I heard someone at the gas station say that the world is going to Hell. The shootings. The drugs. The politics.
But I don’t believe in a literal Hell.
I know a lot of people do. To me, logic dictates that God is a benevolent force, or at least not a malevolent one. A literal Hell requires that if one is just a millimeter more sinful than some standard, he or she is cast into eternal damnation — complete with pitchforks and goblins. Everyone else gets a second chance, even if only one millimeter less sinful.
It’s this thinking that allows everyone to think someone else is going to Hell, not them. Imagine the tennis star bellowing “That ball was IN!” Who draws these lines? Philosophers in many religions claim the answer. I don’t believe people such as this sort our souls. Nothing good ever comes out of a committee.
Thus, I find an eternal Hell cruel and incompatible with a benevolent God, so I don’t believe in it. I feel the same way about standardized testing and sabermetrics in baseball. It’s a clear narrative masking a powerful mystery.
I do, however, believe in hell with a small “h.” This is easy to believe, because I’ve been there. Most of us have. Some of us live there. This is a hell of our own creation, a miserable place where we wallow in fear and anger, pride and agony. Too good for this world, or too bad. This hell needs no religious belief or lack thereof. It may be found quickly through depression or addiction, but requires neither.
Some say you get to hell by sinning, and that sin is the absence of God in your life. But even if you don’t buy that, you can say that a life lacking community and purpose is but a foot path to a “small-h” hell.
We can end up in hell against our will, transported there by horrible events — accidents and shootings, tragedy and loss. This year, only half over, is replete with such stories here in Northern Minnesota, the United States, the World. Each day, some fresh hell.
So we walk around believing the next ticket to hell will be delivered to us. And in so believing, we do the devil’s work. We create that hell for ourselves, and those around us. We flock to our phones to wallow in suffering. We wall off our world, listening to no one but the selfish voice that says “You alone are right.”
If you don’t care for talk of the spiritual, consider talk of science. I don’t view the two as separate, but perhaps you do. In physics, matter may be measured; mass, for instance, or volume. But we also measure by speed, velocity and trajectory. A tiny bullet can kill, but a 200-pound person can hug a child with no ill effects. In fact, the hug can stop the bullet from being fired in the first place.
In this regard, it is not where we are, but where we are headed. It is not who we were, but who we are and what we seek to become.
It is not how we fear, but how we love. Love always defeats fear. Yes, this is in the book, but you don’t need a book to know this. Each of us knows the difference in the core of our being. Love, the act, is how you climb out of hell on earth. First a rickety ladder, then stairs and one day an elevator. All you need is more love, freely given and freely accepted.
Is the world going to hell? The world is going, and going, and going. Heaven or hell is a state of mind as we spin on this all-too-short ride around the sun.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, June 26, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.