Sunday, March 27, 2016

What is Hell?

Many have endeavoured to explain what hell is. What does one find when he is sent there? How can we know these things before death? What does the Church say about hell and the devil? Many Church Fathers have attempted such an analysis. Even today, many wish to explain their views on this important and frightening theme. Even non-theologians or people outside of the Church wish to give their input on this topic. Christos Yannaras, in his book The Freedom of Morality, explains the position given by Sartre and Dostoevsky. Yannaras claims:

‘. . . “hell is other people,” as again Sartre says in In Camera. . . this statement clearly means that hell for man is not an individual punishment, objectively imposed. The element of punishment in man’s hell is other people. The failure of personal existence to form an ontological hypostasis, its decline into natural individuality which claims an absolute right to existence of itself, places it in opposition to the individual natures of the “others.” Thus the “other” becomes the affirmation of my existential failure, my inability to transcend my natural will which has come to be identified with the self-defence of the biological and psychological ego. The “other” is hell because he torments me with the revelation that I am tragically condemned to my individual autonomy, incapable of existing free from natural predetermination, loving and loved.

Before Sartre, Dostoevsky had defined hell in the same perspective, only more fully: “Hell is the torment of not loving.” This definition means that other people simply provide the occasion for my own hell, while its cause is to be found in my own inability to relate, my own incarceration in the egocentric autonomy of my individuality. So hell becomes the more agonizing when the “other” is not an individual at an existential distance which nullifies the possibility of a relationship, but a Person whose loving self-transcendence and self-offering call me to existence and true life, while I cling to my individual autonomy. Hell is man’s free choice; it is when he imprisons himself in an agonizing lack of life, and deliberately refuses communion with the loving goodness of God, the true life.’ (pp. 32-33). 

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