Unity views on ... Hell
The traditional concept of hell is a designated place where "bad" people go after they die. Most of us have been taught that if we would be good "good", we would go to heaven, and if we didn't measure up to the standards o goodness, we would go to hell to spend our eternity in fiery punishment for failure.
It is fascinating to think how the fire-and-brimstone concept of hell might have evolved. The original Old Testament name for the place to which people went if they did not qualify for heaven is Sheol. But Sheol had no fire associated with it. Rather, it was shadowy and dim, owing to the absence of the Spirit of life. The terms spirit and soul are not used in connection with Sheol. Since we can also conclude that the body did not go to Sheol, it is difficult to know just what part of the person made this journey. In the original concept of Sheol, those who were there had no activity at all and could feel neither pain nor pleasure. Existence there was a dreamlike sort of thing.
Somewhere along the line of time we became more descriptive about Sheol and changed its name to hell. Incredible, fiery descriptions of hell were preached, and the pain of the fiery experience was prominent. This teaching was inconsistent with the original concept of Sheol, the forerunner of Hell.
The devil is the reigning monarch of the smoky kingdom of hell (see article on Satan). In our day satan is pictured as being cunning and devious. The Old Testament writers made of him a sort of tempting, universal gay blade, who was always trying to get people into a pickle.
Since it has been known to mankind for a long time that the core of the earth is hot, to make this the location of hell seemed a natural thing to do. It is said that people "descend" into hell.
In the New Testament the word Gehenna has been translated into hell. But this does not at all refer to the hell of traditional horror. Rather, it refers to the Valley of Hinnom, Ge Hinnom, it was called. This was a deep ravine near Jerusalem, which was used as a dumping ground for rubbish, garbage, and dead animals. To consume this refuse, a fire was kept burning at all times. Because this was the city incinerator and kept burning constantly, it was sometimes called the "eternal fire".
During the time of Jesus Christ, when the yoke of Roman occupation was heavy, it is said that some of the Jewish people took to human sacrifice. To do this, they converted to an ancient Semitic religion of the worship of Molech. Molech was the deity to whom children, preferably the firstborn, were sometimes offered by fire sacrifice.
Legend has it that a statue of Molech was placed at the crest of the hill over Gehenna. Children were placed on the arms of the statue, rolled off and down into the fire in the valley, where they were sacrificed. Jesus' reference to the hellfire was to this prohibited practice, not to an eternal damnation after death.
So, you see, the entire concept of a burning hell after death is something of nebulous content. There is no real basis for accepting this belief. It has served the church well, because it has been a fear tool for getting the followers of the church to abide by its mandates.
If the validity of the traditional concept of hell is in question, what is the alternative? It is that hell is not a destination. Rather, it is an experience of life. Who among us has not "been through hell" in some way or another? It has been appropriately said by Dr. James Fischer that:"The tortures of hell are not in the core of the earth, but in the very core of life. Here too, is heaven. And also that vast purgatory in between, populated by those who have found neither overwhelming torture, nor profound contempt - the lost soul ambling without purpose through their allotment of time".
Yes, hell is a state of consciousness. When we have permitted our thoughts and emotions to degenerate sufficiently, we suffer through experiences that seem to be degrading to our true spiritual nature.
God has blessed us with divine purpose and presence, through the Spirit that indwells all of us. In this Spirit are all the qualities that comprise the true character of God. When we are expressing the antithesis of these qualities, our life becomes a living hell.
In the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, Charles Fillmore states:"One does not have to die in order to go to hell, any more than one has to die to get to heaven. Both are states of mind and conditions, which people experience as a direct outworking of their thoughts, beliefs, words, and acts. If one's mental processes are out of harmony with the law of man's [sic] being, they result in trouble and sorrow; mental as well as bodily anguish overtakes one, and this is hell".
We have all been taught that through our behavior we choose whether we shall experience heaven or hell. This is true; but this refers to now, not of some afterlife. It is a contemporary experience. If any one of us is going to experience hell, we can be sure that it will be during his or her earthly lifetime.
When Old Testament writers referred to Sheol, it was to a grave rather than to an eternal destination. Likewise, when we experience hell now, it is as if we have buried ourselves with trouble. We have shut ourselves out from all the light and beauty that life is. Somehow, we have made the choice not to express the mystical qualities of God. This is to lie in the grave of negation.
It is our right to do this, since God has given us free will. But it is also our right not to. It is our right, through our divine heritage, to let ourselves be the free and open channels through which divine qualities of Spirit may express beauty. This is to refuse hell on earth. This is our great alternative.
The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven I sent my Soul through the Invisible, Some letter of that after-life to spell: And by and by my Soul returned to me. And answered, "I Myself am Heaven and Hell." ---John Milton
This item is an excerpt from the book "Alternatives" by William L. Fisher, and reproduced with the express permission of Unity School of Christianity, Unity Village, MO.