Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Hell with Hell

Originally posted on August 18, 2012

It really is time to discard completely the notion of hell. Such notions abound in many religions that believe that there really is a metaphysical reality to everlasting punishment; that that punishment involves everlasting torture (and if you think about it for a moment—even just a moment—torture is designed to be the ultimate punishment beyond which mere death is a relief); and that this punishment is decreed by the alleged source of Love in the cosmos. Moreover, the delivery of the torture is outsourced to Satan who supervises his minions in administering this torture, and all of whom allegedly delight in sadism. (Any imp or devil with an ounce of compassion flunks out. Question: Do they get tortured for not being fiendish enough?)

Anyway, there seems to be no mental conflict over the pretty flagrant  discrepancy in the demand to not only worship (coweringly) the source of ultimate power, but rather to actually love this ultimate source of sadistic judgment and believe fully that this mythic structure is itself Love epitomized. Indeed, to withhold such love, or love with less than all your heart (all, not just 95%), is worthy of—guess what? Eternal torture.

Of course, if you can make yourself believe or surrender to the Grace of belief (i.e. dissociate so that you believe that the power of believing came to you from the Love of God on behalf of the object of love for the Son, and if you do so with the correct doctrine and rituals), lucky you escape this horrible fate—if God chooses to. In some denominations the chances are that He will choose otherwise and to say the least, you are out of luck. Other than being spot on with your piety and dogma, you’re in the ultimate of Hot Water.

Hey, this is nuts! Those who have a vested interest in profiting from this system, clergy, those who take pride in having mastered their minds in this way (identification with the aggressor), etc., might reply, “Who can judge the ways of the Lord?” I think they really mean “How dare you speak truth to power?”  (Such people are scared that the ground of their illusion of existence is shaken: These folks get angry, too, enough to burn you at the stake!) Others sanctimoniously pretend that what they are saying is too rational, and marshal volumes of arguments, logic, and seemingly plausible deductions. Yet what’s ignored is that this whole deal is so flagrantly nasty that it goes way beyond any subtlety of logic. Psychologically, this line is really a rationalization of ultimate dissociation, as if to say, “I don’t think about such things, I refuse to see the extreme, extreme cognitive dissonance here.”

The pious words of the hymn sung by the Monty Python satirical television and movie series seem to present this paradox well, along with the profound sincerity of the nonsense of the main religious traditions of the West:
   “O Lord, please don’t burn us, Don’t grill us or toast your flock,
Don’t put us on a barbecue, Or simmer us in stock,
Don’t braise us or bake or boil us, Or stir-fry us in a wok.
Oh please don’t lightly poach us, Or baste us with hot fat,
Don’t fricassee or roast us, Or boil us in a vat,
And please don’t stick thy servants, Lord, In a Rotissomat.
  (from "The Fairly Incomplete And Rather Badly Illustrated
Monty Python Song Book" and transcribed by John G. Wright)

Seriously, I think it’s time that more than a very few of us spoke up without fear of being assailed for being politically incorrect or questioning the wisdom of those who would presume to be our “betters”: The whole concept of hell is profoundly toxic and we should not underestimate the degree to which this fear-trauma operates unconsciously to stifle free thought and creativity. I would go so far as to say that anyone who half believes this to some significant degree correspondingly limits his own thoughts for fear of cosmic punishment. By no means can such a person said to be intellectually free.

The problem is still there, though less intense, in varieties of traditional religion that is somewhat watered down, types that don’t yet rid themselves completely of any vestige of the notion of divinely directed  punishment in the form of eternal torture. That holding on to an edge of traditionalism contaminates the whole as much as a spoonful of shit would a gallon of spaghetti. It must be strongly and unconditionally rejected.

The pusillanimous rationalization that such talk, these paragraphs, such concepts must be “understood in context” or rightly appreciated only as metaphor or allegory is a shallow lie, an avoidance of directly grappling with the problem. The doctrine of Hell is by no means a subtle point. There’s just no way any power that claims to be loving can be so astonishingly, breathtakingly, horribly, almost inconceivably cruel! So hell needs to be 100% out of any spirituality that claims to merit allegiance.

Happily, there are many semi-traditional paths free of this bit of madness and I’m willing to allow some leeway as to which myths then can be used as a foundation for a constructive form of belief. But human sacrifice, baby sacrifice, the idea that the gods want pain or blood—these, too, are nuts.

There’s also a related point, which is that a theoretically “loving” God “gave” his only begotten Son as payments for some super-divine rule that (1) the whole human race must “pay” for a mythic and terribly dubious "original sin” of disobeying a weird ruling from a jealous father-god at the beginning. Other than the whole myth being mind-blowingingly dubious, and the injustice of having everyone go to hell for this act of disobedience innumerable and questionable years ago, that the cosmic ultimate Father is so powerless that He must abide by these insane rules; and to comply must submit his “only begotten son” or even a beloved prophet to death by torture because God can’t just command the stupid rule to be null and void, but rather must pay for sin with sin; and then make a new rule: (2) Whoever really believes this story and doesn’t deviate into heresy—I mean, really believes it, doesn’t just say s/he believes it, gets forgiven and doesn’t have to go to hell. Except even this exception is in some denominations chancy.

Aside from the problem of the fact that 94.3% of humanity is hardly sinful, a little immature, perhaps, but by no means evil, the idea that this mess can be redeemed by allowing one’s “son” to be tortured to death is pretty weird on the face of it. No other spiritual community—not even the nasty Aztecs with their tearing the heart out of living prisoners—had something so mind-pickling. (Certainly the Jews didn’t and don’t.)

Trying to reconcile this with faith is not just a mystery, it’s a mystery of how people can contort their own minds into  multi-dimensional tight pretzel-knots. The answer in another dimension is easy: Whatever you say, boss. I don’t think about it, I just blindly obey.”

I remember learning this bit of doggerel when I was around five years old:
“Moses supposes his toeses are roses,
But Moses supposes erroneously;
For Moses he knowses his toeses aren’t roses
As Moses supposes his toeses to be.”

That’s what it’s about. Here are diametrically opposite pairs: Stinky Toes and Sweet-Smelling Rose: The are as similar as a loving god who condemns not only those who have sinned gravely, but also those who have sinned hardly, and also those righteous souls who just happen to believe in the one sub-type of the hundred claimed orthodoxies that are spot on—and all the others—are heretics who deserve eternal torture. It’s very, very crazy—and I speak here in the fullness of my authority as a psychiatrist who by no means knows all there is yet to be found about what mental illness is really about, but I do know a bat-sh*t crazy notion when it slaps me in the face.

I am quite open to anyone who might present me with a rational argument to this, and if they will agree, I will then acknowledge them by name—or not—and then either bow in concession to their higher reasoning, or ask a few general or pointed questions, or rebut.

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