Where In Heaven’s Name Is Hell?

Here comes Easter. And The Economist, the best English-language news magazine still publishing, has declared hell and heaven to be dead issues in Western culture.

Very few people still believe hell to be a physical place. It would have to be deep in the earth, and therefore those sent there would be squished and incinerated, not in eternal torment.


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The magazine concluded: “Without Hell, you can’t have Heaven.” I’m sure that statement ruffles some feathers, but it raises great theological and intellectual arguments.

Is heaven, like hell, a symbolic summation of how we live our lives? That the good person gets certain blessings from his fellows while the bad person ends his life despised?

I’d say the evidence is “yes,” but that flies in the face of heavy belief by many of faith that at the end of their worldly time they will ascend someplace to rejoin loved ones, maybe even with wings and halos.

It’s that belief that keeps them going through rough times.

Few think they are going to hell. Even the bad ones, if they have religious faith, assume that if they confess their sins at the end, God – always depicted as loving and forgiving – will let them into the house.

Of course, not even our best telescopes, which see 13 billion years back into our universe’s past, have detected any gathering place for the hordes who must be there by now.

Don’t tell that to Don Piper, a Texas Baptist minister and author of the book 90 Minutes In Heaven.

Piper says he was killed in an auto accident, woke up in heaven and his grandfather was there to greet him. He says 90 minutes after his heart stopped, it resumed beating and he was back recovering in a hospital emergency room. His book has sold almost 5 million copies.

Or Bill Wiese, another Christian author, whose 23 Minutes in Hell tells of waking up in a cage in a hell full of fire and beasts, but escaping and reawakening on his living room floor.

Sales figures not available, but I’m betting heaven sells much better than hell.

I like The Economist explanation that good and bad are states of mind we live with. Our actions condemn us internally – yes, sort of spiritually – to heaven or hell.

Then we die, and that’s that.

Or maybe it isn’t.

It’s each person’s choice of a belief on that. Nobody’s come back to confirm or contradict any of us. Well, not unless you believe Piper and Wiese.

The god matter is much more complex. Do we follow the precepts of the Christian God, the Muslim Allah, the Jewish Jehovah, or not address that at all – which is the Buddhist way? Or be an atheist, not believing in any deities?

Interesting: People will ask you about your political affiliation or even if you’re gay or straight. Nobody ever asks about your religious affiliation.