Does Anyone Really Believe in Traditional Hell?
Again, there comes this very serious obstacle to accepting the popular creed. I shall state it thus, either this creed is true or false If false—the question is ended. If true, can this strange fact be explained—that nobody acts as if he believed it? I say this, for any man who so believed, and who possessed but a spark of common humanity—to say nothing of charity—could not rest, day or night, so long as one sinner remained who might be saved. To this all would give place—pleasure, learning, business, art, literature; nay, life itself would be too short for the terrible warnings, the burning entreaties, the earnest pleadings, that would be needed to rouse sinners from their apathy, and to pluck them from endless tortures.
Ask me what you will, but do not ask me to believe that any human being, who is convinced that perhaps his own child, his wife, his friend, his neighbor, even his enemy, is in danger of endless torment, could, if really persuaded of this, live as men now live, even the best men: who can avoid the inevitable conclusion that its warmest adherents really, though unconsciously, find their dogmas absolutely incredible? In fact these men (and it is the best thing to be said for them) teach their creed without real conviction. Their best eulogy is that they are self-deceivers.
These remarks also explain an obvious difficulty, viz., it has been shown how the popular creed cuts at the root of all religion, poisoning the very fountains whence we draw our conceptions of love, of righteousness, of truth. But if so, it may be fairly asked, how is it that society subsists, that morality is not extinct? Because, I reply unhesitatingly, because no society, no individual, can possibly act, or has in fact acted, on such a creed, in the real business of life. It is simply impossible: who would dare so much as to smile, if he really believed endless torments were certain to be the portion of some member of his household—it may be of himself? Marriage would be a crime; each birth the occasion of an awful dread. The shadow of a possible hell would darken every home, sadden every family hearth.
All this becomes evident when we reflect that to perpetuate the race would be to help on the perpetuation of moral evil. For if this creed be true, out of all the yearly births a steady current is flowing on to help to fill the abyss of hell, to make larger and vaster the total of moral evil which is to endure for ever. “The world would be one vast madhouse,” says the American scholar Hallsted, “if a realizing and continued pressure of such a doctrine was present.”
Remark again how this doctrine breaks down the moment it is really put to the test. Take a common case: a man dies—active, benevolent, useful in life, but not a religious man, not devout. By the popular creed, such a man has gone to hell for ever. But who really believes that? nay, instinctively our words grow softer when we speak of the dead in all cases. Do even the clergy really believe what they profess? I cannot refrain from most serious doubt on this point. If they believe, why are they so often silent? Habitual silence would be impossible to any one believing the traditional creed in earnest. The awful future would dwarf all other topics, would compel incessant appeals. But what do we find? Everything, I reply, that marks a declining faith in endless evil—silence; excuses; modifications; evasions of the true issue.
Thomas Allin: Christ Triumphant: Universalism Asserted as the Hope of the Gospel on the Authority of Reason, the Fathers, and Holy Scripture. Annotated Edition, 2015