knowledge to Reality. Anyway, the important point to remember is that humans possess knowledge in roughly equal amounts. In terms of knowledge, then, humans are roughly equal. Of course, it is somewhat more complicated than that—some forms of knowledge aren’t as important as other forms of knowledge. For example, my knowledge of 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, although quite extensive, is not of comparable worth to knowledge of the current geopolitical situation in the Middle East. They’re both there. They’re both valid forms of knowledge, but I don’t think they are of equal value. I can entertain a few friends with my knowledge, but a government official can start or stop wars with hers.

Another important point my friend made to me was that there is a form of knowledge that is incommunicable; it is knowledge based purely on experience, not scientific experiment nor academic study. He called it “existential knowledge” because he believed it was the existentialist who first pointed this out. Anyway, I finally figured out what he was talking about. Unfortunately, because such knowledge is incommunicable, I can’t give you a precise example. But I can talk about it a little bit. It may be futile, but I will try.

As you live your life, you learn things, but you can’t share all that you have learned. Imagine that your life is represented by the following line:

A………………………….

The line (for person A) is read from left to right. Every dot represents one of these incommunicable tidbits of knowledge. Those farther to the left were learned sooner than those farther to the right. And as you age, the line grows adding dots on the right hand side as you learn. If you’re into physics, you can think of it as a kind of worldline, but that’s just an analogy. Anyway, other people have their knowledge lines, as well. Two such people would represented thusly:

B……………………………….

C……………………………….

What is important to realize is that, thanks to relativism of knowledge, even though the two lines are of roughly equal length, their content may differ. And although the dots may not be shared, acquisition of dots may be accelerated by calm discourse. I don’t know how the acceleration works, but I’ve experienced it at least once, when a friend opened and shared some things while feeling very vulnerable. He didn’t shout; he didn’t yell. He just talked. I was able to relate what he was saying to myself and learn from it. I acquired a “dot.”

Anyway, those are my ramblings for today.

Friendship

What is friendship? It seems pretty basic. Most people have friends during their lives, at least, at some point or another. Basically, friendship is a type of relationship which encourages each member to talk to the other and unload problems upon the other. Hence, friendship is a relationship allowing each member to share experiences in this strange theatrical performance we call “Life.”  There are other characteristics, as well. Friends will stand up for one other. Or, in Christ’s words, friends will love one another. How important is friendship? I think it is critical, largely because I think that was Jesus’ main point. I once heard a friend paraphrasing Jesus (I have yet to find the quote in the Bible, though) where he said, “See what I see. Hear what I hear.” Basically, this is an exhortation to compassion where we put ourselves in the shoes of another person: we hear what they hear, see what they see, etc …. There is a point where, towards the end of John, either right before or right after the Crucifixion, Jesus, speaking to the Apostles, says, “… that is why I call you friends.” He is encouraging the concept of friendship, here, and stressing its importance, because the Apostles—those who know Him the best—are His friends.

Is there a limit to all of this? Obviously, yes. One cannot support a friend who commits murder. So, despite nihilists protestations to the contrary, morality enters the equation. As I was referring to Christ, the source of pretty much the highest morality on the planet, that’s really not a problem. Other people, obviously, will not quite live up to the same standard. A mafia hit man might have “friends,” yet I don’t think such would constitute a morally healthy relationship. Still, I think Christ’s point does revolve around friendship. I’ve come to understand Christ’s message to be: to be a friend within the bounds of morality. Maybe I’m wrong. Remember, I think I’m the antichrist, so I’m probably butchering the message entirely. But not deliberately.