CS Lewis on Hell (for Prof)

I was putting together these quotations for Prof. to read and consider but I thought others might like to read them too and not see them on the other thread so here they are:

About Hell. All I have ever said is that the N.T. [New Testament] plainly implies the possibility of some being finally left in "the outer darkness." Whether this means (horror of horror) being left to a purely mental existence, left with nothing at all but one's own envy, prurience, resentment, loneliness & self conceit, or whether there is still some sort of environment, something you cd. call a world or a reality, I wd. never pretend to know. But I wouldn't put the question in the form "do I believe in an actual Hell." One's own mind is actual enough. If it doesn't seem fully actual now that is because you can always escape from it a bit into the physical world-look out of the window, smoke a cigarette, go to sleep. But when there is nothing for you but your own mind (no body to go to sleep, no books or landscape, nor sounds, no drugs) it will be as actual as-as-well, as a coffin is actual to a man buried alive.

Though Our Lord often speaks of Hell as a sentence inflicted by a tribunal, He also says elsewhere that the judgement consists in the very fact that men prefer darkness to light, and that not He, but His "word," judges men. We are therefore at liberty-since the two conceptions, in the long run, mean the same thing-to think of this bad man's perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is. The characteristic of lost souls is "their rejection of everything that is not simply themselves."

We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.

"A damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouths for food, or their eyes to see."

"Then no one can ever reach them?"

"Only the Greatest of all can make Himself small enough to enter Hell. For the higher a thing is, the lower it can descend-a man can sympathise with a horse but a horse cannot sympathise with a rat. Only One has descended into Hell."

"And will He ever do so again?"

"It was not once long ago that He did it. Time does not work that way when once ye have left the Earth. All moments that have been or shall be were, or are, present in the moment of His descending. There is no spirit in prison to Whom He did not preach."

[Hell is] an official society held together entirely by fear and greed. On the surface, manners are normally suave. Rudeness to one's superiors would obviously be suicidal; rudeness to one's equals might put them on their guard before you were ready to spring your mine. For of course "Dog eat dog" is the principle of the whole organisation. Everyone wishes everyone else's discrediting, demotion, and ruin; everyone is an expert in the confidential report, the pretended alliance, the stab in the back. Over all this their good manners, their expressions of grave respect, their "tributes" to one another's invaluable services form a thin crust. Every now and then it gets punctured, and the scalding lava of their hatred spurts out.

"A man can't be taken to hell, or sent to hell: you can only get there on your own steam."

I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.

[On the unrepentant devils:] That door out of Hell is firmly locked, by the devils themselves, on the inside; whether it is also locked on the outside need not, therefore, be considered.

"How can they choose it [hell]?"

"Milton was right," said my Teacher. "The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words 'Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.' There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy-that is, to reality. We see it easily enough in a spoiled child that would sooner miss its play and its supper than say it was sorry and be friends."

"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened."

"The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing. But ye'll have had experiences ... it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticising it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticise the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine."

To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in earth; to enter hell is to be banished from humanity. What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man: it is "remains." To be a complete man means to have the passions obedient to the will and the will offered to God: to have been a man-to be an ex-man or "damned ghost"-would presumably mean to consist of a will utterly centered in its self and passions utterly uncontrolled by the will.

We know much more about heaven than hell, for heaven is the home of humanity and therefore contains all that is implied in a glorified human life: but hell was not made for men. It is in no sense parallel to heaven: it is "the darkness outside," the outer rim where being fades away into nonentity.

"Do you mean then that Hell-all that infinite empty town-is down in some little crack like this?"

"Yes. All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World [Heaven]. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste."

"It seems big enough when you're in it, Sir."

"And yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being

Thanks Ridgeback.

I understand that examples, such as the Lewis you've provided here, are good, smart people struggling with the concept of hell. It's nice to at least see the struggle (as opposed to, as I've said, people who so willingly hand over their moral thinking to adopt the morality that it is "good" and "right" that we all deserve to burn in hell. I'm actually quite sympathetic to those who feel we'll burn in hell. That's what the bible appears to say when I look at it. But it just frightens me when people so easily re-direct their moral sense away from humanity).

But all I see in the Lewis quotes is someone spinning off into their own imaginary world. I just don't see it meshing well with the actual text of the Bible. It just comes off as spin-doctoring, or a jaunt through Lewis' imagination, rather than actually imparting information about God or the Bible.

Further, to me human beings come off like cartoons, or simple tragicomic characters, in Lewis' description. You get these pictures of one-dimensional selfish creatures choosing their fate. Human beings are far more complex, varied in their internal life - vastly more gray area - than Lewis' gives credit in those apologetics.

The "All that are in hell choose it" line of reasoning is completely bogus. It's sheer rationalization to make the believer feel better, and makes no sense. He's driving over all the pot-holes of reason and apparently unaware anyone will notice.

First, it's very clear from the bible that God decides who goes to hell. That he acts as the judge in the matter. Trying to slough off that responsibility to the human beings by saying the "choose" to go to hell is a transparent rationalization to try and get God off the hook, so the believer can feel better about worshipping such a God. But to pass the responsibility off to human beings in such an intellectually callous manner - to say "it was your choice" to those in hell is like the abusive husband attempting to pass the responsibility off to his wife: "You asked for it!"

It's just as morally irresponsible, in my estimation.

For someone to avoid hell, apparently they have to 1. Believe in the Abrahamic God as a pre-requisite to...2. Accepting God's sacrifice, repent sins, accept Christ (or fill in whatever sectarian belief follows).

But you can't just "choose" to believe. It doesn't work that way. Beliefs aren't a choice; beliefs are the result of our reasoning. They can be the result of poor reasoning, sound reasoning, but you can not believe in something that you either can't rationalize, or that you at least don't have a deep emotional need to believe in.
(And even in such cases, some degree of rationalization still occurs to lead to a belief).

When I apply reason I do not get to belief in the biblical God - my reason leads me to the belief He is fictional. (And if the response to that problem amounts to "then do not rely on reason"...that response obviously has major problems).

I can no more believe in the God of the Bible than you can "choose" to believe in the bizarre alien stories of scientology. And, as you see no reason to predicate your behavior on a beings you have no belief in...logically neither do I.

If I end up in hell it sure isn't because I "chose" to be there, any more than you "chose" to end up as a miserable "non-restored Thetan spirit" after death because, while you were on earth, you couldn't believe in scientology's mission to make you an operating Thetan.

So Lewis' words ring hollow here.

There's too much about hell in the bible to fall for Lewis' take on it. And, like I said before, it's hard to ignore passages that depict God deliberately creating lakes of fire, that a fallen angel may be tortured for ever and ever. That to me speaks plenty about such a God...even before we get to human beings. Is that really a moral model in how to treat people who cross us? (And if God isn't a moral model, he's merely a law-maker and enforcer, in which case Christian morality boils down to "might makes right" - as several Christians have actually admitted to me they believe).

Even if, in the most charitable interpretation, one takes hell to be some sort of "living only with oneself, apart from God, in the darkness of some spiritual realm"....the Bible is clear that hell is suffering. And if accepting the Christian God is the way out, God has still rigged the game as I've described in my analogies. There are great disparities
in people's ability to believe in Christianity and take the steps needed to avoid hell (e.g. the culture into which one is born).

And even if you stray outside most of Christianity, to say that you don't have to believe in God in order to go to heaven, that he will simply judge your "heart," there is still the problem of Hell. It's very creation, the fact any frail, flawed creature as us human beings end up in there at all under the watch of a Loving God.

Prof.

Why should CS Lewis be considered an authority on the nature of hell?

Other than that, prof expressed well my opinion too.

As I said, I think the intentions are good in Christians who examine the concept of hell in this way - in that they are compelled from a moral sense that biddens them to work these issues out.

But unfortunately when working from a story like the Bible, and in trying to maintain that God as a being worthy of worship, rationalizations like Lewis' are what you are likely to get.

(And btw, I DO appreciate Ridgeback's work in putting the quotes together. That said, I had seen a bunch of these quotes and read some excerpts from The Great Divorce before, as well as some other C.S. Lewis stuff from Mere Christianity and The Problem Of Pain. As I've mentioned previously here, I have issues with his other arguments as well).

Prof.

I do too, prof. I wasn't trying to be obtuse. I've found it rather common for Christians to quote CS Lewis more often than the bible when the subject of Hades arises and just for the reasons you mention. The problem I have is not with the reasons for quoting him, or the rationale behind the motivation for quoting him (mitigating the unjust and diabolical nature of biblical Hades). It's just that Lewis's opinion is often taken as one would an epistle of Paul - an authority to which to appeal for explanation. I'm not saying, necessarily, that Ridgeback is doing this; but the question [of CS Lewis's authority] deserves consideration because if it's just another man's opinion, than it has marginal value...and one must return to the Gospels for illumination on the nature of Hades.

...and we're right back in the insufferable moral flames again.

Rastus,

Lewis isn't an authority on hell and he would be the first to admit it.  Even so I don't think he had opinions outside of orthodox theology and a lot of biblical basis even if he doesn't quote every verse.  He read the NT in Greek and definitely knew his scriptures in terms of forming his opinions.

 

Do you think the "flames" on which Christ speaks then are metaphorical?

Rastus,

No you can read my perspective on hell in the Orthodox thread.  I believe that the flames are the uncreated light of God so in a sense yes God is responsible for the torment of hell but only because those who respond that way are diseased in their hearts.  I do believe that there will be a Judgement but the nature of the judgement is how each person's heart (deepest inner being) responds to Christ when he is glorified.  His "word" judges them as the scripture says. 

I don't know about annihilationism or universalism.  I have read some very good biblical arguments for both and the only thing I can say is that we are not given enough information at this point to really know.

The only part of the CS Lewis perspective I wanted Prof. to read about was the idea of people choosing to stay in hell when they had a clear choice.  If people are choosing to stay in that kind of torment rather than accepting the alternative (repentance) then that goes a long way towards turning the idea of hell as a place made for punishment on its ear.  Its like MacMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest realizing that the residents were actually there voluntarily.

Responded to that thread.

"and the only thing I can say is that we are not given enough information at this point to really know."

Welcome to my predicament.

"but the nature of the judgement is how each person's heart (deepest inner being) responds to Christ when he is glorified."

"was the idea of people choosing to stay in hell when they had a clear choice."

I read that to say that you believe it's possible to choose to be with God after we die...even though we died not accepting Christ.

"If people are choosing to stay in that kind of torment rather than accepting the alternative (repentance) then that goes a long way towards turning the idea of hell as a place made for punishment on its ear."

Yes, that completely alters the colloquial notion of Hades.

"Its like MacMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest realizing that the residents were actually there voluntarily."

One of my favorite movies (and books) btw. If it's choice with sufficient evidence, then we have no dispute. It's the "gotcha!" after you die I find outrageously unfair.

Two things:

If Hell is a place which is eternal punishment for temporal crimes and God sends people there then that is completely antithetical to the idea of a loving God.  That God is evil.

If people go to hell because of arbitrary reasons like not being born in the right part of the world or not living in the right time period to hear the gospel then that system is once again incompatible with a loving God. 

----------------

Peter says that Christ preached to the souls in prison (there is actually an apocryphal account of Christ's descent into Hades which was read by early Christians and respected but not considered scripture) then it is clear they were being given a choice after death.

 

We're certainly in agreement on those two points and it's refreshing to see a Christian acknowledge them.

There's also the notion that not following God is, in itself, a state of being in Hell, just as choosing to turn off the lights delivers one to darkness. God didn't put is there. We turned out the lights.

I wish this essay was available outside of the book it is in, but here is an excerpt from Bishop Kallistos Ware's "Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?"

Let us pose the question more sharply by appealing first to the words of a twentieth-century Russian Orthodox monk and then to the opening chapter of Genesis. The dilemma that disturbs us is well summed up in a conversation recorded by Archimandrite Sophrony, the disciple of St Silouan of Mount Athos:

It was particularly characteristic of Staretz Silouan to pray for the dead suffering in the hell of separation from God ... He could not bear to think that anyone would languish in "outer darkness." I remember a conversation between him and a certain hermit, who declared with evident satisfaction, "God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire."

Obviously upset, the Staretz said, "Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire-would you feel happy?"

"It can't be helped. It would be their own fault," said the hermit.

The Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance. "Love could not bear that," he said. "We must pray for all.'"

Here exactly the basic problem is set before us. St Silouan appeals to divine compassion: "Love could not bear that." The hermit emphasizes human responsibility: "It would be their own fault." We are confronted by two principles that are apparently conflicting: first, God is love; second, human beings are free.

How are we to give proper weight to each of these principles? First, God is love, and this love of His is generous, inexhaustible, infinitely patient. Surely, then, He will never stop loving any of the rational creatures whom He has made; He will continue to watch over them in His tender mercy until eventually, perhaps after countless ages, all of them freely and willingly turn back to Him. But in that case what happens to our second principle, human beings are free? If the triumph of divine love is inevitabl~, what place is there for liberty of choice? How can we be genuinely free if in the last resort there is nothing for us to choose between?

Let us restate the issue in a slightly different way. On the first page of the Bible it is written, "God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was altogether good and beautiful" (Gen 1:31, LXX). In the beginning, that is to say, there was unity; all created things participated fully in the goodness, truth and beauty of the Creator. Are we, then, to assert that at the end there will be not unity but duality? Is there to be a continuing opposition between good and evil, between heaven and hell, between joy and torment, that remains forever unresolved? If we start by affirming that God created a world which was wholly good, and if we then maintain that a significant part of His rational creation will end up in intolerable anguish, separated from Him for all eternity, surely this implies that God has failed in His creative work and has been defeated by the forces of evil. Are we to rest satisfied with such a conclusion? Or dare we look, however tentatively, beyond this duality to an ultimate restoration of unity when "all shall be well"?

Rejecting the possibility of universal salvation, C. S. Lewis has stated:

"Some will not be redeemed. There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and specially of Our Lord's own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason."2 Is Lewis right? Does universalism in fact contradict Scripture, tradition, and reason in such a stark and clear-cut way?


---"If it's choice with sufficient evidence, then we have no dispute. It's the "gotcha!" after you die I find outrageously unfair."

On one level, as I wrote to Ridgeback before, that's my response as well. "If it's their choice..."

However, I don't know why a loving being would still create such a scenario to begin with. And it's hard to fathom this "choice" to stay in some form of Hell. I mean, I've never read of any version of Hell, including Lewis,' that is pleasurable. And if the people in hell were in a state of displeasure, why would they choose to stay in such a state? I've never heard of people desiring to remain displeased. But then, if Hell is something that pleases the damned...well...as I said it doesn't seem to resemble any description of Hell I've read, let alone the Biblical warnings that clearly indicate suffering in the afterlife.

If I were to imagine people given the choice to be in Hell and choosing to stay there, I still find it troubling. I'd at least find it more humane for
those in hell to be able to opt out whenever they've decided they want out.

But still, if Hell is an unpleasant place...it's hard enough (and rare enough) for human beings to make the wise decisions that take into account the rest of their mere human life. How much less prepared are we to make decisions that decide our fate for eternity. As I indicated when it comes to the parent/child analogies with God - when I see my child about to make a short-sighted decision that will affect his entire life, I'm prepared to intervene. He'll thank me later, hopefully. And in fact many of the laws in our society try to enforce "good" behaviour because so many people left to their own devices wouldn't make sensible decisions on their own (e.g. seat-belt laws etc.) So I don't in principle see anything wrong with a Wise Supreme Being, faced with one of His "children" who is about to make a terrible fateful decision, saying "Listen, I don't think you want to do that. I'm going to take you to heaven anyway and, believe me, when we're through you'll be thankful I did."

So, ultimately the question about people "choosing" to stay in Hell doesn't really make sense to me from any angle.

  1. Given the standard scenario of the Biblical hell as a terrible place - in whatever form - it makes no sense people would choose to be there.

  2. But if Hell is not terrible - it's something desired by the inhabitants - then it doesn't sound like Hell after all, and doesn't really resemble anything warned about in the Bible.

Prof.

However, I don't know why a loving being would still create such a scenario to begin with. And it's hard to fathom this "choice" to stay in some form of Hell. I mean, I've never read of any version of Hell, including Lewis,' that is pleasurable. And if the people in hell were in a state of displeasure, why would they choose to stay in such a state? I've never heard of people desiring to remain displeased. But then, if Hell is something that pleases the damned...well...as I said it doesn't seem to resemble any description of Hell I've read, let alone the Biblical warnings that clearly indicate suffering in the afterlife.

You can't conceive of people choosing to stay in misery rather than being willing to admit they are wrong or apologize?  Its like the example Lewis used where We see it easily enough in a spoiled child that would sooner miss its play and its supper than say it was sorry and be friends.  Some people will endure almost any degree of misery rather than swallowing their pride.  A good portion of human misery in this life stems from the choice to hate at all costs.

I think one of the big issues here is whether or not a person recognizes that there is something wrong with them or if they think they are normal.  The first step in repentance is an acknowledgement of sin and even if you view this model in a purely secular way it is clear the people will go out of their way to deny that they might be bad people. 

In Orthodoxy sin is described in terms of the original definition of missing the mark and the basic idea is that while man was made good he has become ill in his deepest nature due to sin.  By choosing to walk outside of God's grace he has as a consequence brought in death and corruption.  The Church is described in terms of being a spiritual hospital which cures the hearts of people so that when they meet God in person they will recognize his intense love not as a caustic fire which is how a diseased heart responds to it.  Repentance goes far deeper than intellectual consent.  Many Christians who believe in all the tenets of the faith yet remain unrepentant in their hearts and when their hearts are "opened" for all to see it will be revealed that they are not among the disciples of Jesus.

----"You can't conceive of people choosing to stay in misery rather than being willing to admit they are wrong or apologize?"

No. Not in a scenario like Hell.

Of course it depends on what level/type of misery we are talking about.

Speaking of spoiled kids...that's just how my 7 year old acted tonight - spoiled (usually he's quite good, but tonight was in a wicked bad mood because he'd delayed his homework until it conflicted with his desire to watch the Hockey Game).

He was miserable doing his homework. It was hard, it was in his way of watching the game, and he was practically in tears out of frustration. Even when I offered him a break time he refused, so he could finish it and watch some of the game. Certainly people will do things they don't like, but even so it's typically to satisfy some goal or desire in the end.

I don't see the "light at the end of the tunnel" or goal, in a scenario were someone chooses Hell. And even if the chose it in a fit of pique, no doubt they'd regret it. Had I let my son decide to forgo doing his homework in a pique, because I didn't want to interfere with his "free will," then I wouldn't have been very wise. It would have been no favor to him, in the end, given he'd suffer for it later at school (and later in life, if I allowed his will to always reign).

So, again, I'd think a loving God wouldn't necessarily say "Hey, whatever you want children, no matter how disasterous the consequences."

---"The first step in repentance is an acknowledgement of sin and even if you view this model in a purely secular way it is clear the people will go out of their way to deny that they might be bad people."

Sure, some people. Then again, many people we consider "bad" don't consider themselves bad, so it's not so much that they won't admit it, as they don't realise it. It does not appear to me that Islamic terrorists know they are being bad.

And at the same time many of us, secular and theist, recognize our faults and struggle with them. I can certainly feel frusteration when I realize I'm not living up to my own ideals, or my society's ideals.
So if I end up in Hell, it's not because I refuse to recognize or admit my faults, moral or otherwise. Rather, it appears it will be because I haven't recognized precisely what I have to do, per Christianity, to be forgiven by God. Which brings us back to the problem of belief.

(And I neither chose Adam as my representative, nor "chose" to walk outside God's grace, given my belief that no such being exists makes such a choice a non-sequitur).

----"Many Christians who believe in all the tenets of the faith yet remain unrepentant in their hearts and when their hearts are "opened" for all to see it will be revealed that they are not among the disciples of Jesus."

Yes, well in God's big project of being loved just the way he wants to be loved, it seems the inner circle of who gets into heaven grows smaller and smaller. The rest of us - most of us - are collateral.

Prof.

Prof,

I don't know what you are missing about human behavior but it seems that many people if given eternal life would make their own hells sooner or later.  I can think of many old people who die bitter and more entrenched in their hatred and pride and lack of forgiveness than at any other time in their lives.  Think of all the petty feuds people have which escalate into mutual destruction or even murder over time.  Think of all the abusive relationships people stay in as they grow to hate each other more and more.  Stretch all of that out over even 500 years and consider just how bad a person could get. 

Rigeback,

It seems to me that is confusing two different concepts:

  1. People who make choices that make them miserable.

And,

  1. People who choose to be miserable.

They are two different things. Obviously many people make choices that end up making them miserable. But I would dispute that people choose to be miserable.

And it appears to me the second description is required in the watered-down "it's their choice" hell scenarios you are pointing toward. Which is why I have a hard time buying it.

I mean, I'm an atheist. I should serve as good an example as any. I can tell you: if I ended up in eternal "Heck" I'd certainly opt out if given the option.

Prof.

Maybe you would find "heck" more attractive due to your warped atheist soul? I guess in such a place you could find the kind of perverted lifestyle you are used to? Heaven might be dull to you..