This talk of the fear of hell reminded me of this scene from Friends.
I used to be terrified of the thought of Hell. Whether it was fiery or not, whether it was dark or not, I did not know. I just knew I was afraid – to the point of panic attacks – of the thought of eternal punishment. I’ve mentioned this before, but I had to first face and dispense with my fear of that torture before I could even begin to objectively look at any evidence of whether any of my other beliefs were true or not. Fear is scary. Fear is a powerful motivator. It doesn’t make the things we fear real any more than monsters under the bed or in the closet. We can even know in our rational minds that there aren’t any such things as monsters but that doesn’t make the fear go away. At least not at first. Fear causes us to do irrational things and think irrational thoughts.
Having written and talked extensively about having to give up that fear of hell in order to undo the years of indoctrination I’ve been subjected to and that I subjected myself to it occurs to me that I’ve never written about how I accomplished this feat. It wasn’t easy. It was probably the hardest doctrine to rid myself of. Even still every now and again I get this little adrenaline push when I think about the fact that there’s the possibility, no matter how remote, that I might be wrong. But I cannot and will not allow fear to rule me.
My panic subsided quite a bit when I got it through my thick head that hell was manufactured to control people. Christianity, itself, solidified this doctrine. If Christianity is built on Jewish thought then just where the hell did this idea come from? Certainly not the Old Testament. What better way to get people who wouldn’t convert and conform to do so? Where the law fell short fear took over. The doctrine of Universal Salvation is not a new concept. It is but one of a number of doctrines that Christians have battled over since the beginning of Christianity. No consensus is reached on the matter.
From Judaism 101:
“The place of spiritual reward for the righteous is often referred to in Hebrew as Gan Eden (GAHN ehy-DEHN) (the Garden of Eden). This is not the same place where Adam and Eve were; it is a place of spiritual perfection. Specific descriptions of it vary widely from one source to another. One source says that the peace that one feels when one experiences Shabbat properly is merely one-sixtieth of the pleasure of the afterlife. Other sources compare the bliss of the afterlife to the joy of sex or the warmth of a sunny day. Ultimately, though, the living can no more understand the nature of this place than the blind can understand color.
Only the very righteous go directly to Gan Eden. The average person descends to a place of punishment and/or purification, generally referred to as Gehinnom (guh-hee-NOHM) (in Yiddish, Gehenna), but sometimes as She’ol or by other names. According to one mystical view, every sin we commit creates an angel of destruction (a demon), and after we die we are punished by the very demons that we created. Some views see Gehinnom as one of severe punishment, a bit like the Christian Hell of fire and brimstone. Other sources merely see it as a time when we can see the actions of our lives objectively, see the harm that we have done and the opportunities we missed, and experience remorse for our actions. The period of time in Gehinnom does not exceed 12 months, and then ascends to take his place on Olam Ha-Ba.
Only the utterly wicked do not ascend at the end of this period; their souls are punished for the entire 12 months. Sources differ on what happens at the end of those 12 months: some say that the wicked soul is utterly destroyed and ceases to exist while others say that the soul continues to exist in a state of consciousness of remorse.
This 12-month limit is repeated in many places in the Talmud, and it is connected to the mourning cycles and the recitation of Kaddish. See Life, Death and Mourning.”
I found the same thing at Aish.com in an article entitled, Hell No, We Won’t Go.
Jewish thought on the afterlife is compared to the seats in a stadium. How close one gets to be to God is directly related to how righteous they’ve been – not what god they worship, not who they are, not what doctrine they’ve believed. In fact Judaism sounds relatively close to Humanism. The Torah is all but silent on the notion of an afterlife. Why? Because the Jewish perception is that God is more concerned with what kind of person one is, how well they’ve lived their life, in this life and not particularly what one has believed. For a religion that should have built on Jewish thought Christianity seems to have taken Judaism and turned it on it’s head, making more requirements of a believer, not less. Gentiles were never expected to exclusively worship Yahweh.
Again, from Judaism 101:
“Some people look at these teachings and deduce that Jews try to “earn our way into Heaven” by performing the mitzvot. This is a gross mischaracterization of our religion. It is important to remember that unlike some religions, Judaism is not focused on the question of how to get into heaven. Judaism is focused on life and how to live it. Non-Jews frequently ask me, “do you really think you’re going to go to Hell if you don’t do such-and-such?” It always catches me a bit off balance, because the question of where I am going after death simply doesn’t enter into the equation when I think about the mitzvot. We perform the mitzvot because it is our privilege and our sacred obligation to do so. We perform them out of a sense of love and duty, not out of a desire to get something in return. In fact, one of the first bits of ethical advice in Pirkei Avot (a book of the Mishnah) is: “Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward; instead, be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward, and let the awe of Heaven [meaning G-d, not the afterlife] be upon you.”
So for me, the beginning of putting the book on hell in the freezer went back to the beginning. What was the original thought on what fate lie ahead for the wicked. I had no idea that Jews were so accepting of other faiths. As Christians this is not what we are taught. After all we were taught that the Israelites wiped out entire populations precisely because of their idolatry. But is this so? These thoughts would indicate otherwise, would they not? I guess we’ll see…