Monday 21 March 2011

More on Hell as a choice: giving people what they want. Forever...


Accepting that 'traditional' depictions of Hell in terms of flames and tortures (whether true or not) are simply ludicrous to modern intellectuals - Hell can be depicted in 'modern' terms as was done by the likes of C.S Lewis (Screwtape Letters, Great Divorce, all over the place) and Charles Williams (Descent into Hell, theological essays etc.) simply as giving people eternally what they have chosen on earth.


Just suppose that modern hedonistic individualism was given what it has chosen: but given 'only' this, and for eternity.

A life of complete individual autonomy to the point of utter isolation, a life of endlessly varied hedonism according to choice.

A thought-experiment:


Imagine, for example, a wholly-convincing perception of an endless parade of novel and gratifying sexual encounters of exactly your favoured type with your favoured type of person (or other entity) - adding that even if this perception were actually a delusion rather than real, it would nonetheless be experienced as real.

And suppose that this went-on forever.

Is this state Heaven or Hell?


If you think it is Heaven: congratulations, that is what you will get.

If you think it is Hell: congratulations, there is an alternative.



Anonymous said...

This is just about the opposite of what Peter Kreeft suggests in the article you linked to. He writes: "In fact, heaven and hell may be the very same objective place—namely God's love, experienced oppositely by opposite souls, just as the same opera or rock concert can be heavenly for you and hellish for the reluctant guest at your side. The fires of hell may be made of the very love of God, experienced as torture by those who hate him: the very light of God's truth, hated and fled from in vain by those who love darkness."

Kreeft suggests that hell is actually an objectively good state, but one which will be experienced as torment by those who hate the good. You suggest the hell is an objectively shoddy state which is nevertheless certain shoddy souls' idea of heaven. In the hell Kreeft envisions, people are given what is good, even if they don't want it; in your version, people are given what they want, even if it isn't much good.

Bruce Charlton said...

I don't see these as opposites (Kreeft is a premier CS Lewis scholar who regards Mere Christianity as second in importance only to the Bible): rather they are hints at a mystery which take different perspectives. Kreeft is (I think) using the metaphor of Hell as a place, being observed (as by Dante) by a visitor. Lewis in Screwtape sees Hell from a devil's perspective as a seedy Stalinist bureaucracy full of unscrupulous apparatchiks. C.W. tries to take a soul's subjective perspective of the choices which lead to Hell (he does not follow the soul into Hell).

My own perspective is trying to imagine the soul confronted by a choice of either turning-in onto itself and its desires - living off itself (the default state); versus the soul turning outward, opening with love and entering into communion with God.

James Kalb said...

I think of Divine Judgment as being brought face to face with God, which means knowing Him, which means seeing ever more vividly how He sees things.

If we're already fully oriented in that direction--if we're saints--then that would be wonderful. It would be an infinite strengthening and expansion of what we already are that gives us everything we could ever wish for (Heaven).

If we're not quite there, but on some fundamental level not totally adverse, the experience would be on the jarring side. It would require some painful readjustments, but we could eventually deal with it and after a no doubt grinding process end up in the A group (Purgatory).

If at the most basic level we're attached to our own will rather than God's will, and that's become basic to our identity, then the result would be perpetual shredding of what we are (Hell).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jim - the profoundest knowledge of which I am aware would be the revelations and experiences of Holy Fathers, Saints and other inspired elders as selected, summarized and transmitted by Fr Seraphim Rose in The Soul after Death:

and other works such as Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

I assume that these accounts are true, as far as truth is attainable; but their language and imagery are alien to me, and I am not competent to judge them, nor well able to understand them deeply; and currently lack instruction as well as spiritual discipline to move further.

I can only grasp much simpler hints and more partial accounts, and them only imperfectly.

Bruce Charlton said...

What I am getting at here is not really to state what Hell is really like, but to conduct the thought experiment that *even if* you *suppose* that Hell was giving people their heart's desire: their ideal of paradise on earth - then the result is still Hell in a context of eternity.

In a context of eternity, only becoming divine (i.e. a creature *designed* for eternal life) would be bearable.

Eternity of life for the soul of a conscious mortal creature such as natural humans would be the most horrible imaginable torture, the torture accumulating and accumulating without hope of respite.

If this state can be imagined even partially, there is no need to add any further tortures to the condition - it is already as bad as it could be.

Wm Jas said...

Thanks for explaining, Bruce. I get it now, and I agree. Even the most perfect life we can imagine would be unbearable if it continued for an infinite amount of time. (I remember that in some fantasy novel I read as a kid one character curses another by saying, "Damn you to life everlasting!" Exactly.)

I'm not so sure about a "divine" life being an exception, either. Try to imagine what it might be like to be a God or an angel or even just a saint, and imagine that kind of life continuing forever. Praising God -- forever. Creating worlds -- forever. Contemplating one's own perfection -- forever. Still hell. Anything we can imagine would be hell if it lasted forever; the only thing that makes divinity different is that we can't really imagine it.

(I believe in a very different sort of eternal life myself, for which a book is a good metaphor. The story has a beginning, and it has an end -- it doesn't go on forever -- but the book itself is a permanent thing, every part of which is equally real.)

Bruce Charlton said...

WmJas - I treat it as a mystery, but one idea is that - although we don't understand it - this was the purpose of salvation; to save us in a way we cannot yet comprehend.

Another way in is to consider that it might be living 'out of time' - as God does (and was 'proven' by various Aristotelian and Thomistic arguments - which deserve serious consideration - as far as they go; and the state was 'described' by Boethius).

Eternity 'in' time would perhaps be unbearable under any circumstance, but eternity 'out' of time is simply un-imaginable - but is at least not obviously *un*-bearable.