Many Christians will assume that all atheists will go to hell for the lack of faith in the one true god. And thanks to centuries of Christian art we are told that hell is a bad place to be; there are fires and demons poking us with hot pokers and that kind of thing. But then again, you can visit hell today, and it isn’t such a bad place.
That’s because hell is rooted in an historical place. The valley of Ben Hinnon can be visited today, it is to the South of Jerusalem. No doubt this is a hot place because it’s in the Eastern side of the Mediterranean, but I can think of worse places to visit. To explain what relevance this valley in Israel has to the Christian hell I shall first quote a passage from the New Testament:
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” This is a quote from the Gospel of Matthew (23:33). But here’s a fact for you, earlier versions of the passage said this “…how will you escape being condemned to Gehenna?”
What the hell (forgive the pun) is Gehenna?
The gospels were of course written in Greek, and Gehenna is the Greek translation of a Hebrew place, Gei Hinnom. Now in the Old Testament this valley crops up in several places. Just outside of Jerusalem it is described as a place where pagans used to sacrifice children to the god Moloch. Not a nice place then, but later it seems Gehenna became the rubbish dump of Jerusalem- we read about rubbish being burned here so that there were near constant flames. It seems also that bodies of executed criminals were dumped in this valley, so already this place looks like the traditional image of hell with all the flames and corpses.
Another place mentioned in the bible is Hades. Originating in Greek mythology Hades was a dark and underground place where the souls of the dead would reside in a state of emptiness and nothingness. The Jewish equivalent of Hades is a place known as Sheol – it’s another dark and dismal place where not even the light of god can shine. Both Hades and Sheol are somewhat misleadingly labelled as Hell in the King James Version of the bible.
The concept of eternal punishment in monotheistic religion did not develop until quite later. So the earliest descriptions of Hades and Sheol go without the additional details of torment and torture. It was the Christians who developed it further: they lumped Gehenna, Hades and Sheol into one single lump, called it Hell, added the devil and the demons and have used it ever since to scare the willies out of hapless children.
Probably some Christians will expect Darwinists to go to hell for claiming that humans evolved out of monkeys (I would call them ape-like ancestors, they weren’t monkeys) but then again they don’t realise that hell has also evolved from an actual place on Earth into Satan’s home underground. And as long as there are human minds practicing religion hell will continue to evolve. Indeed Pope John Paul II defined hell not as a physical place, but as a state of being in which the soul is distanced from god.