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. 🙂