On Hell

Like many a Christian, if there were some way to avoid a belief in Hell, I would take it. No doctrine is more unpleasing to the tender emotions. However, the God in which the Christians have faith is primarily a god of reason, a rational god, who made man as rational creatures like Himself. We even call Him the Logos.

What is the logic of hell? Why must it be?

Let us review, in brief, the basic reasoning behind the Christian knowledge. We here start with the most abstract question in order to reach the specific question addressed. Why is there anything? Why was creation created?

Logic says that, an infinite regress of causes being not logically possible, there must be an uncaused first cause. (No matter how many train cars are in the train, each being pulled by the one before, there must somewhere be a first car which is moving of itself, not pulled by a prior car. This first locomotive car we call an engine.)

The uncaused first cause of all being we call God. All other things are contingent on Him, He alone is non-contingent, that is, necessary. Hence, all things that exist come from Him.

Logic says that, contingent on nothing, God lacks nothing, and can be compelled by nothing, and no cause deeper than the first cause can exist: therefore His acts are voluntary. He is a being of free will.

Hence all things that exist come from Him come voluntarily, by His word, which is, by His will.

Without Himself acting, He inspires all acts. Motionless, He sets all things in motion by His word, that is, by His command. Needing nothing, He supplies all that is needed.

(For this reason, we Christians speak of the Holy Spirit as His person that inspires, and we speak of the Logos, the Christ, as His person that acts: we call Him His Word or His Son. But this is a deeper matter for another time.)

Logic says that God is pure act, that is, He contains no potential for additional changes needed to satisfy some felt desire, or to grow into a more perfect form. He has no lacks, no lapses, no wants.

He fathers all things not to sate some need in Himself, nor to repay a debt, but only from the overabundant generosity of His nature. Hence all things that exist come from Him come from His grace, that is to say, as a gift freely given.

We have words for the diseased versions of things, their lapses and wants, gaps and lacks, but these words do not refer to things but to absences. Truth, virtue, and beauty are things. Falseness, vice, and ugliness are distortions, corruptions, or cavities where things should be, but are not.

Even pain, which seems more real than anything, is but a sign or symbol arising from the body to tell the mind of a lack of food or drink, a lack of love or purpose, a lack of healthy organs each operating as it should.

As the father of all things, God is the source of truth, virtue and beauty. Love is the only proper voluntary response to these things: love of truth is called honesty, love of virtue is called morality, love of beauty is called by many names, from eroticism to affection to ecstasy to aesthetics.

Since love can have no other source but love, therefore the source of all these beloved things must itself be love. God is love.

As the father of all things, God is the cause, or, if you like, the architect of any boundaries that exist: the difference between light and dark, heaven and earth, land and sea, night and day, fish and fowl, beast and man. As the author of all bounds, He Himself must be unbounded. Therefore we call Him infinite. As the father of all things, God is the cause of time. Therefore He is eternal. God is the father of all powers and virtues, for everything that acts, acts because He sets it in motion. Therefore we call Him omnipotent. As the father of all things, God is the cause of all knowledge, all events. Therefore we call Him omniscient.

Nothing material can be infinite and eternal: hence God is spirit.

Infinite and unbound love cannot suffer any lack or want or needs, and yet, as the uncaused first cause, as well as being a voluntary being, He brings forth all things. Nor is this a paradox: love begets love out of its own superabundance.

That God brings forth all things does not mean He brings forth evil. We experience pain, loneliness, and want in the same way we can see a shadow or hear a silence. It is misleading to speak of this as being directly caused by God, as it would be to speak of darkness being created by the light. Darkness is created, if that is the word, only by interposing an opaque object between eye and lightsource; blindness is created by striking out the eye. This is not a product of the eye being created, but by it being destroyed.

Finally, logic says that if man has the same capacity for reason and moral action as God, we must be spirit, as He is. This means, despite any appearance to the contrary, bodily death is not final. Only material things can decay and die. Spirit is eternal. It cannot be destroyed.

Christians hold Man to be made in the image and likeness of God: by which we mean a spiritual likeness, not a likeness of physical appearance, because God is spirit.

Like Him, we are rational, which means, capable of voluntary action; like Him, we are moral beings, not beasts bound by instinct and irrational passions nor automatons bound by clockwork necessity. Like Him, we are capable of love.

Unlike Him, we are not the uncaused first cause, but are partly contingent, partly bound by necessity, and partly free to exercise our free will. Being voluntary, our will can be used in a healthy and whole fashion, in keeping with truth, virtue and beauty, or it can be used in a corrupt and decayed fashion, in keeping with falsehood, vice, and filth.

We Christians hold that the original man began in paradise, a condition where all his needs were met, and was exiled from it by his own lapse, severing an intimate relationship with God, and that this lapsed condition is inherited by all his children, so that God is remote from us. A break or wound in our nature bars our way back to the bliss which is a byproduct of a right relation to God: this wound we call sin and concupiscence, a defect of the reason that makes us unable to see the truth, combined with a defect of the will that makes us unwilling to do the good.

We Christians hold that to make it possible to heal this wound, Christ was incarnated, suffered, died, and rose again, establishing His Church to use the sacraments to spread the good news and administer the sacraments. All this was done with the intention to restore all men to paradise, which is the proper and original condition of man, for which we all as if by instinct yearn.

We Christians hold this current world is but partly wounded. Some good, some grace, some blessing still come to us from God, but no man is infinitely blessed, because all men sin.

The separation is not absolute: that would be an almost unimaginable condition of total privation of all good and all forms of good. It would be the loss of God and everything that comes from God, which is, as we have seen, all things whatsoever. This absence of God would be accompanied by endless and unmeasurable pain, something like being burned alive forever, but far worse. Pain is the sign of loss or lack: the sign of infinite loss is infinite pain. It is a place of darkness filled with wailing and gnashing of teeth. This we call hell.

What conclusions can we draw from this basis?

1. The condition of being we call heaven, or paradise, is an eternal and ever increasing state of love that creates bliss. It is called perfection because the love can never diminish nor be marred. It is not a static state, because, when receiving endless love, one can always encounter more bliss of varied types.

To refer to the infinity of paradise as static is a misnomer. Again, the word infinite merely means that there is no upper limit, no boundary, no halt state, no death, no end. Picture it as something like a number line: there is no endpoint, so any number no matter how high can always have one more added. However much bliss, however many blessings, more can be added.

2. Love by definition cannot be other than reciprocal and voluntary. Love reward loves.

3. Being voluntary, there are those who can refuse it. By refusing, they are excluded from eternal love and bliss.

4. The exclusion from eternal love and bliss is hell.

Conclusion: exile into hell is voluntary. The pain is self imposed, like the pain of lonliness after a man leaves his lover.

Let us not analogize this to a judicial punishment for crime, or penance needed to repay some debt. The analogy is not a bad one (Christians use such language all the time) but it is emotive language, meant to convey mood, not rational language, meant to convey fact.

Addition confusion perhaps enters because there are intermediate states, such as life on earth, or in limbo, or purgatory, which reflect part of the decision making process. However, once the decision is made, how can it be other than final?

If, no matter how many billions or trillions of years a man spends in purgatory, he enters into eternal love and bliss, the ratio between infinity and any finite number, howsoever large, is as the ratio between one and zero: it is not a ratio at all. So the reward, so to speak, of accepting and returning infinite love is infinite.

Now, a steadfast refusal to return love has the side effect of darkening the soul and dulling the mind, so that one is soon habituated to hate, then addicted to it, and then, finally, is unable to imagine or desire any other condition. It cannot endure for billions and trillions of years and still retain the hope of changing one’s mind and changing one’s character.

At some point, the decision is final: a soul so blessed that he can no longer be tempted by evil has not lost his free will, merely lost the corruption of the will that allows him to be tempted. He is in heaven. A soul so corrupt and confused and filled with despair and hate that love and happiness hold no promise, no hope, and no allure for him — he has lost the ability to recover.

If regarded as a judicial process, indeed, it would seem disproportionate to condemn a man to endless torment merely because he loves himself more than he loves God, or loves money, or sex, or power, or whathaveyou, when Mussolini, a fascist tyrant, repenting on the gallows is welcomed into heaven. It would seem evil beyond words.

But, logically, if he so called “reward” for returning love for love is endless love, then the “punishment” of returning contempt for love cannot be anything other than a deprivation of that endless love. That deprivation is hell.

The only other options are (1) a continuation of the intermediate condition forever, that is, an endless purgatory or an endless wheel of endless reincarnations (2) non-continuation of the immortal soul, that is, endless oblivion (3) an intermediate condition followed by a final decision.

Reason says the first two options are not logically possible: an intermediate condition cannot take forever by definition. A trial that goes on forever is the same as finding the defendant not guilty, because he is never found guilty. Likewise, an eternal thing, like the human soul, cannot have a termination, any more than an ideal triangle can get tired or the number 3 can rust.

That means there is only one remaining possibility: an end to the intermediate condition, followed by a final decision.

When infinite love approaches a man who is growing into awareness, that man can either accept or not accept. Growing forever is not an option, since a child by definition is the early form of a mature organism. Growing into the condition of oblivion before growth began is not an option, because then it is not growth, but decay.

Man grows for a time in the intermediate condition called life. That intermediate condition ends in a final condition. Then the choice is made: either he must accept or not accept.

To accept means to enter into infinite love. To not accept means to reject, that is, to suffer an infinite loss. The criterion for acceptance is not mere lip service, but a change in one’s soul produced by the new life being offered, something higher and finer than merely biological life with its wants and pains.

To effect this change in the soul, we have the opportunity on Earth to hear the gospel, receive the sacraments, receive the grace of God, including the inspiration to do good works in His name for His greater glory. We renounce ourselves now in order to be granted a more glorified self later. It is a rational exchange of something ultimately worthless for something infinitely beloved and desirable.

And the alternative is literally unimaginable.