One hears little about the subject of hell in Christian churches these days. Perhaps things are different in the Moslem madrassahs. Regardless, I have it on good authority that, for both religions, hell is pretty much the same. It is a place where the wicked will burn in living flames for all eternity. When I speak of “authorities,” it’s perfectly clear who I’m referring to in the case of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad is the ultimate authority. Furthermore, he expressed himself with perfect clarity on the subject. He did not speak in allegories. As noted in the Quran, for example,
We have not taught him (Muhammad) poetry, nor would it beseem him. The Book is no other than a warning and a clear Quran. (Sura XXXVI)
Now have We set before man in this Quran every kind of parable for their warning: An Arabic Quran, free from tortuous wording, to the intent that they may fear God. (Sura XXXIX)
In the Quran, Muhammad also makes it clear that Christianity is not just a kinder, gentler version of Islam, as some of our current “sophisticated” Christians would have us believe. Moslems are warned that they must not so much as have Christians and other infidels as friends:
Let not believers take infidels for their friends rather than believers: whoso shall do this hath nothing to hope from God. (Sura III)
They desire that ye should be infidels as they are infidels, and that ye should be alike. Take therefore none of them for friends, till they have fled their homes for the cause of God. (Sura IV)
O believers! take not the Jews or Christians as friends. They are but one another’s friends. If any one of you taketh them for his friends, he surely is one of them! God will not guide the evil doers. (Sura V)
The inmates of hell will include anyone who does not accept the teaching of the Prophet:
But they who shall not believe, and treat our signs as falsehoods, these shall be inmates of the Fire; in it shall they remain forever. (Sura II)
As for those who are infidels, and die infidels, from no one of them shall as much gold as the earth could contain be accepted, though he should offer it in ransom. These! a grievous punishment awaiteth them; and they shall have none to help them. (Sura II)
But they who charge our signs with falsehood, and turn away from them in their pride, shall be inmates of the Fire: for ever shall they abide therein. (Sura VII)
Should anyone be dense enough to doubt that Christians aren’t included among the damned, the Quran makes it crystal clear:
We will cast a dread into hearts of the infidels because they have joined gods with God without warranty sent down; their abode shall be the Fire; and wretched shall be the mansion of the evil doers. (Sura II)
They surely are infidels who say, “God is the third of three:” for there is no God but one God: and if they refrain not from what they say, a grievous chastisement shall light on such of them as are infidels. (Sura V)
And when God shall say – “O Jesus, son of Mary: hast thou said unto mankind – ‘Take me and my mother as two gods, beside God?’ ” He shall say – “Glory be unto Thee! It is not for me to say that which I know to be not the truth.” (Sura V)
The Jews say, “Ezra (Ozair) is a son of God”; and the Christians say, “The Messiah is a son of God.” Such the sayings in their mouths! They resemble the sayings of the infidels of old! God do battle with them! How are they misguided! (Sura IX)
They say, “God hath begotten children.” No! by His glory! He is the self-sufficient. All that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth is His! Have ye warranty for that assertion? What! Speak ye of God that which ye know not? (Sura X)
Of course, “Joining gods to God,” and “God is the third of three,” refer to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and all Christians associate the word “begotten” with Christ. The Quran also clears up any misconceptions about how long the wicked will be punished, and what their punishment in hell will consist of:
(Speaking of the wicked), Doubled to him shall be the torment on the Day of Resurrection; and in it shall he remain, disgraced, for ever. (Sura XXV)
Those who disbelieve Our signs We will in the end cast into the Fire: so oft as their skins shall be well burnt, We will change them for fresh skins, that they may taste the torment. (Sura IV)
Christian teaching on the subject of hell is somewhat less explicit than the Moslem version, but is clear enough nevertheless. Both agree that the wicked will exist in the midst of flames, and that the torture will endure forever. Unfortunately, in the case of Christianity, many of the mainstream churches are now controlled by social justice warriors, who have converted them into little more than leftist political clubs. In general, hell is either left unmentioned, or the original doctrine of the church on the subject has been subverted and bowdlerized, to the point that now hell is merely a matter of experiencing the humiliation and mortification of not being invited to God’s special “members only” afternoon tea parties. As I find no mention in the Bible of such “enlightened” and “sophisticated” versions of hell, I will rely on what the book actually says, as set forth by no less an authority than St. Augustine.
Like most of the biblical scholars of late antiquity, Augustine knew the Bible inside and out. He could point with precision to the verses in the book of Obadiah that predict the coming of Christ. I have my doubts about whether the current pope has ever even read the book of Obadiah. Many of Augustine’s comments on hell may be found in Book XXI of his The City of God. He begins by citing some of the relevant passages in the Bible, such as Matthew 13:41-42,
41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
and Matthew 25:41&46,
41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
The most recent translations of the Bible “correct” Christianity, and “bring it up to date” by substituting milder terms such as “cutting off” for “punishment,” after the fashion in which, for example, they have “retranslated” the word “firmament” to “sky” in Genesis. Augustine saw no need for such impostures, and took the Bible at its word. He writes,
What, then, can I adduce to convince those who refuse to believe that human bodies, animated and living, can not only survive death, but also last in the torments of everlasting fires?
He notes the example of salamanders, of which some claimed, as noted by Aristotle, that they could live in the midst of flames without the least inconvenience. He then points out that, just because flames cause mortal bodies to die in this life, the same hardly applies to the hereafter:
Our opponents, too, make much of this, that in this world there is no flesh which can suffer pain and cannot die; while they make nothing of the fact that there is something which is greater than the body. For the spirit, whose presence animates and rules the body, can both suffer pain and cannot die. Here then is something which, though it can feel pain, is immoral. And this capacity, which we now see in the spirit of all, shall be hereafter in the bodies of the damned.
It turns out that there were “sophisticated” Christians in Augustine’s day as well as our own who, like the current version, insisted that all the talk of fire in the Bible is mere allegory. Augustine devotes Chapter 9 of Book XXI citing several examples from scripture which demonstrate that, when the Bible says “fire,” it means “fire.” In Chapter 12 he notes that, by virtue of original sin, “eternal punishment is due to all who are not within the pale of the Savior’s grace.” Needless to say, this does not include Moslems. In Chapter 17 he refutes those who claim that punishment in the flames will not be eternal.
In short, then, the Moslem and Christian versions of hell are quite similar. As noted in my title, in both cases the “wicked” will suffer torture in the midst of living flames for quadrillions and quintillions of years, just for starters. Indeed, such a period would not even represent so much as a start. Quadrillions and quintillions of years are an infinitesimal period compared to “forever.” The main difference between the two is the answer to the question, “Who constitute the wicked?” As an atheist, of course, the question is moot as far as I’m concerned. If either side is right, I will be spending eternity in a climate decidedly more tropical than the one I became accustomed to growing up in Wisconsin. For theists, however, there is a greater incentive to get it right. I quote the following passage from a sermon of the American clergyman Jonathan Edwards to “encourage” them, as Voltaire would put it:
The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his Wrath towards you burns like Fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the Fire; he is of purer Eyes than to bear to have you in his Sight; you are ten thousand Times so abominable in his Eyes as the most hateful venomous Serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn Rebel did his Prince: and yet ‘tis nothing but his Hand that holds you from falling into the Fire every Moment: ‘Tis to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to Hell the last Night; that you was suffer’d to awake again in this World, after you closed your Eyes to sleep: and there is no other Reason to be given why you have not dropped into Hell since you arose in the Morning, but that God’s Hand has held you up: There is no other reason to be given why you han’t gone to Hell since you have sat here in the House of God, provoking his pure Eyes by your sinful wicked Manner of attending his solemn Worship: Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a Reason why you don’t this very Moment drop down into Hell.
O Sinner! Consider the fearful Danger you are in: ‘Tis a great Furnace of Wrath, a wide and bottomless Pit, full of the Fire of Wrath, that you are held over in the Hand of that God, whose Wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the Damned in Hell: You hang by a slender Thread, with the Flames of divine Wrath flashing about it, and ready every Moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no Interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the Flames of Wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one Moment.
There. Are you encouraged? I have a few questions for the true believers. Is the distance between us and God not much greater than that between humans and ants? What are we to think of a human who would devote all of eternity to torturing ants because they displeased him for a few moments? If an immortal super being did much the same thing, would it be rational to describe that being as “benevolent,” or “merciful?” Just asking.