In spite of these difficulties, Hell was part of the teaching of my church, and is part of the teaching of many Christian churches. This is no accident. The doctrine has strong support in the Christian scriptures.**
Hell, too, is less widely believed in now than it was when my church was founded. I find many Christians who reject Hell. Their hearts are in the right place, certainly. I cannot believe that a just and loving God would send the majority of his creatures to spend eternity in Hell. But Christians who reject Hell can do so only at the cost of rejecting also the authority of their scriptures.
I conceded, for the sake of argument, that we are all sinners. Now let me qualify that. Very likely all of us, in this room, are sinners provided it‘s enough, to be a sinner, that once in your life you did something seriously wrong. But I don‘t concede that absolutely all humans are sinners, even in that rather loose sense.
I have a granddaughter, whom I love. She‘s a sweet girl, but she‘s seven. By now she must have committed quite a number of sins. I know that sometimes she doesn‘t mind her mother very well. Sometimes she‘s mean to her baby brother. I don‘t find any of this serious enough to deserve eternal punishment, or even significant finite punishment. Perhaps she has committed more serious sins which I don‘t know about. Perhaps she has even done something so wicked as to steal pears from a neighbor’s orchard, not to eat, but to throw at pigs.†
* I concede this for the sake of argument. But in fact I am not sure that even Hitler deserved eter- nal punishment. Mightn’t the demands of justice have been satisfied if God had tortured him for, say, 1000 years for each of his victims? Eternal punishment looks like overkill, even for someone like Hitler. What I principally object to, though, in the doctrine of hell, is the idea that all sinners deserve eternal punishment, even those whose sins pale by comparison with those of a monster like Hitler (or Stalin, or Pol Pot, or Idi Amin, etc.). The essential problem here is that to make the doctrine of the universality of sin plausible we must define sin in a way which makes sinners even of those whose offenses, though serious, are comparatively minor, whereas the seriousness of the punishment they are to receive seems appropriate (if it is ever appro- priate) only for those who are extremely wicked.