Conceptions of Hell

I don’t usually dive into theology on this blog but I will here and what could be more fun than the invisible world of magic people go to after they die? A perennial point of theological dispute is that of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Of the traditional and more stereotypical conceptions, I prefer Purgatory before Heaven. The very Protestant idea of Heaven as an instant reward postmortem struck me poorly. I didn’t like jubilant, everlasting, happiness in the moments after death for a few reasons. Not the least of which was that it seemed to rob death of its appropriate tragedy. If dying is a ticket to a 5-star resort forever then genocide sounds much better than it should ever sound.

    While plenty of fundamentalists with a poor grasp on the Bible ascribe to that stereotypical doctrine; most serious theologians do not. Lots of atheists love to use that argument to imply that Christianity is evil since it should celebrate death for the precisely aforementioned reason. Those atheists enjoy debating biblically subliterate fundamentalists since those fundamentalists are living, breathing, straw-man arguments. Heaven is not a state of worldly euphoria minus the naughty stuff that somebody gets in the nanoseconds after their breath stops.

    Theologically, I am Anglo-Catholic and, doctrinally, I adhere to a more Eastern Orthodox conception of purgatory. Which is to say I believe in an intermediate state between the City of Man and the City of God. Beyond that, I don’t have many details and I am not going to pretend to have them. When things are unclear in doctrine, I don’t make things up to fill them in and some of my answers to theological or any questions will be an honest agnosticism. 

       Whatever analog to physicality the hereafter has, the landscape and its features are almost beside the point. I use the term “purgatory” very loosely and refer not to a state primarily of repentance for sins in life but as a paradigm in which to finish one’s personal purification and transfiguration. As no one is in that state when they leave this life, it is universal. Christ, himself, did purgatory, in his descent to Hell. Although, like Jesus’ baptism was sanctifying the water and not the inverse; Jesus’ purgatory was also the inverse of normal purgatory. 

    This is where my Anglo-Catholic diverges from my more Protestant theology. I don’t deny Sola Fide, per se. Meaning justification by faith alone, faith is not mere belief but acceptance of the Holy Spirit into one’s soul. To be invaded by it. Otherwise, just based on belief, the coding of the hippocampus or something, a Christian misotheist would be saved and also otherwise those outside the explicit faith would be incapable of any progress toward the great teleology. The Holy Spirit is the non-anthropomorphic form of God and is, in a way, the tao of Christianity. That tao is grace. Purification occurs through the gift of grace and true faith means accepting that grace. It is not everyone with the correct neurological coding in their brain that tells them what is true about the universe but all who have accepted.

    While it is not works, as that is generally understood, it is one piece of work and that is the active act of accepting grace into oneself. God doesn’t save people without their consent but gives them the medicine. The gift was the chemo; not the remission. One needs the doctors to do the chemo, that is impossible by one’s own strength, however the choice to undergo the chemo is one’s alone. A lot of people won’t do the chemo because it is not cancer they are trying to beat but the devil and, unlike cancer which is never fun, the devil is always fun in the proximate even if his bargains always lead to destruction. 

One way to put it is the way to Heaven is through Hell and the way to Hell is through Heaven. Worldly lusts often rely on the same neurochemical rewards as any drug addiction and drug addiction is a useful metaphor. Hell is everything one ever wants while purgatory is refusing that and choosing the painful rehab. In the end, sobriety is a clear world of joy where one may frolic unchained and experience deep happiness that takes hard work and lengthy trials to win while the opposite is, of course, a faustian bargain of cheap thrills that leads to a toothless, enslaved, state of living death. Of course, it is always the choice of the individual. Hell is not best articulated as the separation from God but as the rejection of the offered grace, the metaphorical methadone, because the heroin is just too fun.

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