As a fiction writer on the side (“on the side” of my apologetic and comparative religion studies which are “on the side” of my full-time day job – which means I barely ever get time to work on it), I once started work on a novella similar in theme and purpose to C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. In fact, my short pitch for the story was that it was “a simultaneous tribute to and argument against C.S. Lewis.” Without digressing too heavily on the details of my own story, during the first revision pass I realized that my heaven was not heavenly enough and my hell was not hellish enough. Oddly enough, that’s precisely my main complaint about The Great Divorce. Before starting the rewrite in earnest, I wanted to do some research on different takes of heaven and hell from a Christian worldview. My goal was to give portrayals of both that were biblically accurate while giving, to the best of my ability, a clear sense of the thrill and wonder or horror of heaven or hell, respectively, and at the same time showing why the Christian doctrine of hell is more than just divinely authorized sadism. Among my planned reading were gems like Randy Alcorn’s Heaven, Dante’s Inferno, Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell, and Hank Hanegraaff’s Afterlife. Also among them was a little book that I’d stumbled across on Amazon, My Hope in Hell by Jens Reuter. The book had very few reviews but a high average and was only $8. Why not, right?
I was expecting a defense of the doctrine of hell as a necessary means of satisfying God’s justice. Boy, was I wrong.
Rather than a defense of a particular interpretation, or a systematic examination of what the bible says about hell, I very quickly found that My Hope in Hell would be more accurately described as a structured version of a confused and emotionally loaded journal entry, the thoughts and summarized studies of someone wrestling with an aspect of his faith that he finds unacceptable.
When looking at the reasons for why we should critically examine our faith and that of others, there are several good, practical reasons that have a great deal of impact on the lives we live now, but I don’t believe that these are the most important reasons. The most important reason, I believe, is that every religion, omitting Atheism, claims that the belief system we cling to in this life has lasting consequences in the life beyond the grave. Atheism is largely alone in this because it denies the existence of an afterlife and, as a result, all you have is this life. However, all the other major world religions teach that the soul continues after death to a fate primarily determined by the life you lived. Even the smaller faiths, such as Mormonism, or the historical practices going back to ancient Greece or Egypt all understood and taught that death was not the end of the road.
I’ve previously touched on the contradictory concepts of the afterlife in various religions, but at the time I focused on the rewards that one expects or hopes to receive. In addition to those rewards, each religion teaches that there is an opposite destination reserved for those who do not measure up. In Buddhism and Hinduism, that destination is another life and death in the cycle of reincarnation and the social standing you receive is a direct result of what sort of life you lived the time before. As a side note, don’t let westernized and romanticized versions of reincarnation fool you. In the Hindu or Buddhist framework, you’re not even guaranteed to be human in the next life. You could be a sea slug or a dung beetle if you really screwed up.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.