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A Real Hell

Updated on October 15, 2013

Picturing Hell

Is Hell a Place, a Concept, or Something Else?

Hell is part of the creed of religions. It is referred to as if it were a place where our spirits can go after we die. It presupposes an afterlife, something not everyone believes in. It's eternal suffering. Usually it's considered to be located below the surface of the earth when discussed in ancient texts. People's spirits must travel downward to reach "hell," a word which itself means the netherworld. The environment there is typically one of constant fire. There are people in charge, torturing those who descend into hell, which is ruled by the Devil.

In addition to religion, literature used hell frequently but never so well as Dante in his "Divine Comedy" and Milton in "Paradise Lost." Descriptions of it fit perfectly into the Christian notion of what hell would be for the souls who go there. Hell is punishment for sins, the thoughts, words, and deeds universally condemned by churches and laws.

The up side of hell, if there is one, lies in the field of logic. If there's eternity then it's a two-sided affair, hell on the bottom and heaven on top, both endless. Evidence of religious writings from civilizations that existed thousands of years ago indicate both extremes as possibilities open to those who die, potentially therefore, everyone. Religions vary in their strictness concerning hell, from those that place the fear of God in people by describing inescapable tortures lasting til the end of time, to those more liberal that offer redemption and opportunities for a fresh start even after death.

Some religions describe hell as being more like a state of mind than an actual place where physical torture takes place. Those who are close to God will not experience hell, while those who deny God will. There have been so many different definitions of hell, aside from the standard image of eternal burning and suffering, that the word "hell" is usable to describe anything bad in its results whether connected to religion or not.

The prospect of punishment so severe doesn't make sense sometimes, when we realize that circumstances can make people do things that any of us might have done were we to have had the same troubles. The drastic fate of hell seems inhuman. Most people would want to feel that there is a loving God who can forgive and understand us, not just punish us. Fortunately, in modern times we are able to discuss our beliefs on such a sensitive topic without fear of punishment, except in the most backward of nations.

But literature, including the most widely read book, the Bible, often gives detailed descriptions based on what religious people imagined hell would be like. Although Jesus was said to have spoken of the devil and hell, New Testament is often allegorical. Jesus was a spectacular thinker and teacher, rather than a priest who was pedantic and rigid. He was trying to steer people in the right direction generally, not scare them to death.

The existence of hell is undeniable if we include invisible, intangible things among those that "exist." For example, ideas, morals, and emotions all are in that category. The fact that we can't see, smell, taste, feel, or hear these invisible concepts doesn't make them any less important than things that exist in the physical world. While we live, hell is invisible to us. But it exists as a concept in the minds of millions of people. Therefore, it's real as an idea even if not as an actual place.

Since hell exists after we die, when we no longer are part of the physical world, then logically we can believe that hell is not a physical place. God actually is invisible, even Jesus said that. Therefore, hell can exist only as an intangible.

All the possible after-lives exist outside the physical world. They are spiritual. If it's impossible to prove scientifically the existence of God, then proving hell as a physical location surely is impossible. People who seem to know for sure are met justifiably with skepticism. Faith, by definition involves confidence in what can't be proven to exist. Tactful free-thinkers will respect all opinions on so personal a topic as religion. It seems beyond doubt that hell is at least an idea, a thought, or a concept, but beyond that, it hasn't been proven to be an actual physical place.

Freud and Hell

The Freudian Psychology of Hell

Freud said, “In the long run, nothing can withstand reason and experience, and the contradiction religion offers to both is palpable.” Therefore, he didn't believe in religion. But apparently he did believe in hell, if only in a living sense compared to the good of humanity. Freud considered hell to be a state of mind, such as man's inhumanity to man during a world war. Hell was when people sank to their lowest depths. People had souls, according to Freud, but the souls of human beings could be either lofty or base. (

But Freud was more a philosopher and theorist than a scientist. Although religion turned him off, he was less traditional or pedantic than other doctors. Freud believed in getting to the bottom of people's problems through psychoanalysis. He placed emphasis on sexual experiences of children, who then grew into adult patients of mental health practitioners. There was a lot of theory and free-thinking going on in Freudian psychology, including notions of hell, religion, and sex being all tied together neatly and put into a basket called the human brain.

The influence of sex, stressed not only by Freud but by most religions, ties psychology together with religion. Sex is mentioned repeatedly in all parts of the Bible. Connected with the misuse of sex always is some reference to hell.

Freud saw this connection also, but in his own un-religious way. Sexual abnormalities could lead to psychotic behavior.

Today's psychology students study science, however, and not human nature, which was key to Freudian psychology. In science, there's no hell. This is because it's impossible to prove or disprove the existence of hell. But as much as Freud disapproved of organized religion and dogmatic demands placed on people unreasonably by churches, he still believed in hell. It didn't have to await death, however. It could be seen in current events.

Freud no longer is popular, not only because science is easier to comprehend than philosophy, but also because people don't want to consider themselves evil, capable of creating hell on earth so to speak. Sex, to most people, is romantic. But Freud made it into something almost perverted as a norm. Connecting then to hell by way of metaphor, Freud ridiculed the religious version of hell by saying hell appears in everyday life in which inhumane activities and cruelty exist.

But the religious way of conceiving of the notion of hell is to deem it avoidable through penance, repentance, and forgiveness from God. If God existed for Freud, God must have been unforgiving. Freud was a very moral man who didn't want any evangelists to come near him because they made him too angry with their unproven certainties about the Bible and religion. But Freudian psychology believes in hell, the kind of hell that reflects the evil in people who, themselves, find things in life far more important than religion, just as did Freud.


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