Do You Believe in Hell?

In my talks in various places about Growing in Love and Wisdom, my conversion from Catholicism to Buddhism and back to Catholicism, and the continuing influence of my years as a Buddhist on my Christian prayer practice, there are certain questions that I get with some frequency. One of those questions that I am often asked is, “Do you believe in hell?”

My answer to that question depends on what we mean by hell.

Wen I was a child, the image of hell I had was of a fiery pit with Satan (who in my childhood was red with horns) holding a pitchfork to keep everyone in flames. Hell was an awful place you got locked up forever as punishment if you died with moral sin on your soul.

If that is the Hell someone has in mind when they ask do you believe in Hell, my answer is no. I don’t believe there is a place (or places – Tibetan Buddhist cosmology has a number of hell realms) somewhere where we get locked up to experience torture for all of eternity because of the sins we have committed. But that just says I don’t believe in a grade school or metaphorical understanding of Hell.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines hell as “The state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed, reserved for those who refuse by their own free choice to believe and be converted from sin, even to the end of their lives.”

A state of self-exclusion. A state of remaining separated from God forever by our own free choice.

In that sense of hell, the answer to the question is that I believe in hell to the extent that I accept the theoretical possibility that someone could irrevocably reject God and God’s love. I accept the possibility that one could choose separation from God. I have to understand that – because God has given us freedom – it is possible that someone could make that choice.

That is how I answer the question, with this addition: I’d like to think no one inhabits that hell. That because God keeps trying to bring us back, hell is an empty place.

And that is a happy hope: For me, the banquet just won’t be the same if we’re not all there.


4 thoughts on “Do You Believe in Hell?

  1. I don’t believe He’ll exists because I don’t believe anyone can reject God. If they do then God fails, or gives up. Neither of which are true. I don’t believe in the dualism associated with the subject of Hell, namely evil or the devil. Hell is a construction made by men to have authority over people through fear.

  2. I always think of empty hell – that is my hope!

    The thought of the self-defined choices that exclude us from God and one another, are on my heart today. How often, how carelessly, I have done this.

  3. a state of self-exclusion. That’s a good statement.
    I would expect someone committing suicide for having lived an inner hell, or outer hell… Or someone loosing her mind after a terrible event.
    I remember once visiting Mother Teresa’s hospital in Delhi not long after the riots which followed Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination. A woman was rocking back and forth on her bed, moaning. She had lost her mind, after having been raped repeatedly by a gang of men, because she was a Sikh. To me, this woman was in hell. I do hope her tormentors experience some sort of major guilt for what they did. As well as the powers which sent those men into the Sikh areas to do just what they did.

  4. Susan what a wonderful explanation. I will keep this along with several others.


    On Thu, Mar 7, 2013 at 6:17 AM, Creo en Dios!

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